An Early Account of Why We Offer the Peace Before the Eucharist

Notice the emphasis on the body. No gnosticism here!

When the bishop and the congregation have exchanged blessings, the bishop begins to give the Kiss of Peace, and the church herald, that is to say, the deacon, in a loud voice orders all the people to exchange the Kiss of Peace, following the bishop’s example. This kiss which all present exchange constitutes a kind of profession of the unity and charity that exists among them. Each of us gives the Kiss of Peace to the person next  to us, and so in effect gives it to the whole assembly, because this act is an acknowledgement that we have all become the single body of Christ our Lord, and so must preserve with one another that harmony that exists among the limbs of a body, loving one another equally, supporting and helping one another, regarding the individual’s needs as concerns of the community, sympathizing with one another’s sorrows and sharing in one another’s joys.

The new birth that we underwent at baptism is unique for this reason, that it joins us into a natural unity; and so we all share the same food when we partake of the same body and the same blood, for we have been linked in the unity of baptism. St. Paul says: “Because there is one loaf, we who are many are one body, for we all partake of the same loaf. This is why before we approach the sacrament of the liturgy we are required to observe the custom of giving the Kiss of Peace, as a profession of unity and mutual charity. It would certainly not be right for those who form a single body, the body of the Church, to entertain hatred toward a brother or sister in the faith, who has shared the same birth so as to become a member of the same body, and whom we believe to be a member of Christ our Lord just as we are, and to share the same food at the spiritual table. Our Lord said: “Every one who is angry with his brother [or sister] without cause shall be liable to judgment.” This ceremony, then, is not only a profession of charity, but a reminder to us to lay aside all unholy enmity, if we feel that our cause of complaint against one of our brothers or sisters in the faith is not just. After our Lord had forbidden any unjust anger, he offered the following remedy to sinners of every kind: “If you are offering your gift at the altar, and there remember that your brother [or sister] has something against you, leave your gift there before the altar and go; first be reconciled to your brother [or sister], and then come and offer your gift.” He tells the sinner to seek immediately every means of reconciliation with the one offended, and not to presume to make an offering until amends are made to the one wronged and the sinner has done all that is possible to placate the offended person; for we all make the offering by the agency of the bishop.

Theodore, Bishop of Mopsuestia [d. 428], Baptismal Homily, 4.39-40

Martyrs in Ethiopia

I had not heard about this and am very troubled that this isn’t being covered by MSM. Very troubled.

From Bishop Grant LeMarquand, one of my old professors at seminary and a good guy. Received via email.

A new coptic icon of the 21 Egyptian martyrs of Libya

A new coptic icon of the 21 Egyptian martyrs of Libya

I have just learned the horrifying news that as many as twenty-eight Ethiopian Christians have been shot or beheaded in Libya by members of the terrorist group known as ISIS or ISIL. This alarming act of violence against those that ISIS calls “people of the cross” comes just two months after twenty-one other Christians – twenty Egyptians and one Ghanian, were beheaded on a Libyan beach.

It is too early to learn the names of these newest martyrs. It is also too early to know what churches they came from. (The Ethiopian Orthodox Church has more than 30 million members, but there are also members of many other churches in this country, including at least 15 million Protestant Christians.) Personal details about the men who have died may emerge. For now we can note the most important things to be said about these victims. Their names are known to God and they are written in the Lamb’s book of life (Rev 13:8). Their denominational affiliation is no longer of any importance: they are among the unnumbered throng from every nation, tribe, people and language gathered before the throne and the Lamb (Rev 7:9) who have come out of the great persecution (Rev 7:14) and have had every tear wiped away from their eyes (Rev 7:17).

The persecution of followers of Jesus is one of the terrible facts about today’s world. Although the popular imagination may still associate the persecution of Christians with the distant past (of the Roman Empire, for example), it is a reality that more Christians have died martyrs’ deaths in the last hundred years than in all the previous centuries of Christian history combined. We are living in a time when the words of Jesus “If they persecuted me, they will persecute you also,” (John 15:18) are being fulfilled on a more and more frequent basis.

How are we Christians (those of us in Ethiopia as well as around the world) to react to this most recent atrocity? First, we must look up to God in thanksgiving for the lives of these brothers who loved not their own lives, but followed Jesus in the way of the cross. Second, we must ask for the Holy Spirit to strengthen us to abandon the temptation to hate. Instead we must follow Jesus, who not only suffered death on the cross, but also prayed for his executioners to be forgiven. If we are turned to hatred, the terrorists have won. Finally, we must continue to reach out to a world desperate for the love of Jesus. Make no mistake, the terrorists who executed these martyrs of Ethiopia have exhibited the worst of human depravity, but they have also revealed their desperate need of a Saviour. The apostle Paul, a great persecutor of the church of God, was turned to love by his experience of meeting Christ on his way to the Syrian city of Damascus. May God use his church to so act and speak of and from the love of Christ that many former or potential persecutors may be turned and have their names written in the book of life.

+ Grant, The Horn of Africa

Rt Rev Dr Grant LeMarquand and Dr Wendy LeMarquand are missionaries of SAMS (Society of Anglican Missionaries and Senders)

Bishop Grant is area bishop for the Horn of Africa (Ethiopia, Somalia, Eretrea, Djibouti); under the Most Rev Dr Mouneer Anis, Bishop of Egypt with North Africa and the Horn of Africa.

Fr. Simon Tugwell: Looking for God?

