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Saturday, April 28, 2012

Warring Against the Soul

The Rev’d Stephen E. Stults
St. Barnabas Anglican Church
The Third Sunday after Easter
 April 29, 2012
 “Warring against the Soul…”

Welcome to the third Sunday in Easter. We are a little more than halfway through this blessed season of the Church. I hope that you are having a blessed Easter season to date.

 In a speech delivered at Chautauqua, New York in 1936, Franklin D. Roosevelt declared, “I hate war.” According to one source, “As Assistant Secretary of the Navy in the Wilson Administration, FDR visited the front lines in France (in WWI) after the United States had declared war on Germany and American troops were already engaged in combat. Thus the vision of war he reports was based upon that experience. FDR himself never served in uniform—his requests to do so were vetoed by the Secretary of the Navy Josephus Daniels and President Wilson himself.” That being said, in this same speech, Roosevelt said he would “pass unnumbered hours thinking and planning how war may be kept from this nation.” As later events would prove, war became inevitable when the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor, Hawaii on Dec. 7, 1941, propelling the United States into the inferno of WWII. Despite Roosevelt’s best intentions, it became impossible to stay neutral once this cataclysmic event had occurred.

Some think that there is evidence that the U.S. provoked Japan into an attack by applying certain trade embargoes, or that we needed WWII to pull us out of the Great Depression. Others think there is also evidence that the initial warnings regarding the attack on Pearl Harbor were ignored, perhaps purposely, in order that the heinous attack would galvanize public opinion in favor of war. Be that as it may, war came and we fought it, victoriously. In a similar vein, despite what some Christians may think about it or how distasteful it may seem to them, we in the Church are engaged in a war too. There is no doubt that we, like FDR, desire peace. Unfortunately, this is not possible, for it is true that we are locked in a rear-guard action with our ancient foe and nemesis, Satan.

We say “rear-guard action” because Lucifer is still fighting, even though he has lost. He would never admit it, but on the cosmic level Satan is defeated. He is vanquished. He has lost. Calvary determined that a long time ago. Why then, do we still talk of fighting a spiritual battle with the forces of darkness? If Satan has lost the war and his kingdom has been ultimately overthrown, why does he still fight? This is an excellent question. Simply, it is this: Satan does not want to believe that he has lost. Being the completely crafty and devious being that he is, he still believes there is some way he can win. Barring that, Satan would like nothing better than to take as many souls as he can with him to perdition. So, the battle continues and so we fight…

Consider two examples of militant language in both our Old and New Testament selections,. First, in our selection from 1 Samuel 2:1, Hannah proclaimed: ”... my mouth is enlarged over mine enemies; because I rejoice in thy salvation.” Also 1 Samuel 2:4: “The bows of the mighty men are broken, and they that stumbled are girded with strength.” There is language here of victory, even vengeance upon one’s detractors and enemies. In this case, Hannah, being barren, had suffered a great deal from those who had been blessed with children. Now, she proclaims victory in the fight. Those who afflicted her have been silenced.

In our Epistle, Peter tells us: “Dearly beloved, I beseech you as strangers and pilgrims, abstain from fleshly lusts, which war against the soul;” Again the language of fighting and of struggle is apparent. In Peter’s mind, “fleshly lusts” not only taint one’s spiritual life, they actually “war” against the soul. The language used here is very strong. Peter does not say “fleshly lusts” merely afflict the soul, or tempt it, but they actually “war” against it. Some modern translations translate this as “waging war” against the soul.

Two things aid and abet our ancient foe in his fight against us. The first is his favorite; this is his ability to convince people that he simply doesn’t exist, that he is just a medieval invention born of superstition and ignorance. Thus, there can be no spiritual battle, because how can a battle exist if there is no enemy to fight? A corollary to this is the failure of the modern world to objectify and personalize evil. There are those who think that evil is not an external, objective force, but is rather some perversion or distortion of mankind's basically good nature. Since mankind is basically good, these people think, those who act in evil ways must be sick. Thus, we can treat evil with medication or with education. As in the corporate ethics classes which were popular a few years ago, some folks think mankind can “learn” to be good.

