Why We Need The (Not A) Good Shepherd

Sermon delivered on Easter 4B, Good Shepherd Sunday, April 25, 2021 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 4.1-12; Psalm 23; 1 John 3.16-24; St. John 10.11-18.

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

Today is the fourth Sunday of Eastertide and we are at day 22, almost midway through the 50 days of Easter (how are your new creation celebrations going, BTW? Are you causing anyone to wonder why you are partying so much?). In the Anglican Tradition, we celebrate the fourth Sunday of Easter as Good Shepherd Sunday, where our readings point to Christ as our Good Shepherd. But what does that mean for us as Christians living in an increasingly chaotic 21st century world? This is what I want us to look at this morning. 

So who needs Christ as their Good Shepherd? Well, all of us, frankly, because we live in a world of instant communication that allows us to see with increasing intensity the dark and chaotic world in which we live. Toots and I can barely watch the news anymore and we increasingly stay away from social media because of the ever-growing toxic strand of stories that stream from these various sources. In short, we avoid the news for the sake of our mental health and spiritual, and we’re not alone. As the Christian faith and those who profess and live it come under increasing attack, not to mention the very foundations and traditions of our nation, if we are not careful we can quickly and easily fall into despair. Then of course there are the personal failures, setbacks, losses, anxieties, and other difficulties we all face. Many of us who try to live up to the high calling of the Christian life are all too painfully aware that we miss the mark, sometimes as much as we hit it. Like David in Psalm 51, we know our transgressions and our sin is ever before us. Perhaps a better question might be, where is our Good Shepherd, rather than do we need one! Then there’s the quaint and seemingly outdated term, shepherd, itself. Most of us don’t come from a rural background and even if we do, shepherding seems to be a thing of the past. Why would we need a good shepherd when we live in the 21st century?

But we mustn’t let the historical context of Scripture lull us into false and misleading conclusions. We must remember that it is to the glory of God that he indeed works and is active in the context of human history, meaning that Jesus lived at a particular time and in a particular culture where his listeners would have quickly related to his use of the term shepherd. No, as Scripture consistently proclaims, our God is not some absentee god who is disinterested in this world and our lives. Nor is he a god who focuses exclusively on things “spiritual” as any self-respecting gnostic, past and present, would have us believe. Instead, Scripture proclaims consistently that God our Father is the God of history and our Creator. And as the resurrection of Christ proclaims boldly to us and to the world, creation matters to God and God intends to make all things right again. The risen Christ is our living preview of coming attractions so to speak, testifying to this truth, thanks be to God!

If we keep all this in mind, we are ready to answer the question as to why we need Christ the Good Shepherd. A shepherd is one who looks after those who follow him, in this case human image-bearers, not mindless sheep. This image therefore reminds us that the notion of shepherding by definition applies not to individuals, but to groups (think Christ’s body, the Church). Of course, Jesus leads us and is available to us as individuals. Anybody who knows the risen Lord knows that. But Christ does not call us to live our lives in isolation. He calls us to live together as a family of believers. We are all in this together because we are all subject to the same dark powers and forces of chaos, which at its root is the very nature of sin. Show me sin of any kind and I will show you chaos. Given that we are subject to powers and forces far stronger than we are, forces that have enslaved us and stripped and robbed us of our original human dignity as God’s image-bearing creatures whom God created to rule his good creation on his behalf, we are in constant danger of being undone. Simply put, we are not able on our own to free ourselves from our slavery to that alien and hostile power we call Sin, and if we are unable to free ourselves from its slavery, we all face Death, not only our mortal death, but also the Death that results from being disconnected from God, our very Source of life. This means that we are already dead people walking without God’s help. Take the patient off his life-support systems without a cure and the patient dies. Try to live life in the face of the dark powers and the chaos they impose on our lives and world without the help of someone or something stronger, and we become people who live without hope. And without hope, we all die.

But thanks be to God that we do have someone who is stronger than the forces who hate us and want to destroy us. We have Jesus Christ, crucified, died, and raised from the dead, available to us. Christ is our Beautiful Shepherd (a more accurate description for the Greek word, kalos, than the term “good”), who loves us enough to give up his equality with God to become human and to die for us to break Sin’s power over us, and to bear God’s righteous and just punishment for our sins. This self-giving love for us reflects the heart and glory of God the Father who does not give up on us, irrespective of how badly we manage to screw things up. None of us know all that transpired on Calvary that Good Friday because none of us has the mind of God. Yet we believe that our sins are forgiven and that we have new life starting right now because Christ’s death reconnected us to God our lifeline and promises one day to raise our mortal bodies from the dead to live with him forever. How do I know this? How can I be sure, especially with so many unanswered questions and in the face of so much dysfunction and suffering and alienation and chaos (sin)? Because Jesus Christ is raised from the dead as he tells us he would be in our gospel lesson today. As St. Paul proclaimed in his letter to the Romans, at just the right time, Christ died for us, even while we were still God’s enemies (Romans 5.6-20) so that we could have life once again and be the image-bearing creatures God created us to be as human beings. This is what real shepherding looks like, the only kind that matters, and this is why we have only one real Shepherd because only in Christ do we find forgiveness of sins and salvation. And here we need to spend some time unpacking this extraordinary statement found in our NT lesson. Isn’t it incredibly exclusionary? Well, no it isn’t. 