Another picture that our Lord loves to use is that of the shepherd who goes out to look for the sheep that is lost (Matthew 18:12).  So long as we imagine that it is we who have to look for God, then we must often lose heart.  But it is the other way about: he is looking for us.  And so we can afford to recognize that very often we are not looking for God; far from it, we are in full flight from him, in high rebellion against him.  And he knows that and has taken it into account.  He has followed us into our own darkness; there where we thought finally to escape him, we run straight into his arms.

So we do not have to erect a false piety for ourselves, to give us hope of salvation.  Our hope is in his determination to save us.  And he will not give in!

This should free us from that crippling anxiety which prevents any real growth, giving us room to do whatever we can do, to accept the small but genuine responsibilities that we do have.  Our part is not to shoulder the whole burden of our salvation, the initiative and the program are not in our hands: our part is to consent, to learn how to love him in return whose love came to us so freely while we were quite uninterested in him.

Also we can let ourselves off that desperate question, “Am I in the right place?”  “Have I done the right thing?”  Of course, we must sometimes acknowledge sins and mistakes and we must try to learn from them; but we should not foster the kind of worry that leads to despair, God’s providence means that wherever we have got to, whatever we have done, that is precisely where the road to Heaven begins.  However many cues we have missed, however many wrong turnings we have taken, however unnecessarily we may have complicated our journey, the road still beckons, and the Lord still “waits to be gracious” to us (Isaiah 30:18).

If we let these things really speak to us, then we can surely accept our Lord’s invitation, indeed his command, to cast all our cares upon him (1 Peter 5:7) and let him care for them. We can give space in our hearts for Christ to dwell there, and it is faith that gives him space.  We can let him dethrone us from being God in our own hearts, and establish there his own rule.  We can then let him give us to ourselves, just as at the beginning he gave Adam to Adam.  Then we can receive from him all that is ours, all our faculties, all our freedom, our capacity to take initiatives, to make our own decisions, so that our own true independence no longer challenges God’s sovereignty but is precisely a most wonderful expression of it, as we receive our freedom day by day, minute by minute, from the creative love of God.

—Simon Tugwell, O.D., Prayer

Justin Martyr Writes About Early Christian Worship (Mid-Second Century)

I don’t know about you, but I love reading about the practices of the ancient Church, in part, because it reminds me that our Anglican liturgy is in line with how the Church has worshiped since the time we have records of its practices. Justin wrote about the eucharist a little over 100 years after the death of Jesus and would have been a “spiritual grandson or great-grandson” to the apostles. That means there is a high probability that he received what he wrote indirectly from the apostles themselves. And as Richard Bauckham masterfully demonstrated in Jesus and the Eyewitnesses, the early Church was very careful in passing down oral tradition to preserve its teachings intact.

It is an awesome thing to be part of the one, holy, catholic, and apostolic Church. Check it out and see how it compares to how you worship.

No one may share the eucharist with us unless they believe that what we teach is true, unless they are washed in the regenerating waters of baptism for the remission of sins, and unless they live in accordance with the principles given us by Christ.

We do not consume the eucharistic bread and wine as if it were ordinary food and drink, for we have been taught that as Jesus Christ our Savior became a human being of flesh and blood by the power of the Word of God, so also the food that our flesh and blood assimilate for their nourishment becomes the flesh and blood of the incarnate Jesus by the power of his own words contained in the prayer of thanksgiving.

The apostles, in their recollections, which are called gospels, handed down to us what Jesus commanded them to do. They tell us that he took bread, gave thanks and said: “Do this in memory of me. This is my body.” In the same way he took the cup, he gave thanks and said: “This is my blood.” The Lord gave this command to them alone. Ever since then we have constantly reminded one another of these things. The rich among us help the poor and we are always united. For all that we receive we praise the  Creator of the universe through his Son Jesus Christ and through the Holy Spirit.

On Sunday we have a common assembly of all our members, whether they live in the city or in the outlying districts. The recollections of the apostles or the writings of the prophets are read, as long as there is time. When the reader has finished, the president of the assembly speaks to us urging everyone to imitate the examples of virtue we have heard in the readings. Then we all stand up together and pray.

On the conclusion of our prayer, bread and wine and water are brought forward. The president offers prayers and gives thanks as well as possible, and the people give their assent by saying: “Amen.” The eucharist is distributed, everyone present communicates, and the deacons take it to those who are absent.

The wealthy, if they wish, may make a contribution, and they themselves decide the amount. The collection is placed in the custody of the president, who uses it to help the orphans and widows and all who for any reason are in distress, whether because they are sick, in prison, or away from home. In a word, the president takes care of all who are in need.

We hold our common assembly on Sunday because it is the first day of the week, the day on which God put darkness and chaos to flight and created the world, and because on that same day our savior Jesus Christ rose from the dead. For he was crucified on Friday and on Sunday he appeared to his apostles and disciples and taught them the things that we have passed on for your consideration.

—From Justin, Martyr at Rome (ca. 167), First Apology, 66-67

Like Jesus

Sermon delivered on Sunday, Easter 3B, April 19, 2015, at St. Augustine’s Anglican Church, Columbus, OH.

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

Lectionary texts: Acts 3.12-19; Psalm 4.1-8; 1 John 3.1-7; Luke 24.36b-48.

