And Now We Have Some Work To Do

In the name of the F, S, and HS. 

Last night I read an absolutely beautiful sermon.  I didn’t write it, but it was beautiful.   It spoke of Christ descent to the dead and his giving life to those who had gone before him. 

 So quotes from it are:

‘I command you: Awake, sleeper, I have not made you to be held a prisoner in the underworld. Arise from the dead; I am the life of the dead.

 “Arise, let us go hence. The enemy brought you out of the land of paradise; I will reinstate you, no longer in paradise, but on the throne of heaven. I denied you the tree of life, which was a figure, but now I myself am united to you, I who am life. I posted the cherubim to guard you as they would slaves; now I make the cherubim worship you as they would God.”

 

Christ went down to Hades to give us a gift that we were not previously able to receive.  We have been give much more.  We have been granted access to the very life of God. 

Imagine, if you will, the joy in those for whom Christ descended to hear the good news that they might not miss out because they were, like St. Paul, “one untimely born.”  Christ does not let the grave stop him.  They got to see the fulfillment of all the promises declared by God.  This, I’m sure was the cause of the earthquake that caused the dead to rise—their joy that they were not forgotten but now get to live the life that they were created to live in the first place.  And much more because they now have intimacy with the Father that was denied even Adam and Eve. 

This is to be our destiny as well, for it was for all of humanity from the beginning of time to the end that Christ came to save.  But why does the world continue on if the battle is already won?  Why not just stop so that we don’t have to fight anymore, but enter into the joy of the Father?  Because God has not finished creating people yet.  And if God hasn’t finished creating people yet, then all the sins of the people haven’t been forgiven yet because I keep sinning, and you keep sinning, and all the people outside keep sinning, and Christ died for their sins as well.  So the world is still going because God hasn’t decided that there are enough people to populate heaven yet.

 So in the meantime, you and I have got some work to do.  We have been given two tasks: 1) to find people who need to hear the good news and share it with them, and 2) live lives that are reflective of our new situation. 

The first part I would say is the easiest.  Normally, for our denomination, we see this as the hardest, but in reality, this is by far the easiest because it is giving people good news: “Jesus died for you, there is nothing you did to deserve it, nor is there ever anything that you can do to deserve it, but it is a gift freely offered and ready to be accepted if you are willing.”

 See?  That is the easy part.  It is giving someone a million dollars for doing absolutely nothing. 

“Why am I getting this? I didn’t play the lottery or invent something, or do ANYTHING that would warrant being given this money.” 

“That’s right, but do you want it?”

“Of course.”

“Then take it.  It’s yours. “

“Why?”

“Because I love you.”

The next task is the hard one because it takes much more effort on our part.   We have to change our lives and live them according to Christian standards.  This is easy in theory, but in all actuality it is much harder.  We have the interesting job descriptions of being in the world but not of it.  We now no longer get to do the things that we want to do, we are to do the things we have to do. 

Doing the things we want to do made Jesus have to walk the Via Dolorosa, the Way of Suffering, to atone for those sins.  Doing the things that we have to are things like loving your neighbor even when they don’t deserve it.  The Good Samaritan is good not because the man deserved it by the way he treated the Samaritan prior to their famous meeting on the road where the man lay dying.  The Good Samaritan was good because he cared for him in spite of all previous history.  He is good because he did it because he was a fellow creature of God made in his image.  This is the kind of thing we have to do.

Lucky for us, we are not left comfortless.  Jesus tells his disciples that it is to their advantage that he goes away because if he did not the Helper would not come.  Jesus provides us with the Holy Spirit to aid us in the things that we have to do—even by helping them to become the things we want to do. 

We have just experienced the death of sin and death as we went through Lent and Holy Week.  We saw Satan fall like lightening from heaven this last week.  Jesus tells us that we have been given authority to tread on serpents and scorpions, and over all the power of the enemy, and nothing shall hurt us.  But in order to do this, we must not look back to Egypt. 

Looking back is what got the Israelites in trouble, they didn’t believe that Go could accomplish that which he promised he would do, so they doubted and had one foot with him and one foot back in Egypt with all their weight on the foot in Egypt.  The Angel asks in our Gospel lesson today: “Why seek the living among the dead?”  The things we seek are before us not behind.  God calls for complete buy-in.