Why? Because what Ss. Peter and John were proclaiming, along with the early Church, is that only Jesus is God become human and only his saving death can break our slavery to Sin and restore us to our rightful place as God’s image-bearers. In other words, Christianity has a truth that other religions simply do not because only Jesus Christ is raised from the dead. Neither is God’s love closed to anyone. All are invited to put their faith in Jesus Christ and no one is shut out expect through their own stubborn refusal to see and believe the truth that is in Christ. Now of course the history of Christianity is littered with all kinds of folly that has accompanied our proclaimed faith in Christ and all kinds of wickedness that has sadly accompanied real Christian wisdom. But human wickedness and folly do not negate the truth of the claim itself! Jesus Christ is raised from the dead, proving he is who he claimed to be, not to mention the testimony of hundreds of millions of people over time and culture, our little parish being a blessed microcosm of that collective witness! Christ himself tells us this today in rather stark terms, you’ll never know me or that my claims are true if you don’t know the One who sent me, i.e., God. Why? Because the Father and I are one and that kind of deep intimate relationship characterizes the relationship my followers have with me. Confess me as your Lord and live like you believe it, and you will know that my claim to be the only way to the Father is true (John 14.6). As both the psalmist and St. John in his epistle remind us, Christ our Beautiful Shepherd is the basis for our reconciliation with God and our confident trust that he is with us, even at the moment of our mortal death. What more protection and promise do we need, my beloved? That is why only Christ can be our Good Shepherd, because only in Christ do we find forgiveness of sins and the promise of resurrection. No other shepherds will do because no one but Christ can give us life. Pinheads like me who claim the title of pastor (shepherd) by virtue of our office cannot give you life; we can only point you to the One who can and does, and encourage and exhort you to believe the power and the promise, especially in today’s world where it is increasingly viewed with disdain and hostility. Even so, we do not fear nor will we let ourselves be kowtowed into silence if we really do believe that there is no other Name than Christ’s by which we are saved! That is why Christians, and by that I mean those who have a real and lively faith with Christ, have never feared persecution and have actually rejoiced when suffering for Christ’s sake. As Jesus himself reminded us, we shouldn’t fear those who can kill our body but are then powerless to do anything else to us. We should instead fear God who has the power to end our life forever (Matthew 10.28).

I can hear some of you grumbling right now. You have questions. Why does he sweat so much when he preaches and leads worship (A: I am a born sweat hog)? If Christ really is the Good Shepherd, why is my life so blown up right now? C’mon dude. Get real. Well, my skeptical interlocutory friend, here’s the deal. I don’t know why God allows what God allows to go on in his world. Nobody does and if you hear someone claim otherwise, run like crazy from that person! What I can tell you is this. Life is not a grand experimental design. It does not consist of experimental and control groups where we can manipulate variables to determine causation and/or correlation. It just doesn’t work that way. We aren’t God and we aren’t omniscient. We aren’t privy to all to which God is privy. That’s why, for example, I can’t prove in any kind of strict empirical sense that God answers prayer or that God is moving mightily within our parish family by bringing new families in and opening up your generous hearts to enable us to occupy our new premises. I can’t “prove” any of this, but I know it’s true because I know the power of God in Jesus Christ raised from the dead, in my life, in the lives of many of you, and in the life of the one holy, catholic, and apostolic church, broken and dysfunctional as she is. It’s called FAITH. And because I know the power of the risen Lord and his presence in and among his people, I don’t feel the need to try to “prove” anything to skeptics with their sneering questions. I’m not copping an attitude here. I simply don’t feel compelled to play by the enemy’s rules or by the rules of scoffers. I know the reality and so, I pray, do you. 

None of this means that we are immune to hurts, heartaches, failures, and brokenness as a parish. We know this all too well. Wendy just lost her dad to congestive heart failure. Chris recently lost his brother to the wicked disease of cancer. Doug is still not fully healed, to name just three examples. You all can add your own heartbreaking stories. But mysterious as this all is, it does not negate the reality of Christ’s promise to be our Beautiful Shepherd in life and in death because he is risen from the dead and because we don’t live a life that is built like a cosmic experimental design. There’s much more than meets our senses and Scripture affirms that there is an unseen reality out there of which we are unaware. Think, for example, of Elisha and his young assistant who found themselves seemingly trapped by the Aramean army. The young man fell into despair as a result, thinking that they were about to be utterly undone. But then Elisha prayed for God to open the young man’s eyes and he beheld the unseen forces of God ready to intervene on their behalf to rescue them (2 Ki 6.8-23)! St. John essentially tells us the same thing in our epistle lesson when he reminds us that when we are Christ’s we have the invisible Presence of the Holy Spirit working in us to remind us of God’s great love for us despite the fact that we were at one time God’s enemies. God’s love reminds us that we no longer need to languish over a guilty conscience. Rather we are to repent of that which caused that guilty conscience and ask God’s forgiveness. And because we know the crucified and risen Lord, we know that God gladly answers our prayers. Do you believe this? If you do, let Christ’s shepherding strengthen and encourage you in the dark valleys of your life. And by all means, let us encourage and strengthen each other with this reality when we become aware of of those dark valleys.

All this reminds us why we need Christ our Beautiful Shepherd and what it leads to: changed lives and the power to be a living embodiment of Christ’s love for us and for his world. If we really believe that there is no salvation other than in the Name of Christ, and if we really believe God does truly love us despite our warts, sometimes quite sizable, then we must live and proclaim our faith to others because having Christ as our Good Shepherd really is a matter of life and death. It means, in other words, we put our faith into action, starting with our families and our extended parish family. When we see others in need we act on their behalf, having generous hearts that imitate our Savior. It means we give our time, talents, and money to help our families and those around us who desperately need to both survive and to hear and see the gospel of Jesus Christ proclaimed and lived out faithfully. It means we are to embody the self-giving love Christ has for us to others in the context of our daily lives and communities. And here I want to offer counsel to you because many, if not most, Christians misunderstand what self-giving love looks like. To embody the self-giving love of Christ doesn’t mean we become punching bags of all sorts to others. Jesus Christ did not love us and die for us to enable us to continue in our (self-)destructive behavior. He died for us so that we might learn to live and love like he loves us and the Father loves him. He died for us so that we might be truly healed and find wholeness and peace. Remember this as you attempt to love others. Becoming their verbal, emotional, or physical punching bag or enabling their destructive behaviors is not loving them. It is actually participating in their sin and this is never the loving thing to do. We sometimes are confronted with difficult choices when dealing with others. That is when we go to Scripture and pray to the Lord for guidance and wisdom. And we learn to trust each other enough to seek and receive their godly guidance. We can do so with confidence, a confidence not rooted in ourselves or others, but because we know the One who is our Beautiful Shepherd and who promises to be with us, individually and together, in any and every circumstance because of his great love for us. This is Jesus Christ, crucified, raised from the dead, and ascended into heaven to rule until he returns again to finish his saving work on our behalf. This is the Shepherd we desperately need and the One on whom we can count and to whom we can give our wholehearted love, loyalty, trust, and obedience because only in him is forgiveness and life. 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. 

Father Jonathon Wylie: He Is Alive and We Are Witnesses

Sermon delivered on Easter 3B, Sunday, April 18, 2021 at St. Augustine’s Anglican Church, Westerville, OH.

Father Wylie gets all whiny and pouty when he has to submit a written manuscript of his sermon (he’s a PhD dontcha know). We don’t want that, so click here to listen to the audio podcast of today’s sermon.