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

Last week we read in John’s gospel the story of Jesus appearing to his disciples that first Easter evening. Today we read of a similar appearance of Jesus in Luke’s account. If these two stories report the same incident, Luke adds some new details that John omitted, details that give us further insight into Jesus’ resurrection body and what it foretells. But why should we care? What difference does Jesus’ resurrection make for us who live almost two thousand years later? One hint comes from our epistle lesson. John tells us that when Jesus is revealed we will be like him for we will see him as he is, and this is what I want us to look at briefly this morning.

As Luke makes clear in our gospel lesson, the risen Jesus was no spook or ghost. Jesus suddenly appeared to his disciples and Luke tells us they were terrified, thinking they were seeing a ghost. But Jesus was no ghost as he went on to demonstrate. Ghosts remain dead. Jesus was demonstrably alive. Ghosts don’t have flesh and bones as Jesus had. Neither can they eat food as Jesus did. And it is to the glory of the gospel accounts that they clearly reject the false notion that equated the risen Jesus with being a ghost.

Neither was Jesus’ body a resuscitated corpse in the manner of Lazarus or the widow of Nain’s son, both raised to life by Jesus. Their mortal bodies, while being brought back to life, would die again because they remained mortal and powered by flesh and blood. Luke, on the other hand, makes it clear that things were somehow different with Jesus’ body. To be sure there was continuity with his mortal body as demonstrated by the fact that his hands and feet still bore the wounds of the nails that had pierced him on the cross. And yes, Jesus was able to consume food the way we do. But there were significant differences. First, Jesus appeared to them suddenly, apparently out of nowhere, suggesting that his new body had properties that made it equally at home in heaven (God’s space) and earth (our space). Once heaven and earth are fused into a new creation as Revelation 21.1-7 promises, there will be no need to flit back and forth between the two dimensions as the resurrection narratives in the gospels clearly indicate Jesus did. How else to really explain his sudden appearances and disappearances?

Second, Jesus’ resurrected body was not always recognizable. Despite the fact there were some in the room to whom Jesus had previously appeared, no one apparently recognized him at first. This was also the case with Mary Magdalene in the garden, with the disciples on the road to Emmaus, and with the encounter by the Sea of Tiberius. Why weren’t the disciples able to recognize their Lord immediately? Was there something manifestly different about his resurrected body? We aren’t told. But it remains a distinct and reasonable possibility. And Jesus himself suggests this is true when he said to his disciples, “While I was still with you.” Jesus was obviously with them at that moment, but in a fundamentally different way. Clearly Jesus had gone through death and emerged on the other side in a way nobody else had done previously, and in doing so had inaugurated the in-breaking of God’s new world on the old.

This, frankly, is just as hard for us to wrap our minds around as it was for the first disciples of Jesus. Like them, we really want to rejoice in this new reality but are terrified to do so because this concept is so radically different and new from our current worldview that is shaped by sin and death, and it poisons us. The resurrection narratives also fly in the face of much current false teaching about what constitutes an afterlife and heaven. The resurrection accounts flatly contradict the current gnostic and/or Platonic teaching of our day, sadly found in some Christian churches, that eternal life is all about a spiritual, disembodied existence rather than a new creation in the manner of Jesus’ resurrected body, or the various versions of reincarnation that deny the NT’s clear teaching about eternal life in God’s new world where heaven and earth are joined together, and where there is a real future and a hope.

I can hear some of you now. That’s all well and good, Fr. Maney. Fascinating even. But who gives a flip? What’s the point? The point is this. As long as we keep the resurrection disconnected from its source, namely Jesus, its promise and hope will appear to us empty and ridiculous. But when we connect the resurrection to Jesus as our Lord himself attempted to do for his disciples when he opened their minds to what the Scriptures said about him, we can start connecting the dots and this brings us back to what John says in our epistle lesson: We will be like Jesus, even if what that is hasn’t been revealed to us fully. But we do have some clues.

First, as we just stated, we will be like him in his resurrection body. This doesn’t mean we will share Jesus’ body with him but rather when our mortal bodies are raised from the dead and we are reunited with them, we will have a new body patterned after Jesus’ body. It will be impervious to sickness, infirmity, madness, sin, and all the other maladies that currently afflict our mortal bodies. So why is that important (besides the obvious)? Because it means creation matters to God. We matter. God created us with a body, mind, and soul and each dimension counts in God’s economy because we are redeemed in toto. And if creation and we matter, it means there is a built-in purpose for living. More about that in a moment. Bodily resurrection also means that one day we will get to look into the eyes of our Savior who loved us and gave himself for us so that we could share in his present reality and future hope. What a moment! Not only that, we will also get to look once again into the eyes of those we have loved but lost for a season. Think about it. Don’t we all long to see our loved ones again, to see them smile, to hear their voice, and to embrace them? Who among us wouldn’t give everything we have for the opportunity to look once again into our loved ones’ eyes as well as the one who made it all possible in the first place—Jesus? We don’t know if we will be able to do this during the intermediate state between our mortal death and resurrection. But John tells us plainly here that we will get to do so when our Lord Jesus is revealed and the new creation comes in full.

And for anyone who has suffered a serious illness or watched a loved one waste away from a deadly disease or struggle with infirmity or madness or addiction or dementia, with all of its dehumanizing and degrading effects, think about what the hope of resurrection promises with its vision of a sin-free, evil-free, and perfect world inhabited by God and us with our transformed and beautiful human bodies? Here is real hope for the future, and hope is not to be sneezed at because without hope, we shrivel and die. So our lessons today give us a glimpse of our future reality as it breaks in on this sad old world that is so badly marred and damaged by sin and evil. Once we can wrap our minds around the reality of this promise and connect it to Jesus so that we know it actually happened and will happen again on a much grander scale, we no longer have any reason to fear or disbelieve, but only to rejoice in the goodness, love, mercy, and power of God the Father who created us in his image and redeemed us to be his people forever.