We have seen the end to which sin leads—death—but we have also seen what Jesus has the power to accomplish—life.  We too can rejoice like those in Hades whom Jesus came to grant access to the Father, because we too have been granted the very same thing.  Now we too must shake the earth with our joy as they did.  We must leave death behind fully and walk toward life leaving it behind forever.  As we do so, we must trust that God will make up the lack as we proceed to a place that we have no right to be, but are called nonetheless.

In the name of the F, S, and HS.  Amen.

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The Harrowing of Hell

The Lord’s descent into hell: A reading from an ancient homily for Holy Saturday

“What is happening? Today there is a great silence over the earth, a great silence, and stillness, a great silence because the King sleeps; the earth was in terror and was still, because God slept in the flesh and raised up those who were sleeping from the ages. God has died in the flesh, and the underworld has trembled.

Truly he goes to seek out our first parent like a lost sheep; he wishes to visit those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death. He goes to free the prisoner Adam and his fellow-prisoner Eve from their pains, he who is God, and Adam’s son.

The Lord goes in to them holding his victorious weapon, his cross. When Adam, the first created man, sees him, he strikes his breast in terror and calls out to all: ‘My Lord be with you all.’ And Christ in reply says to Adam: ‘And with your spirit.’ And grasping his hand he raises him up, saying: ‘Awake, O sleeper, and arise from the dead, and Christ shall give you light.

‘I am your God, who for your sake became your son, who for you and your descendants now speak and command with authority those in prison: Come forth, and those in darkness: Have light, and those who sleep: Rise.

‘I command you: Awake, sleeper, I have not made you to be held a prisoner in the underworld. Arise from the dead; I am the life of the dead. Arise, O man, work of my hands, arise, you who were fashioned in my image. Rise, let us go hence; for you in me and I in you, together we are one undivided person.
‘For you, I your God became your son; for you, I the Master took on your form; that of slave; for you, I who am above the heavens came on earth and under the earth; for you, man, I became as a man without help, free among the dead; for you, who left a garden, I was handed over to Jews from a garden and crucified in a garden.

‘Look at the spittle on my face, which I received because of you, in order to restore you to that first divine inbreathing at creation. See the blows on my cheeks, which I accepted in order to refashion your distorted form to my own image.

‘See the scourging of my back, which I accepted in order to disperse the load of your sins which was laid upon your back. See my hands nailed to the tree for a good purpose, for you, who stretched out your hand to the tree for an evil one.

`I slept on the cross and a sword pierced my side, for you, who slept in paradise and brought forth Eve from your side. My side healed the pain of your side; my sleep will release you from your sleep in Hades; my sword has checked the sword which was turned against you.

‘But arise, let us go hence. The enemy brought you out of the land of paradise; I will reinstate you, no longer in paradise, but on the throne of heaven. I denied you the tree of life, which was a figure, but now I myself am united to you, I who am life. I posted the cherubim to guard you as they would slaves; now I make the cherubim worship you as they would God.
“The cherubim throne has been prepared, the bearers are ready and waiting, the bridal chamber is in order, the food is provided, the everlasting houses and rooms are in readiness; the treasures of good things have been opened; the kingdom of heaven has been prepared before the ages.”

Our Humble Access

Why does St. John not have the institution of the Eucharist in his account of the Last Supper?  That is because he wrote an entire book about the Mass –Revelation.

In his Gospel he takes the time to tell us, not about the Eucharist, but the way in which we should approach the Eucharist—the way in which Jesus instructed the disciples on the evening in which he was to be betray—in humility.

We have been given access to the eternal worship in heaven, EVERY time we celebrate the Mass.  This is a great gift indeed—and the reason that Jesus died for us, to restore us to access to the Father. 

In the worship of the Lamb, we join angels, archangels and countless throngs of saints.  We are clued into this in the introduction to the Sanctus.  We get to join in, not merely ape what is being done, but JOIN the worship. 

But John tells us that this great gift is only available to us if we approach it in the correct manner—through humility.

