Christ the King Sunday 2023: From the Sermon Archives

Sermon originally delivered on Christ the King Sunday B, November 21 , 2021 at St. Augustine’s Anglican Church, Westerville, OH.

Lectionary texts: Daniel 7.9-10, 13-14; Psalm 93; Revelation 1.4-8; St. John 18.33-37.

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

Today we celebrate Christ the King Sunday, a feast relatively new to the Church’s calendar. Pope Pius XI instituted this feast in 1925 as a way to resist the rise of totalitarianism and secularism of his day. How appropriate for our day as well, even if it is misplaced on our calendar. It marks the last Sunday of the Church’s calendar year and as its name implies, today is a day when we culminate the season of Kingdomtide where we proclaim Christ as King, Messiah, and Lord of all God’s creation. I’m going to cut right to the chase. Do you believe any of this? If not, here’s why you can.

We start by acknowledging that God’s world is occupied by an alien, malevolent power—Satan and his minions, both human and spiritual. Why God has allowed this, no one can say nor should we spend much time on the question because the answer is not ours to know, at least in this mortal life. What is important for our discussion is that the ubiquitous presence of Evil in this world has caused many, Christians included, to not believe Christ is really king. What kind of king allows Evil to be so awfully present? And frankly, that is just what the dark powers want us to believe! When we see evil run apparently unchecked (the key word being apparently) and have doubts about Christ’s ability to rule over his creation, despite the NT declarations that he does reign as king (e.g., Col 1.15-19, Christ’s ascension or any of his exorcisms), the dark powers celebrate because doubt seeds despair and unbelief and can lead to the abandonment of the faith once delivered to the saints, to you and me, made saints by virtue of the blood of the Lamb shed for us. 

However, the mere existence of Evil cannot fully explain why many of us fail to believe Christ is really king. Part of it involves human pride. We think we know better than God. We forget that we are finite, fragile, and mortal, prone to erroneous thinking and sinful behavior. We forget that God is omnipotent, eternal, and omniscient, that God’s ways are not our ways and God’s thoughts are not our thoughts. To one extent or another we are all products of “enlightened thinking,” an oxymoron if there ever was one, where we limit reality to what our senses can perceive and what we can measure. This creates in us a skepticism about some of the things we read in the Bible, like today’s OT passage, e.g., or Christ’s healings and exorcisms. The Enlightenment, for all the good it has produced, has also produced the Holocaust, Communism, two disastrous world wars, and the woke lunacy that is attempting to impose itself on us today to name just a few. The Enlightenment reveals human pride at work, determined to use one of God’s gifts, reason, to replace superstition and religion, the two sources most enlightened thinkers believed (and still believe) were/are the cause of all the evils of the world. Of course this is utter nonsense and we can see the results of thinking that excludes God from the equation all around us. Contrary to popular belief, when humans actually take God seriously and act according to God’s holy ways and laws, the results are always positive. 

Whatever the reason for our doubts and fears about God’s sovereignty—and let’s be clear, Kingdomtide season is all about God’s sovereignty—as all our lessons this morning testify, lessons that represent the whole of Scripture, Christ really is king and we can live confidently in that knowledge and reality. We must therefore learn what to look for concerning the signs of God’s rule in his world. In our OT lesson, Daniel shares the vision given to to him in response to the previous visions he received. In it we see the Ancient of Days, the Ancient One, God himself, preparing to judge the evil in his world as well as the powers behind it, both human and spiritual. The vivid imagery suggests purity and power, with God’s fiery judgment on all evil and those who perpetrate it. We humans need to be exposed to scenes like this, hidden from our senses, because they remind us God is in control of things, chaotic as our times and lives may be, mysterious as it all is to us. 