But that’s the future. What about now? Both John and Luke tell us. Second, when we make Jesus the center of our world, we are transformed, not only physically as at our resurrection or when we are healed, but also spiritually, emotionally, mentally, and morally. As John tells us here and elsewhere, we really are God’s adopted children by virtue of Jesus’ blood shed for us on the cross. And because we are bought with Christ’s own dear blood, our call is to become like him. John has spent a good part of this letter warning us not to be deceived and to encourage us in our new life in Jesus. He has warned us not to be deceived by those who claim that there is no such thing as sin or that sin doesn’t really matter, or by liars who deny Jesus is the Messiah and the antichrist who denies the Father and the Son (1 John 1.6, 2.22-23). He warns us not to believe those who claim that we can know God without knowing Jesus because they deny that Jesus is the very embodiment of God. In short, John warns us not to be deceived by those who do not know God: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, and who therefore try to make up their own reality that suits and justifies their evil and/or misguided ways.

John warns us about these things, not so much to tear down the deceivers but to help us see their teachings as the false and empty things they really are. And now in today’s lesson we see John starting to encourage us. Why settle for tofu when we can have the choicest filet?? No, John says. Because we are God’s children bought with the price of the Son’s blood, we will share in all that Jesus has so that when he appears we will be like him. This is why John goes on to make the remarkable (and troubling) statement that no one who abides in (i.e., no one who has a real relationship with) Jesus sins. This is true because Jesus does not sin and we who are tied to him become like him. John clearly doesn’t mean that Christians do not sin. That would contradict what he previously said about sin and flies in the face of experience. It also contradicts what he tells us elsewhere, that when we do sin we have Jesus as our Advocate. Rather, what John has in mind is that as we are transformed by Jesus in the power of the Spirit, we abandon our sinful patterns of living and start to imitate Jesus, so that he and his will are at the center of our decision-making and lives, not our selfish and proud ambitions and desires.

This should make perfect sense to us in light of God’s promised new world. If we are being shaped to live in that world by virtue of our relationship with Jesus, it means we have to learn new patterns of living characterized by love, mercy, grace, forgiveness and the like that are compatible with God’s new creation rather than clinging to our old patterns of living in God’s good but fallen world and characterized by anger, hostility, pride, mercilessness, and the like.

This is why Jesus tells his disciples and us to proclaim repentance and forgiveness of sins in his Name to all the world. We are to do this because we are the recipients of God’s forgiveness and by the healing and transforming love of Jesus are enabled to leave our former unproductive lifestyles for a new one that promises our transformation and healing. We see this played out in our NT lesson. Peter and John had just healed a paralytic to the astonishment of the crowd and now they are telling the crowd their secret. It was not by their own power but by the power of the Author of Life, Jesus of Nazareth, and faith in his name. For you see, whenever we let Jesus get ahold of us, transformation of all kinds always follows. Sometimes it happens in immediate and spectacular ways as when the paralytic got healed (and some of us do). But more often than not, it happens in gradual and almost imperceptible ways. And there’s an additional bonus. Living our life in the manner Jesus lived his means that we will always find meaning and purpose for living because we are living in ways that God always intended for us when he created us, as well as how we will live in God’s promised new world when it comes in full.

A moment’s thought ought to help us see the reality of this truth. Think of the seemingly intractable problems in our world with its hatred and war and injustice. In every case we hear voices clamoring for us to believe that it is the fault of one side exclusively. But that is never the case. The problems in the Middle East are not caused exclusively by Jew or Arab. Both sides contribute. And until there is repentance on the part of both sides, i.e., until both sides admit their hard-hearted and stubborn refusal to acknowledge their role in the dispute so that each has a basis to forgive the other, the warring madness will continue. The same thing is true with race relations and the emerging issue of religious liberties versus gay rights. Or consider those families who refuse to forgive a killer, even when the killer is executed. There can be no closure or healing where there is no forgiveness and we see this expressed consistently by those who are asked if the killer’s execution brought them closure. We can also see it on the faces of those who steadfastly refuse to repent and forgive because they are fueled by their own anger, for whatever reason. There is a hardness to their features that develops and they tend to grow old before their time. It is a sad spectacle to watch. No wonder the Bible warns us consistently about the deadly effects of sin! It literally does make us sick and kill us. But as Jesus’ people who are powered by our Easter hope with its call to repentance and the forgiveness of sins, we are to bring his healing love to bear on these people and situations (and others closer to home), both through our prayers and in our words and actions, all the while proclaiming that in no other Name can real healing and transformation occur. By Jesus’ life we find life and so can the world.

None of this is easy, of course, because the human condition is very complex and because there are sworn enemies out there who hate us and want to deceive us (and worse). To counteract the dark powers and their minions as well as the various circumstances of life that beat and weigh us down and cause us to become so distracted that we forget our resurrection hope, Jesus himself reminds us what we must do to keep him at the center of our world. We are to search the Scriptures regularly and diligently to learn the story of how God is rescuing us and his world from evil, sin, and death, a rescue that finds its culmination in and through Jesus’ death and resurrection. We are to search the Scriptures to remind us that Jesus is also our risen and ascended Lord who rules over his world, mysterious and improbable as that seems to us at times. We are to feed on our Lord at his Table each week and find him in our fellowship and worship. Doing these things will allow us to stop and take the time to reflect and remember that we are Easter people who have Good News, now and for all eternity. To him be honor, praise, and glory forever and ever. Alleluia! Christ is risen! The Lord is risen indeed! Alleluia!