Lectionary texts: Acts 3.12-19; Psalm 4; 1 John 3.1-7; St. Luke 24.36b-48.

Father Santosh Madanu: Evidence of Jesus Christ’s Resurrection and Resurrected Life

Sermon delivered on B, Sunday, , 2021 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 4.32-35; Psalm 133; 1 John 1.1-2.2; St John 20.19-31.

Prayer:  Lord Jesus you are the son of Living God. You are the messiah.  That is why you only can say these words. Revelation: 1: 17-18 “Fear Not; I am the First and the Last, And the Living one. I Died and behold I am Alive for ever And I have the Keys of Death (grave) and Hades. Amen.”  Bless the hearts of St. Augustine family to an encounter with you in order to have resurrection life.  In Jesus name I pray .Amen.

What is the difference between Complete and finished?

If you find the right partner /spouse you are complete.  And if you find the wrong one you are finished.  And if you are wrong and have the wrong partner, you are completely finished.

 Let us reflect the Evidences of Jesus Christ Resurrection:

1.  Eye Witnesses – Who saw Jesus after the resurrection?

 The first one to see Jesus after His resurrection was Mary Magdalene, and Mary and Salome  who were with Mary Magdalene,  ( Mark 16:9 ). Matt 28:9; Mark 16:9; Luke 24:15-18; John 20:14; 1 Cor 15:3-5 The three women, Matthew 28:9, “And behold, Jesus met them and greeted them. In 1 Corinthians 15:3-8 Saul-Paul of Tarsus reported the resurrected Jesus had appeared to Peter – Cephas, then the 12 disciples, then more than 500 brethren most of whom who were still alive and could be questioned, Jesus appeared to James (skeptic) and finally to Paul himself (a Pharisee and a man who persecuted Christians until he had a face-to-face encounter with the resurrected Jesus)

Who felt Jesus real presence after the resurrection? Who touched Resurrected Jesus?

All the faithful followers beginning with the Apostle,   saw resurrected Jesus and felt His  breath of Holy Spirit.

2.  The truthfulness of the word of God

Acts 2: 22-30  “Fellow Israelites, listen to this: Jesus of Nazareth was a man accredited by God to you by miracles, wonders and signs, which God did among you through him, as you yourselves know. This man was handed over to you by God’s deliberate plan and foreknowledge; and you, with the help of wicked men, put him to death by nailing him …but God raised Him from the dead.

1cor 15: if Christ has not been raised my preaching is in vain and you faith is empty…. You still in sin

Rom 10: 9-10  that if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is the Lord, and believe in your heart that God has raised Him from the dead, you will be saved. 10 For with the heart one believes unto righteousness, and with the mouth confession is made unto salvation.

John 2:   Destroy this temple and I will raise it up in three days

3.  Why should  all the Apostle die alone except John in a far distant countries, became martyrs for the false belief and what is the gain?

Apostle Thomas had come to south India and proclaimed Christ and was stabbed  to death by the Hindu Brahmins.

4. The Empty Tomb – Pharisees and kings with all the authority could not prove with the dead body of Jesus either in the tomb or in Jerusalem or elsewhere. If they were to found the dead body of Jesus they can falsify the resurrection of Jesus.

5.  The Mission of Preaching of Risen Christ began in Jerusalem to the ends of the world from the day of Pentecost.  There were many good deeds and miracles done by the apostles in the name of risen Jesus and power of the Holy Spirit spread to everyone who believed in the Lord.

6.  The change of Worshiping day from Saturday to Sunday began in the church.  It is because Jesus rose on Sunday. 

7.  The history of mankind began with the birth of Jesus –the son of God. We start AD –Anno Domini. The time, days and years designated from the Birth of Christ Jesus.

8.  The conversion of Saul of Tarsus- the persecutor of the church began to preach the Jews and Gentiles the grace and redemption through the passion and the crucifixion and the power of the resurrection and witnessing the risen Christ. The one who wrote 1/3 of the New Testament.

9. With all the knowledge of science and discoveries, atheist do not even come close to disprove the resurrection even after 2000 years.

10.  The existence of the church that began with Jesus continues even today after thousands of years with all the persecutions and destructions of the churches all over the world.  Whereas all the powerful emperors, dictators, kings, presidents,Priministers and famous scientists and many more cannot be remembered after a century.

11. My own experience believing the Absolute God the Almighty and the Lord Jesus and the Holy Spirit.  I feel free from sin once I received   the resurrected life- Born Again – New Life in Jesus Christ.

 `Shalom! ` With God as we are reconciled. Shalom with our neighbors as we learn to love them.

Peace comes with occupation with Christ.

APPLICATION:

Christians can have peace in times of trouble. Fear cripples the Christian faith and life. Those who operate with fear orientation forget about how the sovereignty of God relates to their lives.

The disciples’ world changed at the shocking appearance of Jesus in bodily form. Their suppressing fear turned to joy (Jn 16:22). Jesus offered them “peace,” a harmony of their soul. He puts together all the discord of our lives as well (Jn 16:33). Circumstance does not have to control our lives. Occupation with Christ can allay the troubled heart (1 Pe 1:6-8).

  •  ‘Jesus breathed on them’.  The Holy Spirit empowered all who assembled with the fire of   love to preach and to observe the commands and teachings of Christ. The mission of the Risen Christ is to make the disciple of all the nation.
  • Do I have any sense of ‘being sent’? Good news is first foremost is for me.  I should change myself from bad to good-The change of heart. And sharing the joy in Christ to others. 
  • Can I Witness that believing in the name of Jesus Christ has brought freedom from slavery to sin, salvation to my soul and everlasting peace, joy and the life to me?
  • The Risen Jesus meets his closest friends for the first time after they had all abandoned him in his hour of need. It must have been a moment they were all dreading. Yet his first words, twice over, were, ‘Peace be with you’. No rebuke, no reproach, just ‘Peace!’ And then he showed them his wounds, the unmistakable signs.
  • ‘As the Father sent me, I also send you’. While they were feeling they had failed abysmally as his disciples, he entrusted them with the same mission he had received from the Father: now they knew it was not they who had chosen him, but he had chosen them. Their mission, a mission of bringing forgiveness of sins with true repentance of heart and preach that Jesus is the only the way to heaven.
  • Thomas is an ordinary person, knotted up in his own fears and doubts. Perhaps we all carry something of his DNA? Here we are shown the transforming impact which his personal encounter with Jesus has on him.  We Christians have to have a renewed personal encounter with Jesus. 