And then we see the Son of Man, who interpreted through the lens of the NT is Christ himself, coming on the clouds—biblical language attributing God’s presence and power to him—ready to be God’s agent of justice and judgment. This scene should make sense to us because until the time evil and evildoers are judged, there can be no real peace, no perfect world. Like the blood of righteous Abel, the blood of the martyrs and those murdered and killed unjustly will continue to cry out to God until God finally acts decisively to give them full justice. As Christians, we believe that day will come when Christ returns to finish his saving work and raise his saints to everlasting life. We may not like the fact that we have to wait for this day. Being children of instant gratification we may grow impatient and angry over Christ’s promised delayed gratification, but the fact remains that this promise and hope—the sure and certain expectation of things to come—are necessary if we are to thrive in this mortal life where we live in the already of God’s victory over Sin, Death, and Evil and the not yet of its consummation. As St. John the Elder reminds us in our epistle lesson, the blood of the Lamb has conquered Evil in a surprising and totally unexpected way. God’s victory is accomplished by the power of God himself, the only power strong enough to defeat Evil and Sin and Death.

In our gospel lesson, St. John the Evangelist also proclaims that Christ is God become human, that by going to the cross he will fulfill the prophecy and promise of Daniel that God will bring about God’s perfect justice to rid the world of all evil and evildoers. St. John proclaims this in part by telling us the story of Christ’s confrontation with Pilate, i.e., in telling us the story of God’s kingdom and justice confronting worldly power and justice. In this confrontation, St. John in effect proclaims that here is the Son of Man, coming on the clouds, i.e., coming in God’s power, to confront and deal with the evil and corruption of the world’s systems and beliefs. In this deeply ironic story, we see Pilate, who represents corrupt human notions of power and justice, mistakenly thinking that he is in charge and judging Christ as a political enemy when in fact it is Christ who is judging him—by going to the cross. For St. John, the cross is where Christ is crowned King and his kingdom’s rule begins. Again, in a deeply ironic moment, Christ’s crown consists not of gold but of thorns and most who are confronted by the story fail to understand this reality.

Notice carefully that Christ does not tell Pilate his kingdom is not of this world, but rather not from it, meaning the source of his power and authority emanate from God’s power and not human’s. Our Savior’s prayer that appeals for God’s kingdom to come on earth as in heaven makes little sense if Christ’s kingdom is some kind of spiritual kingdom rather than God’s power finally reasserting itself to heal a broken and corrupt world and its people. Pilate, ever caustic and cynical doesn’t get this. Neither do many of us in our cynicism. But our Lord tells him (and us) that he had come to testify to the truth, the truth being that God will not allow alien and hostile forces represented by Satan and his minions, Pilate among them, to go on causing havoc and pain and destruction and injustice and death forever. God in his loving goodness can never ultimately allow Evil to win the day as our OT lesson testifies. Pilate, of course, has no conception of truth because he retorted with the famous question, “What is truth?” Here we see St. John testifying that truth is not of our making. Pilate in his cynicism, a cynicism that is increasingly popular today, cannot fathom this. Truth in his economy is something each of us holds. It is ours for the making so to speak. Not so, says Christ. Only God is the owner of truth and that truth never changes or varies. We can’t bend it or invent it according to our needs and whims. But only by Christ dying for us would the world have the chance to learn this truth and start to live by it. This in part is what it means to submit to Christ’s rule. Because we do not like the truth does not give us the license to change it. We are to obey God’s truth in how we live our lives and that means we are to pattern our lives after Christ. What is truth? God’s great love for sinners like you and me, a love so great that God was willing to become human and shed his blood to rescue us from our slavery to Sin and to conquer Evil by the self-giving power of love. And in so conquering Sin, Death, and Evil, God has pronounced judgment on it all and those who commit and perpetrate it. Evildoers may seem to win the day, but their victory is pyrrhic and short-lived. Their day of destruction and judgment is coming and what a terrible day that will be. That is the truth. If you believe it, you will treat it like the eternal treasure it is and live accordingly.

So what does that look like? What does that mean for you and me? First, when we realize that Christ is our crucified king who has defeated and judged Evil by taking it on himself, we have reason to believe the NT’s promise that on the day of his return, his cruciform victory will be consummated and we will finally be freed from all that has the power to harm and destroy us, including and especially the power of Death. And when we learn to recognize what Christ’s reign looks like, we learn to have confidence in its truth and reality. That means we have real hope for the present and future. No matter how bad things get for us, we persevere in the power of the Spirit as we await the final redemption of our body and soul. Hope is a great blessing, my beloved. Don’t ever abandon it, especially when its source is God himself.