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

The Midnight Ride of Paul Revere


The Midnight Ride of Paul Revere
by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow
First published in January 1861






Listen my children and you shall hear
Of the midnight ride of Paul Revere,
On the eighteenth of April, in Seventy-five;
Hardly a man is now alive
Who remembers that famous day and year.

He said to his friend, “If the British march
By land or sea from the town to-night,
Hang a lantern aloft in the belfry arch
Of the North Church tower as a signal light,–
One if by land, and two if by sea;
And I on the opposite shore will be,
Ready to ride and spread the alarm
Through every Middlesex village and farm,
For the country folk to be up and to arm.”

Then he said “Good-night!” and with muffled oar
Silently rowed to the Charlestown shore,
Just as the moon rose over the bay,
Where swinging wide at her moorings lay
The Somerset, British man-of-war;
A phantom ship, with each mast and spar
Across the moon like a prison bar,
And a huge black hulk, that was magnified
By its own reflection in the tide.

Meanwhile, his friend through alley and street
Wanders and watches, with eager ears,
Till in the silence around him he hears
The muster of men at the barrack door,
The sound of arms, and the tramp of feet,
And the measured tread of the grenadiers,
Marching down to their boats on the shore.

Then he climbed the tower of the Old North Church,
By the wooden stairs, with stealthy tread,
To the belfry chamber overhead,
And startled the pigeons from their perch
On the sombre rafters, that round him made
Masses and moving shapes of shade,–
By the trembling ladder, steep and tall,
To the highest window in the wall,
Where he paused to listen and look down
A moment on the roofs of the town
And the moonlight flowing over all.

Beneath, in the churchyard, lay the dead,
In their night encampment on the hill,
Wrapped in silence so deep and still
That he could hear, like a sentinel’s tread,
The watchful night-wind, as it went
Creeping along from tent to tent,
And seeming to whisper, “All is well!”
A moment only he feels the spell
Of the place and the hour, and the secret dread
Of the lonely belfry and the dead;
For suddenly all his thoughts are bent
On a shadowy something far away,
Where the river widens to meet the bay,–
A line of black that bends and floats
On the rising tide like a bridge of boats.

Meanwhile, impatient to mount and ride,
Booted and spurred, with a heavy stride
On the opposite shore walked Paul Revere.
Now he patted his horse’s side,
Now he gazed at the landscape far and near,
Then, impetuous, stamped the earth,
And turned and tightened his saddle girth;
But mostly he watched with eager search
The belfry tower of the Old North Church,
As it rose above the graves on the hill,
Lonely and spectral and sombre and still.
And lo! as he looks, on the belfry’s height
A glimmer, and then a gleam of light!
He springs to the saddle, the bridle he turns,
But lingers and gazes, till full on his sight
A second lamp in the belfry burns.

A hurry of hoofs in a village street,
A shape in the moonlight, a bulk in the dark,
And beneath, from the pebbles, in passing, a spark
Struck out by a steed flying fearless and fleet;
That was all! And yet, through the gloom and the light,
The fate of a nation was riding that night;
And the spark struck out by that steed, in his flight,
Kindled the land into flame with its heat.
He has left the village and mounted the steep,
And beneath him, tranquil and broad and deep,
Is the Mystic, meeting the ocean tides;
And under the alders that skirt its edge,
Now soft on the sand, now loud on the ledge,
Is heard the tramp of his steed as he rides.

It was twelve by the village clock
When he crossed the bridge into Medford town.
He heard the crowing of the cock,
And the barking of the farmer’s dog,
And felt the damp of the river fog,
That rises after the sun goes down.

It was one by the village clock,
When he galloped into Lexington.
He saw the gilded weathercock
Swim in the moonlight as he passed,
And the meeting-house windows, black and bare,
Gaze at him with a spectral glare,
As if they already stood aghast
At the bloody work they would look upon.

It was two by the village clock,
When he came to the bridge in Concord town.
He heard the bleating of the flock,
And the twitter of birds among the trees,
And felt the breath of the morning breeze
Blowing over the meadow brown.
And one was safe and asleep in his bed
Who at the bridge would be first to fall,
Who that day would be lying dead,
Pierced by a British musket ball.

You know the rest. In the books you have read
How the British Regulars fired and fled,—
How the farmers gave them ball for ball,
From behind each fence and farmyard wall,
Chasing the redcoats down the lane,
Then crossing the fields to emerge again
Under the trees at the turn of the road,
And only pausing to fire and load.

So through the night rode Paul Revere;
And so through the night went his cry of alarm
To every Middlesex village and farm,—
A cry of defiance, and not of fear,
A voice in the darkness, a knock at the door,
And a word that shall echo for evermore!
For, borne on the night-wind of the Past,
Through all our history, to the last,
In the hour of darkness and peril and need,
The people will waken and listen to hear
The hurrying hoof-beats of that steed,
And the midnight message of Paul Revere.

