Eastertide 2017: N.T. Wright: Can a Scientist Believe in the Resurrection?

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Wonderful stuff. The video is over an hour but you don’t have over an hour to watch it. Do yourself a favor and watch it anyway.

And if you are the reading type rather than the viewing type, pick up Wright’s book, Surprised by Hope, and read chapter 4 because it essentially contains the contents of this lecture.

Living Our Easter Hope

Sermon delivered on Easter 2A, Sunday, April 23, 2017, at St. Augustine’s Anglican Church, Westerville, OH.

If you prefer to listen to the audio podcast of today’s sermon, usually somewhat different from the text below, click here.

Lectionary texts: Acts 2.14a, 22-32; Psalm 16; 1 Peter 1.3-9; John 20.19-31.

In the name of God: the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Amen.

Last week we looked at the nature of Jesus’ resurrection and all that God has done in and through it. We saw that not only has death been abolished (albeit not completely until the Lord returns), but also that God’s new world was launched in which God’s current good but corrupted creation, along with us, will be fully healed, redeemed, and restored. Today our texts focus on our response to the Resurrection. What’s in it for us and what does God expect from us as resurrection peeps? This is what I want us to look at this morning.

In our gospel lesson, St. John continues to echo the original creation accounts found in Genesis 1-2 as he did when he began chapter 20. As if to rub our noses in it, John again reminds us that this is the evening of the first day of the week, the beginning of God’s new world. Jesus appears suddenly to his frightened and cloistered disciples, even though the doors are locked. He greets them and offers them his peace as if to reassure them that he has forgiven them for abandoning him at his arrest, trial, and crucifixion. Like his first disciples, Jesus continues to offer us his peace and assurance that we too are forgiven despite our unfaithfulness and cowardly behavior toward him, and we should take great hope and comfort in that, even as we repent of all such behavior. As St. Peter reminds us in our epistle lesson, God is gracious and merciful!

Then St. John tells us that our Lord showed his disciples his wounds that he bore into eternity, wounds by which we are healed. Let us therefore note a couple things about Jesus’ resurrected body. First and foremost Jesus had a physical body. Not only did he show his disciples his wounds from the cross, but the following week he invited St. Thomas to touch his wounds. You don’t do that with a ghost (cf. Luke 24.36-43). Second, in appearing to his disciples behind locked doors, St. John wants us to see that Jesus’ body is at home in both this world and the one we cannot currently see, heaven. Our mortal bodies simply cannot appear and disappear like that. But again, the point is that we are talking about a body, not a disembodied existence.

Jesus then breathed on his disciples and told them to receive the Holy Spirit, just as he had promised them in the Upper Room the night before he died (John 14.25-27, 15.26-27). In reporting this, St. John again echoes the Genesis narrative. The word John uses for breathe on is the same word used in Genesis when the writer reports that God breathed life into the first humans (Genesis 2.7). Without the breath of God in us, we have no life, even if we are biologic-ally alive. And surely within the context of new creation that St. John is stressing in these pass-ages, one of the things he wants us to see is that this act not only echoes the original creation of humans in God’s image, but also serves as a signpost for our future resurrection, when the Lord raises our mortal bodies from the dead and animates them with his Holy Spirit (think St. Paul’s description of “spiritual bodies” in 1 Corinthians 15.44) so that we will live forever in his presence.

This is the living hope about which St. Peter speaks in our epistle lesson. What God in his great love and mercy for us has done for Jesus in raising him from the dead that first Easter Sunday, God will do for us on the last day when the Lord Jesus returns to consummate his great victory won for us in his death and resurrection. Because we are given new birth, traditionally understood as baptism, we too will share in Jesus’ new life and God’s new world. Until that time, Peter reminds us, our inheritance and promise of new life, resurrected life in God’s new world, is kept safe for us in heaven by God himself where it is immune to corruption and defilement. We cannot currently see God’s new world in full. We only see bits of it breaking in on God’s old world. More about that in a moment. This of course echoes Jesus’ own admonition to us to store up for ourselves heavenly treasures (think resurrected life with all of its ramifications) that do not and cannot wear out or be corrupted instead of storing up earthly treasures that are temporary and fleeting, e.g., wealth, power, etc. (Matthew 6.19-21). And let’s be clear about what St. Peter is saying when he tells us our living hope—our future life in God’s new world when it comes in full—is stored for us in heaven. Peter is not telling us our future is in heaven, only that it is being kept in heaven until the time God chooses to reveal it in full. If I tell you I have a bottle of beer waiting for you in the fridge, it doesn’t mean you have to get in the fridge to drink the beer! St. Peter is talking about inheriting God’s new world, not an eternity of disembodied existence in heaven!

This living hope is based on faith because none of us have seen the risen Christ the way the first apostles and St. Paul saw him. St. Peter tells us we love Jesus even though we have not seen him, and none of us can prove without a shadow of doubt that Jesus actually rose from the dead. This doesn’t mean there isn’t convincing evidence that Jesus really was raised from the dead. It just means that it cannot be proven in a scientific manner that would satisfy all doubters. As St. John reports, St. Thomas refused to believe that Jesus was alive until he touched and saw him, and the Lord accommodated him. But the message is for those of us who have not seen the risen Lord. Believe the testimony of the first apostles and billions of Christians ever since. Jesus is alive, even though we haven’t laid eyes on him. God raised him from the dead and we will share in his risen life at the right time because God is merciful and kind and wants us to live, not die. So our faith in the living hope stored for us in heaven is not based on wishful thinking. It is based on historical fact. God has acted on our behalf in Jesus and will one day act again in a manner that will leave no room for doubt by anyone, not even God’s enemies.