Second, our lessons invite us to learn and live by the truth, not the fiction of our own making, but God’s truth. As we have seen, despite appearances to the contrary, the truth is that God calls us to live according to his laws and created order and when we refuse to do so, we can expect God’s judgment. I will have much more to say about this topic in two weeks, but for right now I would simply point out that God’s judgment always leads to God’s justice and is motivated by God’s love for us. God created us in his image to represent his presence in the world. When we do that, things go swimmingly well for us and we find wholeness and contentment, despite the corrupting influence of living in an evil-infested world. As followers of Christ this means that we choose not to be partakers in evil and to confront evil with love and good after the manner of our Lord Jesus, even when it appears that our efforts are defeated or go for nothing. Let me give you a quick example of what this looks like in real life. Recently the Catholic Archbishop of San Francisco, Salvatore J. Cordileone, confronted House Speaker Nancy Pelosi over her support for abortion. Unlike the powers of the world who use vitriol and anger and all the rest, the Archbishop instead called for prayer and fasting on behalf of Speaker Pelosi, asking God to convert her “maternal heart” away from supporting abortion. ++Cordileone also asked Catholic Christians to sign up for a “Rose and Rosary for Nancy,” where a rose would be sent to the Speaker for every Christian who signed up. As of Nov 15, 15,728 roses had been purchased, one of which were mine, and 1000 have been delivered, God be praised! This is how Christ the King’s reign works. In marked contrast to the nasty political business and name-calling (business as usual), we see God’s people praying for the repentance of one who denies the truth and supports murder. There was no name calling, just prayer and fasting and roses. Whether the Speaker repents is not the issue here. Rather, it is God’s people in Christ, working in loving obedience to him and appealing to his power to change hearts, minds, and lives. It is born out of a deep faith in the reality and efficacy of that power to conquer Sin and Evil and it confronts an unholy reality in a way that the person might actually be able to hear it without condemning her because we know that judgment is ultimately left to God and God alone. The world does not expect this and cannot recognize God’s power at work (one critic called the Archbishop “nutty,” for example). Therefore the world has misplaced or no hope, a terrible judgment in its own right. Not so with us. We have seen our crucified and risen Lord and we know his healing love and presence. On his behalf we dare to love each other enough despite our differences to support each other in our trials, tribulations, and suffering because we know that our trials are only temporary and the hope of glory, the new heavens and earth where we live in God’s direct presence forever, await us. And in doing so, we make known his love and presence among us. There is nothing better in all creation. This is why we can believe in Christ the King and his reign despite all the ambiguities, unanswered questions, and chaos that swirl around us. My beloved, I appeal to you to give (or continue to give) your lives and ultimate allegiance to Christ the King because in him, and only in him, will you find the strength and power for the living of your days and the blessed hope of eternal life awaiting you after you have finished running your race. To him be honor, praise, and glory forever and ever. 

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

Thanksgiving 2023: Robert McKenzie: A First Thanksgiving Hoax

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I first encountered William Bradford’s supposed First Thanksgiving Proclamation when my family and I enjoyed Thanksgiving dinner at the home of some dear friends from our church.  Knowing that I was a historian, the host pulled me aside before the meal to tell me that he had found the text of Governor Bradford’s proclamation calling for the First Thanksgiving, and that he planned to read it before asking the blessing.  Here is what he had found:

Inasmuch as the great Father has given us this year an abundant harvest of Indian corn, wheat, peas, beans, squashes, and garden vegetables, and has made the forests to abound with game and the sea with fish and clams, and inasmuch as he has protected us from the ravages of the savages, has spared us from pestilence and disease, has granted us freedom to worship God according to the dictates of our own conscience.

Now I, your magistrate, do proclaim that all ye Pilgrims, with your wives and ye little ones, do gather at ye meeting house, on ye hill, between the hours of 9 and 12 in the day time, on Thursday, November 29th, of the year of our Lord one thousand six hundred and twenty-three and the third year since ye Pilgrims landed on ye Pilgrim Rock, there to listen to ye pastor and render thanksgiving to ye Almighty God for all His blessings.