Dr. Ben Witherington: A Searching Book—Rachel Held Evans’ Searching for Sunday

Dr. Witherington makes an excellent case. See what you think.

There are many poignant moments and powerful passages in this book about the sacraments, about silence, about other spiritual disciplines, and especially about the feeling of being bereft, cut off from the church, feeling abandoned or even spurned by the Evangelical Churches in which she was raised. A trial separation from such churches gradually became something of a divorce, and she landed in a ‘less-judgmental’ Episcopal Church in Cleveland Tn. What her book fails to really grapple with however is the major difference between unconditional love and unconditional acceptance of us as we are. 

Frankly put, God doesn’t ‘accept’ us as we are, because what we are is fallen and flawed sinful people. God loves us as we are, but God is insistent that we all change, repent of our sinful inclinations and ways, and become more like Christ. A loving welcome by Jesus does not exclude incredible demands in regard to our conduct, and indeed even in regard to the lusts of our hearts. As it turns out, God is an equal opportunity lover of all humanity, and also an equal opportunity critiquer of all our sin, and with good reason— it is sin that keeps separating us from God and ruining our relationship with God. This is why the only proper Biblical approach to everyone who would wish to be ‘in Christ’ and ‘in the body of Christ’ is that they are most welcome to come as they are, and they will be loved as they are, but no one but no one is welcome to stay as they are— all God’s chillins need to change. Welcoming does not entail affirming our sins, much less baptizing our sins and suddenly calling them good, healthy, life giving.

Rachel also does not seem to understand that the remarkable growth in the church in the global South is not something that should lead to an expectation of a further rise in the support for the LBGTQ agenda. To the contrary, the churches in Africa, Asia, and South America are overwhelmingly and adamantly opposed to such an agenda. I’ve spent time in and lectured in most of those places and they are not supporters of late Western views on sexual ethics.

Read the entire review.

Living Signs of New Creation

Sermon delivered on Sunday, Easter 2B, April 12, 2015, at St. Augustine’s Anglican Church, Columbus, OH.

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

Lectionary texts: Acts 4.32-35; Psalm 133.1-5; 1 John 1.1-2.2; John 20.19-31.

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

Last week we saw that in Jesus’ death and resurrection, God’s promised future has burst in on us so that we are given a glimpse of God’s new world where we are forgiven and healed. We can claim this by faith because of Jesus’ atoning death on the cross. John continues to flesh this out for us (no pun intended) in our lessons today, giving us our marching orders so to speak, and this is what I want us to look at this morning.

In our gospel lesson, a continuation of our Easter story from last week, the scene has shifted from morning to evening. John is again careful to tell us that it is the first day of the week, reminding us as he did last week, that we are witnessing along with Jesus’ disciples the beginning of God’s new world and enjoying a foretaste of things to come. We see this “already-not yet” state manifested in several ways. Jesus’ resurrection body has elements of both the old and the new. He shows them the marks of the cross and later invites Thomas to put his hand on and in those marks, clearly demonstrating that he is the crucified Jesus they knew in his mortal life. Yet he appears to them as they are hiding behind a locked door for fear of the Jewish authorities. Clearly there is something new about Jesus’ body because no mortal body can suddenly appear in a locked room. John doesn’t tell us if Jesus ate and drank with his disciples during this particular visit, although Luke does if this is the incident he is reporting (Luke 24.36-42). All of this suggests a continuity with the old but also a discontinuity, complete with new properties in play that we do not fully understand. But the point remains. When we get our new resurrection bodies patterned after Jesus’ body in God’s new world, the mortal is swallowed up in immortality and death is swallowed up forever in life (cf. 1 Corinthians 15.42-58).

And lest we think that it is only recently there have been doubters of the resurrection with its new mode of physicality, we need look no further than John’s report of Thomas and Jesus to put that mistaken notion to rest. Thomas had not been in the room with the rest of the disciples that first Easter evening and he flat out scoffed at the notion that Jesus was raised from the dead. He had to see Jesus with his own eyes and touch him with his own hands. Careful what you wish for, Thomas! Jesus didn’t berate his skeptical disciple. Surely Jesus would have understood (and still understands) what a mind-blowing thing the resurrection and God’s new creation is. Instead, Jesus commended those who would come to believe in him even though they would not experience his risen presence in the manner his first disciples did. This apparently is the reason John tells us he wrote his gospel, so that by his testimony and the testimony of others after him, we might come to believe that Jesus really is the Son of God and have life in and through him, echoing what he tells us in our epistle lesson this morning.

Getting back to our story, when Jesus appeared to his disciples that first Easter evening, John tells us their fear was turned into rejoicing because their crucified Lord was alive, never to die again. But Jesus didn’t appear to his disciples just to make them happy. He gave them work to do. In John’s account, this was their Pentecost moment and we need to pay careful attention to what is going on here because it has everything to do with us living as Easter people. “As the Father has sent me,” Jesus said to them, “so I send you. Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive sins, they are forgiven. If you retain sins, they are retained.” And we want to say right back to Jesus, “Say what? And, uh, oh yeah. What are you talking about, Jesus?”