So John has an account that no one else has of Jesus humbling himself and serving those who should serve him by washing their feet.  This is the proper attitude in which to have in regards to the worship of the Father. 

Then, with the proper attitude in our official worship service, we then take our worship out into the world and apply it to every other aspect of our lives.  This is practice for heaven, when every act will be an act of worship.  As our worship service is inclusion into the on-going heavenly worship of God, so too can our lives be an inclusion into the heavenly life of worship.  But again, we can only accomplish this through our humility. 

So as we progress further through this sacred Tridium, let us allow Jesus to show us the way to go and the proper disposition we should have as we get there.

In the name of the F, S, and HS.  Amen.

Christ’s Sacrifice for Us

In the name of the F, S, and HS.  Amen.

 To conclude our little series, I wanted to focus in on the sacrifice of Christ.  In the beginning of John’s gospel, we find on the lips of John the Baptist in reference to Jesus: “Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world.”  The Lamb of God, this title for Jesus is prevalent in the Church, we say it multiple times in the Mass: “Oh Lamb of God that takest away the sins of the world, have mercy upon us.”  “Behold the Lamb of God.”   When John the Evangelist refers to Jesus as the Lamb of God, he is thinking about him as the Paschal Lamb—the lamb that was sacrificed in the Exodus of the Israelites whose blood  caused the angel of death to pass over their houses sparing their firstborn sons. 

 John has a slightly different timeline for Jesus’ death than the Synoptics (Matthew, Mark, and Luke) because he wants to emphasize this connection between Jesus and the Passover lambs.  (Remember the Evangelists are concerned with getting the story correct theologically, not necessarily chronologically, so events are often moved around to fit the story of each Evangelist.)  John has Jesus killed on the day before the Passover, the day of Preparation.  Jesus dies at the exact same time as the lambs that are being sacrificed for the Passover meal. 

 He specifically points out: “Since it was the day of Preparation, in order to prevent the bodies from remaining on the cross on the Sabbath (for the Sabbath was a high day), the Jews asked Pilate that their legs might be broken, and that they might be taken away.  So the soldiers came and broke the legs of the first, and of the other who had been crucified with him; but when they came to Jesus and saw that he was already dead, they did not break his legs…For these things took place that the scripture might be fulfilled, “Not a bone of him shall be broken.”  This refers back to the instructions concerning the Passover feast: “In one house shall {the Passover feast] be eaten; you shall not carry any of the flesh outside the house; and you shall not break a bone of [the lamb].

 However, there is seemingly a slight problem with John’s assertion that Jesus is “the Lamb of God that that takes away the sin of the world” because there was no element of atonement of sins in the Passover feast.  The Israelites were not repenting; they were being delivered from death.  Yom Kippur, or the Day of Atonement, is the day associated with this aspect. 

 As with all the other aspects that we have looked at this Lent, Jesus takes the Passover deliverance and brings it to another level.  But in order for us to be delivered ultimately from death, a new aspect needs to be added to the Passover feast which is that combination of the Passover and Day of Atonement. 

During the Day of Atonement, two goats and a bull were sacrificed.  The bull and one of the goats were sacrificed and their blood was sprinkled on the Holy of Holies.  With the remaining goat, the sins of the people were placed on it, and it was sent out into the wilderness to die away from the people.  This is the aspect that needed to be added to the Passover lamb in order for it to accomplish what John the Baptist claims.

 This is found in Isaiah’s Suffering Servant.  Isaiah 53:4-6: “Surely he has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows; yet we esteemed him stricken, smitten by God, and afflicted.  But he was wounded for our transgressions, he was bruise for our iniquities; upon him was the chastisement that made us whole, and with his stripes we are healed.  All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned every one to his own way; and the Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all.”  And verse 12: “Therefore I will divide him a portion with the great, and he shall divide the spoil with the strong; because he poured out his soul to death, and was numbered with the transgressors; yet he bore the sin of many, and made intercession for the transgressors.” 