So what’s that mean for us? We’ve already seen what’s in it for us—new life with new bodies in God’s new world, all gifts from the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ who loves us and gave himself for us in a terrible and costly act, thanks be to God! But our living hope also  demands that we live in the here and now as well as the future. We are to live in the manner that God created us, reflecting God’s goodness, justice, mercy, and love out into the world. We are to live for the world because God loves the world and is for it. This will result in our suffering because as Scripture makes very clear, the world is generally hostile to God and hates those of us who give our lives to Christ. But as St. Peter makes clear, our suffering will bring Jesus additional honor, praise, and glory, and we are to take joy in that. How so, you ask? That sounds cray-cray. Well, thanks for asking and consider as one of many examples the remarkable impact the forgiveness Egyptian Coptic Christians offered their murderers had on Muslims who witnessed it:

Twelve seconds of silence is an awkward eternity on television. Amr Adeeb, perhaps the most prominent talk show host in Egypt, leaned forward as he searched for a response.

“The Copts of Egypt … are made of … steel!” he finally uttered.

Moments earlier, Adeeb was watching a colleague in a simple home in Alexandria speak with the widow of Naseem Faheem, the guard at St. Mark’s Cathedral in the seaside Mediterranean city.

On Palm Sunday, the guard had redirected a suicide bomber through the perimeter metal detector, where the terrorist detonated. Likely the first to die in the blast, Faheem saved the lives of dozens inside the church.

“I’m not angry at the one who did this,” said his wife, children by her side. “I’m telling him, ‘May God forgive you, and we also forgive you. Believe me, we forgive you.’

“‘You put my husband in a place I couldn’t have dreamed of.’”

Stunned, Adeeb stammered about Copts bearing atrocities over hundreds of years, but couldn’t escape the central scandal.

“How great is this forgiveness you have!” his voice cracked. “If it were my father, I could never say this. But this is their faith and religious conviction.”

Millions marveled with him across the airwaves of Egypt (Christianity Today Online, April 20, 2017).

This is the power of crucified love we are called to embody in our suffering. We do so because we have a living hope. Who knows how God will use this to advance his kingdom on earth as in heaven? Our faith, however, knows God will use the Copts’ suffering (and ours) for good, precisely because God used Jesus’ suffering for good and we are united with him in baptism.

Not only that, because we live in a fallen world with mortal bodies, we will suffer from other things as well: health issues, broken relationships, loneliness, and depression to name just a few. Here St. Peter reminds us our suffering is temporary and we have a real future ahead of us, giving us reason to rejoice, despite our suffering. This isn’t always easy to believe when we are suffering. If you have ever been in serious pain, it is anything but fleeting and we have to train our minds and emotions to remind ourselves of our living hope that is in the crucified and risen Jesus. This takes work and intentionality and mutual support. We must comfort each other. We must remind each other in the midst of our suffering that it isn’t the end game, that God’s new world, which will be free of suffering and sorrow and death, will last a lot longer than our mortal days. We must remind ourselves and each other that on the cross of Jesus, God has won the victory over the world (the people and systems hostile to Jesus), the flesh (our own fallen nature that left to itself will lead us to ruin), and the devil (the ruler of this world who has usurped it from God, its rightful owner), and our future is guaranteed because Jesus’ future was guaranteed when God raised him from the dead.

And as Jesus commanded his disciples when he breathed the Holy Spirit into them, we are to live as his people, offering God’s mercy, love, and forgiveness to others, as well as retaining their sins, i.e., we are to warn others that there are deadly and mortal consequences in rejecting Jesus as God’s Messiah and Son. We tend to shrink from this latter command in today’s culture because doing so is interpreted by many as being “unloving.” What exactly is unloving in telling others that their only hope and future is in Jesus and that they risk permanent death in rejecting him hasn’t been fully explained (at least to me) in a way that is comprehensible.

We do none of this on our own power, of course, because left to our own devices we are as hostile to God and his Christ as the next person. Jesus commands us to do this in the power of the Spirit who lives in us and heals us to become real human beings. Even then things are not always straightforward as St. John reminds us. Jesus came to his disciples that evening on the first day of the week and offered them peace and forgiveness. So why were they huddled behind locked doors the following week? Why were they out fishing a few weeks later instead of out making disciples and forgiving and retaining sins as our Lord commanded them to do? All this suggests that things weren’t (and aren’t) always so straightforward when it comes to living out our living hope and embodying our Lord’s love and mercy and forgiveness to others.

But just because things aren’t always neat and tidy in our relationship with the Lord and our understanding of how God works doesn’t mean we tuck tail and run and hide. This is where our faith comes into play. We have the testimony of Scripture. We have the testimony of the apostles and of Christ’s Church throughout time and across cultures. We have the testimony of the Holy Spirit who lives in us. We have the testimony of our own lives when we are faithful to the Lord and the lives of others when they are faithful to the Lord. St. Augustine’s is a living testimony to the truth of our risen Christ and of St. Peter in today’s epistle lesson! It doesn’t mean our hurts and heartaches and sorrows and suffering magically disappear. It means we persevere as people with hope. (You all know what this looks like because you’ve listened to Fathers Sang, Bowser, and Gatwood preach. You persevere and hope their sermons will end quickly.) It means that our faithfulness in the face of these trials demonstrates that we do love the Lord. Not perfectly to be sure, but then flawless perfection never has been a demand placed on us. God knows our weaknesses and has done something about it in the death and resurrection of Jesus and in sending us the Holy Spirit to make the risen Lord available to us. The work and our lives aren’t always easy. Sometimes it is downright chaotic. But we have a future and a real hope. We live and breathe and struggle and suffer and grieve as people who have this hope because we don’t worship some dead guy who cannot help us. We worship the crucified and risen Lord who is faithful to us and who will never abandon us. Ever. And when we doubt this, we must always return to our story and its witnesses, both known and unknown to us, confident that our story is true, and because it is true we have Good News to offer not only to others but to ourselves, now and for all eternity. This is how we are to live out our Easter hope, my beloved. Let us do so with joy and thanksgiving. Alleluia! Christ is risen! The Lord is risen indeed! Alleluia! To him be honor, praise, and glory forever and ever.