Glad you asked because I’m here to help. I’m just that kinda guy. Here’s the logic behind Jesus’ commission. Why did the Father send the Son? Because as Jesus told the Samaritan woman at the well, salvation is from the Jews (John 4.22). This, of course, requires us to recall the larger story of how God chose to rescue his sin-sick world and us. He called for himself a people to bring his healing love to the world. But as we have seen many times before, the people of Israel were as much part of the problem as they were the solution. But God is always good to his word and so he became human to do and be for Israel what Israel could not do and be for itself and the world. We see this ultimately played out on the cross of Jesus. As John reminds us in our epistle lesson, by his blood shed for us on the cross, Jesus is the atoning sacrifice for our sins. And not for our sins only, but for the sins of the whole world. As a result of what Jesus has done, everyone who believes in Jesus can enjoy fellowship with God and each other as well as find complete forgiveness of all our sins.

God has done this because he is faithful and just. He is faithful because God is always true to his promises, and God promised to heal his sin-sick world and its people through Abraham and his descendants (Genesis 12.1-3). Now Jesus, sent by the Father, is the true Israelite through whom God would make it all happen, unexpected as it was (and is) for Israel and the world. Likewise God is just, and in an equally unexpected way. On the cross, we see God’s holy justice being executed. Instead of condemning us for our sin, God took our just punishment on himself, condemning our sin in the process while sparing us, thanks be to God (cf. Romans 8.1-4)! That is why Paul could exult that there is now no condemnation for those of us who are in Christ Jesus, i.e., for those of us who have a real and ongoing relationship with God the Son. The cross stands as the eternal symbol of God’s just and holy love for his sin-sick and hurting people. This is why the Father sent the Son, i.e., why God became human. He had a world and its people to rescue and restore! This is the God we worship, praise, and adore!

And now that God has rescued his world and its people in and through the death and resurrection of Jesus, our Lord calls us as his followers to be living signs of his new creation to embody its reality to the rest of the world, especially in our own little neck of the woods (recall Jesus didn’t die just for our sins, but for the sins of the whole world). Don’t misunderstand. Only God can ultimately bring about the kingdom. But the fact remains that even though this is true, Jesus calls us to be part of that kingdom-bringing work. Just as Jesus brought his healing love to Israel, thus fulfilling its saving purpose for the world, so he gives us the wonderful privilege of bringing his healing love to the world on his behalf. We have been healed and forgiven by his blood shed for us. Now he calls us to be living signs of his healing love that will characterize his new world that has broken in on the old with Jesus’ resurrection.

At this point we are tempted to shrink back in fear or dismay because we know we are neither deserving of this call or able to fulfill it on our own. I suspect some (if not many or most) of us struggle with the notion that we are forgiven and so are called to share God’s new reality with those around us. We are like David, who lamented in Psalm 51 that he knew his transgressions and his sin was ever before him. Many of us likewise know our transgressions and our sin is ever before us so that we struggle to believe the Good News of Jesus’ death and resurrection with its promise of forgiveness and new life, God’s life, eternal life. With that in mind, we wonder how we can ever really be signs of God’s new creation. We are like Moses or Isaiah or Peter or John himself when they were confronted by the reality of God’s presence (and this is what new creation is really all about!). They rightly wanted to run away or became faint from a real sense of terror that comes when the sinful comes into the presence of the Sinless and Holy One. We get this at a gut level and it leaves us struggling with God’s promise that we have been forgiven and healed in and through Jesus.

But this is where we must pay attention to our epistle lesson. John tells that we should confess our sins and then believe God has forgiven us. We are to believe this because God is always good to his word and we have the cross of Jesus as eternal testimony of God’s gracious faithfulness to his promises. Yes, we are sinful creatures. But yes, we are forgiven and called to do the work and be the people God called us from all eternity to do and be. Paul echoes this sentiment when he wrote the Corinthians that anyone who has a real relationship with Jesus is a new creation, that the old has passed away and everything is new! All of this is from God, who has reconciled us to himself and given us the ministry of reconciliation (2 Corinthians 5.17-18). None of this of course means that once we put our hope and trust in Jesus we magically stop sinning. As Paul reminds us in Romans 6.7, none of us is completely free from sin until we die. But the NT writers are adamant that sin no longer controls us as it once did and that when we sin we are forgiven by the blood of Jesus shed for us if we confess our sins. And because of that forgiveness and Jesus’ resurrection, we have new life, abundant life, God’s life, eternal life.

Why am I belaboring this point? Well, mainly because I like to hear myself talk. But also because if we do not really believe we are forgiven and reconciled to God (what I constantly refer to as being healed), we can never enjoy the peace Jesus promises in our gospel lesson. We can never be reconcilers if we don’t really think we’ve been reconciled to God in and through Jesus. We can never offer forgiveness to others or ourselves if we do not think we have been forgiven by God. We can never experience the wondrous sense of pardon and release that comes with God’s forgiveness. We can never experience the real joy that comes with God’s forgiveness. And if we do not experience any of this, we can never hope to be signs of God’s new creation to others and to the world. But this is precisely what Jesus is calling us to do and be, and it is God’s love and forgiveness that must power and sustain our Easter faith. We can share in God’s new world only because we are healed and forgiven by the blood of Jesus shed for us. This was the resurrection faith the first apostles preached with great power as reported in our NT lesson and this is what we are called to preach and live out each day of our lives.

Now that we have addressed our worthiness to be Jesus’ signs of new creation (none of us is worthy but it isn’t about our worthiness, it’s about God’s grace and power), what about our ability to accomplish Jesus’ commission to us? Who or what gives us the authority to forgive sins and retain them, i.e., to warn people that certain courses of action oppose God and will inevitably lead to destruction? Isn’t that being all judgmental and stuff? Who among us (other than the wickedly proud) thinks we have the right to forgive and retain sins?

