Fr. Santosh Madanu: Christians Must Obey God Rather than the Authority of Men

Sermon delivered on Easter 2C, Sunday, April 28, 2019 at St. Augustine’s Anglican Church, Westerville, OH.

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

Lectionary texts: Acts 5.27-32; Psalm 150; Revelation 1.4-8; John 20.19-31.

Prayer:  Thank you Lord Jesus, for thinking of our generation and our challenges to believe in your resurrection and for offering us your blessings.  We thank you for the ways you minister to us at the Father’s right hand as our exalted Lord.  May we your church, demonstrate your compassion as we live as your presence in the world.  Amen.

One of the things I love about the Gospel of John is that we get to see Jesus specifically thinking about us, those who come after the generation of the apostles.  We believe, but without having seen.  We have to trust the testimony of those who did see.  We have to take their changed lives based on their conviction of Jesus Resurrection.  The resurrection was a moment in history for all the time.  When we profess Christ is risen, we acknowledge our faith in the eternal life with Him.

Jesus first words after resurrection were “Peace be with you”. This is most expensive value that no one can buy but is given to those who are humble to receive it.   Jesus came to give us this PEACE.  Every human being good search for peace in the heart and peace in the world.  One can be really happy when one enjoys true peace that come only from the Lord. Jesus is price of peace.  He wants us to have His peace.  From the resurrection of the Lord we need to know and believe that Jesus is alive and he wants us to be alive.  Jesus is Lord of peace and he wants us to have His peace. Jesus came to give us joy that world can’t give us.  With the Peace, Jesus is sending His apostles to be missionaries of the Good News all over the world.  Jesus sets them on fire to be instruments of peace and love.  

Verse 22 “and with that he breathed on them and said “receive the Holy Spirit”

Please pay attention to the words of the Bible “breathing”.  This is exactly happened in the creation of the world. Genesis 2:11 God breathed over Adam and given him life.  Now Jesus as new Adam recreating new life into human.  No one can give us life but God.  Jesus indeed is true God.

Receive the Holy Spirit Jesus says.  The gifts of the Holy Spirit:

Seven gifts of the Holy Spirit are Piety, counsel, wisdom, knowledge, understanding, fortitude, and fear of the Lord.

The twelve fruits of the Holy Spirit we find in Galatians 5:22-23 like Charity (LOVE) joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, generosity, Gentleness, Faithfulness, Modesty, Self-control, and Chastity.

The gifts of Holy Spirit enabling the first disciples to establish heart to heart communication with the good news. They effectively proclaimed the gospel, shouting the truth, the cause of sin is sickness and death.  Thus changed the lives of many of course changed their own lives to be free from sin. 

Apostles going to all the nations with conviction to proclaim, Jesus risen from the grave. HE has authority to forgive sins and to raise the dead. Jesus is God indeed who forgave our sins and forgave sins many forever. This same authority and grace to forgive sins is given to the Apostles and to the church. Grace to forgive the sins is given on Easter to save sinners- to save us all.

The disciples cower in fear.  They locked themselves in the room but once they received the Holy Spirit they went about whole world in proclaiming the Gospel.  

Why does the world need Christian church?

Because despite of our constant efforts and examples to the contrary, we possess the power to bring peace to the world.  Peace through submission, through forgiveness and peace through service. Even though we experience anxiety and fear, we must remember that we are heir of grace and peace.

What is it for us?

The promise of resurrection at the end of time, and reality of reconciliation with God and other people here now.  Like the first disciples, we experience Jesus risen from the dead, freeing us from the fear of the death that will come at life’s end, and freeing us from all other worldly fears. Therefore let us experience this resurrected Jesus in our lives.

Let us reflect the words of St. Thomas “unless I see the nail marks in his hands and put my finger where the nails were, and put my hand into his side, I will not believe.”