This, as we Christians know, is a grave error. The evil in the world comes from the fallen, unredeemed nature of mankind, aided by a generous dose of demonic suggestion and temptation. Thus, the cure for evil in the world is not just education, but regeneration. “Ye must be born again.” Barring this second birth, this regeneration and redemption of the “old man”, we cannot see the Kingdom of Heaven.

The second thing that aids Satan is similar to the first. It is simply the inability of most people, including Christians, to recognize when they are in the middle of a Satanic attack. Even for one who is spiritually aware, this can be difficult. We may be suddenly depressed, or despairing, or overly self-critical, or just plain sad. We may be in the throes of wallowing in self-pity, or we may be in bondage to anger, bitterness, or resentment. We may know that we are miserable, but the reason is not always so apparent.

It is at that point that we need to don our Gospel armor and fight back. A key piece of this armor is our helmet of salvation. That is, we must immediately recognize what is happening to us. Rather than taking it on the chin and blaming ourselves, or worse yet someone else, we need to know there is a spiritual assault going on. Many times this is enough, for knowledge itself is a powerful weapon. We recognize the assault, we acknowledge it and then we can relax. Why? Once having isolated the source of our torment, we can relax into the loving arms of God and let Him fight the battle for us.

How? Simply by using the most potent weapon any Christian can wield against the powers of darkness: prayer. Our dark foes hate it when we pray, for we have not only shifted our attention away from their efforts, but from the focus on ourselves. Instead of thinking how miserable we feel, we begin to think how great God is.We praise Him, we worship Him, and we glorify His Holy Name. Then, perhaps we do something even more hateful to our spiritual enemies: we ask for help. Through Christ, we ask for shielding and strength. Through Christ we ask for peace and rest. Finally, through Christ, we go on the offence and bind the spirit’s power in our life. Having put on the breastplate of righteousness and holding out the shield of faith, we can be bold in the Spirit. Thus, we can even command the demon to depart from us and return to Hell from whence he came. This is effective and it is efficacious. The forces of darkness simply cannot stand before it. Quoting the Epistle of James, “The effectual fervent prayer of a righteous man availeth much.” 

Sounds pretty radical, doesn’t it. Sounds very fundamentalist, doesn’t it? Surely in 21st century America, we don’t speak of such things. Belief in the Devil is so childish... How foolish indeed!

Beloved in Christ, we had better think this way. We had better recognize that evil is external, evil is real, and evil is actively waging war against the righteous people of God. We had better recognize evil for the corrosive, corrupting force that it is. Finally, we had better believe that there is only one way to achieve true victory in this life. That of course, is regeneration, re-birth, and restoration to righteousness through Jesus Christ our Lord. We Christians will win the fight, or rather, we will accept the victory that Christ has won for us. We are not called the “Church Militant” for nothing. We are active, we are engaged and we are winning the fight.

We know that sounds ridiculous. In a day and age when all conventional morality is called into question, when situation ethics seem to rule in most cases, and when Christians are being marginalized, it surely sounds ridiculous. Yet it is true. Our Enemy Below is furious. He is raging and fighting and plotting. He is, despite all appearances, desperate because he knows his time is short. Just as in the 1st century, when he maneuvered Christ onto the Cross, he thought he had won. Imagine Satan’s despair on Easter Morning! How mistaken he was! It is the same today…

Beloved, the path to victory is always difficult. We will have many tribulations before the final victory, but nevertheless, the victory is ours through Christ!! This is a grand and glorious thought. Yet, unlike some radical religious movements in the world today, ours should be a peaceful army. We thus a genuine oxymoron. We will follow our Captain of Salvation, Jesus Christ, to victory and salvation. On the way, we will wield our peaceful weapons: prayer, love, compassion and good will. We will submit ourselves to lawful authority, as befitting those who keep law and order. We will do our best to do right and thus silence our critics and our detractors. We will use our liberty in Christ, not as “a covering for evil”, but as faithful servants and soldiers of God. Finally, we will strive to “Honour all men. Love the brotherhood. Fear God. Honour the king.”