In the name of God: the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Amen.

Are You Celebrating Easter for All It’s Worth?

Sermon delivered on Easter Sunday A, April 16, 2017 at St. Augustine’s Anglican Church, Westerville, OH.

If you prefer to listen to the audio podcast of today’s sermon, usually somewhat different from the text below, click here.

Lectionary texts: Acts 10.34-43; Psalm 118.1-2, 14-24; Colossians 3.1-4; John 20.1-18.

In the name of God: the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Amen.

Today is Easter Sunday, the day we focus especially on the resurrection of our Lord Jesus and all that that entails for us. Sadly over the years, the Church has dropped the ball in teaching about the resurrection and we dare not let poor teaching about it diminish our faith and rob us of God-given power to live our days with hope and courage. Hopefully I will not contribute to that problem this morning as we begin to explore the breath-taking ramifications of Jesus’ resurrection and what that means for those of us who strive to live faithful lives to our Lord.

Our understanding of the resurrection must always begin with the crucifixion of Jesus. The two are intricately linked together. As we saw on Good Friday and at the Easter Vigil, on the cross, God broke the power of Sin—defined as that alien, hostile, and outside power that has enslaved humanity and brought Evil and Death into God’s originally good creation—and the power of those who wield it against us for our destruction forever, thanks be to God! Jesus himself, God the Son, willingly took on the full brunt of its power to break Sin’s grip on us so as to free us to live as the fully human beings God created us to be and to reconcile us to God so that we can enjoy real life and peace in the living of our days, despite the chaos that rages around us and sometimes spills into our lives. This was God’s doing because God the Father loves us and only God has the power to break our enslavement to Evil, Sin, and Death.

And here is where we must get our thinking straight about the crucifixion. It was not a religious or godly act. Quite the contrary. It was a godless, savage act that represented the worst of humanity in all its brutality and fallenness, not to mention all the hostility that humankind manifests toward God. Without the resurrection, there is no way that the cross would ever have become a religious symbol or the symbol of God’s mercy and justice. So the cross needs the resurrection and the resurrection needs the cross because without the latter, the necessary solution to break the power of Evil and Sin over us, and bring about our reconciliation with God, would not have happened. We would still be dead in our sins and without hope.

But the resurrection did happen and we are no longer dead in our sins or without hope. As Paul tells us in our epistle lesson and more fully in Romans 6.3-5, we have died with Christ and are raised to life with him in our baptism. More about that in a bit. When God raised Jesus from the dead, it allowed the first followers of Christ to understand that the cross was more than a shameful and degrading instrument of torture and death for criminals. It was the power and wisdom of God at work to break our enslavement to Sin, even if we do not understand fully all of the ramifications involved. And in the resurrection, we see the love and power of God at work to destroy the ultimate form of Evil—death itself. But how? St. John tells us in our gospel lesson.

From the very outset of John’s gospel, with its distinct echoes of the creation narrative in Genesis 1.1-2.3, John wants us to see that he is talking about the beginning of God’s new creation, the new heavens and earth that God will bring in full at our Lord Jesus’ Second Coming. John starts off his resurrection account by telling us Mary Magdalene went to the tomb on the first day of the week, the eighth day. And why is this important? Think back to the creation narrative we read last night. What happened on the sixth day of creation? God created humans in his image as the pinnacle of his creative activity and declared all creation to be very good. God then rested from his creative activity on the seventh day.

Now consider John’s Passion narrative in chapters 18-19. What happened on Good Friday, the sixth day? Jesus was crucified and before he died declared that, “It is finished!” But what was finished? The reconciliation of God and humans, and the breaking of the power of Sin and Evil that God, through Jesus, brought about on the cross. In other words, the undoing of the original sin of our human ancestors that brought about God’s curse on us and on God’s entire creation, the curse we and creation have been groaning under ever since (cf. Romans 8.18-25)! In Jesus’s death, God was at work putting to rights all the wrongs that human sin and folly and the evil it unleashed has caused in God’s originally good creation. We all know what that looks like and it is awful. Now here is John telling us that God the Son has finished the work and will of God the Father, work that makes it possible for God to restore his good creation and creatures gone bad.

And what happened on Saturday, the seventh day, in John’s gospel? Echoing Genesis 2.1-3, Jesus rested in the tomb, just as his Father had rested from his work on the seventh day (John 19.42). Now it is Sunday, the first day of the week, and St. John tells us that Mary has discovered the empty tomb. Jesus is not there, the angels tell her. He is risen, i.e, God’s new creation has begun! Death has been abolished forever! And let’s be very clear about what that means for John and the rest of the NT writers. The only way death can be abolished is through bodily resurrection because only in bodily resurrection can we find the full manifestation of what it means to live as humans in God’s promised new world. The whole story of Scripture is about how God is putting to rights all that is wrong with God’s creation. God has always been faithful to his original creation and intends to  restore it fully. But the OT writers only got a glimpse of this. It wasn’t until God raised Jesus from the dead that the NT writers began to comprehend the wonder and beauty and power of God’s promised new heavens and earth, the time when heaven (God’s space) and earth (human’s space) will be fused together in a mighty act of new creation that will erase fully God’s curse and restore God’s creation to its original goodness and beyond. To live in God’s new world, a physical world, means that we will need to have new bodies that are suited for it and Paul lays this out in detail in 1 Corinthians 15.35-57. I encour-age you to read and reflect on this breathtaking promise during the Octave of Easter (the eight days of Easter ending a week from Monday). You will be filled with hope and power if you do.

Only when we are raised from the dead and our souls are reunited with our Spirit-animated bodies that are patterned after our Lord’s resurrected body will death be finally destroyed. Listen to St. Paul describe it:

For this perishable body must put on imperishability, and this mortal body must put on immortality. When this perishable body puts on imperishability, and this mortal body puts on immortality, then the saying that is written will be fulfilled: “Death has been swallowed up in victory. Where, O death, is your victory? Where, O death, is your sting?” (1 Corinthians 15.53-57, NRSV).