It is unfair to single out Thomas as the doubter because just about everyone who first heard about Jesus’ resurrection had their doubts.  Allow me to recall for you some of other doubters in those early hours after Jesus rose from the dead.  Consider the disciples themselves.  Listen to Luke 2:9-11 when (the women) came back from the tomb, they told all these things to the eleven and to all the others.  It was Mary Magdalene, Joanna, Mary the mother of James, and the others with them who told this to the apostles.  But THEY DID NOT BELIEVE THE WOMEN. The disciples doubted. Yet we don’t say and hear doubting Philip, doubting James etc.  Then there’s the two men on the road to Emmaus.  They walked with Jesus and spent the entire evening gut could not recognize him and they were so depressed and said in their own words .Luke24:19-24 “He was a prophet, powerful in word and deed before God and all the people.  The chief priests and rulers handed him over to be sentenced to death, and they crucified him; but we had hoped that he was the one who was going to redeem Israel.  And what is more, it is the third day since all this took place. They felt that Jesus had let them down.

Let us reflect our own lives.  We spend time every day with people who doubt God’s grace, God’s goodness, God’s love, God’s mercy and God’s presence in our lives. In certain situations like my unborn son death shacked my faith.  I said to the Lord where shall I go, you are the one who gives life and who make the things new and make a way.

Have you ever doubted God’s goodness, God’s protection and God’s providence?  May be during the financial ruin. May be waiting for the test results on a serious health conditions…may be one of your friends death…..may be marriage fallen apart…..may be lost job  and may be sickness and so on.  We all have times when our faith is being shaken. Again we can learn from St. Thomas’s profession of faith saying MY LORD AND MY GOD. Thomas discovered, the resurrection is not just at the end of life but can be experienced in the midst of life.  Resurrected life is about life being restored, relationships reconciled and new life emerging out of disappointment. Life being enhanced and hope being fulfilled.  And believing Jesus Christ we will have life in His name.

From the Acts of the Apostle as we heard in today’s reading that priests, Sadducees arrested Peter and John for teaching the resurrection.  This is not the first time that the Council (Sanhedrin) required apostles to appear before it to defend their actions.   Just a short time ago, Peter healed a cripple beggar and then taught the assembled crowds about Jesus in Solomon’s portico. He told them that God had raised Jesus from the dead.  We hear (4:4) about five thousand people believed as a result of Peter’s preaching. (5000).

Peter and Joh responded after arrest, ‘’whether it is right in the sight of God to listen to you rather than to God, judge for your selves, for we cannot help telling the things which we saw and heard” (4: 19-20).  The council, not knowing what else to do, threatened them and released them.

When Peter and the apostles appeared before the council once again, Peter said, “We must obey God rather than men.” (5:29) – and brief account of God exalting Jesus.  The council members were enraged and wanted to kill the apostles, but Gamaliel, a Pharisee, advised them to let the apostles alone, “for if this council or this work of men, it will be overthrown.  But if it is of God, you will not be able to overthrow it, and you would be found to be fighting against God.” (5:38-39).

Dear friends, Peter makes it clear that when human authority is in conflict with Godly authority, Christians must obey God.

Prayer: Come Holy Spirit fill our hearts with fire of your love and enkindle in us the love of Jesus and your power to preach and teach the Gospel of life and love. And to heal and witness of the Resurrection of the Lord.   We make this prayer through Christ our Lord.

Christ’s Resurrection and Sri Lanka

…Christ has been raised from the dead. He is the first of a great harvest of all who have died.

 So you see, just as death came into the world through a man, now the resurrection from the dead has begun through another man.  Just as everyone dies because we all belong to Adam, everyone who belongs to Christ will be given new life.  But there is an order to this resurrection: Christ was raised as the first of the harvest; then all who belong to Christ will be raised when he comes back.

After that the end will come, when he will turn the Kingdom over to God the Father, having destroyed every ruler and authority and power.  For Christ must reign until he humbles all his enemies beneath his feet. And the last enemy to be destroyed is death (1 Corinthians 15.19-26).