‘These are written so that you may come to believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that through believing you may have life in his name’. The final sentence of this text underlines the purpose of the Gospel in general and of the Resurrection narrative in particular: that through faith in Jesus as the Messiah we may have life in His name.

  • Thomas places his hands in the wounds of Jesus, and the experience draws from him the first, ringing affirmation of Christ’s divinity: “My Lord and my God!” Fully human, and fully divine. Eternally human, eternally divine. His human nature is glorified, just as His divinity is humanized. Our human nature will be forever in Him; His divinity dwells within us, and will remain with us even to the consummation of the world.
  • I let Jesus whisper to me, ‘You will be blessed if you decide to believe!’ To believe in him is to give my heart to him,not just my head. It is not too demanding to do this, because he has already given his heart to me.
  •  ‘Sending’ is what God likes to do. Jesus is sent, the Holy Spirit is sent, and we are sent too. Jesus is sent to bring love, light and truth into the world. I too am sent. I am to bring love, light and truth into my little world. I am important to the plans of God. The world will be better if I carry out the  mission of Jesus Christ.
  • Brave, honest Thomas had gone off to grieve on his own, so he missed that meeting with the Lord. I can taste some of his isolation and resentment in his Unless…. I will not believe. I have suffered in this way when I isolated myself from the community of faith. It is when I am stunned by sorrow that I most need the company of friends and the support of faith.
  • Thomas was a modern man, finding faith hard, like many people today. He was let down by the others who ran away, the leader denied Jesus, his trust in the group of apostles had been abused. He didn’t want much more to do with them. He had got tired of it all. He wanted to believe but needed a sort of proof. But faith grows within a community. That’s why we administer the sacraments like baptism.  We find growth in our faith through the community – for example, in the Mass, sharing our faith in a group or a good spiritual- Bible study, sharing our doubts but never closing the door to Jesus, sharing our faith in thanks for what our faith gives us.
  • In community, the disciples found faith in the risen Christ. Thomas, for some reason, was not with them when the Lord came. Separated from the community, he found faith more difficult. Faith in the Lord, while personal, is not a private affair. In the faith of one, the faith of another may be strengthened. Formation in faith for the disciples had its communal experience – together they learned and found faith in the Lord.
  • Jesus always brings peace and reconciliation. Saint Augustine called peace ‘the tranquility of order’, meaning order in my relationships with God, with other people and within myself. Where is there lack of peace in my life? Who do I need to make peace with? Do I make space to experience God’s forgiveness and gift of peace? I ask for his peace so that I may bring others the peace of Christ.

Experience the living Jesus: Jesus was alive- with physical body. John the apostle says we have seen with our eyes, we have heard with our ears and we have touched and ate with him.

 That’s what we experience in this Lord’s Supper the Living Presence – His body to satisfy our hunger and His blood to quench our thirst.

The Easter brings Three gifts to us: 1. the gift of peace, 2. the gift of power-“Receive the Holy Spirit” [the power].  And 3. The gift of purpose “As the Father has sent me, even so I am sending you.”  – . The opposite of peace is conflict. The opposite of power is weakness. The opposite of purpose is aimlessness.

“Since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ” Romans 5:1).

Jesus sending you and me to extend His peace, His power, His mission and His light and His truth and His life in the world.

Prayer: Thank you Jesus for blessing us with Great HOPE in you.

Come Lord Jesus to meet us, to talk with us, to change our lives. Because we are discouraged, disappointed and despair for the troubles and works the flesh and woks of this world and works of devil. With your help the world may discover that you are the messiah. In Jesus Name we pray. Amen.

Our Easter Hope: We Need it Now More than Ever

Sermon delivered on Easter Sunday B, April 4, 2021 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; 1 Corinthians 15.1-11; St. John 20.1-18.

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

Today we celebrate the Resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ. Sadly there is a lot of muddled thinking about the Resurrection and I blame the Church primarily for that because it capitulated to the forces of secularization and so-called “enlightened” thinking, thinking that dismisses Christ’s resurrection as made-up fantasy. To put it bluntly, the Church for the most part, at least in the West, has lost her bold voice and failed to proclaim and live out her resurrection hope, and we suffer because of it. We can’t expect the people of God to proclaim and live their Easter Faith if Holy Mother Church doesn’t teach them what that faith is and what it is supposed to look like! So this morning I want us to look at exactly what the first Christians proclaimed when they proclaimed Christ’s Resurrection. Why? Because without the Spirit-filled power of an informed and robust Easter Faith, given the crazy state of our world today and the patients who are trying to run the asylum, we as Christians will inevitably succumb to the destructive Zeitgeist of this age and in doing so bring harm to ourselves and dishonor the Name of the One we profess to follow.

On Friday we looked at what was so “good” about Good Friday and saw that the cross of Christ is a tangible sign of God’s great love for us and his desire to offer us forgiveness, irrespective of who we are or what we have done or failed to do, thereby establishing the necessary conditions for our reconciliation with God, a message echoed in today’s reading from Acts. This is quite necessary if we ever hope to find real healing and peace. Without the healing and forgiveness of Christ found only in having faith in him, no matter how imperfect that faith, it is impossible to be a faithful disciple of Jesus where we can love and serve him in joyful obedience, even in the face of the suffering we must inevitably endure for his sake. Simply put, we cannot love and serve Christ and others if we are distracted by our guilt, failure, and fears. And so forgiveness is absolutely essential for anyone who wants to be a a follower of Christ and the cross is God’s everlasting promise to us that we have that forgiveness. How do I know this is true? How can you know this is true so that you can stake your very life on it? Is it because I’m a smart guy? Well yes I am (good looking too), but that’s not why I know it’s true. We all can have great confidence that this is true because Jesus Christ is raised from the dead! Without the Resurrection, we never would have heard the name of Jesus let alone worship him, and without the cross, the Resurrection would not be possible because we would still be dead in our sins, alienated and hostile to God the Father, and deprived of any real hope. Simply put, the new heavens and earth will not be open to those who are still sin-stained. More about that anon. As St. Paul took pains to remind us in our epistle lesson, Christ’s death and resurrection were historical events, the crucified and risen Christ being witnessed and experienced by hundreds of people, and with it the turning point of history had arrived, the very essence of NEWS, Good News. The old order was done for; God’s new order had arrived, and with it God’s healing love and forgiveness. So the first thing we need to say about Christ’s Resurrection is an historical event inextricably tied to his saving death on the cross. This is critical for a vibrant Easter Faith.