 In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost. AMEN

Saturday, April 21, 2012

Shepherds and Signs

2nd Sunday after Easter 2012
“Shepherds and Signs”
Rev. Stephen E. Stults
St. Barnabas Anglican Church
April 22, 2012

John 10:11 11 I am the good shepherd: the good shepherd giveth his life for the sheep.
During Eastertide, we are very blessed in our Gospel readings, for a large portion of them come from the blessed St. John. He was, you’ll recall, “the disciple whom Jesus loved.” According to Dr. Leon Morris (PhD, Cambridge) , the Gospel of John is one of the most important Christian books ever written, one that is even central to the Christian faith. His major reason for saying so is that John’s Gospel is known as the “Book of Signs”, all of them pointing to God the Father or to Jesus as the Messiah.

As the “book of signs” John’s Gospel is special. Although the other three Synoptic Gospels all relate the mighty deeds of Jesus, and all of them have their particular focus, John’s Gospel is unique in that it is constructed purposefully around the works of Jesus as “signs.” We could talk for months about these signs, and the many, many, books that have been written about them, but suffice it to say that the signs in the Gospel of John do one thing; they point to one inescapable fact, according to John: God has intervened in the affairs of men. This “intervention”, if you will, has come in the form of God Himself coming down to us and taking our flesh upon Him. This intervention God has Willed in order to save man from himself, that is, from his inherently self-destructive path towards eternal death. That is the truth of Jesus the Messiah. This is the truth that all of the signs point towards, and the ones that most of the Jewish leaders missed.

Two examples serve to show how the religious authorities could miss the signs pointing towards Jesus the Messiah. The first is story of the raising of Lazarus of Bethany. Recall that Lazarus, to whom Christ referred to as “our friend”, had died. Christ performed a mighty miracle and called Lazarus from his tomb. Recall that amazing scene as Christ called, “Lazarus, come forth!” and the man formerly dead comes out, bound in his burial cloths. Recall that Christ purposefully stayed two days where he was before journeying to Bethany. This was so to avoid Christ’s skeptics of accusing him of merely waking Lazarus from sleep. Instead, to the glory of God and as John tells us, “to the intent ye may believe” , he calls Lazarus forth from the grave to new life.

Why is this particular work, or sign, so important? First and most obviously, it is critical to us because of its sheer magnitude. No one in the entire history of the world has ever raised a man from the dead, especially one that had been in the tomb four days. This fact alone testifies to Christ’s Messiah-ship and his complete sovereignty over all things. Not even Death, the old specter, is able to thwart Jesus’ power. Instead, with a word, he calls Lazarus forth. This miracle also acts as a foreshadowing of Christ’s own Resurrection, where he will call forth not just one man from the bondage of death, but will release all men who believe from mortality’s steely shackles. For this reason, it is a paramount sign of Christ’s authority.

The second reason for this sign’s importance is that the “powers that were” in Jesus’ time completely missed it. Even though it became widely known that Jesus had raised a man from the dead and even though this was a sure sign of the Messiah, the leaders completely failed to see it. Recall that John even tells us that one of the big reasons for Jesus’ triumphant procession into Jerusalem is that many of the people had heard that He had done this and wanted to see Him. Great throngs of people lined the streets of Jerusalem, waved palm branches and shouted “Hosanna: Blessed is the King of Israel that cometh in the name of the Lord. “ They shouted, they exulted, and they gave glory to Christ, the Messiah. Thus, the people “got it”, while their appointed spiritual guides and shepherds did not. These men, who were charged with guarding the spiritual life of Israel, absolutely missed the most important advent of all time, to which their own history had pointed.

The reasons for this are apparent, so there is no point with wearying you with them. Suffice it to say that the scribes, Pharisees and other members of the Sanhedrin were too concerned about losing their own position, their own spiritual authority, in order to give allegiance to Him who should have been given it. Instead of recognizing the signs, foretold by prophet after prophet, they chose instead to safeguard their own places in society and their own comfortable, prestigious lifestyles.

Another example of missing the obvious sign is that of the man born blind. Recall that Christ saw a man “blind from his birth.” He anointed the man’s eyes with spittle and clay told the man to wash in the pool of Siloam. The man washed and came away seeing. Later, he would be accosted by the Pharisees, who demanded how he was able to see. When he told them, there was great dissension. Some said he was a prophet, while others said that he was not of God because He healed on the Sabbath! Once again, one of the greatest signs ever done has just been performed in front of them and instead of recognizing it as a sign of the Messiah, they are consumed with rage because Christ healed on the Sabbath…amazing.

