From the Sermon Archives: The Easter Effect

Sermon originally preached on Easter 3C, Sunday, April 10, 2016.

Lectionary texts: Acts 9.1-20; Psalm 30; Revelation 5.11-15; John 21.1-19.

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

The past two weeks we have looked carefully at the resurrection of our Lord Jesus. We have seen that when God raised Jesus from the dead it signaled the turning point in history. No longer is sin and death our inevitable fate, at least for those of us who are God’s people in Jesus. We have seen that God’s good but sin-corrupted creation and its creatures matter to God and that they had better matter to us as well. We know this because in Jesus’ resurrection we are given a glimpse of God’s promised new world, where life reigns, not death, a world devoid of all suffering and evil, thanks be to God. Then last week we saw that we as God’s people have work to do, work empowered by the Holy Spirit himself. The resurrection never was meant to be about a private religious experience, designed to make us feel all warm and fuzzy about ourselves and our relationship with God. It has always been about God the Father healing and transforming the world by breaking the power of evil in and through the death and resurrection of his Son. Today, we are given a third look at Jesus’ resurrection, this time with an invitation to see what desired effect it should have on us, and this is what I want us to look at this morning.

In one way or another, all our lessons today point to the fact that everything is different as a result of Easter. We begin with John the Elder’s vision of the heavenly throne room in our epistle lesson. It is important for us to understand that this isn’t some vision of the future, but of the current reality in heaven. And what can we learn from John’s vision? First, that there is a reason for the joyful worship we are witnessing. Jesus, the Lion of Judah, has overcome the dark powers and destroyed their dominion over God’s creation and us. Not yet fully to be sure. That will have to wait until Jesus’ return. But the message is clear: Countless multitudes worship Jesus and celebrate his victory over the forces of evil won on the cross. And of course, Jesus’ resurrection announced that death, the ultimate evil, has been destroyed. That is why they worship Jesus the Lamb. And here is where we are confronted with a startling paradox. Jesus, the Lion of Judah, the strength of Judah, accomplished his victory over evil by his obedience to God’s will in and through his suffering and death (cf. Philippians 2.5-11). Jesus’ victory over evil was accomplished ostensibly through weakness, not conventional power as we all expected God to act. Jesus is the Passover Lamb sacrificed for us. This is Exodus language, folks, reminding us that in Jesus’ death we are delivered from our slavery to sin and death, thanks be to God! That is why Jesus is worshiped as God. That is why there is celebration in heaven right now. The victory, while not yet consummated, is won by the blood of the Lamb shed for us (and this is why it is so important to know God’s story contained in the Bible, our story, so that we recognize and learn the lessons its symbolic language wants to teach us).

This is the God the multitudes are worshiping in heaven. Is this the God you worship? Do you share the unequivocal belief of the multitudes that Jesus has conquered the dark powers and reigns over God’s vast creation? If you do, it must change you, and for the better. You realize that even in your own weakness, in your own insignificance, at least as the world defines both, Jesus is using you to help advance his kingdom on earth as in heaven. It means, for example, the next time you pray for that person you despise or pray for a seemingly hopeless situation, you can have confidence that Jesus is using your faithfulness in ways you can’t possibly see or understand to advance his kingdom. When you really believe that, I mean really believe that, you will discover a great power unleashed in your life, the power of God made known in suffering love. But it is a power made possible only in and through the death and resurrection of Jesus. And if you do not believe this, you can count on limping along through life, trying to use the conventional means of power to get what you want. Good luck with that; you’re gonna need it. This is the first Easter Effect we see in our lessons. We discover we have an indefatigable hope and joy as we follow the ways of Jesus to bring healing to his broken and sad world.