Second, and equally crucial for us to have a meaningful Easter Faith is to have a clear understanding of what resurrection means. When the NT writers and early Church proclaimed Jesus Christ is raised from the dead, they didn’t mean that Jesus had gone to heaven to be with God. It didn’t mean that Jesus was somehow available to them in a new spiritual way so that they could commune with him. That’s an ancient gnostic heresy that is still the darling of many today, including sadly many Christians. In both instances, our Lord would still have been dead and gone, his body presumably moldering somewhere, but certainly still a corpse. This focus on spirituality and life after death is emphatically not what the NT writers meant when they proclaimed Christ was raised from the dead. If Christ was merely available to his first followers in some mystical or spiritual sense, what difference would that really have made to them? Think about it. When our own beloved die, we might draw some comfort and solace if we think there really is life after death. But the fact is, they’re still dead. We can’t see them, touch them, talk with them, hear them, smell them, or interact with them in any meaningful way. Neither does our hope that our dead loved ones somehow survive after their mortal death generally have the power to change our lives much. We must adjust to life without them, and if we had any meaningful relationship with them in this mortal life, our lives going forward are always poorer because they are no longer available to us as they were in this mortal life. No, if Christ’s Resurrection was simply about a new kind of spirituality, the first disciples wouldn’t have been running all over the place that first Easter Sunday, full of wonder, excitement, and fear. I know I don’t have that kind of reaction when I visit the graves of my loved ones. They’re  dead and gone and my life is the poorer for it, forgetting for the moment my Easter Faith. So to repeat, resurrection is not about dying and going to heaven or life after death or spirituality.

So what is resurrection? When the first followers of Christ proclaimed that he was raised from the dead, they were talking about new bodily existence and this is where the brilliance of St. John as a theologian and storyteller shines brightly. As we read last night at the Easter Vigil, creation has always mattered to God. Scripture proclaims that before God created there was nothing but darkness and chaos, but that God created goodness and order to replace that. Genesis declares very clearly that God’s original creation was good and God’s creation of his human image-bearers to run his good creation made the whole enterprise very good. Here we see a good God speak into existence a good created order, complete with his image-bearers to run the whole thing. 

But then came human sin and rebellion, and that allowed the powers of Evil and Death to enter God’s good creation to corrupt and disorder it. The whole story of Scripture, then, is about how God is rescuing his good created order (us included) from our bondage to the powers of Evil, Sin, and Death. Fast forward now to St. John’s gospel, which as we saw at Christmas, purposely mirrors the creation narratives of Genesis 1-2, but with the focus specifically on the Son of God, Jesus Christ. As we saw Friday night, Good Friday represented the culmination of God’s redemptive work in Christ, the sixth day of God’s (re)creative process, mirroring the sixth day of the original creation narratives that represented the pinnacle of God’s creative activity as he created humans. On the cross, Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures as St. Paul declares in our epistle lesson, and his dying words were, “It is finished.” But what was finished? As we saw above and on Good Friday, what was finished is God’s redemptive work to reconcile us to him through the blood of the Lamb so that we could once again take our rightful place as God’s good and wise image-bearers to run God’s new creation, the new heavens and earth. This was always God’s creative intent. And then on the seventh day, Christ rested in his tomb, paralleling the seventh day of creation when God rested from his creative work. Now here we are, the first day of the new week, the eighth day. St. John clearly wants us to see that when God raised Jesus from the dead on that day, God ushered in the new world, the new heavens and earth. It’s so important that the evangelist repeats it later in this chapter as we will see next week. Christ died to make all things new and break the powers of Evil, Sin, and Death so that we would no longer be enslaved by them. Why? Because creation matters to God. We matter to God, and Scripture testifies consistently that it has always been God the Father’s intent to heal and restore his good but corrupted created order, us included. 

And so this is what the first followers meant when they talked about Christ’s Resurrection. New bodily life, a new created order. As we saw in our gospel lesson, Mary tried to grab hold of Jesus. You don’t do that with a ghost or disembodied spirit. Christ’s new body had both similarities to our mortal bodies as well as new characteristics. His followers could see him, hear him, touch him, converse with him, and eat and drink with him, just like they could in his mortal life. Yet his body was different. He could mask his identity as he did initially with Mary in the garden and with his disciples at the Sea of Tiberius. He could appear and disappear behind locked doors. All of this would certainly have produced the kind of commotion and fear the gospel writers all report happening that first Easter Sunday because it was something totally unexpected. And let’s be clear about that too. The women didn’t come to Christ’s tomb expecting to see him risen from the dead. They knew, as we do, that dead people don’t come out of their graves. They came instead to mourn his death and anoint his body to slow down the inevitable decomposition that accompanies death. 

So why is this all critical to us and our Easter Faith? Well, if, as Revelation promises in its closing chapters, God’s new world is a-coming, the day when the dimensions of heaven and earth are joined together in a new created order, we will need new bodies to inhabit it. Why? Because the new creation will be a material order, but also something entirely new, a world devoid of all the evils and hurts and heartaches we must endure in this mortal life, and it will last forever because Death will be abolished forever. Therefore we need bodies that will last forever, the kind of bodies that are patterned after our risen Lord’s body, suitable to live in God’s new world. St. Paul spells this out in detail later in 1 Cor 15 but that will have to wait for another day. The critical point here is that when the first Christians spoke of Christ’s Resurrection they were proclaiming new bodily life, and that is so much more satisfactory than some disembodied spiritual existence. 

Why? Because without a body, human relationships as we know and value them would be impossible. Take St. Peter’s restoration for instance. When our Lord restored St. Peter after the latter’s disastrous denial of Christ, he had to be embodied for it to have a lasting impact on St. Peter. Our own spiritual struggles validate this. Unless we hear an tender voice speaking to us, unless we can look into another person’s eyes and hear the tone of his or her voice and feel the person’s gentle touch, we will never be quite sure if we are forgiven or restored. We ask forgiveness in prayer and we are assured that we receive it because Christ lives and intercedes for us. But we receive it by faith. Unless we hear his voice or receive a clear intimation from him, there is always the possibility of doubt. Are we really forgiven? I suspect St. Peter’s catastrophic denials were so severe that nothing less than an encounter with his risen embodied Lord would do it for him. God, of course, knows best what we need to receive his healing love and forgiveness, but the point remains that without bodies we do not have what it takes to be truly human. And if we are not truly human we are not God’s image-bearers and God’s original and eternal intent for us is destroyed. If we believe in an omnipotent God, a moment’s thought will confirm to us what a ridiculous proposition that is. What Christ’s resurrection announced to his first followers and to us is that the old world order of Sin, Evil, and Death is defeated, that a new day has dawned—God’s new day, the beginning of the new heavens and earth. That day is not yet consummated but the war has been won and we are the beneficiaries. The rest, as a cabbie once said to N.T. Wright, is basically rock and roll, isn’t it?

