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Saturday, March 28, 2020

Some Thoughts on Passion Sunday in the Plague Year 2020

Some Thoughts on Passion Sunday in the Plague Year 2020
Here are some Christian facts about Passion Sunday: “In the liturgical year of some Christian denominations, Passion Sunday is the fifth Sunday of Lent, marking the beginning of the two-week period called Passiontide. In those Anglican churches which follow the Sarum Use, crimson vestments and hangings are pressed into service on the fifth Sunday of Lent – replacing the Lenten array (unbleached muslin cloth) – and vestments are crimson until (and including) Holy Saturday. Reflecting the recent shift away from the observance of Passiontide as a distinct season, the Church of England's Common Worship liturgical resources suggest red for Holy Week only (with the exception of the Maundy Thursday Eucharist)”.[1]
This is a strange year, to be sure.  We will not be celebrating Passion Sunday in the traditional way, that is, inside our beloved St. Paul’s.  No, we are aiding the civil authorities in “tamping down” the spread of the current plague, COVID-19.  In this, we are not surrendering to secular pressure, but are instead doing our Christian duty in obeying the civil authorities.  Consider these words from St. Paul’s Epistle to the Romans: “Romans 13:5-7   5 Wherefore ye must needs be subject, not only for wrath, but also for conscience sake.  6 For for this cause pay ye tribute also: for they are God's ministers, attending continually upon this very thing.  7 Render therefore to all their dues: tribute to whom tribute is due; custom to whom custom; fear to whom fear; honour to whom honour.” As always, Christians make the best subjects.  After all, it is our deep-seated religious sense that makes the exercise of a free republic possible.  We obey the law, because it is the right thing to do.
However our Holy Week plays out, whether it be inside our church, or if it be in front of our computer screens, or just time alone with our Prayer Books, let us continue to practice a Holy Lent.  We are almost there, to the glorious celebration of the Resurrection of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Yet, we are not there yet, as the gospel for Passion Sunday indicates.  Here, in the eighth chapter of St. John, we see the pressure building around the person of Jesus.  The last line of the Gospel selection says, 59 Then took they up stones to cast at him: but Jesus hid himself, and went out of the temple, going through the midst of them, and so passed by.”
The reason they were so incensed?  Jesus has just told them, “Before Abraham was, I am.”  Without saying it directly, He told the Jews that He was God. All they saw was blasphemy, despite the signs Jesus worked among them.
In these waning days of Lent, let us strive to hold Jesus in our hearts as Lord and God. Let us adore the One who gave all for us.  Let us supplicate Him for His mercy, that our nation may have a glorious rebirth of health, as we are delivered from the COVID-19 plague.    -Fr. Stephen Stults

[1] Wikipedia, “Passion Sunday”

Thursday, February 13, 2020

Be Strong and of a Good Courage - Sexagesima 2020

Rev. Stephen E. Stults
St. Paul’s Anglican Church
Feb. 16, 2020

Joshua 1:6: “Be strong and of good courage, for to this people you shall divide as an inheritance the land which I swore to their fathers to give them.”

The Book of Joshua begins with an amazing occurrence.  God speaks to Joshua personally, just as he spoke to Moses.  God is preparing to “hand over” the leadership of the people of Israel.  Moreover, He is preparing to keep his promise made to Abraham, Issac, Jacob, and Moses. These things happen as Israel is, at last, ready to possess the land of Canaan.

Recall that this was not always the case.  After the people first passed through the Red Sea as recorded in the Book of Exodus, being delivered from Pharaoh’s host, they were fearful to take the land.  Even after Moses sent out a scouting party, which returned with good fruit and a good report of the land, the people were fearful.  Whether this fear was stoked by the so-called “back to Egypt” party, we do not know.  All we are told is that the people did not possess faith sufficient to take the Promised Land.  For this reason Israel began the years of wandering in Sinai until the first generation to come out of Egypt passed away.

Our Gospel selection tells of this momentous occasion.  Moses was not permitted to lead the people into Canaan for the conquest because he sinned against the Lord at the waters of Meribah.  Recall this reading from Ex. 17: “And all the congregation of the children of Israel journeyed from the wilderness of Sin, after their journeys, according to the commandment of the LORD, and pitched in Rephidim: and there was no water for the people to drink.”
“Wherefore the people did chide with Moses, and said, Give us water that we may drink. And Moses said unto them, Why chide ye with me? wherefore do ye tempt the LORD? And the people thirsted there for water; and the people murmured against Moses, and said, Wherefore is this that thou hast brought us up out of Egypt, to kill us and our children and our cattle with thirst? And Moses cried unto the LORD, saying, What shall I do unto this people? they be almost ready to stone me. And the LORD said unto Moses, Go on before the people, and take with thee of the elders of Israel; and thy rod, wherewith thou smotest the river, take in thine hand, and go. Behold, I will stand before thee there upon the rock in Horeb; and thou shalt smite the rock, and there shall come water out of it, that the people may drink. And Moses did so in the sight of the elders of Israel. And he called the name of the place Massah, and Meribah, because of the chiding of the children of Israel, and because they tempted the LORD, saying, Is the LORD among us, or not?

Here is where Moses’ sin happened: “And Moses and Aaron gathered the congregation together before the rock, and he said unto them, Hear now, ye rebels; must we fetch you water out of this rock?”  Note the use of the word “we”, meaning Moses and Aaron.  God is not mentioned or sanctified in this situation.  As a result, God allowed Moses to see the Promised Land from afar, but was not permitted to lead the People into it.  That job fell to Joshua.

One commentator says that these are historical events, which they are. Israel lays claims to its current land based on the promise of God to them as contained in Joshua.  Yet, they are more than mere historical records.[i]  The entrance into Canaan also represents our deliverance from the bondage of sin through Christ.  After all, “Jesus” is a Greek rendition of the Hebrew name “Joshua”.[ii] Joshua in the Old Testament is a Messiah type that would, later in history, be fulfilled through the House of David in the person of Jesus Christ. Through his earthly protector Joseph, he received his lineage of the Davidic line.  From his mother Mary, he received his manhood, and thus His identification with us. 

Now, Joshua is set to deliver the Jewish people into their new land.  They came out of Egypt a slave people, totally dominated by the Egyptians.  Now, after a long period of purgation, they have at last come to the place promised for them.  They are a free people, set to take their inheritance promised to them by God.

There are conditions placed on the people in order to fulfill this promise from God.  He commands them to obey the Law given to them through Moses.  They are to meditate on it day and night.  They are not to depart from it, but let it be their standard of behavior in everything. If this happens, God will make their way prosperous and they will have good success.
Something else is required of them, and specifically Joshua.  God tells him to “be strong, and of a good courage.”  God tells them not to fear, for He will be with them wherever they go.

Beloved, these are prophetic words for this parish. We too must “be strong and of a good courage.”  We must have faith that God is who He says He is and to believe in him with our whole heart. In faith, we must pray, work, and believe in the future of St. Paul’s. God is faithful.  So must we be in all that we do.

To do that, let us do the following:
1.      Worship every Sunday here in this church.
2.      Pray and give for the spread of the Kingdom.
3.      Invite others to share in our worship and fellowship.
4.      Be joyful and strong in all that we do.
5.      “Rejoice in the Lord alway: and again I say, Rejoice.”[iii]

In so doing, all will be well with us.

Glory be to God the Father, God the Son and God the Holy Ghost, now and for ever.  Amen.

[i] David Guzik, ““Commentary on Joshua 1” Blue Letter Bible,
[ii] Ibid
[iii] Phil. 4:4