William Bradford

Ye Governor of Ye Colony

Although I was uncomfortable contradicting my host, I felt compelled to tell him that this was a hoax.  Can you figure out why?

Read it all.

Thanksgiving 2023: President Lincoln’s Thanksgiving Proclamation

Thank you, Mr. President.

It has seemed to me fit and proper that they should be solemnly, reverently, and gratefully acknowledged as with one heart and one voice by the whole American people. I do, therefore, invite my fellow-citizens in every part of the United States, and also those who are at sea and those who are sojourning in foreign lands, to set apart and observe the last Thursday of November next as a day of thanksgiving and praise to our beneficent Father who dwelleth in the heavens. And I recommend to them that, while offering up the ascriptions justly due to him for such singular deliverances and blessings, they do also, with humble penitence for our national perverseness and disobedience, commend to his tender care all those who have become widows, orphans, mourners, or sufferers in the lamentable civil strife in which we are unavoidably engaged, and fervently implore the interposition of the almighty hand to heal the wounds of the nation, and to restore it, as soon as may be consistent with the Divine purposes, to the full enjoyment of peace, harmony, tranquillity, and union.

Read the whole thing and give thanks for the country in which we live, warts and all.

Thanksgiving 2023: A Very Brief History of Thanksgiving

The tradition of the Pilgrims’ first Thanksgiving is steeped in myth and legend. Few people realize that the Pilgrims did not celebrate Thanksgiving the next year, or any year thereafter, though some of their descendants later made a “Forefather’s Day” that usually occurred on December 21 or 22. Several Presidents, including George Washington, made one-time Thanksgiving holidays. In 1827, Mrs. Sarah Josepha Hale began lobbying several Presidents for the creation of Thanksgiving as a national holiday, but her lobbying was unsuccessful until 1863 when Abraham Lincoln finally made it a national holiday. 

Today, our Thanksgiving is the fourth Thursday of November. This was set by President Franklin D. Roosevelt in 1939 (approved by Congress in 1941), who changed it from Abraham Lincoln’s designation as the last Thursday in November (which could occasionally end up being the fifth Thursday, and hence too close to Christmas for businesses). But the Pilgrims’ first Thanksgiving began at some unknown date between September 21 and November 9, most likely in very early October. The date of Thanksgiving was probably set by Lincoln to somewhat correlate with the anchoring of the Mayflower at Cape Cod, which occurred on November 21, 1620 (by our modern Gregorian calendar–it was November 11 to the Pilgrims who used the Julian calendar).

Read it all.

160th Anniversary of Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address

Today marks the 160th anniversary of Lincoln’s Gettysburg address, one of the seminal speeches in American history. Take time to read and reflect on it today and give thanks that God has raised up leaders like President Lincoln to guide our country through extraordinarily difficult times. May God continue to be merciful to us today and bless us with an extraordinary leader to guide us through these extraordinarily difficult times.

LINCOLN’S GETTYSBURG ADDRESS

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Four score and seven years ago our fathers brought forth on this continent, a new nation, conceived in Liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal.

Now we are engaged in a great civil war, testing whether that nation, or any nation so conceived and so dedicated, can long endure. We are met on a great battle-field of that war. We have come to dedicate a portion of that field, as a final resting place for those who here gave their lives that that nation might live. It is altogether fitting and proper that we should do this.

But, in a larger sense, we can not dedicate — we can not consecrate — we can not hallow — this ground. The brave men, living and dead, who struggled here, have consecrated it, far above our poor power to add or detract. The world will little note, nor long remember what we say here, but it can never forget what they did here. It is for us the living, rather, to be dedicated here to the unfinished work which they who fought here have thus far so nobly advanced. It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us — that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion — that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain — that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom — and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.

Veterans’ Day 2023: Notable and Quotable

Sad will be the day when the
American people forget their
traditions and their history,
and no longer remember
that the country they love,
the institutions they cherish,
and the freedom they
hope to preserve,
were born from the throes
of armed resistance to tyranny,
and nursed in the rugged arms of fearless men.

—Roger Sherman

Sadly that day is here, foisted on us by the woke and the Marxists who hate this country and work tirelessly to destroy it. Would to God they do not succeed.