We turn next to the powerful story in our gospel lesson to see another dimension of the Easter Effect—prerequisite forgiveness. As we listen to John’s story we are somewhat perplexed by the setting because we remember that last week Jesus imparted the Spirit to his disciples and commissioned them for new work. So why are they back in Galilee and out fishing? Were they discouraged and lost? Were they waiting for further marching orders? We aren’t told. John simply tells us that Jesus appeared to his disciples again. As with Mary at the tomb, the disciples do not initially recognize their risen Lord. This  reminds us again that the resurrection will change us, this time physically. To be sure, there was continuity. The disciples knew it was Jesus, but no one dared ask him for sure. In telling us this, John reminds us again (and did you catch that this happens yet again at the dawn of a new day?) that there are things about the resurrection body we simply don’t understand. So don’t let their inability to initially recognize their risen Lord confuse or discourage you. Instead, rejoice that God’s got something in store for us in the New Creation that will simply blow our minds because it is so fantastic!

After feeding the apostles (how did Jesus get this food?), John turns our attention to some unfinished business between Peter and his Lord. Peter had brashly shot off his mouth, proclaiming his undying loyalty to his Lord, only to end up denying Jesus three times by a charcoal fire and weeping bitterly afterwards over doing so (John 13.36-38, 18.15-18, 25-27; Matthew 26.75). Each of us understands this background better than we’d like to admit because we have all been there and done that, each in our own way. But now here is the risen Jesus, again by a charcoal fire. Perfect. He asks Peter three times if Peter loves him. Three, the number for completeness, and the exact number of times Peter had denied his Lord.

Do you recognize the beauty in this story? Jesus is doing the hard but necessary work to restore Peter so that Peter can get on with the work Jesus calls him to do. Notice carefully that Jesus does not say to Peter, “There, there. It’s all right. Let’s sing Kumbaya together.” No, Jesus tells him to get to work! Here is a love and forgiveness that is bound to choke up even the hardest person if we grasp what Jesus is doing. He is healing a memory of Peter that absolutely had to be healed. Imagine the guilt and failure Peter felt. He’d run his mouth and then stuck his foot squarely in it by his failure of character. He had denied the man he loved, the most wonderful man he had ever known, and there was no chance to reboot. But now unbelievably there was! Jesus doesn’t browbeat his chastened disciple. He gently restores him. Once again, there’s no glitz or excitement or outright show of power. Instead, Jesus cuts right to the chase and in doing so, equips Peter to be his shepherd on his behalf. Imagine that. Imagine the release Peter must have felt. His Lord, the man he had denied, was now entrusting him for some critically important work on his behalf and for the sake of his fledgling church. On one level Peter was eminently unqualified to do the work. But Peter had found the power of forgiveness and a healed memory that transcended whatever was in him that would disqualify him to do the work.

One of the things that must occur in the New Creation is that our memories must be healed of all their hurt and rancor and whatever else that weighs us down. Otherwise, there would still be evil in the New Creation, and we are promised there will be none of that at all. Here we see another preview of coming attractions in the healing of our memories and the forgiveness of our sins, again made possible because of the blood of the Lamb shed for us and because Jesus is now Lord. This is another reason why everything is different as a result of Easter!

Have you found the healing love and forgiveness that our Lord offers to each of us? It is offered freely to everyone! If not, there is no way you can possibly do the work Jesus calls you to do, whatever that is, because your guilt will cripple you and prevent you from offering and embodying Jesus’ healing love and forgiveness to others. You will not be able to forgive your enemies as Jesus has forgiven you if you have not embraced his tender love and mercy for you and let him heal your memories. Again this is all made possible because of the blood of the Lamb shed for us and because Jesus is alive and reigns over all God’s creation, making his healing love and forgiveness available to you right now and on a continuous basis. And he calls each of us to do something about it in response, to embody and share that love and forgiveness to others. As we have seen, every time we do so, we have confidence that Jesus is using our efforts, messy and broken as they (and we) can be at times, to advance his kingdom on earth as in heaven. But we cannot possibly forgive and retain sins without first repenting and accepting the love and forgiveness of God made known to us in Jesus Christ our Lord.

This is the essential story of Paul in our NT lesson. Here is Paul, who breathed threats and murder against God’s people, forgiven and healed by our Lord Jesus in his encounter with Jesus on the road to Damascus. At first it doesn’t look that way, but that is what’s going on. It was such a landmark event that Luke reports it three separate times in Acts! And in Paul we see the Easter Effect in spades. He is forgiven and healed so that he can suffer much for Jesus’ people, the Church. We are not called to do the scope of Paul’s work, but we are called to imitate Paul in our own work on behalf of God’s people and the world.