Both of these signs point to Christ’s message in today’s Gospel. Both of these signs point to the Messiah, but they do in an oblique fashion. That is, one had to be acquainted with the Old Testament prophecy in order to see that they were Messianic signs. One could either accept them, as the Palm Sunday crowd did, at least for a while, or they could reject them, as the Jewish leaders chose to do. On the other hand, Christ tells us today, “I am the good Shepherd: the good shepherd giveth his life for the sheep.”

Several wonderful things are happening, virtually at once in this passage. First, there is a clear claim that Christ is the Messiah, for he claims to the Good Shepherd, who knows his sheep and is known of them. To better understand the significance of this, let us review some facts about 1st century Palestinian pastoral life. First, we know that flocks from a village were made up of several families’ sheep, from various households. The families decided who would keep them, usually picking a person or even hiring a shepherd. This shepherd would then lead the sheep out to pasture, to water, and then back home again. What is fascinating is that each flock knew their particular shepherd’s call or whistle. Even though they might be gathered together in one large group, for example for watering, when it was time to go the shepherd would call and the sheep would follow. They knew their own shepherd’s voice and would not follow another.
Thus, it is especially significant and even poignant when Christ says “and they shall hear my voice.” To whom is Christ referring? He speaks not only of the “lost sheep of the house of Israel”, to whom He was specifically sent, but also “And other sheep I have, which are not of this fold: them also I must bring”.

Thus, it is obvious to whom Christ is speaking. To God’s eternal Glory and for our eternal benefit, it is us. We, the Gentiles, are that other flock to whom Christ is referring, thanks be to God. Christ is the Good Shepherd, who lays down His life for the sheep. Returning to our examination of shepherd life in Palestine, we need to recall how sheep were kept. The sheepfolds were nothing more that rocky enclosures, either man-made or simply against the side of a mountain. The shepherd himself would actually lie down in the mouth of the sheepfold to bar entrance to predators. If the shepherd owned the sheep, or was a trusted family member, he might stay to guard the sheep when danger or predators came. But if the shepherd was merely “a hireling”, one contracted to keep the sheep, the likelihood was small that he would stay and fight for the sheep, since he had no vested interest.

In this case, however, in the case of Christ, he says that “I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd gives His life for the sheep.” Christ doesn’t run away in terror when His sheep are threatened. In fact, He actively lays down His life for His sheep, because as He said, "Therefore My Father loves Me, because I lay down My life that I may take it again.” Our shepherd doesn’t run from His fate; He meets it squarely in the Garden of Gethsemane and accepts it. In so doing, our Lord, our Good Shepherd completely and utterly defeats the predator of Hs sheep, eternal death.

What one thing can we take away from this wonderful passage of Scripture? Simply this: let us not fail to see the signs of God in our life. When God puts things in our life for instruction, or formation, or for our growth, let us not fail to see them for what they are. Let us see them as God intends them to be seen, namely as signs pointing to greater growth in Him. Thus let us be like the people, who at least for a while got the message, even though their leaders did not.

When we do this, we will begin to realize, to know and to appreciate all that God is doing for us. Although it is difficult, although it is sometimes painful and not very pleasant, we know that our Good Shepherd is doing what is best for us in the mysterious aspects of His will for us.

It is then that we begin to grow as Christians. It is then that we begin to fully appreciate the greatness and goodness of His will for us. It is then that we can understand, just a bit, the magnitude of Christ’s love for us. When we do that, we can exclaim in our hearts and our spirits: “Christ is MY Good Shepherd. He laid down his life for me.”

Therefore, let us give thanks for the Great Shepherd God has given us, even for us, the Sheep of God.

Glory be to God the Father, and to God the Son and God the Holy Ghost, now and forever. AMEN

Sunday, April 15, 2012

The Veil Split for Us

The Rev’d Stephen E. Stults
St. Barnabas Anglican Church
Maundy Thursday, 2012



Welcome to this year’s celebration of Maundy Thursday, which is called by many outside the Anglican Communion Holy Thursday. We Anglicans call it “Maundy Thursday”, after the Latin verb “Mandate”, or command. This is an important night, but one that doesn’t always get the attention it deserves, perhaps because of its placement in Holy Week, or perhaps it takes a sense of the liturgical to fully appreciate its significance. Yet, one doesn’t have to be a liturgical Christian to appreciate the glory of this night. For several reasons, Maundy Thursday means a great deal to all orthodox Christians.