So while it is true that those of us who die in Christ will go to be with him in heaven until the day of our resurrection, the fact remains that between the time of our death and that day, we are still dead because our mortal body lies mouldering in the grave, dead as a doornail—just like you are when you hear Fathers Gatwood and Sang preach.

When Scripture talks about life, it has in mind a physical existence, not some disembodied spiritual state.  That’s a Greek and gnostic thingy. And this is where the Church has dropped the ball over the years because it has succumbed to its enemies’ skepticism. Bodily resurrection (the only kind of resurrection) is such a fantastic notion that many refuse to believe it. I remember being a young man and not reciting the clause in the Apostles’ Creed that states, “I believe in the resurrection of the body.” How could I believe that when my ancestors were lying in their graves? Who’s seen a resurrected body? But this is exactly the testimony of St. Paul (1Corinthians 15.3-6), our earliest witness, and the gospel writers! Jesus’s body was not in the tomb. It wasn’t in the tomb because it had been stolen, but because God had raised him from the dead, the first fruits of God’s promised new world, a physical and spiritual world combined, not some disembodied heavenly existence! And for those of us who are in Christ, who believe he is who he says he is, who believe he is the embodiment of the living God who came at the Father’s good will to rescue us from the clutches of Evil, Sin, and Death, and who have a real and ongoing relationship with him, the astonishing promise is that we too will be citizens in God’s new world, the new heavens and earth, thanks be to God! No other religion promises this magnificent and sweeping view of creation and history. Only the Christian faith promises us that creation, along with us, have a real and tangible future in Christ!

If you have ever seen the ugliness of a body ravaged by disease or death or by hunger, thirst, or exposure, or the ugliness of a mind ravaged by mental illness, or those who struggle terribly with deformity or infirmity, or witnessed the immense cruelty and ugliness in this world, or when nature turns ugly, this mind-boggling, breath-taking promise of resurrection should give you real hope, comfort, and purpose for living because it reminds us that all that is wrong and awful with God’s world has been defeated and will be fully restored one day. Try as best you can to imagine the beauty of this world and all that is beautiful in and among humans without any of the evil or wickedness. Try to imagine having a body so beautiful that it defies description. Try to imagine a world where there is no hurt or heartache or sickness or sorrow or crying or loneliness or anything else that despoils us and God’s current creation. Try to imagine living in God’s direct presence so that you can always experience his love for you. If you can begin to imagine any of this, you can begin to grasp the implications of living in God’s new world with your new resurrection body, a world that Jesus’ resurrection announced and launched. If you cannot find reason to rejoice and celebrate over this, my beloved, if you cannot find real hope and purpose for living in the resurrection promise, I fear there is nothing in all creation that can bring you real hope and joy, and you are most to be pitied.

To be sure, the promise of new creation has not yet come in full. Ugliness and brokenness remain. Death is still with us. But our Lord’s resurrection witnesses to the fact that God’s restoration project has begun and we are called to live in the already (of Jesus’s resurrection and the beginning of new creation) and the not yet (the completion of God’s restorative work begun in Jesus’s life, death, and resurrection). And we can be assured of its testimony because the resurrection is based in history.

Critics, of course, deny the resurrection ever took place. I don’t have time to offer a defense for its reality other than to point you to a couple of things from our texts. One of the criticisms of the resurrection accounts in the gospels is that the accounts vary, and sometimes considerably. But this criticism often is based on the expectation that the gospel writers should write as 21st-century historians, and this is patently unfair to them. Scholars like Richard Bauckham have demonstrated that some of the differences can be accounted for because the gospel writers prized eye-witness accounts and we all know that eye- witness accounts don’t always agree on what happened. But that doesn’t mean their testimony is false, especially given the fantastic nature of the resurrection (first-century folks didn’t believe that dead people come back to life any more than we do). Take our gospel account, for example. When Mary came to the tomb that first Easter Sunday, she didn’t come there expecting Jesus to be raised from the dead. She came there to anoint his dead body! And when she didn’t find Jesus’ body there, this helps explain all the running and fear and commotion. I don’t know about you, but I suspect that if we were to witness something of great magnitude for which we had no previous frame of reference, our various accounts would be all over the map. Had the four gospel accounts of Jesus’ resurrection all agreed to the letter, I would be much more suspicious that the story had been cooked instead of experienced. For those of you who wish to dig deeper, I commend a video on my blog that features N.T. Wright’s defense of the historical reality of the resurrection.

So what do we do with this reality that we have new life in Christ, the promise of living in God’s new world as God’s healed and forgiven people? We return to St. Paul and our epistle lesson and what he wrote about baptism in Romans 6.3-5. Those of us who are baptized are baptized into a death like Jesus’ so that we can share in a resurrection like his. In other words, Paul is telling us that this gift of new life in Christ begins right here and now and will extend all the way into eternity in God’s new world when it comes in full. This is God’s free gift to us because God loves us and wants us to live forever with him, enjoying a real relationship that will make us fully human again. So what are we to do? The first thing is to rejoice and party like it is the Eschaton—just like you do when you know that I am preaching! By virtue of our faith in Christ we are given new life, eternal life, resurrection life, a life that is hidden at the present time but is real nevertheless. It is the life we share with Jesus, whose body is in heaven, God’s space. Jesus is our life because only he is the resurrection and the life, and only in and through him can we have the hope of resurrection and living forever in God’s new world. That’s what Paul means when he tells us to set our minds on heavenly things where our Lord currently is, out of our sight. We are to work out what it means to live in ways that are patterned after Jesus’ life. We are to reject things that dehumanize and despoil us. We are to learn how to stop loving ourselves first and to love God above all, and neighbor as ourselves. This is what it means to share in Jesus’ death. As we learn to do this, we will discover that Jesus is with us and helps us in the power of the Spirit to put to death those things in us that need to die. As Jesus told Mary, we have to get used to dealing with him in and through the Spirit. While we will share a body like his, until Jesus returns, we must realize he is available to us in the power of the Spirit and therefore also in and through other people. That means we learn to live as though people and creation matter, and supremely. They matter because they matter to God, who raised Jesus from the dead and promises to heal and renew his creation and us. This means we are to live out our baptismal vows instead of forgetting about them, and that doesn’t happen automatically. We have to be intentional about it and set our mind on Christ through regular prayer, worship, fellowship, Bible study, and the like. We’ve been given the best gift of all, the gift of new life, eternal life, and we must learn to treat God’s gift with reverence and respect by leading lives that imitate Jesus. Is this your Easter hope and how you live it out in the living of your days?