You were dead because of your sins and because your sinful nature was not yet cut away. Then God made you alive with Christ, for he forgave all our sins. He canceled the record of the charges against us and took it away by nailing it to the cross. In this way, he disarmed the spiritual rulers and authorities. He shamed them publicly by his victory over them on the cross (Colossians 2.13-15)

New Living testament

Yesterday I preached about the unimaginably Good News of Christ’s resurrection because it comes from God’s power and realm. Humans don’t have the power to raise the dead and transform death into life. As St. Paul proclaims above, Christ’s resurrection signals the consummation of the defeat of the powers of Evil, Sin, and Death that was won on the cross of Christ. I preached therefore that the promise of the resurrection of the body is the only real antidote to the world’s pain and suffering, along with our own, because only when our bodies have been raised and transformed will the power of Death finally be defeated and we will be restored to God and our loved ones who have died in Christ. Because Christ’s Resurrection is the power of God on display for all to see and because it has such profound life-changing implications for us and those we love, I encouraged our folks, along with Christians everywhere, to be bold in our proclamation of the Resurrection.

It didn’t take long for that proclamation of the Good News of Jesus Christ to get challenged.

On the very day that the Church celebrated our Lord’s resurrection and the ultimate defeat of Death, Islamic terrorists attacked three churches and luxury hotels, sending homicide bombers to commit mass murder. They were successful. The current toll is 310 dead and hundreds wounded. Lord have mercy. Christ have mercy. Lord have mercy.

Words fail to express our sorrow.

The blood of victims spattered on a statue of Jesus.

“Precious in the sight of the Lord is the death of his faithful ones.” (Psalm 116.15)

…I saw under the altar the souls of all who had been martyred for the word of God and for being faithful in their testimony. They shouted to the Lord and said, “O Sovereign Lord, holy and true, how long before you judge the people who belong to this world and avenge our blood for what they have done to us?” (Revelation 6.9-10)

The evil of this horrific act and those who committed it cannot be condemned too strongly, even as we pray God’s forgiveness on these murderers as our Lord Jesus commanded us to do, hard as it is for us to pray as such. We must let God impose his justice on these murderers.

And here we must address the elephant in the room. Don’t these murderous acts prove that the Resurrection is a farce? Does our Resurrection faith have anything to say to us at times like this? Well, no it doesn’t and yes it does.

As St. Paul reminds us above, the resurrection of the dead has already begun, but it is happening in two stages: first Christ’s resurrection and then our own. St. Paul boldly proclaims that the first fruits are so far reaching that even now they are working to bring restoration of all kinds, life from death, and to conquer evil, especially the ultimate evil of Death. But how can that be in light of these horrific mass murders?

We aren’t told. Instead we are told to remember the power of God demonstrated in Christ’s resurrection. Only the power of God witnessed in Christ’s resurrection has the power to fix and heal this.

Yet we can still peer into the glass dimly (1 Corinthians 13.12). We can talk about the transformed lives that are part of the first fruits about which St. Paul speaks. As Christians we are to bear the fruit of forgiveness and healing and compassion for those who were wounded and for those who lost loved ones in the attacks. We are not to retaliate, but to forgive, even as we pray for God’s justice to be done. We are to embody the healing love and forgiveness of Christ to the victims of this atrocity and to those who perpetrated it, impartial and incomplete as our efforts must be. St. Paul tells us as much at the conclusion of his treatise on the Resurrection in 1 Corinthians 15. Instead of telling us to have a party and celebrate Christ’s victory over death, he tells us to, “be strong and immovable. Always work enthusiastically for the Lord, for you know that nothing you do for the Lord is ever useless [emphasis added]” (1 Corinthians 15.58). In other words, we can have confidence that God in his power, enigmatic as it is for us to comprehend and see in times like this, is using our puny and imperfect efforts to embody the love and mercy and justice of Christ to bring about the new creation God launched when he raised his Son from the dead. In other words, this is the first fruits of Christ’s resurrection working in and through his people. That takes faith, my beloved, the kind of faith that knows and has experienced the love and power of God, however imperfectly and incompletely. Evil, while still terribly active in God’s world, will not have the last say. Life, not death, is the final outcome.

And for those who have had loved ones murdered, our resurrection hope can mitigate against the pain of losing their loved ones to death. One day, their loved ones will be raised from the dead and given new, transformed bodies that will be immortal and impervious to any kind of evil our mortal bodies are subject to. They will be able to see them, speak to them, touch them, hold them, and rejoice with them. They will be able to love them as God created humans to love. Evil and those who commit it will be banished forever. God’s justice will be fully implemented because the dead are brought back to life and restored to those they loved in this mortal life.