Veterans’ Day 2023: A Brief History of Veterans’ Day

As you pause this day to give thanks for our veterans, past and present, take some time to familiarize yourself with the history of this day.

World War I – known at the time as “The Great War” – officially ended when the Treaty of Versailles was signed on June 28, 1919, in the Palace of Versailles outside the town of Versailles, France. However, fighting ceased seven months earlier when an armistice, or temporary cessation of hostilities, between the Allied nations and Germany went into effect on the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month. For that reason, November 11, 1918, is generally regarded as the end of “the war to end all wars.”

Taken at 10:58 a.m., on Nov. 11, 1918, just before the Armistice went into effect; men of the 353rd Infantry, near a church, at Stenay, Meuse, wait for the end of hostilities. (SC034981)

Soldiers of the 353rd Infantry near a church at Stenay, Meuse in France, wait for the end of hostilities.  This photo was taken at 10:58 a.m., on November 11, 1918, two minutes before the armistice ending World War I went into effect

In November 1919, President Wilson proclaimed November 11 as the first commemoration of Armistice Day with the following words: “To us in America, the reflections of Armistice Day will be filled with solemn pride in the heroism of those who died in the country’s service and with gratitude for the victory, both because of the thing from which it has freed us and because of the opportunity it has given America to show her sympathy with peace and justice in the councils of the nations…”

The original concept for the celebration was for a day observed with parades and public meetings and a brief suspension of business beginning at 11:00 a.m.

Read it all.

A Prayer for Veterans’ Day 2023

Governor of Nations, our Strength and Shield:
we give you thanks for the devotion and courage
of all those who have offered military service for this country:

For those who have fought for freedom;
for those who laid down their lives for others;
for those who have borne suffering of mind or of body;
for those who have brought their best gifts to times of need.
On our behalf they have entered into danger,
endured separation from those they love,
labored long hours, and borne hardship in war and in peacetime.

Lift up by your mighty Presence those who are now at war;
encourage and heal those in hospitals
or mending their wounds at home;
guard those in any need or trouble;
hold safely in your hands all military families;
and bring the returning troops to joyful reunion
and tranquil life at home;

Give to us, your people, grateful hearts
and a united will to honor these men and women
and hold them always in our love and our prayers;
until your world is perfected in peace.

All this we ask through Jesus Christ your Son our Lord,
who is alive and reigns with you
in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
one God, forever and ever. Amen.

2023: Remember, Remember the 10th of November

Apologies to the Brits. From the pen of my mama. Check it out.

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One thing I thought I could do during WWII was to find out the customers of the O.P.C. [Ohio Power Company, now AEP] who had sons in the service, learn their names and ask about them when the customers paid their bills. Few checks were used back then so we were busy with cash customers. I always asked John’s Dad [my grandpa Maney] about John [my dad] and he would reply. Then, one day, he volunteered that John was on his way home! That’s why when I saw John in at Dolly’s [a now extinct local restaurant], I stopped to tell him his dad had told me he was on his way home and I wanted to thank him for all he’d done for our country–and for me. I shook his hand as my Dad had taught me, got my Coke and went to a booth to look at the Saturday Evening Post, a magazine I dearly loved for its funny cartoons. When I left to go get Betty [mom’s sister] at Thomas’ Jewelry (I’d worked there Saturday afternoons and evenings for quite awhile) John was still sitting up front on a bar stool. I stopped to show him a cartoon, he asked me if I’d like to go to the movie and I said yes after I’d told Betty I wouldn’t be walking home with her. John wasn’t really sure who I was ’til he walked me home and saw Dad’s picture. I knew he hadn’t been with a girl for over 2 years so when he was leaving I kissed him on his lips (yips as [granddaughter] Bridget used to say) and I suppose it turned out to be too much for him.

Heh. Classic mama. Miss dad and her a LOT. Remember, remember the 10th of November, a key date in Maney family history.