And here is where I want to appeal to us to make Easter our primary and go-to celebration during the year instead of Christmas. Christmas is important but it needs Easter for it to mean anything to us as Christians. As we have seen, Easter, along with the crucifixion, proclaim the abolition of Evil, Sin, and Death, the beginning of God’s new world. Most of us treat Easter as a one-day event—today. But the season of Easter, Eastertide, actually lasts 50 days! And it provides us with wonderful opportunities to live out our Easter hope and joy in ways that can make others want to know what our secret is. How will we do that this Eastertide, St. Augustine’s? Whatever our answers are, do it we must because we are the recipients of God’s great love and future for us. Death is abolished and our future is life and beauty and love! So think of ways you can demonstrate your Easter (resurrection) hope to others, both as individuals and as Jesus’ body here at St. Augustine’s, and then get to work, proclaiming by your deeds and words the reality of our risen Lord and the impact it has on our life. There will be scoffers for sure because the world hates Jesus and those who follow him. But there are others who desperately need and want to hear the Good News that Jesus Christ is risen and Lord of this vast creation of God’s. Let us proclaim that, especially during these next fifty days, because we are resurrection people who have Good News to offer, now and for all eternity. Alleluia! Christ is risen! The Lord is risen indeed! Alleluia! To him be honor, praise, and glory forever and ever.

In the name of God: the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Amen.

Eastertide 2017: An Ancient Account on How Those Who Were Baptized at Easter Were Instructed

The season of Lent has always been a time when the Church prepared new converts to become full members by instructing them in matters of the faith and preparing them for baptism. Here is a description from how this was done in the 4th century in Jerusalem.

I must also describe how those who are baptized at Easter are instructed. Those who give their names do so the day before Lent, and the priest notes down all their names; and this is before those eight weeks during which, as I have said, Lent is observed here. When the priest has noted down everyone’s name, then on the following day, the first day of Lent, on which the eight weeks begin, a throne is set up for the bishop in the center of the major church, the Martyrium. The priests sit on stools on both sides, and all the clergy stand around. One by one the candidates are led forward, in such a Way that the men come with their godfathers and the women with their godmothers.

Then the bishop questions individually the neighbors of the one who has come up, inquiring; “Does this person lead a good life? Obey parents? Is this person a drunkard or a liar?” And the bishop seeks out in the candidate other vices which are more serious. If the person proves to be guiltless in all these matters concerning which the bishop has questioned the witnesses who are present, the bishop notes down the candidate’s name. If, however, the candidate is accused of anything, the bishop orders the person to go out and says: “Let such a one amend their life, and when this is done, then approach the baptismal font.” He makes the same inquiry of both men and women.  If, however, some are strangers, such people cannot easily receive baptism, unless they have witnesses who know them.

Ladies, my sisters, I must describe this, lest you think that it is done without explanation. It is the custom here, throughout the forty days on which there is fasting, for those who are preparing for baptism to be exorcised by the clergy early in the morning, as soon as the dismissal from the morning service has been given at the Anastasis. Immediately a throne is placed for the bishop in the major church, the Martyrium. All those who are to be baptized, both men and women, sit closely around the bishop, while the godmothers and godfathers stand there; and indeed all of the people who wish to listen may enter and sit down, provided they are of the faithful. A catechumen, however, may not enter at the time when the bishop is teaching them the law. The bishop does so in this way: beginning with Genesis and going through the whole of Scripture during these forty days, expounding first its literal meaning and then explaining the spiritual meaning.  In the course of these days everything is taught not only about the Resurrection but concerning the body of faith. This is called catechetics.

When five weeks or instruction have been completed, they then receive the Creed The bishop explains the meaning of each of the phrases of the Creed in the same way as Holy Scripture was explained, expounding first the literal and then the spiritual sense. ln this fashion the Creed is taught.

And thus it is that in these places all the faithful are able to follow the Scriptures when they are read in the churches, because all are taught through these forty days, that is, from the first to the third hours, for during the three hours instruction is given. God knows, ladies, my sisters,  that the voices of the faithful who have come to catechetics to hear instruction on those things being said or explained by the bishop are louder than when the bishop sits down in church to preach about each of those matters which are explained in this fashion. The dismissal from catechetics is given at the third hour, and immediately, singing hymns, they lead the bishop to the Anastasis [the cross], and the office of the third hour takes place. And thus they are taught for three hours a day for seven weeks. During the eighth week, the one which is called the Great Week, there remains no more time for them to be taught, because what has been mentioned above must be carried out.

Now when seven weeks have gone by and there remains only Holy Week, which is here called the Great Week, then the bishop comes in the morning to the major church, the Martyrium. To the rear, at the apse behind the altar, a throne is placed for the bishop, and one by one they come forth, the men with their godfathers, the women with their godmothers. And each one recites the Creed back to the bishop. After the Creed has been recited back to the bishop, the bishop delivers a homily to them all, and says: “During these seven weeks you have been instructed in the whole law of the Scriptures, and you have heard about the faith. You have also heard of the resurrection of the flesh. But as for the whole explanation of the Creed, you have heard only that which you are able to know while you are still catechumens. Because you are still catechumens, you are not able to the those things which belong to a higher mystery, that of baptism. But that you may not think that anything would be done without explanation, once you have been baptized in the name of God, you will hear of them during the eight days of Easter in the Anastasis following the dismissal from church. Because you are still catechumens, the most secret of the divine mysteries cannot be told to you.”