 

Jesus, Isaiah’s Suffering Servant, takes on this atoning aspect in his death as well.  John is well aware of this, which is why he can have John the Baptist’s claim, for he has Caiaphas, the high priest that year, make the statement: “It is expedient for you that one should die for the people, and that the whole nation should not perish.”  John then says, “He did not say this of his own accord, but being high priest that year prophesied that Jesus should die for the nation, and not for the nation only, but to gather the children of God who are scattered abroad.” 

 John was aware that Jesus took all the sins that had at that point been committed, as well as all the sins that were to be committed in the future, and was crucified as a substitute for those who committed those sins.  Since he so united himself with us that he was able to call himself fully human, he was able to unite himself with our sinful state.  But since he was God, he was not able to unite himself in substance with our sin, but joined our state out of pure love for us. 

 No normal human could have accomplished this—not even the greatest saint that has ever lived.  This could not happen because “he made him to be sin who knew no sin,” that is, Jesus was carrying, like that second goat of the Day of Atonement, all the sins of all the people for all time.  A normal person, even the greatest saint, would be consumed by that unification with sin and would not then remain obedient to the Father.  But since he was also God, sin was not able to consume him, and since it was not able to consume him he was able to change our situation.

 Like Adam, who was sinless yet caused sin to come in through his disobedience to the Father, thus causing all humanity to die to sin, Jesus became sin and through perfect obedience to the Father, caused all humanity to be freed from that death.  This substitution of Jesus for us and our sins signified the superabundance of love which overcomes every deficiency and insufficiency of human love, every negative thing associated with our sin that broke our relationship with God was reconciled that day. 

St. Peter says in his first epistle: “You know that you were ransomed from the futile ways inherited from your fathers, not with perishable things such as gold or silver, but with the precious blood of Christ, like that of a lamb without blemish or spot.  He was destined before the foundation of the world but was made manifest at the end of times for your sake.  Through him you have confidence in God, who raised him from the dead and gave him glory, so that your faith and hope are in God.” 

 This is a beautiful thing.  God, knowing that we would one day sin against him, and knowing that he would have to send his only Son to be the sacrifice for our sins, created us anyway.  This is the depth of which God loves us.  He knew that in giving us a free will and the ability to truly love as he loved that we would rebel against him.  So before he even created the world, he resigned himself that this needed to be done, out of love for his creation that we might be with him always. 

 Let us now proceed into Holy Week with our eyes wide open, and know and experience what it took our redemption. 

 In the name of the F, S, and HS.  Amen.

The Reversal of Death

In the name of the F, S, and HS.  Amen.

 

We are nearing the end of our little series on the identity of Jesus in preparation for Easter.  Thus far we have touched on Jesus as the New Adam, the fulfillment of the promises to Abraham, and the fulfillment of the promises to David.  Not featured is Jesus as the New Moses (that was going to be the week Casa came).  This week I would like to focus on Jesus who reverses death. 

 

To begin this, we must start in a valley filled with bones.  Imagine bones everywhere, just bones scattered pell-mell all over the place.  This is the scene in which we find Ezekiel in our OT lesson.  It is also point out: “and, lo, they were very dry.”  This is stated to point out that these are the bones of exiled Israel.  There is no hope for them to be able on their own to be able to resuscitate the kingdom of Israel, so there they lay, being beaten by the sun, growing more and more dry, until they finally return to the dust of the earth. 

 

But God tells Ezekiel to prophesy to these hopeless bones.  And his prophesy of hope and restoration through the power of God causes the bones to move.  They begin to shimmy and shake as all the bones begin to free themselves from their prison and shoot together to form skeletons.  As they came together, they were bound together with their sinews.  Now they are encased in flesh, and blood once again courses through their veins.  Finally they are wrapped in skin.

 

But there was no breath in them, so God bids Ezekiel to prophesy once more and, as a result, winds come from the four corners of the earth and fill the lungs of these people that they may once again draw breath.  Now this seemingly hopeless chaos of death has been reformed and re-fused with life.  Death has been reversed and they can again inherit the land promised to them. 

 

Notice one thing: the breath that animates these people comes from the four corners of the earth, not directly from God.  Remember with Adam, God directly puts this breath into him so that Adam’s first breath was of the life-giving Spirit of God.  Here we have a re-filling of the breath of life and a promise of his Spirit that will fill them. 