All Saints’ Day 2023: St. Augustine Muses on the Saints of God

When the disciples heard this, they were greatly astonished, saying, “Who then can be saved?” But Jesus looked at them and said, “With humans this is impossible, but with God all things are possible.”— Matthew 19.25-26

The saints are those who are moved by God’s grace to do whatever good they do. Some are married and have intercourse with their spouse sometimes for the sake of having a child and sometimes just for the pleasure of it. They get angry and desire revenge when they are injured, but are ready to forgive when asked. They are very attached to their property but will freely give at least a modest amount to the poor. They will not steal from you but are quick to take you to court if you try to steal from them. They are realistic enough to know that God should get the main credit for the good that they do. They are humble enough to admit that they are the sources of their own evil acts. In this life God loves them for their good acts and gives forgiveness for their evil, and in the next life they will join the ranks of those who will reign with Christ forever.

—Augustine of Hippo, Against Two Letters of the Pelagians, 3.5.14

One of the reasons I love Augustine is that he was never afraid to be real. As you read his description of the saints, you cannot help but wonder how these folks can be enjoying their rest with their Lord. I mean, look at their flaws Augustine is pointing out!

Here’s the answer. They have died with Christ and so are raised with him (Romans 6.8) They were buried with Christ in the waters of baptism so that they might rise with him in his resurrection (Romans 6.3-5). And when they were alive in this mortal life, this treasure of life eternal was hidden with Christ in heaven (Colossians 3.3-4), i.e., this hope and promise of resurrection and eternal life is based on their relationship with the risen Christ, who remains hidden from us in this mortal life from his abode in heaven, God’s space.

For you see, it is not about the saints or our worthiness. None of us is worthy to stand before God in God’s perfect holiness! Rather, it is about what God has done for us in Christ so that through his death we might enjoy real peace and reconciliation with God (Romans 5.1, 11). In Christ, God condemned sin in the flesh so that we might be equipped to live with God forever, both here on earth in the power of the Spirit and in God’s promised new creation (Romans 8.3-4, 18-25, Revelation 21.1-7). This is what Jesus reminds us of in the passage above from Saint Matthew and that’s why we have hope for the Christian dead and ourselves on All Saints’ Day. Jesus is Lord, even over death!

Is this your hope or are you clinging to something less which is bound to fail? On this All Saints’ Day may God grant you the grace, wisdom, and courage to embrace the hope offered to you in Christ. 

All Saints 2023: N.T. Wright Muses on the Christian Dead

I begin at the end. The bodily resurrection is still in the future for everyone except Jesus. Paul is quite clear in 1 Corinthians 15:23: Christ is raised as the first-fruits; then, at his coming, those who belong to Christ will be raised as he has been raised. The ‘coming’ of which Paul speaks has not yet happened; therefore, clearly, the dead in Christ have not yet been raised. This is actually the official view of all mainstream orthodox theologians, Catholic and Protestant, except for those who think that after death we pass at once into an eternity in which all moments are present—a quite popular view but one which contains many serious difficulties. I do not know whether Paul knew about the strange risings from the dead reported in Matthew 27:52–3, but had he done so he would certainly have seen them as peculiar signs and foretastes, not people actually being transformed into the likeness of Christ as he predicts in passages like Philippians 3:20–21 and 1 Corinthians 15 itself.

We should remember especially that the use of the word ‘heaven’ to denote the ultimate goal of the redeemed, though hugely emphasized by medieval piety, mystery plays, and the like, and still almost universal at a popular level, is severely misleading and does not begin to do justice to the Christian hope. I am repeatedly frustrated by how hard it is to get this point through the thick wall of traditional thought and language that most Christians put up. ‘Going to heaven when you die’ is not held out in the New Testament as the main goal. The main goal is to be bodily raised into the transformed, glorious likeness of Jesus Christ. If we want to speak of ‘going to heaven when we die’, we should be clear that this represents the first, and far less important, stage of a two-stage process. That is why it is also appropriate to use the ancient word ‘paradise’ to describe the same thing.

Let us suppose, then, the ultimate destiny of Christians is bodily resurrection, an event which has not yet happened. This means that all such persons are currently in an intermediate state, somewhere between death and resurrection. Call this intermediate state ‘heaven’ if you like. This brings me to the first really controversial point in the present book: there is no reason in the foundation documents of Christianity to suppose that there are any category distinctions between Christians in this intermediate state. All are in the same condition; and all are ‘saints’.