So where are you in these stories? Wherever you are, remember why we are being told these stories. Jesus is Lord and because of his death and resurrection we are a people with a future and a hope, a people who are empowered to do the work our Lord calls us to do. We won’t always see results that we hope for or desire. But it’s not our job to bring in the kingdom. That’s Jesus’ job. Our job, thanks be to God, is to continue Jesus’ work, despite being the messy and broken creatures we are. So let’s get busy, my beloved, and continue the work Jesus calls us to do. Let’s also find time to celebrate the fact that Jesus is risen and we are his new creations, despite who we can sometimes be. Remember, all work and no play makes Jesus’ people dull because we forget why we do what we do when we deny ourselves, take up our cross, and follow him. So let us always remember and celebrate the fact that we have Good News, now and for all eternity, precisely because we worship and adore our crucified and risen Lord. 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.

Martin Davie: Accompanying Them with Singing: a Christian Reflection on the Theology and Practice of Funerals

One of the best reflections on the importance of Christian funerals and the theology behind them that I have read, and quite appropriate for Eastertide!

[What] it not often realised is that the Christian tradition of honouring the bodies of the dead was strongly countercultural when it first began back in the days of the Early Church. As the American theologian Thomas Long comments in his book on Christian funerals, Accompany them with singing, drawing on the earlier work of Margaret Miles, one of the most bizarre forms of early Christian activity in the eyes of their Roman neighbours was:

‘… the Christian practice of burying the dead – not just their own dead, but the poor as well. In Roman society, the bodies of poor people, if left unattended, were dumped in a common pit, a paupers’ grave. Respectable Romans were horrified by the inhumanity of this, and some of them even formed burial societies to ensure that no person would go without a proper burial. However, despite the lofty rhetoric of these charitable organisations, nobody actually wanted to do the dirty work of burial, of handling a dead body – except the Christians. Not only did they volunteer to bury the dead, Miles says, they ‘insisted on gathering the bones of those who have been executed full refusal to renounce the Christian sect. They put these bones in a place of honour and described them as capable or possessing the sanctity of the living holy person.’ Educated secular Romans were convinced that all of this concern among Christians for bodies could only be the product of ignorance. One well-placed Roman, Miles reports, speculated that the Christians who were willing to bury the dead as an act of service were surely ‘fleeing from the light,’ in short, ignoring the enlightened wisdom but only minds and souls were spiritual more bodies were corrupt ‘bags of dung’ and worth nothing except to be despised. In other words. Christian attitudes toward the body were as counter cultural in antiquity as they are today, if not more so.’

If we ask why the early Christians adopted this countercultural attitude to the bodies of the dead and the practices that went with it, the answer is, Long says, that they based it on ‘their theology of creation and their experience of Jesus Christ.’ Their theology of creation told them that God had created human bodies and that like everything else created by God they were ‘very good’ (Genesis 1:31). Their experience of Jesus Christ told them that the bodies of the Christian dead have eternal value because, like the body of Jesus, they will one day be raised to share life with God forever.

To put it another way, Christians have seen, and continue to see the embodiment of human beings as a gift from God that should be celebrated not only during life, but also at the point of death. As Long argues, this means that a Christian funeral is, or should be, a piece of liturgical drama that has certain specific characteristics that link the funeral service to baptism:

Read and reflect on it all.

Good Shepherd Sunday 2024: From the Sermon Archives: Why We Need THE (not a) Good Shepherd

Sermon originally delivered on Easter 4B, Good Shepherd Sunday, April 25, 2021.

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 and spiritual health, 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 Saints 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 in 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. 

2024: Remembering the Midnight Ride of Paul Revere

…today, 249 years on, by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow 1807 – 1882. Had to learn this poem in Junior High School.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A hurry of hoofs in a village-street,
A shape in the moonlight, a bulk in the dark,
And beneath from the pebbles, in passing, a spark
Struck out by a steed that flies fearless and fleet:
That was all! And yet, through the gloom and the light,
The fate of a nation was riding that night;
And the spark struck out by that steed, in his flight,
Kindled the land into flame with its heat.