So how can our Easter Faith assist us in the living of our days in this increasingly mad and bizarre world? Time limits me to two basic ideas to get you jump-started in our own thinking and reflections. First, Christ’s Resurrection invites us to look at our present world and evaluate it using different criteria. Instead of looking at the past and present to assess our future prospects, what if we use our future hope of new creation to assess our present world? When we assess our future prospects using the past and present, how can there really be any hope? The human condition hasn’t changed. Science and technology, while making our lives so much better and easier in some ways, has not changed who we are. Human rapacity, sin, selfishness, pride, greed, and lust for power (to name just a few) continue unabated and unchanged by any of our scientific advancements, the Star Trek myth notwithstanding. In fact, if anything, technology has exposed human wickedness in unprecedented ways. We have instant access to an unending stream of bad news and human madness and evil. Death still reigns. People still suffer. Old age and infirmity still come. We are still alienated to each other and the God-ordained institutions of marriage and family are crumbling before our eyes. Our nation becomes increasingly divided and there are very few voices of reason out there these days. Based on this, what is our realistic hope for the future? This is the old world order at its finest and worst, and with it comes darkness, despair, sickness, and death. 

But what if we really believe Christ’s Resurrection announced the in-breaking of God’s new world, a world in which Evil, Sin, and Death are destroyed forever? A world in which there is no more sickness, sorrow, suffering, alienation, despair, or want of any kind? A world that is dominated by the love and goodness of God, a world about which St. Paul spoke in 1 Cor 13? To be sure, that world has not yet arrived, but it’s coming in full one day and we are called by Christ to so order our lives in ways that will announce to the powers of the old order that their day is through. We do this locally as the family of God. We love each other, care for each other, and suffer with and for each other. We bear each others quirks and pricklies. We grieve with those who grieve and rejoice with those who rejoice. We worship together our risen Lord and Savior and eagerly await his return to finish the work he started in his death and resurrection. We refuse to take revenge and are quick to forgive, especially those who hate Christ and us for being his followers. This will inevitably produce suffering for us, but we have a real hope and future. We know a new world is coming some day. It may be a million years from now. It may be tomorrow. But that doesn’t matter. We assess our present and imitate our crucified and risen Lord because we believe that his Resurrection announced a new world order, a world order run by God alone, a perfect world in which we have been invited to live forever because of the love of God poured out for us on the cross and vindicated that first Easter Sunday. As the great bishop of S. India, Lesslie Newbigin, once said, “I am neither an optimist nor a pessimist. Jesus Christ is risen from the dead.” Exactly.

And on a more personal and emotional note, Christ’s Resurrection promises us that Death will not have the final say. If you have ever watched a loved one suffer and die or are enduring a loved one’s infirmity or terminal disease, you know how heartbreaking that is. But your Easter hope can help mitigate the heartbreak. Why? Because we know that the ugliness and suffering we and our loved ones are enduring (or endured) will one day be redeemed. Broken, weak, ugly bodies on the verge of death will be restored to new beauty and vitality unknown in this mortal life. Suffering, sorrow, and separation will be no more. We will once again get to see, touch, hear, smell, and converse with our beloved as fully restored human beings, perfect and beautiful in unimaginable ways, our relationships with them healed and restored. Who would not want that? But that day has not yet arrived. Until it does we must be content that our dead loved ones are taking their rest in their Lord who claimed them from all eternity, safe in his loving care in heaven as they await their new bodies. In the meantime hope remains, the sure and certain expectation of things to come, because Jesus Christ is raised from the dead, announcing God’s promised new reality, helping us to endure the unendurable until that great and glorious day. The hope of resurrections fulfills our deepest longing for restored human relationships shattered by death.

If you are having a hard time imagining this, don’t worry. God’s power and love and beauty, which of course the Resurrection is all about, is hard for us mortal finite humans to imagine. But just because we cannot fully imagine it doesn’t mean it’s not true. This Eastertide, be living signs of God’s new world. Find ways to celebrate and imitate your crucified and risen Lord. And when the news of the day gets to be too much for you so that you find yourself despairing over the state of things in this country and/or your life, remember that Jesus is Lord and the powers of the present order are not (and that’s got nothing to do with politics, my beloved). I’m not talking about platitudes; I am talking about availing yourself to God’s power, a power that not even the darkest powers can overcome. But you can’t do this on your own because you will be overwhelmed by the pervasiveness of the madness of this world. So let us also resolve to remember and declare together that Jesus Christ is Lord and the dark powers that run this world are not. Their day is done, even if they are not fully vanquished. We know Jesus is Lord because he is raised from the dead and lives with God to intercede for us as his people. He calls us to be living signposts—tangible markers in this life pointing to our final destination, not the destination itself—of his healing love and redemption of the entire human race. So let us together as God’s people here at St. Augustine’s resolve anew to embody God’s great love and forgiveness, goodness and righteousness, to a world gone mad. As we do, let us resolve to worship God and the Lamb together in the power of the Holy Spirit and to rejoice in this gift of resurrection life. Let us come to Christ’s table and feed on him and so be strengthened for this arduous task. Let us have generous hearts with which to share the abundance of Christ’s love and blessings. Let us enjoy sweet fellowship together and take care of each other, always welcoming strangers and inviting others to join in the Paschal Feast. And let our worship and fellowship drive a renewed sense of service to a world that so desperately needs to hear the Good News of Jesus Christ. Everything has changed because Christ has died and risen from the dead. Stake your very life on it and be bold in your living and proclamation of this new reality. And let us find ways to announce this Good News to the world, especially during these next fifty days. After all, we have hope for the present, no matter how bleak things become, because we know our future is secure, and not even the gates of hell can rob us of that promise. 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. 