In the New Testament every single Christian is referred to as a ‘saint’, including the muddled and sinful ones to whom Paul writes his letters. The background to early Christian thought about the church includes the Dead Sea Scrolls; and there we find the members of the Qumran sect referred to as ‘the holy ones’. They are designated thus, not simply because they are living a holy life in the present, though it is hoped that they will do that as well, but because by joining the sect—in the Christian’s case, by getting baptized and confessing Jesus as the risen Lord—they have left the realm of darkness and entered the kingdom of light (Colossians 1:12–14).

This means that the New Testament language about the bodily death of Christians, and what happens to them thereafter, makes no distinction whatever in this respect between those who have attained significant holiness or Christlikeness in the present and those who haven’t. ‘My desire’, says Paul in Philippians 1:22, ‘is to depart and be with Christ, for that is far better.’ He doesn’t for a moment imply that this ‘being with Christ’ is something which he will experience but which the Philippians, like Newman’s Gerontius, will find terrifying and want to postpone. His state (being with Christ) will indeed be exalted, but it will be no different, no more exalted, than that of every single Christian after death. He will not be, in that sense, a ‘saint’, differentiated from mere ‘souls’ who wait in a another place or state.

Nor does Paul imply that this ‘departing and being with Christ’ is the same thing as the eventual resurrection of the body, which he describes vividly later in the same letter (3:20–21). No: all the Christian dead have ‘departed’ and are ‘with Christ’. The only other idea Paul offers to explain where the Christian dead are now and what they are doing is that of ‘sleeping in Christ’. He uses this idea frequently (1 Corinthians 7:39; 11:30; 15:6, 18, 20, 51; 1 Thessalonians 4:13–15), and some have thought that by it he must mean an unconscious state, from which one would be brought back to consciousness at the resurrection—so much so, perhaps, that it will seem as though we have passed straight from the one to the other. The probability is, though, that this is a strong metaphor, a way of reminding us about the ‘waking up’ which will be the resurrection. Had the post-mortem state been unconscious, would Paul have thought of it as ‘far better’ than what he had in the present?

This picture is further confirmed by the language of Revelation. There we find the souls of the martyrs waiting, under the altar, for the final redemption to take place. They are at rest; they are conscious; they are able to ask how long it will be before justice is done (6:9–11); but they are not yet enjoying the final bliss which is to come in the New Jerusalem. This is in line with the classic Eastern Orthodox doctrine, which, though it speaks of the saints, and invokes them in all sorts of ways, does not see them as having finally experienced the completeness of redemption. Until all God’s people are safely home, none of them is yet fulfilled. That is why the Orthodox pray for the saints as well as with them, that they—with us when we join them—may come to the fulfilment of God’s complete purposes.

In particular, we must take account of the well-known and striking saying of Jesus to the dying brigand beside him, recorded by Luke (23:43). ‘Today,’ he said, ‘you will be with me in paradise.’ ‘Paradise’ is not the final destination; it is a beautiful resting place on the way there. But notice. If there is anyone in the New Testament to whom we might have expected the classic doctrine of purgatory to apply, it would be this brigand. He had no time for amendment of life; no doubt he had all kinds of sinful thoughts and desires in what was left of his body. All the standard arguments in favour of purgatory apply to him. And yet Jesus assures him of his place in paradise, not in a few days or weeks, not if his friends say lots of prayers and masses for him, but ‘today’.

All this brings us to a point which many take for granted but which many others will find controversial or even shocking. I do not believe in purgatory.

…The arguments regularly advanced in support of some kind of a purgatory, however modernized, do not come from the Bible. They come from the common perception that all of us up to the time of death are still sinful, and from the proper assumption that something needs to be done about this if we are (to put it crudely) to be at ease in the presence of the holy and sovereign God. The medieval doctrine of purgatory, as we saw, imagined that the ‘something’ that needed to be done could be divided into two aspects: punishment on the one hand, and purging or cleansing on the other. It is vital that we understand the biblical response to both of these.