He has left the village and mounted the steep,
And beneath him, tranquil and broad and deep,
Is the Mystic, meeting the ocean tides;
And under the alders, that skirt its edge,
Now soft on the sand, now loud on the ledge,
Is heard the tramp of his steed as he rides.

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

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

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

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

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

Source: This poem is in the public domain.

Eastertide 2024: An Ancient Commentator Muses on the Eucharist and Resurrection

If our flesh is not saved, then the Lord has not redeemed us with his blood, the eucharistic chalice does not make us sharers in his blood, and the bread we break does not make us sharers in his body. There can be no blood without veins, flesh and the rest of the human substance, and this the Word of God actually became: it was with his own blood that he redeemed us. As the Apostle says: “In him, through his blood, we have been redeemed, our sins have been forgiven.”

We are his members and we are nourished by creation, which is his gift to us, for it is he who causes the sun to rise and the rain to fall, He declared that the chalice, which comes from his creation, was his blood, and he makes it the nourishment of our blood. He affirmed that the bread, which comes from his creation, was his body, and he makes it the nourishment of our body. When the chalice we mix and the bread we bake receive the word of God, the eucharistic elements become the body and blood of Christ, by which our bodies live and grow. How then can it be said that flesh belonging to the Lord’s own body and nourished by his body and blood is incapable of receiving God’s gift of eternal life? Saint Paul says in his letter to the Ephesians that “we are members of his body,” of his flesh and bones. He is not speaking of some spiritual and incorporeal kind of person, “for spirits do not have flesh and bones.” He is speaking of a real human body composed of flesh, sinews and bones, nourished by the chalice of Christ’s blood and receiving growth from the bread which is his body.

The slip of a vine planted in the ground bears fruit at the proper time. The grain of wheat falls into the ground and decays only to be raised up again and multiplied by the Spirit of God who sustains all things. The Wisdom of God places these things at the service of human beings and when they receive God’s word they become the eucharist, which is the body and blood of Christ. In the same way our bodies, which have been nourished by the eucharist, will be buried in the earth and will decay, but they will rise again at the appointed time, for the Word of God will raise them up to the glory of God the Father. Then the Father will clothe our mortal nature in immortality and freely endow our corruptible nature with incorruptibility, for God’s power is shown most perfectly in weakness.

Against Heresies 5, 2, 2-3: SC 153, 30-38

Saint Irenaeus, a late second-century Christian commentator and apologist, was bishop of Lyons and a spiritual grandson of the Apostles, having studied under Polycarp who in turn had studied under the Apostle John, one of the original twelve Apostles of Christ. So we can have great confidence that he received the real teachings of the Lord. Here he speaks of the relationship between Holy Eucharist and the Resurrection of the body that Christ’s Resurrection signals.

Resurrection, as Saint Irenaeus reminds us, is about new bodily existence, not living forever as a spirit without a body. His logic above is straightforward: The Eucharist, which is the body and blood of Christ after it has been consecrated, signals a new created order in which our mortal bodies are raised from the dead and reanimated by the Holy Spirit to live forever in God’s direct presence (1 Corinthians 15.35-50; Revelation 21.1-7). If the Eucharist consists of created elements (bread and wine) that are Christ’s body and blood after they are consecrated, it makes no sense that they would point to a state of existence (eternal life) that is spiritual rather than physical in nature. Just as consecrated bread and wine signal a new creation, Resurrection signals a new created order, one that is entirely consistent with God’s original good intentions for his creation. We get to live in that new order only by having a relationship with the crucified and risen Lord Jesus because only Christ’s Death can cleanse us of the sin and filth that prevent us from living in the Presence of a Holy God. Every time we come to Christ’s Holy Table to feed on his body and blood, we are strengthened in our living relationship with Christ and reminded of our glorious future because of his great love and sacrifice for us. What could possibly be better and more hopeful?

If you are a Christian, the next time you are beaten down by the news and events of today (they are legion) and start to lose hope, do as Saint Irenaeus and countless other Christians have done: Remember what Christ has done for you in his saving Death and the future awaiting you that his Resurrection proclaims. If you are not a Christian, consider how much better this hope and future is than the one of your own making, and choose to follow Christ.