Easter 2021: 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 2021: 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 2021: 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.

Eastertide 2021: N.T. Wright: Can a Scientist Believe in the Resurrection?

Featured

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

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

Holy Triduum 2021: 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 knew that God’s Messiah didn’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 (like we) 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 in the midst of our own desolation 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, especially now, 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, both individually and collectively. 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, especially from the seemingly non-stop bad news of this crazy mixed-up world. Reflect deeply on these things as you learn to wait on God to act in your life and in this world to end the scourge. 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 Professor N.T. 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 2021: 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.

What’s So “Good” About Good Friday?

Sermon delivered on B, Sunday, , 2021 at St. Augustine’s Anglican Church, Westerville, OH.

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

Lectionary texts: Isaiah 52.13-53.12; Psalm 22; Hebrews 4.14-16, 5.7-9; St. John 18-19.

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

Father Sang was called away to a pastoral emergency tonight and I ask you say a prayer for him. I’m telling you this because he was supposed to preach tonight, but that task now falls to me. Given that I didn’t find out till this afternoon, I am forced to pull out a previous sermon. It’s so previous that most of you here wouldn’t have heard it in the first place. In the original text, I announced the Lord put this sermon on my heart to preach so I trust that what was good then will still be good now. I ask your forbearance.

Remember, LORD, what has happened to us; look, and see our disgrace. You, LORD, reign forever; your throne endures from generation to generation. Why do you always forget us? Why do you forsake us so long? Restore us to yourself, LORD, that we may return; renew our days as of old unless you have utterly rejected us and are angry with us beyond measure (Lamentations 5.1, 19-22).

 The man was dying of cancer and he knew it. As the time of his death approached he became more and more fearful, even though he was a professed and devout Christian. For you see, like the psalmist in Psalm 51 he knew his transgressions only too well and his sin was ever before him, and that terrified him. He personifies the passage from Lamentations that I just read.  That passage was written after the Babylonians sacked Jerusalem in 586 BC and burned down God’s Temple, the very place where the Jews believed heaven and earth intersected and God had come to dwell. As the writer makes clear, he and his people wonder if God had forgotten or forsaken them forever because of their sins. Like the man dying of cancer, they too knew their transgressions and their sin was ever before them. They had utterly failed to be the people God called them to be and now they were paying dearly for it. They were faced with the real and awful possibility that the Source and Author of all life had rejected and abandoned them forever, just as he had abandoned his Temple. This too is what the man dying of cancer feared. 

Or take St. Peter in tonight’s gospel lesson. In his bravado he had bragged to Jesus that he would never abandon or desert him, only to do exactly that to save his own skin. In St. Peter, we see all the ugliness of the human condition—pride, fear, cowardice, and loss of integrity. We all can relate to St. Peter because we are just like him. We remember the times we failed to speak up for goodness and justice because we were afraid. We remember the times when we have denied our Lord in word and action because we wanted to be accepted and didn’t want to face the prospect of being ridiculed. Who does? We can relate when the other gospel writers tell us that after this massive collapse of truth, courage, and integrity, especially in the face of his earlier bravado, St. Peter went out and wept bitterly. When you have denied and separated yourself from the one who loves you and who has always been there for you, how can you possibly expect to be forgiven for something like that? It simply does not compute and it makes you afraid. The man dying of cancer surely would have understood. 

And I suspect this is what many, if not most, of us fear. We know our transgressions and our sin is ever before us and that makes us terribly afraid. Each one of us carries secret sins so dark that we are terrified that someone might find out about them. We are convinced that those things are so wrong and so unforgivable that if found out, especially if God finds them out—which of course, God already has—that we will be justly condemned and rejected by God and others forever. Who could ever love someone like us who carry about our dark secrets? And so we usually do one of two things. We sometimes bury our secrets so thoroughly that we forget about them. We do this because the pain of carrying them with us on a daily basis is too great and terrible for us to bear. This strategy, of course, will not work because the knowledge of our repressed sins will continue to bubble up and manifest itself in the form of ongoing guilt or fear or alienation or a host of other psychological and/or physiological disorders, the way they did for the man dying of cancer. Satan uses all this to convince us that we are unlovable or beyond hope, and he will often appeal to our sense of justice. God or others could never love or accept someone as awful as you. 

Or we do what sinful humanity has done since that sad and terrible scene in Garden that we read in Genesis 3. We hide from God or we come out to attack God and rid ourselves of him like the soldiers did in that other garden from tonight’s gospel lesson. We do this because while we know we can keep our darkest secrets hidden from others, we cannot keep them hidden from God and so we seek to attack and destroy him, as utterly futile as that might be. This is what many who reject God in all kinds of ways do. But if we are honest with ourselves, we know that jig is up and that God knows who we really are—and that scares us beyond our ability to describe or cope with. Perhaps you are one of these people I have just described, or some variation of it. Perhaps you are someone like the man dying of cancer who is terrified that you are beyond forgiveness or healing or reconciliation, even as you desperately seek it. If so, I encourage you to hear what God has to say to you in tonight’s Scripture lessons and with the Spirit’s help, really believe it because in it you will find the forgiveness, healing, hope, acceptance, reconciliation, and real peace that you desperately seek. 

This brings us to the title of tonight’s sermon. What’s so “good” about Good Friday. Seen from one perspective, there’s nothing good about this day because all we can see is massive injustice and human cruelty at its finest. We see an innocent man being flogged within an inch of his life. Roman scourging was not just some ordinary beating. It involved using a whip with multiple tails, each have rock, bone, or other sharp materials attached to the end of each tail so that when it hit the flesh, it was designed to flay it open. Often people died from the 39 lashes themselves. But Jesus didn’t. No, he survived not only that but also having a crown of sharp thorns shoved down on his head so that he could be crucified as King of the Jews.

Then there was the crucifixion itself, which none of the four gospels offer any details, but which we know quite a bit about. The victim was taken to the place of execution carrying the crossbeam of his cross on his shoulders and with a placard of the crimes committed around his neck. Crucifixion involved nailing spikes into the victims wrists and then hoisting the crossbeam onto a pole already embedded in the ground onto which the victim’s feet would be nailed. To add to the humiliation, crucified people were stripped naked and then left to die. It was a slow and agonizing death because the weight of the body made it increasing impossible for the victim  to breathe so he would have to push up with his feet to relief the pressure around his lungs and grab some air. This trauma would eventually rupture the sacs of fluid around the lungs and the victim would drown in his own fluid. The whole process could literally take days. It was not a pretty sight to behold but behold it the Jews of Jesus’ day did and it is not unreasonable for us to believe that Jesus would not have witnessed others being crucified so that he would have been familiar with its horror before his own crucifixion. But of course, looking at Good Friday in this manner is to look at it only from a human perspective and if that is all you can see, you likely will never understand why it’s called “good” because there is absolutely nothing good in what I have just described. Neither will you ever find the forgiveness and healing you seek.