We can say without possibility of contradiction that this is a glorious night. On this night, approximately two thousand years ago, Jesus Christ changed everything. He changed from it meant to be master and servant. He changed our salvation from being one based on works to one based on grace. Finally, he changed our whole approach to God. Let’s consider each point briefly in turn.

First, Christ did what would have been unthinkable in the ancient world. He arose from supper, put off his own seamless robe, and wrapped himself in a towel. He then took a basin, filled it with water, and began to wash the disciples’ feet. Can you imagine? Here was the disciple’s Lord and Master performing the most menial, lowly, and humble task possible. Keep in mind that in the ancient Middle East, dirty, dusty and hot, offering to wash one’s guests’ feet was considered a great service. It was done, however, not by the master of the house, but by the lowliest servant. Yet here was Christ, who performed this task without flinching and without complaint. He actually redefined what being the master really is. In the really great organizations and companies, the manager or chief officer actually know what it means to in charge. It is not just the wielding of ego- driven authority, but the realization that the one who is in charge is actually servant of all. That is, without his or her services, the whole organization falters, or even crumbles into inefficiency. Yet, with Christ, there is so much more. Here is God Himself, the One who spoke the world into being, performing the task of a humble servant. His message for so doing is plain: do as I do. Jesus says, John 13:14-15 14” If I then, your Lord and Master, have washed your feet; ye also ought to wash one another's feet. 15 For I have given you an example, that ye should do as I have done to you.” Nothing could be plainer. We Christians, in love, are to serve one another, just as Christ our Lord has served us.

Next, on this glorious night, mankind’s salvation was translated from a works-oriented system to one based on faith and on the limitless mercies of God. On this glorious night, Jesus Christ changed the way we believe and the way we remember our salvation. For, it was on this night that Jesus Christ ushered mankind into the New Testament era, one based on hope and faith and trust.

How did this happen? How could this happen? Let’s review just a bit. St. Paul tells us in today’s Epistle from 1 Corinthians that Jesus took bread, gave thanks, broke it and distributed it to the disciples. He said, “Take, eat: this is my body, which is given for you. This do in remembrance of me.” He then took the cup and did likewise, saying, “This cup is the new testament in my blood: this do ye as oft as ye shall drink, in remembrance of me.” These words changed everything. Christ now offered Himself as the Passover Lamb to take away our sins. Moreover, this sacrifice was not temporary, needing to offered year by year to atone for the sins of the people. Rather, it was, in the words of the Prayer Book: “the one oblation of himself once offered: a full, perfect, and sufficient sacrifice, oblation, and satisfaction, for the sins of the whole world.”

The best authority to help us understand this is the Epistle to the Hebrews, chapter 9:
“For if the blood of goats and bulls, and the ashes of a heifer sprinkling them that have been defiled, sanctify unto the cleanness of the flesh: 14 how much more shall the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered himself without blemish unto God, cleanse your conscience from dead works to serve the living God?” We know from our study of the Old Testament that the High Priest of Israel went once a year into the Holy of Holies in the Temple and offered blood for the sins of the people. This was what God commanded. It was not, however, a permanent or durable sacrifice to take away sins. It also could not purge the conscience of sins. Yet, in the fullness of time and in the wideness of God’s mercy, Jesus came. As the first chapter of Hebrews tells us: “God, who at various times and in various ways spoke in time past to the fathers by the prophets, 2 has in these last days spoken to us by His Son, whom He has appointed heir of all things, through whom also He made the worlds; 3 who being the brightness of His glory and the express image of His person, and upholding all things by the word of His power, when He had by Himself purged our sins, sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high, 4 having become so much better than the angels, as He has by inheritance obtained a more excellent name than they.”

The third major thing Christ changed this night is the way we approach God. Before, Man always approached God with fear and trembling, and always with a sacrifice.... Now, that sacrifice has been made for us. Now, our way to God has been made plain. Turning again to Hebrews, we read in Hebrews 4:16 “Let us therefore come boldly unto the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy, and find grace to help in time of need.” Not with fear and trembling, but with the boldness and assurance of absolute Love on our side. We are not groveling slaves, crawling towards a tyrant, but rather free men in Christ joining in fellowship with our God through Christ.