None of us, of course. But notice Jesus doesn’t tell us we have to do this work on our own. Just like God breathed the breath of life into his first human creatures in Genesis 2.7, so Jesus breathed new creation, the life and power of the Holy Spirit, into his first disciples and he continues to breathe that same power into us so that we can be signs of new creation, not in our own power, but in the power of the Spirit. This is the only way we can possibly hope to be the kind of people capable of doing the work Jesus commands us to do here. Again, this does not mean we will magically become sinless, mistake-free people. It means that we can tap into a power far beyond our own to do and be signs of God’s new world, and to pronounce forgiveness of sins in Jesus’ name as well as warn against all kinds of ways that dehumanize and destroy us as human beings. This latter function is extremely difficult in our culture today because the various enemies of the cross brand us as intolerant and unloving. But nothing is further from the truth. We are to warn folks and call them to repentance precisely because we do love them and want them to experience God’s love and healing just like we have and do. If the resurrection of Jesus really is true, then it would be extremely unloving on our part if we were to lie to people and encourage them to maintain lifestyles that will inevitably result not in eternal life, but death.

Jesus’ death and resurrection as well as his call to us to be for the world what he was to Israel is why I challenged us last week to think about ways we can party like it’s the eschaton, to figure out ways in which we can be living signs of our resurrection faith and hope to a world that desperately needs to experience that hope. As we have seen, we can do that in a number of ways, including being Easter people who embody God’s healing love as well as the hope of a new world that is flooded by God’s love and presence, and who are courageous enough to serve as prophetic voices of warning to people and lifestyles that are in direct opposition to God’s good purposes and love, doing this latter task always with a profound sense of humility.

But there is another practical way to be signs of new creation and we see it lived out in our NT lesson. We can be signs of new creation based on how we treat each other as part of Christ’s body and it involves more than just paying lip service. This is what Luke wants us to see (not that the first believers were primitive communists) when he tells us there was no one in need in the early church because folks would sell property as needed to help provide for the truly needy. This is what being of one heart and soul as Jesus’ people looks like. This was putting their money where their mouth was and as we all know, putting our money (or time or patient effort or forgiveness or whatever else is costly to us) where our mouth is is the truest test of love. It is also powerful and tangible evidence that we are living out our resurrection hope and that nothing we do in the Lord’s name will be lost or is in vain (1 Corinthians 15.58).

Are we able to love each other like this? As I said last week, I think we are and I continue to be amazed at the tangible ways we embody Christ’s love for each other. And this is the key, I think, to being signs of new creation and Easter people: That we figure out ways to express God’s love tangibly to one another and to his world, and that we do it with the unmistakable joy that comes from knowing we are loved, forgiven, and have a real hope and future, despite who we might be and/or the darkness that confronts us in this life. We have this hope because of Jesus Christ, crucified, died, and raised from the dead to usher in the beginning of God’s new world. We are part of that world right now because where our Lord is, he promises that we too will be with him. And as we have seen, he is always present to us in the power of the Spirit. And as surely as we live and die, our Lord promises to be with us in even more wonderful ways when God’s promised new world comes fully into being. That’s the Good News we are to live and proclaim to each other and the world, folks, now and for all eternity. To him be honor, praise, and glory forever and ever. Alleluia! Christ is risen! The Lord is risen indeed! Alleluia!

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

Bishop Roger Ames’ Easter Letter 2015

Received via email.

Easter Sunday of the Resurrection of the Lord

My Dear Sisters and Brothers,

Christ is Risen!

He is Risen, Indeed!

He had to rise from the dead. (John 20:9)

At the first miracle, the wedding at Cana, Jesus turned water into wine. John said the miracle “revealed his glory, and his disciples began to believe in him” (John 2:11). The miracle revealed Jesus’ glory, and that revelation inspired belief.

This basic pattern of a sign revealing glory, and the glory inspiring belief occurs again and again in John’s Gospel. For instance, the healing of the official’s son was “the second sign that Jesus did,” and it led the official’s entire family to believe (John 4:54). When Jesus multiplied the loaves and fishes, those who saw the sign said, “This is truly the Prophet” (6:14). When he healed the blind man, the man said, “I do believe, Lord” (9:38). When he raised Lazarus from the dead, “the crowd went to meet him, because they heard that he had done this sign” (12:18).

The greatest of all these signs is Jesus’ resurrection. Easter Sunday is the most important day in all of history. It’s the culmination of God’s magnificent plan of salvation and the foundation of our whole faith as Catholics. Yet as vital a sign as this is, how much do we really know it? How much do we let this sign bring us to deeper and more joyful faith?

Don’t be content with what you know! Even if you know a lot, seek out more insight and revelation. Today is the perfect day to set aside some time to read at least one account of Jesus’ resurrection. Read all four if you can! Be like Mary Magdalene, and run to the tomb. Stay there until you hear Jesus calling you by name. Honor this day. Celebrate it. Remember that it isn’t just about Jesus; it’s also about the new life he has given to you. To everyone! All of us who were baptized into his death are also baptized into his glorious resurrection! Don’t be afraid to take this good news out to the highways and the bi ways. Reach out to the broken, the lost and forgotten and bring His resurrection life and light!

“Jesus, thank you for the great sign of your resurrection! Lord, we believe; help us believe and trust and love even more.”

I remain, yours in the risen Christ,

Anglican Diocese of the Great Lakes