But this is emphatically not what St. John and the other gospel writers are telling us about Jesus’ crucifixion. That’s why they do not detail his torture; they simply report it happened and that he had to suffer it. Instead, the gospel writers have something much, much better in mind. The massive injustice and extreme human cruelty—and the terrible, dark forces of evil behind it all—were simply means to a greater end. What the gospel writers want us to see in the death of Jesus is that this is how God is putting to rights all that has gone so terribly wrong with his good creation and its people—by becoming human in the person of Jesus of Nazareth and bearing all the power of sin and evil himself so that evil is spent and ultimately defeated. The gospel writers, each in his own way, are telling us that Good Friday is the decisive turning point of human history, that God has taken on himself all the awful consequences of sin, evil, and death, and defeated them decisively, but not yet completely (cf. Colossians 2.15). In quite subtle and sophisticated ways, St. John and the other gospel writers are telling us in the crucifixion narratives that the cross has reestablished God’s sovereign rule on earth as in heaven and that in dying for us, Jesus has become Lord. 

But I do not want to focus on the kingdom aspect of the cross tonight. Instead, I want to focus on what must happen if we ever hope to follow Jesus in joyful and willing obedience, even in the face of our own suffering for his sake. For you see, if we ever hope to be a faithful follower of Jesus and do what he commands, we must first be convinced that we are forgiven those terrible and dark secrets we keep hidden and that God really will accept us for who we are (but who also loves us enough not to let us stay where we are). In other words, we have to be convinced that God really has made it possible for us to be reconciled to him so that we can have our relationship with him and others restored and enjoy real peace with God and others. When we know, really know, that God loves us despite who we are, that not even our darkest sins will keep us separated from God and his love for us, and that God will never abandon us, despite our massive rebellion against him, all the guilt, fear, and despair that we deal with and dehumanizes us will go away and we will find real healing and the wonder of forgiveness that is really undeserved. Without God’s forgiveness, without him bearing the consequences of our sin and the evil it produces, we can never hope to love or follow him in his kingdom work. We will be too busy dealing with our own guilt and despair.

We see God bearing of the consequences of our sin and the forgiveness that flows from that illustrated in several places in our gospel narrative tonight and here I will point out just two. First, we see the innocent Jesus bearing the consequences of Barabbas, a murderer and insurrectionist. Barabbas, representing sinful humanity that deserves nothing but God’s wrath and condemnation, goes free while God himself bears his (and our) punishment. This explains the horror that Jesus the man felt in the garden of Gethsemane, which St. John does not report but which St. Matthew and St. Mark do. We watch him sweating blood as he agonizes over having to bear the consequences of all the world’s evil and sin. It also explains the cry of dereliction in St. Matthew and St. Mark’s gospels. The terrible consequences of having to bear the weight of all our sin was so awful that for the first time Jesus knew what it was like to be separated from God, just like we do when our sin separates us from God. But if we stop there we miss the point. In bearing the consequences of our sin, God offers us forgiveness! We are not beyond hope! Jesus suffered God’s abandonment so that we would never have to worry about that again—ever! 

Second, in St. John’s gospel we also see God’s forgiveness offered in Jesus’ last words on the cross. “It is finished.” What is “it” that was finished? St. John, always conscious of the creation narratives in Genesis, is telling us that the conditions for the new creation have been established by the Creator God himself embodied in Jesus. On Friday, the sixth day of the week in which he created humans and declared things to be very good, God himself has defeated evil, sin, and death by bearing the collective weight of human sin himself, thus taking care of the necessary conditions for forgiveness, healing, and reconciliation to be offered, the very things needed for us to follow Jesus in his kingdom work. All this is why we call Good Friday “good.”

And so we return to our story of the man dying from cancer. Without Good Friday, he would indeed be without hope, as would all of us. But Good Friday has come and the course of human history has been changed. Because of that, I was able to ask him what he was going to do with St. Paul’s great statement in Romans 8.1, “[Because of the cross] there is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.” Either you are in Christ through faith or you are not. Either you believe the truth or you do not. Fortunately the dying man was able to wrestle with this and found forgiveness, healing and peace before he died. He was able to know that the love of God manifested on the cross is far greater than even his darkest and manifold sins and he died in the peace of God, thanks be to God!

What about you? Are you struggling tonight with issues of failure and darkness? Are you allowing Satan to whisper in your ear that you are no good and beyond any hope for God to love someone like you? Do you suffer guilt or fear or despair or alienation because like the dying man or the people of Jerusalem you don’t believe that God could possibly love the likes of you? Do you desperately seek healing and reconciliation with the Source and Author of all life but are afraid that you will get wrath and judgment instead? If so, listen to the stories of Jesus’ crucifixion and really come to grips with it. Dare to believe the great love you see poured out for you. Dare to believe that like Barabbas, Jesus is taking your place on the cross. Dare to hear the gracious words of Isaiah and Hebrews in tonight’s lessons that by his wounds you are healed and that you do not have to live life alone and afraid because you have God’s very Spirit living in you and shaping you slowly into the human God created you to be. Dare to believe the truth of St. Paul’s statement that there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus and understand there are no exceptions to the great truth. None. Then let the healing forgiveness that you see flow from Christ’s side on the cross flow down on you so that by the power of the Spirit you might know what real healing and forgiveness are all about, just the way the dying man did and countless others have. Don’t succumb to the lies of the Evil One or your own broken fears. Look on the cross of Calvary and realize the one who is dying there is none other than God himself and he is doing so because he desperately wants you to feel his healing love and forgiveness so that he can equip you to help him bring in his kingdom and promised new creation. A God like that will never abandon you or remain aloof from your problems and hurts. And when, by God’s grace, you finally know what’s good about Good Friday, you really will have Good News, now and for all eternity. I pray that God grant each of us the grace to accept without reservation the wondrous love he offers to the whole world on Calvary.

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