Thus, Christ came, spoke, ministered, and died for us. He was betrayed into the hands of sinners, as we read on Palm Sunday. Despite man’s best efforts to kill Jesus for the world’s reasons, God’s Will was done and our salvation was secured. If we refer to the ninth chapter of Hebrews, we read: “And for this reason He is the Mediator of the new covenant, by means of death, for the redemption of the transgressions under the first covenant, that those who are called may receive the promise of the eternal inheritance.”

Thus, we reformed Christians, we Anglican Christians, and in fact, all Christians, don’t have to rely on a system of good works to try to earn our way into heaven, thank God. We rely instead on the “one, perfect and sufficient sacrifice” of Jesus Christ. That is what our Lord bequeathed to us in the Lord’s Supper, the Eucharist.

Through the Supper, we remember His sacrifice of Himself for us. Through the Supper, we receive grace to be Christians, “little Christs” in the world; and through the Supper we are fed spiritually with Christ Himself. Bp. Sutton once said, “Through the liturgy of the Eucharist, we take Christ into ourselves, and we become part of Christ. This is a great mystery.’ Indeed it is, one which we will never fully understand, until, perhaps in Heaven God chooses to enlighten us. After all, our glorification in Heaven will be blessed, fulfilling and eternal.

Returning to the Sacrament of the Eucharist, indeed it is one of the greatest and most glorious mysteries. It is one of the greatest mysteries known to man, or better said, known to the household of faith. For it is only in the Body, the Church, and its graceful fellowship that one receives this mystery. Christ gave us the Church, he gave us the Eucharist, and now he gives us grace to carry on in His name, until we feast with Him in heaven.

We invite you to ponder these great and good mysteries tonight and always
This is indeed a great mystery. This is indeed a great gift to us. This is indeed a glorious night.


Cor. 11:26 “For as often as ye eat this bread, and drink the cup, ye proclaim the Lord's death till he come.”

In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost. AMEN

Good Friday 2012

The Rev’d Stephen E. Stults
St. Barnabas Anglican Church
Good Friday, 2012
Good Friday 2012
Today is Good Friday. Today is the great and “awe-ful” (full of awe) day of the Lord, in which Jesus Christ made payment, once, for all our sins, trespasses, and negligences against God the Father. In the most unexplainable, and inexplicable act of overwhelming generosity, God Himself pays the debt for sins “due and payable” against God Himself. The act itself is so colossal, so incredible, and as the old plainsong hymn named it, is the “conflict stupendous”. If we have any spark of faith in us, and any liveliness in the Spirit, we should fall to our knees in utter adoration and worship.

This is the Day of Atonement, which, if one takes the word apart, literally means “at-one-ment.” In a mighty, yet humble act of supreme obedience, Jesus offered Himself for us, with all our nastiness, filthiness, pettiness and sheer ungodliness. He who knew no sin took all sin unto Himself for our sakes. What this really means is that Christ, while he hung in unspeakable physical agony on the Cross, also suffered unspeakably in His soul and spirit as well. Imagine the sinless Christ taking unto himself the nasty impulses and thoughts of a pedophile, or a sodomite, or a murderer or a torturer. Imagine the sinless, pure Jesus feeling every stinking, putrefying, dirty, nasty bit of sin being heaped on him as He hung helplessly, yet purposefully on the Cross of shame and death. It was the most heroic act ever done, or that ever will be done in the history of the world. As one hymn from the 1940 hymnal puts it, “what stands between our sins and their reward is the cross of Jesus Christ our Lord.” And so it is. Only Jesus and His obedience, resulting in our “at-one-ment” with God the Father, shield us from the natural and ultimate consequence of our sins: eternal separation from God.

As an aside, on a business trip several years ago, I was having a discussion with a co-worker. She was an older lady, very intelligent and very articulate. The discussion turned philosophical. We started talking about life and death and this person voiced the opinion that when one dies, one just ceases to exist. She believed there was no heaven, no hell, just sweet, blissful nothingness, a complete void.