 

This Spirit-breath is fleeting however, since it has no dwelling place, it has no permanent residence in which to live.  Once these people die, even though they were miraculously brought back, they will return to the same fate.  This is because at this point, death still reigns supreme.

 

This brings us to our Gospel lesson—Jesus and the raising of Lazarus.  In the Gospel of John, there are seven signs that were recorded that we may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that believing we may have life in him. 

 

The seven signs are:

1) Jesus turning water into wine;

2) Jesus healing the royal official’s son;

3) Jesus healing the paralytic;

4) Jesus feeding the 5,000;

5) Jesus walking on water;

6) Jesus healing the man born blind;

7) Jesus raising Lazarus. 

Signs in John are divinely empowered acts which demand a decision for or against who Jesus is.  Signs are things that point beyond themselves toward a greater reality.

 

The seventh sign is the restoration of life to a corpse.  This is not Lazarus merely fainting and somehow regaining consciousness.  This is Lazarus being beyond the point of no return.  We one of the greatest lines today, which is sadly no represented in our translation today.  In the King James Version we have the description of Lazarus: “he stinketh.”  The RSV claims that there is an odor associated with decay present with Lazarus’ body, but I like: “he stinketh” better myself. 

 

(While we are on the subject of wording, my NT professor in seminary was rather unmoved by the translation that Jesus was deeply moved in his spirit in relation to finding out Lazarus was dead.    He pointed out that the word for deeply moved is embrimaomai in the Greek or “moved with anger” or his favorite: “snorted like a horse.”)

 

Jesus raised Lazarus from the dead not simply because he missed his friend and wanted to see him again.  Rather he raised him when he was beyond the point that anyone thought he might be a chance of him reviving.  He has gone past that and begun to decay.  He is dead. 

 

But remember, dear friends, that Jesus’ signs in John are to point past what is present on the surface.  It is really cool that Lazarus is brought back to life again, but this is merely the writing on the sign, this is not the destination to which it points.  Through Lazarus, Jesus points that he has the power over death and that there is a life which cannot be taken away and that he has come to bestow that life upon us—a life which is not subject to death. 

 

In order to accomplish this, Jesus tells us earlier that he needs to be born anew—born of water and the Spirit.  That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which born of the Spirit is spirit.  Later in John’s Gospel he tells his disciples that he goes away that another might come.  He goes away that the Spirit, the Paraclete, might come and animate those born anew.  So now through Jesus’ death, the Spirit that was given again to the bones in Ezekiel’s times but would eventually depart again, now has a dwelling place—or as St. Paul calls it—a temple. 

 

Jesus has the power over death because through him we are created anew.  He, being God, has the Spirit of God within him and he is able to bestow it upon those who are baptized into his life.  Jesus also has the power over death because he has power over sin.  Jesus is able to cause new life to be in us because of his victory over sin.  Death was the result of the removal of the life-giving Spirit of God through sin.  Jesus, through his one sacrifice of himself, is able to triumph over sin and the death that results from sin—but we will look more at this next week.

 

For now, let us think upon the awesomeness of God in that He gives us a new life that is no longer subject to death.  He has caused the blockade of the tomb to be the means by which we receive eternal life.  Death is now the turnstile that allows us access to eternal life.  The effects of sin fully die with death of the flesh.  We are then made anew and again animated with the Spirit never to be parted from it again. Death, then, works backward as the result of Jesus Christ.  We go from bones, which have their ultimate destiny to return to the dust of the earth and with no hope, to being created anew from that resulting dust of the earth and given again the life-giving Spirit.  Like the bones in the valley, through Christ, we are able to return and inherit the land under the united kingdom of God.

 

More on this next week. 

 

In the name of the F, S, and HS.  Amen.  

Growth from the Root of Jesse

In the name of the F, S, and HS.  Amen.

 

Today in our OT lesson, we have the selection and the anointing of David which result in God’s spirit rushing upon young David and marking him to be King later in the next book of Samuel, which results in the Davidic Covenant—which finds its fulfillment in Jesus. 