This hope, the sure and certain expectation of things to come because God really did raise Jesus Christ from the dead and promises to do likewise with those who belong to Christ—this is what St. Paul means when he tells us that God makes us alive in Christ; we share his resurrected destiny in God’s promised new world—will not keep us immune from the power of Evil nor will it prevent us from grieving. How can it as long as it remains hope unrealized? But it is what must sustain us until it is realized at our Lord’s return.

Our resurrection hope is rooted in the power and love of God, and in history. In the face of unspeakable evil it proclaims that the power of darkness and death will not have the final say, that God really is in control, even in moments like this, and that for those who are in Christ, there is a future and a hope that God promises for all his people (cf. Jeremiah 29.11). New bodies. Restored relationships. The power of God, unimaginable as it is for us is the only thing that has the power to heal us in our grief and sustain us in the living of our mortal days.

Pray for those who have been afflicted by this evil. Pray that they (and we) may not lose hope and heart. Pray that God will sustain us in the power of the Spirit and remind us that nothing in all creation can separate us from his love for us made known in Christ. Pray that we may consciously focus on God’s power made known in the Resurrection of Christ so that we may be reminded and strengthened by its hope that new bodily life is our future too.

Finally, pray God’s comfort and consolation for those who grieve, both in and through the outpouring of the Holy Spirit on those who grieve and through the human touch made available by those who belong to Christ in this world.

The Resurrection: Death Destroyed by the Power of God

Sermon delivered on Easter Sunday C, April 21, 2019 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; Easter Anthems; 1 Corinthians 15.19-26; Luke 24.1-12.

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

Today we celebrate the resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ, the greatest day in all history. Why do we believe this? Because Christ’s resurrection signals that death, our last and greatest enemy, will be destroyed. Yet many of us are skeptical about this central and foundational proclamation of our Christian faith. Why is that? This is what I want us to look at this morning.

Earlier in the liturgy we exchanged the Easter Acclamation: Christ is risen. The Lord is risen indeed. We will be acclaiming this historic truth throughout the fifty days of Easter and we can trace it back to the very beginning of the Church. But do you believe it? It seems that many folks today, church goers sadly included, have gotten the idea that they can’t believe in the Resurrection and be a sophisticated, smart person they style themselves to be. After all, dead people don’t come back to life. We all know that. Moreover, organized religion is getting an increasingly bad name. We read stories of clergy abuse and folly and so become skeptical of the story they are supposed to tell. We are told that the Christian faith is repressive, exclusive, and controlling. The cumulative effect of all this bad publicity and hostile thinking tends to make even the best of us a bit timid about proclaiming the central truth of our faith: that Jesus Christ, crucified, died and buried, has risen from the dead. We are reluctant to proclaim that only in Jesus Christ is there life and freedom from our slavery to Sin and Death because we will surely be accused of being fundies, intolerant of other faiths, reactionary, judgmental, and all sorts of other crimes against enlightened thinking and PC.

And it seems we are not alone in our unbelief. In our gospel lesson this morning we read that the women came to Jesus’ tomb early in the morning to anoint his dead body and we need to be very clear about what St. Luke is telling us. The women didn’t come to the tomb expecting to find a risen Lord. They came to the tomb, like we go visit the graves of our dead loved ones, expecting to find a corpse. Otherwise, why bring spices to delay the decay of death? There was no expectation of a resurrection. They weren’t prepared to sing Christ the Lord is Risen Today. There were only painful memories of his naked, bloody, mutilated, and pierced body being laid in the tomb that previous Friday. Even in the first century, everybody knew dead people don’t come back to life.

Now here they are at the tomb and become alarmed at finding it empty. Being “perplexed” is a poor translation of the Greek word apore?. Imagine if you went to visit the grave of your loved one and discovered his/her body was no longer there and you had no idea what happened to it. You would be more than “perplexed.” You would be alarmed, consternated, anxious. Their anxiety quickly turned into terror when they were confronted by two angels who asked them why they were looking for the living among the dead. Whatever could that mean? The angels then reminded the women that Jesus himself had told them—six times in Luke’s gospel to be exact—that he would be crucified and raised from the dead. The women remembered his words and only then apparently believed, even if they didn’t fully understand what had happened to Jesus, because they went back and reported it all to the disciples. The disciples in turn were skeptical because St. Luke reports that they considered the women’s report of an empty tomb to be utter nonsense. The English translation for “idle tale” understates the case as well. The Greek St. Luke uses means the story of someone who is either deliriously out of his mind in pain or who has lost all contact with reality. Like the women before their angelic encounter, Jesus’ closest friends did not expect that he would be found alive.