Beloved, for the sake of those pagans, willful and unwillful, knowing and unknowing, I wish that it were so. I wish for their sakes, those folks who know not God would just slide off into eternal silence and anonymity. But sadly, in “ain't” true. Jesus Himself tells us that there will be a vast separation, where the Judge (Christ Himself) will sort between the sheep (followers of Christ) and the goats (pagans or non-followers of Christ.) Those who know not Christ will be cast into “outer darkness”, where there will “weeping and gnashing of teeth.” Now, to me, “outer darkness” and “weeping and gnashing of teeth” doesn’t sound like fading away into nothingness. In fact, those who know not Christ will have an active afterlife, just as we will who are blessed through Christ. There will, however, be a BIG difference between the two.

This is why Good Friday must be seen as perhaps the holiest day of the year. As a boy, I wondered, “Why is it “good” if they killed Jesus today?” As an adult, I understand. It’s all for us. Good Friday is “good” for us…

Thus, the writer of the Epistle to the Hebrews has it exactly right. In today’s Epistle, he says, “for it is not possible that the blood of bulls and goats should take away sins.” That is, the old system of sacrifices was incomplete. It couldn't do away with sins completely, because every year (even every day), new sacrifices must be offered., Concerning Jesus, however, quoting Hebrews, “But this man, after he had offered one sacrifice for sins for ever, sat down on the right hand of God.”

The writer of Hebrews goes on to say, “For by one offering, he hath perfected for ever them that are sanctified.” Thus, as we’ve discussed, there was one sacrifice for all people, for all time. Imagine the Reformer’s revulsion to the medieval Romish idea of “making Christ”, the repeated re-sacrifice of Christ each time Mass was offered, as well as bleeding hosts and other extra-natural phenomena. In light of this passage from Hebrews, it just doesn’t make sense, does it?

Also, in light of what we know about Good Friday and the truly stupendous, universal consequences of what Christ did, two questions arise. The first is “why?” The other is, “how?”

First, why was it necessary? We who are mature Christians already know the answer. Our sins put Jesus on that cross. Our sins so offended the Father that only one Payment would suffice, that of the Son of God Himself. But, the deeper question is why was man created to have the capacity to sin? Why did God create a being with the tendency towards evil? Couldn’t an omniscient, omnipotent God create a perfect Universe, without sin and without evil? The answer, of course, is “yes.” The Almighty can do anything He wants, at any time. But, the point for us is that He didn’t. He created a Universe with filled with good, yes, but He also allowed, for some divine and mysterious purpose, evil to corrupt a portion of His Creation. However, the point must be made that good and evil are never in equal proportion. Good always outweighs evil by an infinite degree. On a cosmic scale, Good wins.

My own guess at this mystery parallels what the Church teaches us, that God gave us both intellect and free will so that we could choose Him out of love, not by coercion or even by preprogramming. After all, God could have set us up that way. But He didn’t. He wants, to quote St. Peter, a “peculiar people”, a “royal priesthood” of those who set Him above all other things. Now, none of us possesses that perfect love, yet. Some day, however, we will. In heaven, we will grow in grace and God’s love and service. Since Gods’ love is infinite, so will be our progress, our growth, and our eternal sanctification in Him.

This brings us to the final question: HOW. How could God do this? How could God witness His Son’s titanic sufferings? How could He permit this to happen to His beloved, only and eternal Son? How may of us would be willing to give our son up for the sins of mankind? For example, would I be willing to give up Justin or Alex? I know I wouldn’t, I couldn’t. I’m not capable of that kind of love. Only God is.
Thus, we who are most blessed in the Lord and we who are singularly called must also be humble. We who are ordained to salvation because of the mercy of God and His Infinite Wisdom must accept this blessing with humility and grace. It is not we who did it, but One who did it for us. Jesus “at-one”’d (atoned) for our sins and made us right with God on this special day.

It did not come without a price. Beloved, consider the dreadful agony Christ endured for us this day. We all know about the methodical Romans and their horrible invention, the crucifixion death. We all know that this was designed to be the worst, most painful, most agonizing death possible, as one was forced to push down on feet pierced with spikes, with legs knotted with continuous muscle cramps, to gain one shallow breath after another. This agony was combined with weakness due to blood loss and thirst. If one became too exhausted to push up anymore, asphyxiation took over. By any standard, it was barbaric and sadistic.