—Egeria, Abbess (late 4th century), The Pilgrimage of Egeria, 45-46

Eastertide 2017: St. John Chrysostom on Easter

Everyone who is devout and a lover of God, let them enjoy this beautiful and radiant Feast of Feasts!

If anyone is a wise servant, rejoice and enter into the joy of the Lord
If anyone has been wearied in fasting, now receive your recompense.

If anyone has labored from the lirst hour, today receive your just reward. If anyone has come at the third hour, with thanksgiving keep the feast. If anyone has arrived at the sixth hour, have no misgivings; for you shall suffer no loss. If anyone has delayed until the ninth hour, draw near without hesitation. If anyone has arrived even at the eleventh hour, do not fear on account of your delay. For the Lord is gracious, and receives the last even as the first; He gives rest to the one that comes at the eleventh hour, just as to the one who has labored from the first. He has mercy upon the last, and cares for the first; to the one He gives, and to the other He is gracious. He both honors the work, and praises the intention.

Enter all of you, therefore, into the joy of our Lord, and whether first or last receive your reward. O rich and poor, one with another, dance for joy! O you ascetics and you negligent, celebrate the Day! You that have fasted and you that have disregarded the fast, rejoice today! The table is rich-laden; feast royally, all of you! The calf is fattened; let no one go forth hungry!

Let all partake of the Feast of Faith. Let all receive the riches of goodness.
Let none lament their poverty, for the Universal Kingdom has been revealed.
Let none mourn their transgressions, for Pardon has dawned from the Tomb!
Let no one fear Death, for the Savior’s death has set us free!
He that was taken by Death has annihilated it!
He descended into Hell, and took Hell captive!

He embittered it when it tasted of His Flesh! And anticipating this Isaiah exclaimed, “Hell was embittered when it encountered thee in the lower regions.” It was embittered, for it was abolished! It was embittered, for it was mocked! It was embittered, for it was purged! It was embittered, for it was despoiled! It was embittered, for it was bound in chains!
It took a body, and face to face met God! It took earth, and encountered Heaven! It took what it saw, but crumbled before what it had not nven!

“O Death, Where is your sting? O Hell, where is your victory?”
Christ is risen, and you are overthrown!
Christ is risen, and the demons are fallen!
Christ is risen, and the Angels rejoice!
Christ is risen, and Life reigns!
Christ is risen, and not one dead remains in the tombs!

For Christ being raised from the dead, has become the first-fruits of them that slept. To Him be glory and dominion through all the ages of ages!

Eastertide 2017: An Easter Prayer

O God,
who for our redemption gave your only-begotten Son to the death of the cross,
and by his glorious resurrection delivered us from the power of our enemy:
Grant us so to die daily to sin,
that we may evermore live with him in the joy of his resurrection;
through Jesus Christ your Son our Lord,
who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit,
one God, now and for ever. Amen.

Archbishop Cranmer: He is risen! Hallelujah! Let us speak more about the Resurrection of Christ

Always love the namesake of the good Archbishop. Here’s his Easter meditation for your edification.

We no longer live in a world where carpenters get resurrected – even those from Nazareth. The most seismic preternatural event in the history of mankind and the most crucial celebration in the Christian calendar has become just another day for a lie in, for gardening, for football, or maybe a barbecue and a bit of DIY. Not even the reconciling fellowship of Christ and the coming of his eschatological kingdom can beat munching choccy eggs through five hours of Ben-Hur. And if you don’t fancy that, E.T.’s bound to be on. Or Oliver! Or maybe Muppet Mania.

God is dead. It is time to grow up, become enlightened, take responsibility and put aside childish fantasies and superstition. And if God isn’t quite dead, he is but one in the state’s official pantheon; no more than merely equal to the false prophets and idolatrous gods of the non-believer.

Telling the truth is a task entrusted to Christ’s disciples. We have been told the truth about Jesus, and so we must tell the truth to the world. Adam chose sin and died. Christ was raised from the dead, and so all are made alive. Forget your ecclesial quibbles and petty doctrinal squabbles – God raised Jesus from the dead. Christians all believe that, or they are not Christian. But we need to live it. Everything else is utterly, utterly puny and petty. The Resurrection is power: a single breath redeemed the whole of humanity. We can know the Creator here and now, for His promise is fulfilled. The Resurrection is God’s righteousness: ‘Behold I make all things new.’

Read it all.

 

Holy Triduum 2017: Another Prayer for Holy Saturday

Grant, Lord,
that we who are baptized into the death
of your Son our Savior Jesus Christ
may continually put to death our evil desires
and be buried with him;
and that through the grave and gate of death
we may pass to our joyful resurrection;
through his merits,
who died and was buried and rose again for us,
your Son Jesus Christ our Lord.

Holy Triduum 2017: Holy Saturday: Waiting for the Messiah We Didn’t Expect

Is it nothing to you, all you who pass by?
Look around and see.
Is any suffering like my suffering
that was inflicted on me,
that the LORD brought on me
in the day of his fierce anger?

–Lamentations 1.12 (NIV)

LORD, you are the God who saves me;
day and night I cry out to you.
May my prayer come before you;
turn your ear to my cry.

I am overwhelmed with troubles
and my life draws near to death.
I am counted among those who go down to the pit;
I am like one without strength.
I am set apart with the dead,
like the slain who lie in the grave,
whom you remember no more,
who are cut off from your care.

You have put me in the lowest pit,
in the darkest depths.
Your wrath lies heavily on me;
you have overwhelmed me with all your waves.
You have taken from me my closest friends
and have made me repulsive to them.
I am confined and cannot escape;
my eyes are dim with grief.