And here is where we dare not be timid in our proclamation of the Resurrection. We are often told that the Resurrection is unimaginable and impossible for humans to believe, and from a human perspective that is quite true. We can’t imagine the Resurrection because it is not within our power or realm. We can’t undo death and so we don’t look for the living among the dead. But the Resurrection is not about human power. It is about God’s power and God’s realm, the same God who created this vast universe out of nothing and who raises the dead (Romans 4.17). Many can’t imagine Jesus being raised from the dead because we are not God, much as we want to be. The women did not come to believe that Jesus was alive by their own power and accord. They didn’t believe until God revealed it to them through an angelic intervention and by being reminded of Jesus’ words found in Scripture. Likewise, the disciples didn’t believe that Jesus was raised from the dead until God chose to reveal it to them as St. Luke makes clear in his poignant story of the two disciples’ encounter with the risen Lord on the road to Emmaus and Jesus’ encounter with the disciples later that day (Luke 24.13-48). St. Peter tells us the same thing in our NT lesson, attesting his belief in the Resurrection because God’s intervention made it known to him.

Here’s the point. The first disciples didn’t come to believe on their own or by their own thinking. They didn’t have that in their intellectual or experiential matrix. No human does. They came to believe because God chose to reveal his risen Son to them and by reminding them that Christ’s death and resurrection were predicted in the Scriptures and in the breaking of the bread. If you are wavering in your resurrection faith because you have never encountered the risen Christ in the manner the first disciples did (no one living has), pay attention to these stories (stories as history, not fiction). Apart from a personal encounter with the risen Christ, the same means of knowing him are available to you, just as they were to the first disciples (I can’t say first witnesses because nobody witnessed the Resurrection). So if your faith is tepid, instead of blaming God for that or trying to look sophisticated to a world that can only offer death, perhaps look at your own house first to see if you are really availing yourself to God’s power contained in God’s Word, the sacrament of Holy Communion and made available to you in the presence of the Holy Spirit. When you do, you will discover (or rediscover) why today is the greatest day in all history. By the grace of God you will have discovered the real power of God.

This is what happened to St. Paul. There was no more vehement scoffer than St. Paul was before his encounter with the risen Christ. Despite the pressures he faced (like we do) and the persecution and great suffering he endured for his Lord’s sake, St. Paul never wavered or was intimidated in his bold proclamation that God the Father had raised Jesus Christ from the dead. We see it in our epistle lesson where the apostle found disbelief and muddled thinking about the Resurrection in the church at Corinth. Why are you saying stupid stuff like Christ has not been raised from the dead? If Christ has not been raised from the dead, then your faith is futile and you are still a slave to the power of Sin and your destiny is death. Why? Because Jesus’ resurrection showed him to be God’s Messiah, the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world. If God did not raise Christ from the dead, then Jesus was just another lunatic and all that stuff about atonement and forgiveness is nonsense. We would still be God’s enemies and remain under God’s terrible judgment. And if that’s true, our faith is based on a lie and we are to be pitied most of all because we will still suffer as Christians always have for our faith. 