I cannot stress sufficiently that if we raise the question of punishment for sin, this is something that has already been dealt with on the cross of Jesus. …The idea that Christians need to suffer punishment for their sins in a post-mortem purgatory, or anywhere else, reveals a straightforward failure to grasp the very heart of what was achieved on the cross [Emphasis mine].

…We have been fooled, not for the first time, by a view of death, and life beyond, in which the really important thing is the ‘soul’—something which, to many people’s surprise, hardly features at all in the New Testament. We have allowed our view of the saving of souls to loom so large that we have failed to realize that the Bible is much more concerned about bodies—concerned to the point where it’s actually quite difficult to give a clear biblical account of the disembodied state in between bodily death and bodily resurrection. That’s not what the biblical writers are trying to get us to think about—even though it is of course what many Christians have thought about to the point of obsession, including many who have thought of themselves as ‘biblical’ in their theology. But what should not be in doubt is that, for the New Testament, bodily death itself actually puts sin to an end. There may well be all kinds of sins still lingering on within us, infecting us and dragging us down. But part of the biblical understanding of death, bodily death, is that it finishes all that off at a single go.

The central passages here are Romans 6:6–7 and Colossians 2:11–13, with the picture they generate being backed up by key passages from John’s Gospel. Both of the Pauline texts are speaking of baptism. Christians are assured that their sins have already been dealt with through the death of Christ; they are now no longer under threat because of them. The crucial verse is Romans 6:7: ‘the one who has died is free from sin’ (literally, ‘is justified from sin’). The necessary cleansing from sin, it seems, takes place in two stages. First, there is baptism and faith. ‘You are already made clean’, says Jesus, ‘by the word which I have spoken to you’ (John 15:3). The word of the gospel, awakening faith in the heart, is itself the basic cleansing that we require. ‘The one who has washed’, said Jesus at the supper, ‘doesn’t need to wash again, except for his feet; he is clean all over’ (John 13:10). The ‘feet’ here seem to be representing the part of us which still, so to speak, stands on the muddy ground of this world. This is where ‘the sin which so easily gets in the way’ (Hebrews 12:1) finds, we may suppose, its opportunity.

But the glorious news is that, although during the present life we struggle with sin, and may or may not make small and slight progress towards genuine holiness, our remaining propensity to sin is finished, cut off, done with all at once, in physical death. ‘The body is dead because of sin,’ declares Paul, ‘but the spirit is life because of righteousness’ (Romans 8:10). John and Paul combine together to state the massive, central and vital doctrine which is at the heart of the Christian good news: those who believe in Jesus, though they die, yet shall they live; and those who live and believe in him will never die (John 11:25–6). Or, to put it the way Paul does: if we have died with Christ, we shall live with him, knowing that Christ being raised from the dead will not die again; and you, in him, must regard and reckon yourselves as dead to sin and alive to God (Romans 6:8–11). ‘Being justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ … and we rejoice in the hope of the glory of God’ (Romans 5:2).

We mustn’t let the upside-down arrogance of those who are too proud to receive free grace prevent us from hearing and receiving the best news in the world.

In fact, Paul makes it clear here and elsewhere that it’s the present life that is meant to function as a purgatory. The sufferings of the present time, not of some post-mortem state, are the valley we have to pass through in order to reach the glorious future. The present life is bad enough from time to time, goodness knows, without imagining gloom and doom after death as well. …The myth of purgatory is an allegory, a projection, from the present on to the future. This is why purgatory appeals to the imagination. It is our story. It is where we are now. If we are Christians, if we believe in the risen Jesus as Lord, if we are baptized members of his body, then we are passing right now through the sufferings which form the gateway to life. Of course, this means that for millions of our theological and spiritual ancestors death will have brought a pleasant surprise. They had been gearing themselves up for a long struggle ahead, only to find it was already over.

So many have been afraid or embarrassed to utter the clear warnings of the New Testament about the peril of neglecting the gospel that they have become unable to articulate the clear promises of the New Testament about the sure and certain hope of the resurrection of the dead.

I therefore arrive at this view: that all the Christian departed are in substantially the same state, that of restful happiness. This is not the final destiny for which they are bound, namely the bodily resurrection; it is a temporary resting place.

For All the Saints? Remembering The Christian Departed (SPCK, 2003).