 

In 2 Samuel 7:12-16 we find the promises of God in His covenant with David.  “When your [David’s] days are full, and you lie down with your fathers, I will raise up your offspring after you, who shall come from your body, and I will establish his kingdom.  He shall build a house for my name, and I will establish the throne of his kingdom forever.  I will be to him a father, and he shall be to me a son.  When he commits iniquity, I will discipline him with the rod of men, with the stripes of the sons of men, but my steadfast love will not depart from him, as I took it from Saul, whom I put away before you.  And your house and your kingdom shall be made sure forever before me.  Your throne shall be established forever.”

 

Let’s unpack that for a second before moving on shall we?  This kingdom will be established as God’s, not merely a kingdom that worships him, but the one established by him.  This is God planting his flag and setting up shop.  Through David, a capital city is established—Jerusalem—and this is shown by the presence of the Ark of the Covenant—the presence of God—in the city. 

 

A ruler is established in David and this is no mere ruler, for he is also adopted as the son of God.  This is the first time the idea of Divine sonship is applied to an individual.  This is the first time the title of son of God may be applied to an individual who did not have the right by parentage. 

 

With this title comes great responsibility—now there will be divine chastisement for wrongdoing because now the king is acting as God’s son over God’s people.  The covenant between God and David establishes that the Davidic kingship was ultimately to reflect the kingship of God and any shenanigans that resulted in the negligence of the king would result in punishment.  But God promised him that this punishment would be out of love, not vengeance, for God’s steadfast love would never depart from him as it had from Saul. 

 

This covenant with David changes the character of God’s covenant people from a nation-state to that of an international kingdom—a worldwide empire.  This is not only a political and temporal kingdom of which David is king, this is the spiritual and eternal kingdom of God in which David has been adopted as son to further open the door between God and his people. 

 

This is the furthering of the plan established in the Abrahamic covenant that will result in all the world becoming the children of Abraham.  This is the continuation of the salvific act of the Exodus and the establishment of God’s holy people Israel.  Now the people of Israel are also children of God through their association with the kingdom of Israel with God’s adoptive son as king.

 

There is one problem with this covenant—it is still established between God and a fallible human being.  David has his encounter with Bathsheba, the wife of Uriah the Hittite, four short chapters later in the story.  Solomon, David’s son messes up the right to rule in the next generation.  But, as with the previous covenants, the perfection of these covenants comes in the man Jesus.

 

Jesus, as it is pointed out in Matthew’s genealogy, is from the line of David.  He is David’s son and has the right to rule the kingdom of Israel though that tree had long since been cut down and left as a stump.  But from the seemingly dead stump of Jesse (David’s father), springs forth the new sprig of Jesus.  And Jesus comes, not as God’s adoptive son, but as God’s own Son.  He comes to re-establish the kingdom of Israel that had been left a mere shadow of itself.  But he also came to establish it forever, so he needed to establish it in a way that could not be subject even to cessation of the world. 

 

The kingdom Jesus came to establish was a kingdom that brought to fulfillment the spiritual and eternal kingdom established with David.  This kingdom has its capital city in the New Jerusalem in heaven, which, like the city of Jerusalem in David’s time, is where the Ark resides as we see in John’s Revelation.  Jesus comes, not with an adoption associated with his title, but as God’s own Son.  He is also the perfect king that does not falter in his job as king causing the kingdom in his charge to be chastised by the nations.  He is the perfection of the Davidic covenant and its everlasting nature. 

 

Jesus comes to establish his spiritual kingdom, the Kingdom of Heaven, and we see him today in our Gospel lesson opening the eyes of the blind to this revelation.  We see the man born blind slowly clued into this knowledge and we see his eyes not merely opened that he may see things material, but opened spiritually that when he finally sees Jesus, the man who opened his eyes, he can see Jesus in his spiritual reality and worshipped him as king of the realm. 

 

The establishment of this kingdom shows us again the depth of God’s love for us, because, like David, Jesus came into the world that was already ruled by another spiritual king; and like David the other king persecutes him and tries to kill him to remain the sovereign of the realm.  Like David his father, the transfer of power did not come immediately, rather it took time and effort to relieve the false king even though the time for his rule was over. 

 

Let us dig further into this…on a later date.  In the name of the F, S, and HS.  Amen.