But, proclaims St. Paul, Christ has been raised from the dead just as God always planned, to heal and restore his sin-sick world and human creatures. The resurrection has already begun when God raised Christ from the dead. This is what St. Paul meant when he referred to Jesus’ resurrection as the first fruits. Christ had to be raised first before those who belong to him because only in Christ do we find life. This had been God’s plan and intention all along. Christ had to die for us because we are all enslaved by the power of Sin and our sin leads to death. As we read last night at the Vigil, our first ancestors got us kicked out of paradise because of their rebellion and their sin-sickness has infected everyone ever since. There’s something desperately wrong with the world and our lives and all but the most delusional know it in our bones. Want examples? Consider the heartbreaking stories of those on our prayer list. Or just ask anyone who is growing old if life’s a picnic, or a desperately lonely young person with no hope of finding companionship, or the family whose child is a drug addict and who lives in constant danger of relapsing and dying, or the person who struggles with a disease that very well may kill her but not before ravaging her body and afflicting her with pain. There may be pockets of happiness and of course the arrogance of youth that lives in a state of perpetual denial of the reality of things, but this is what happens when we live in a world cursed by Sin and enslaved by the powers of Evil. This is what Paul meant when he spoke of death coming through one man (Adam). If Christ has not been raised from the dead, this is the world we are condemned to live in forever. But in raising Christ first, and because Jesus is fully human, God signaled his intention to destroy the powers that corrupt and dehumanize us and lead to death. Because God has annihilated death when he raised Jesus and because Jesus has destroyed the power of Sin over us and freed us from God’s just condemnation of our sins on the cross, those of us who have a real relationship with the risen Lord and really believe God raised him from the dead are made alive because we will share the same destiny as our risen Savior. For those who don’t have a relationship with Christ, only God’s fierce judgment and death awaits. 

But we wait our turn to be raised. For those who have died believing that Jesus really is the Son of God whom God raised from the dead, they too will share in his resurrection when he returns to finish the work he started. Why this has to be a two step process, we aren’t told. We have to accept it as God’s wisdom at work as we muse on his power. In his eloquent and emotional sermon on Good Friday, Father Bowser spoke of spiritual warfare being waged and won on the cross. Here we see St. Paul speak in similar way. He makes the most astonishing claim that the fruits of Christ’s resurrection will become so far-reaching that it will actually bring about the end of history as we know it and allow Christ to consummate the Father’s kingdom by destroying all the dark powers of Evil and ultimately the final evil of death. Elsewhere, St. Paul sums it up like this: 

You were dead because of your sins and because your sinful nature was not yet cut away. Then God made you alive with Christ, for he forgave all our sins. He canceled the record of the charges against us and took it away by nailing it to the cross. In this way, he disarmed the spiritual rulers and authorities. He shamed them publicly by his victory over them on the cross (Colossians 2.13-15, NLT).

And make no mistake, despite our denial of death and our frantic efforts to avoid it at all costs, it is our ultimate enemy. Our neighbor’s 49 year old son died suddenly of blood clots in his lungs last week, one day shy of his 50th birthday. He had just fallen in love with a woman. The two were planning on getting married and having a future together along with his fiancé’s two daughters. Now he is dead and the family is devastated, heartbroken beyond repair. Or consider the memorial of the Columbine massacre yesterday. The families who lost loved ones that terrible day have been changed forever. There is nothing in this world that is going to make any of this right, no memorials, no celebration of life, no flowers or sympathy offered. Nothing. The only thing that can make this right is the resurrection of the body.

Here again we must be crystal clear in our thinking and bold in our proclamation about the Resurrection. We are talking about dead bodies being raised to a new and transformed life patterned after our Lord’s. His raised body had characteristics of his mortal body. His wounds were visible and he could eat and drink. He talked with his disciples and cooked them breakfast. He could be touched, seen, and heard. But his body also had new characteristics. He could appear suddenly behind locked doors and disappear just as suddenly. He wasn’t always recognizable. But he had a body nevertheless. When St. Paul proclaimed the Resurrection of Christ, he and the other NT writers weren’t talking about life after death or some disembodied state. Neither were they talking about Jesus dying and going to heaven or arguing that he had an immortal soul or that he existed in some spiritualized state about which the disciples eventually became aware. They weren’t interested in any of that baloney because this did not reflect the reality of God’s power in Christ. His mortal body had been raised and transformed, i.e., they were talking about new bodily life. That’s why there was an empty tomb. That’s why the women were chastised for seeking the living among the dead

And if we understand the whole narrative of Scripture that tells us how God is going about rescuing his sin-ravaged world and its people, the resurrection of the body ought to make perfect sense to us. God didn’t create us as spirits. God created us with a body to house our soul and our bodies are what make us human. So why wouldn’t God recreate our bodies in the manner he created us in the first place? Bodies matter to God and they should matter to us. They allow us to develop deep relationships with each other. We can talk to each other, hold each other, procreate and enjoy sexual intimacy in the context of married life. Think about the patterns of your best beloved and how you would miss those patterns terribly if that person were dead because those bodily patterns helped make the person present to you. That is why death cannot finally be destroyed until Christ returns and raises those of us who belong to him back to new bodily life. While those we love who have died in Christ are with him in heaven, they are still dead. Their bodies lie mouldering in the grave and we cannot talk to them or see them or touch them or feel their warmth. 