I call to you, LORD, every day;
I spread out my hands to you.
Do you show your wonders to the dead?
Do their spirits rise up and praise you?
Is your love declared in the grave,
your faithfulness in Destruction[e]?
Are your wonders known in the place of darkness,
or your righteous deeds in the land of oblivion?

But I cry to you for help, LORD;
in the morning my prayer comes before you.
Why, LORD, do you reject me
and hide your face from me?

From my youth I have suffered and been close to death;
I have borne your terrors and am in despair.
Your wrath has swept over me;
your terrors have destroyed me.
All day long they surround me like a flood;
they have completely engulfed me.
You have taken from me friend and neighbor—
darkness is my closest friend.

–Psalm 88 (NIV)

It is now the day after the crucifixion, and if we are to take it seriously, we must pause for a minute and reflect on what Jesus’ first disciples must have been dealing with on that day after. We cannot say for sure because Scripture is largely silent about this (but cf. John 20.19Luke 24.13-24 for clues), but surely they would have been absolutely devastated. The most wonderful person they had ever known had been brutally and unjustly executed. The women had seen his bloodied and pierced body taken down from the cross and buried. The man his disciples had hoped was Israel’s Messiah was dead and every good Jew knows that God’s Messiah doesn’t get crucified like a criminal—or so they thought.

Surely today’s texts would have reflected the utter devastation and hopelessness Jesus’ followers must have felt on that first Saturday. Like the psalmist above, surely they were asking the “why questions”—Why did this happen to Jesus? Why did God allow this to happen? Where was God in all of it? Why had he apparently abandoned not only Jesus but them as well? For you see, Jesus’ followers did not have the advantage of 20-20 hindsight we have. They were definitely not expecting Jesus to be raised from the dead because there was nothing in their Scripture that would have prepared them for what God did in Jesus that first Easter Sunday. And we fail to take Jesus’ death seriously if we gloss over all this and simply want to skip ahead to tomorrow.

But that is not how life works, is it? We typically don’t have the advantage of 20-20 hindsight as we live out our days and here is where we can learn some things about faith and hope as we reflect on the devastation Jesus’ followers must have felt the day after his crucifixion. Each one of us has our own hurts and sorrows and brokenness. Perhaps it stems from a job we did not get or that we lost. Perhaps a loved one got sick and died despite our prayers for healing. Perhaps we have had our families torn apart by divorce or addiction. Like Jesus’ first disciples, we too have had our expectations violated, and typically more than once. We’ve had our hopes and dreams shattered to one degree or another, and like Jesus’ first disciples, we look around and ask why. We wonder where God is in it all and why he has apparently abandoned us.

And this is precisely why Holy Saturday can be helpful to us because if we really believe in a sovereign God, Holy Saturday is a time when we must wait on him and see how he is going to act in our lives. We must put aside our limited expectations and wait and see what God is going to do in and through us. Like the psalmist in his utter desolation above, we too must cling to our hope in God and his mercy, in God and his sovereign power, and in doing so we will discover that we gain some much needed and desired patience. It is a patience tempered with humility as we wait on our Sovereign God to see what he will do to bring new life out of our own desolation, fears, and violated expectations.

We wait on this Holy Saturday even though it is not entirely possible to block out the wondrous truth that happened that first Easter. Unlike Jesus’ first disciples, we do know how the story turns out. While we didn’t expect a crucified Messiah, we have seen his dead body taken down from the cross and we have seen the empty tomb and heard the stunned and joyous testimony of the first eyewitnesses. And like his first disciples, this has violated our expectations. But we realize that God’s power and plans for us are so much better than our own. As we wait for Easter morning on this Holy Saturday, we are reminded that despite our failures, hurts, fears, and brokenness, God is a sovereign and merciful God, capable of bringing about New Creation from our desolation, and all this helps us wait on God this day with hope, real hope.

Take time to rest today. Reflect deeply on these things as you learn to wait on God to act in your life. Remember that if God really did raise Jesus from the dead, he can surely do mind-blowing things for you and in and through you (or as a cabbie once said to Bishop Tom Wright, “If God raised Jesus from the dead, everything else is basically rock and roll, isn’t it?”), no matter who you are or what you are dealing with. As you do wait on God–and this will not happen overnight–you will also discover you are gaining the prerequisite humility and patience that you need to open yourself up fully to the Presence and Power of God’s Holy Spirit living in you. And when that happens you will have the assurance that nothing in all creation will ever be able to separate you from the love of God in Jesus Christ our Lord.

Holy Triduum 2017: A Prayer for Holy Saturday

O God, Creator of heaven and earth:
Grant that, as the crucified body of your dear Son was laid in the tomb
and rested on this holy Sabbath,
so we may await with him the coming of the third day,
and rise with him to newness of life;
who now lives and reigns with you
and the Holy Spirit,
one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

Fr. Terry Gatwood: Love So Amazing, So Divine…

Sermon delivered on Good Friday, April 14, 2017, at St. Augustine’s Anglican Church, Westerville, OH.

If you prefer to listen to the podcast of tonight’s sermon, click here.

Lectionary texts: Isaiah 52.13-53.12; Psalm 22.1-31; Hebrews 4.14-16, 5.7-9; John 18.1-19.42.

Grace, mercy, and peace be to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.

Three and a half months ago we gathered together in this very place to welcome the birth of Jesus, the one promised of God. It was a time filled with joy and expectation. A moment when all the hope of God became manifest in our presence once again in our annual liturgy in that very special way, remembering when God took on flesh and united us to himself physically. God the Son, the second person of the Most Holy Trinity, kept his promise to be among us, to be our God, and we his people.

Shortly after that we gathered again to remember the coming of the Magi from the east. These men from another religion and another people who were not the ones to whom the promises of God had been directly made, following the star westward from their Parthian homes found the Lord Jesus and presented to him gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh. These were Zoroastrian fire wizards; priests of another religion, seeing the light and being drawn to it. Jesus is the light to enlighten the nations, and the glory of his people Israel. And we celebrated God’s revealing of himself now to all people. More promises being kept.