Listen and understand if you have ears to hear.

Eastertide 2024: A Letter to Diognetus—The Christian in the World

Christians are indistinguishable from others either by nationality, language or customs. They do not inhabit separate cities of their own, or speak a strange dialect, or follow some outlandish way of life. Their teaching is not based upon reveries inspired by the curiosity of human beings. Unlike some other people, they champion no purely human doctrine. With regard to dress, food and manner of life in general, they follow the customs of whatever city they happen to be living in, whether it is Greek or foreign.

And yet there is something extraordinary about their lives. They live in their own countries as though they were only passing through. They play their full role as citizens, but labor under all the disabilities of aliens. Any country can be their homeland, but for them their homeland, wherever it may be, is a foreign country. Like others, they marry and have children, but they do not expose them [to the elements to die]. They share their meals, but not their wives. They live in the flesh, but they are not governed by the desires of the flesh. They pass their days upon earth, but they are citizens of heaven. Obedient to the laws, they yet live on a level that transcends the law.

Christians love all people, but all people persecute them. Condemned because they are not understood, they are put to death, but raised to life again. They live in poverty, but enrich many; they are totally destitute, but possess an abundance of everything. They suffer dishonor, but that is their glory. They are defamed, but vindicated. A blessing is their answer to abuse, deference their response to insult. For the good they do they receive the punishment of malefactors, but even then they rejoice, as though receiving the gift of life. They are attacked by the Jews as aliens, they are persecuted by the Greeks, yet no one can explain the reason for this hatred.

To speak in general terms, we may say that the Christian is to the world what the soul is to the body. As the soul is present in every part of the body, while remaining distinct from it, so Christians are found in all the cities of the world, but cannot be identified with the world. As the visible body contains the invisible soul, so Christians are seen living in the world, but their religious life remains unseen. The body hates the soul and wars against it, not because of any injury the soul has done it, but because of the restriction the soul places on its pleasures. Similarly, the world hates the Christians, not because they have done it any wrong, but because they are opposed to its enjoyments.

Christians love those who hate them just as the soul loves the body and all its members despite the body’s hatred. It is by the soul, enclosed within the body, that the body is held together, and similarly, it is by the Christians, detained in the world as in a prison, that the world is held together. The soul, though immortal, has a mortal dwelling place; and Christians also live for a time amidst perishable things, while awaiting the freedom from change and decay that will be theirs in heaven. As the soul benefits from the deprivation of food and drink, so Christians flourish under persecution. Such is the lofty and divinely appointed function of Christians, from which they are not permitted to excuse themselves.

Chapters 5-6: Funk 1, 397-401

This remains as true today as it did in the early 2nd-century. Listen if you have ears to hear.

Eastertide 2024: Dr. Ben Witherington: Will Our Heavenly Bodies be Immaterial?

A very good lesson on the Resurrection—specifically what Saint Paul meant by “spiritual bodies” (1 Corinthians 15.44)—and quite appropriate for Eastertide since the Resurrection is all about new bodies! By all means be refreshed and strengthened by your Resurrection hope, but by all means also know what that hope really is all about!

Reflections on Christ from a Second-Century Church Father for Monday of the Octave of Easter 2024

The Lord, though he was God, became man. He suffered for the sake of those who suffer, he was bound for those in bonds, condemned for the guilty, buried for those who lie in the grave; but he rose from the dead, and cried aloud: Who will contend with me? Let him confront me. I have freed the condemned, brought the dead back to life, raised men from their graves. Who has anything to say against me? I, he said, am the Christ; I have destroyed death, triumphed over the enemy, trampled hell underfoot, bound the strong one, and taken men up to the heights of heaven: I am the Christ.

Come, then, all you nations of men, receive forgiveness for the sins that defile you. I am your forgiveness. I am the Passover that brings salvation. I am the lamb who was immolated for you. I am your ransom, your life, your resurrection, your light; I am your salvation and your king. I will bring you to the heights of heaven. With my own right hand I will raise you up, and I will show you the eternal Father.

—Melito of Sardis, bishop (ca 180), Easter Homily