Not so when Christ returns to raise the dead to new life. Only then will we be reunited with our loved ones and really have them back, never to worry about losing them again. Death will be destroyed. Can you imagine anything more wonderful than this? On the contrary, we can scarcely begin to imagine it, for it does not come from human imagination but from God. All our sins wiped away, all evil done to death forever, the devil and his minions destroyed, our loved ones restored to us, all the injustices and wrongs of human history made right in a new heavens and earth. These things are neither humanly possible or religiously possible. But nothing is impossible for God. The Resurrection proclaims that everything is new! Changed! Our sinfulness exchanged for his righteousness, our mortality for his immortality, our sorrow for his joy, our bondage for his freedom, and our deteriorating human body for an altogether transformed one that will be impervious to death, disease, aging, and deformity, a body that will be our very own and no one else’s, a body with which to love others and be loved in return with all the love of Christ himself. This is the hope and power of Easter, my beloved. Is it your hope and power? If it is, nothing in this world can rob you of the joy (not happiness) that must accompany your resurrection faith because you know that while mortal death awaits, it has been swallowed up in life, all by the love and mercy and power of God. This is the Good News of Jesus Christ, crucified, died, and raised from the dead. 

I promise you this. On my watch here, you will not hear a tepid, half-baked, human-oriented or over-spiritualized (gnostic) gospel preached, despite the fact that we have Fathers Sang, Bowser, and Madanu on staff, nor will St. Augustine’s be ashamed of the gospel, despite the fact that we are a quirky bunch of ragamuffins. We worship and proclaim a God who creates new things out of nothing and who raises the dead. This God, the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, has sent his Son to restore us fully to himself and makes himself known to us in and through the power of the Holy Spirit. This is the God we proclaim and love, and this is what makes today the greatest day in history. To him be honor, praise, and glory forever and ever. Alleluia! Christos anesti! Alithos anesti! (Christ is risen! The Lord is risen indeed!) Alleluia!

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

Bishop Julian Dobbs: The Resurrection of Our Lord

Received via email.

The Resurrection of Our Lord | April 2019

The Lord is risen indeed!

Why do you seek the living among the dead?  He is not here, but has risen.  Luke 24: 5-6

The central and unshakeable truth of the Bible is that Jesus has risen from the dead!  Conquering death and the grave, our Lord Jesus Christ rose from the dead on the third day and as a result the kingdom of heaven is open to all believers.

The Apostle Paul wrote, “…if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.”  Romans 10:9

Believing in your heart that God raised Jesus from the dead is much more than accepting a fact. It means being confident that God is for you, that he has closed ranks with you, that he is transforming your life, and that he will save you for eternal joy. 

May your confession of the risen Jesus Christ reassure you of God’s love and grace each day of your earthly life.

Almighty God, who through thine only-begotten Son Jesus Christ hast overcome death, and opened unto us the gate of everlasting life: We humbly beseech thee, that as by thy special grace preventing us thou dost put into our minds good desires, so by thy continual help we may bring the same to good effect; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who liveth and reigneth with thee and the Holy Ghost, ever one God, world without end. Amen.

The Rt. Rev. Julian M. Dobbs
Bishop

Easter 2019: 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

Easter 2019: 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!

Easter 2019: 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.

Holy Triduum 2019: 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 20.19; Luke 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 2019: 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.

Fr. Ric Bowser: Good Friday: The Decisive Battle of Spiritual Warfare

Sermon delivered on Good Friday, April 19 , 2019 at St. Augustine’s Anglican Church, Westerville, OH.

Father Bowser believes the word is mightier than the pen, or something like that. The result is that there is no written manuscript of tonight’s sermon. To listen to the audio podcast of tonight’s excellent sermon, click here.