We’ve celebrated Christ’s transfiguration on the mountain, where the glory of God was absolutely present, and Jesus is revealed to be the new lawgiver. We’ve heard and seen the miracles, we’ve received his teaching, we’ve sat at his feet, and he’s washed ours. He’s given us the new commandment that we love one another.

Just this past Sunday we welcomed our humble King in by waving palm branches, and again hopefully expecting another movement of God to break the oppression under which we have lived. “Here comes Jesus! He’s going to save us! Alleluia!”

And now, in very short order, we turn our backs on him as he’s sold out to those who despised him and are threatened by him, for just a mere thirty pieces of silver. That first cosmic act of treason that happened in the Garden of Eden has risen back up and again seeks to make us think we’re our own gods, and that life is ours to live and direct how we see fit. Again, the face of God is spit in, not only figuratively this time, but literally.

How great is the sin that seeks to destroy us? It seems, when we look upon this case of the crucifixion of the Christ, that it is unconquerable. What room for hope is there if sinful humanity seeks to justify its own self by deeds conjured up by a sinful mind and heart? And the destroyer, the liar, the deceiver, Satan, and his minions are sneaky. Knowing our condition and need, they tempt a little at a time. Insidiously, sin creeps in and destroys the humanity God created in goodness. Satan has nothing for us but hate, and on this night it seems that he’s won the battle. But remember, God keeps his promises. And although the serpent who deceived our first parents in the Garden may have struck the heal of Mary’s son, he soon will crush its head in accordance with the unilateral, loving, merciful promise made to us in the first proclamation of the Gospel to Adam and Eve. If not for God’s perfect and unfailing love for all that he has made we would have no hope. Sin would win, and Satan would be victorious. But only through our Lord Jesus Christ and his willing sacrifice is there hope and victory.

This sacrifice made by Christ is not some sort of Plan B, as if the Law has failed and the old covenant was never any good. No. From the very beginning God, in his love and mercy, designed to save us through the sacrifice of himself upon the cross. Remember Abraham being asked to sacrifice Isaac his only son, the promised son and heir according to God’s covenant with him. Abraham was going to do it, but God spared Abraham’s son and provided the animal for sacrifice there instead. This was a foreshadowing of the love God would show to the whole world when he did not spare his own son. He provided for himself the perfect and spotless lamb. And God loves us so much he would choose to die violently for us a death that we deserve, not him. We know that our own individual burdens are heavy and hard to bear; Jesus took upon himself the sins of the whole world, and as the water and the blood which flowed from his side testify, his death was likely from a heart that was torn from the massive abuse he had taken. Jesus died of a broken heart under the weight of our sin.

The blood of the sacrificial system shows how serious sin is; it destroys the very life of something God has created. It breaks the order that God has created in love. The blood of Jesus, God himself in the flesh, flowing down from the cross tells us just how deadly the sin problem is, and only through the his willing sacrifice, made by himself our perfect priest, can it be dealt with totally and finally. It is through the shedding of his blood, the blood that coursed through the veins of the only man who ever truly loved God and his neighbor perfectly, and through his physical death that our sin can die. Jesus made this sacrifice for us to free us from the curse we have been under. Says the hymn writer:

He breaks the power of canceled sin,
He sets the prisoner free;
His blood can make the foulest clean,
His blood availed for me.

Sin may still try to conquer us, but Jesus has conquered it. Trust in his grace and mercy, in his great act of love in the face of our treason with his arms stretched wide upon the cross for all to behold, blood cascading down as a healing waterfall, body and face disfigured from the horrific beating he was given and which he took in silence, that Jesus has done this for you. He loves you. This night we remember what our sin costs. It cost the very thing that is most precious to all of us: our lives. But our lives, our own holiness, could never be the cure for the sins of the whole world, so Jesus gave his instead. This day is good, because Satan has been defeated. Our freedom has been won and the justice of God is satisfied. May we live a life worthy of the salvation we have freely received through faith in his blood. May we understand the fullness of God’s love for all of us this night and always as we look to the cross, a symbol of defeat for some, but grace and mercy to us because of God’s great love; our light and our salvation.

Let me close this holy night with the words of Isaac Watts:

  1. When I survey the wondrous cross On which the Prince of glory died, My richest gain I count but loss, And pour contempt on all my pride.
  2. Forbid it, Lord, that I should boast, Save in the death of Christ my God! All the vain things that charm me most, I sacrifice them to His blood.
  3. See from His head, His hands, His feet, Sorrow and love flow mingled down! Did e’er such love and sorrow meet, Or thorns compose so rich a crown?
  4. Were the whole realm of nature mine, That were a present far too small; Love so amazing, so divine, Demands my soul, my life, my all.

Dying, he has brought the dead to life.

In the Name of God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Amen.

Good Friday 2017: Fleming Rutledge Offers a Good Friday Reflection

Then [the crucified criminal] said, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.” He replied, “Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in Paradise.”

Luke 23.42-43 (NRSV)

Somehow the crucified criminal on Jesus’ right was enabled to see something that day that no one else saw. He saw Jesus reigning as a King and determining the destinies of people even in his tormented mented and dying state. To see him that way, Luke is telling us, is to see him as he truly is and to understand the source of his power. Not by signs and wonders, not by magic and dazzlement, not by “shock and awe,” but only by an ultimate act of God’s own self-sacrifice does Christ rule. His power is made known only through his death.

I ask you now: Can you see yourself as one for whom Jesus died? Can you say with the second thief, Jesus, remember member me when you come into your kingdom? It was not only for the bandits and “bad elements” on the other side of the civilized divide; it was for us too, with our masks of innocence and our delusions about our own righteousness. ness. His death was for us too.

Fleming Rutledge. The Seven Last Words from the Cross (Kindle Locations 141-146). Kindle Edition.