Lectionary texts: Isaiah 52-13-53.12; Psalm 22; Hebrews 4.14-16, 5.7-9; John 18-19.

Holy Week 2019: Good Friday: Jesus Remember Me

One of the criminals hanging beside him scoffed, “So you’re the Messiah, are you? Prove it by saving yourself—and us, too, while you’re at it!”

But the other criminal protested, “Don’t you fear God even when you have been sentenced to die? We deserve to die for our crimes, but this man hasn’t done anything wrong.” Then he said, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your Kingdom.”

And Jesus replied, “I assure you, today you will be with me in paradise” (Luke 23.39-43).

NLT

Today is Good Friday, the most sacred day of the year and the turning point in history. Why is it the turning point? Because God himself has moved to redeem us from our slavery to the power of Sin. Our sin got us booted from paradise as our first ancestors arrogantly sought to be equal to God. Today the Son of God makes our reentrance into paradise possible. He does so in complete agreement and perfect obedience to God the Father’s will, and by giving up his equality with God in utter humility so that we might be saved.

On the cross, Jesus, God become human, is giving himself for us in self-sacrificial love to end our alienation from God and deal a decisive blow to the dark powers. This has always been enigmatic and paradoxical to us. It doesn’t look like Jesus is reigning as king from the cross. It doesn’t look like the evil powers have been defeated. It looks just the opposite! And it often looks that way in our lives and the world in which we live. With the powers of Evil so active, how can our Christian faith proclaim the defeat of these dark powers? We aren’t told how it all works, just that the powers of Evil have been defeated. Listen to St. Paul:

You were dead because of your sins and because your sinful nature was not yet cut away. Then God made you alive with Christ, for he forgave all our sins.  He canceled the record of the charges against us and took it away by nailing it to the cross. In this way, he disarmed the spiritual rulers and authorities. He shamed them publicly by his victory over them on the cross (Colossians 2.13-15).

NLT

St. Paul wrote these words while he was languishing in a prison dungeon because he was an apostle for Christ! He of all people knew the evil and suffering the dark powers could inflict on the saints of God. Yet he still maintained that on the cross our slavery to Sin had been broken. Certainly not completely during this mortal life as we all can attest, but we believe that despite the darkness around us and within us, we are truly free because we believe that the cross of Christ is the power of God, the only power that can free us from our slavery. Reality isn’t always perceived by our senses and the world’s wisdom is foolishness to God. May God be gracious to us and give us the wisdom and humility to have ears to hear and hearts/minds believe this astonishing truth.

At the foot of the cross, we also find God’s forgiveness for the evil and folly we have committed in our lives. Like the repentant criminal dying next to Jesus, we believe that in Christ’s death we see the love of God being poured out for us so that we are spared God’s perfect justice and judgment on our sins, and we dare cry out to our Lord, asking him to remember us. Remember me, Jesus. Because if you don’t, my mortal life will be over before I know it and I will return to dust, desolate and bereft in my grave, and unremembered after only a few short years, perhaps a fate as awful as your judgment on my sins.

We cry to our merciful Lord to save us and remember us even though we don’t deserve such love and grace because we believe in the love of God shown us today. Like the repentant criminal, we dare believe that we will hear Christ’s promise to us that on the day of our death we will be with him in paradise to await our new bodies to live in God’s new world. St. Paul boldly proclaims this above. St. Luke tells us this in the exchange between Jesus and the repentant criminal and in the larger story of Christ’s passion. Earlier he tells us that Pilate had released Barabbas, a known terrorist, instead of Jesus. The innocent is condemned and the guilty go free. That sounds about right, but in telling us this, St. Luke reminds us that even in the darkness, God’s saving power is at work. Christ has stepped into the breach to die for us so that we can live. We may not be terrorists like Barabbas was, but none of us on our own merits is able to live in the perfect holiness of God’s presence—until today, until Christ’s death, thanks be to God!

This is worthy of our best contemplation, our deepest mourning, and our most joyful and profound thanks to God the Father, whose great love for us in Christ surpasses our own poor expectations, hopes, and fears. This is why we call this particular Friday “Good.”