Also consider the acute spiritual agony Christ suffered for us as well. We all know as he hung on the Cross, he acquired all the sinfulness of the world into His most perfect and sinless being. He absorbed and He felt all the nasty, heavy, disgusting sinfulness of mankind. Since God the Father can’t witness sin because of his acute Holiness, He (Jesus) who had been with the Father for all eternity, never separated for an instant, was now cut off, isolated, alone, awash in a sea of pain, sin and desolation. If it were possible for Christ to suffer any more beyond his physical agony, this was it.

Yet, here is where the “why” and the “how” come together. They come together to form a “nexus” of love: a love so compelling, so encompassing, and so complete that it will take us an eternity to understand it.
As one of my favorite hymns, Hyferdol, puts it, it is “love divine, all loves excelling.” This is the love that Jesus Christ has for us. This is that sacrifice that God demanded and permitted to show how much He loves us. This is the love that conquers all, even pain, death and hell. And, this is the love that underscores the “good” in Good Friday.

Thus, the mighty Victim paid for our sins. Thus we, who are so familiar with sin, became righteous in the sight of God. We were accounted as heirs of salvation and children of God’s Kingdom today. Thus, the spotless Lamb of God, he who knew no sin, became as sin for us.

It all happened in a garbage dump outside the gates of Roman-occupied Jerusalem over two thousand years ago.

It was the greatest battle ever fought.

Praise be to God!

"...for whosoever is born of God overcometh the world..."

The Rev’d Stephen E. Stults
St. Barnabas Anglican Church
Easter I, April 15, 2012

“…For whatsoever is born of God overcometh the world .”

Let the words of my mouth and the meditations of my heart be alway acceptable in Thy sight, O Lord, my strength and my redeemer. Amen.

1 John 5:4 “For whatsoever is born of God overcometh the world: and this is the victory that overcometh the world, even our faith.”

John the beloved Disciple begins our Epistle selection for the day with a bold statement, a strong statement of victory and achievement. It is fitting that he should say so in this blessed season of Easter, for this is the time of Christ’s, and thus our, exultation over death, despair and perdition. This is our time of victory. In the big, big, scheme of things, Good has won. Evil is defeated.

John goes on to tell us these bold and stirring words, that we who believe in the Son of God, that is, those of us born anew into Him through the waters of Holy Baptism, are able to overcome the world. In fact, in Christ, we the church, through faith, has overcome the world.

This is a statement worthy of examination. While on the surface it seems unlikely, when one surveys the relative powerlessness of many Christians around the world. We are speaking of those who are persecuted for the faith. Although we in this country are blessed to be free from persecution, in many places it is not so. In China, in the Middle East and in parts of Africa, persecution is very real and very active. There are people, even today, who are suffering and dying for the faith of Christ.

Thus, one might be tempted to look upon these martyrs and say, “Overcome the World? Rather the world has overcome them…” Yes, that would be the obvious conclusion and it would be patently wrong.

Consider this. As the disciple is not above his master, nor is the servant above his lord, so are these blessed saints in relation to Christ. As Jesus told those women who bewailed him on his way Golgotha, “For if they do these things in a green tree, what shall be done in the dry?” In other words, if the powers that be dared to strike the Head, what will happen to those that follow Him? Good question. Yes, the World shall strike them, just as it did their Master. They too shall suffer persecution, perhaps deprivation, and even death. Just as those in the early Church did, many will become as the “offscouring of all things”, in St. Paul’s words. Yet, just as the World poured all its hate and maliciousness on Christ, thinking it had defeated Him by depriving Him of earthly life, it was totally wrong. Christ overcame the hate of the World through Love. He asserted His Lordship over death and despair by rising from the dead. Hate and evil were totally frustrated and totally defeated. Christ’s victory was complete.

Because the faithful disciple is like his master, those suffering for the faith, through faith, will be glorified like their Master. They too will experience the glorious overcoming of the world, just as Christ their Lord and Master did. Perhaps they are cast down for a while, as was Christ, but their glory will forever outshine the malignancy of those that put them to their glorious, but somber fate. They too, have overcome the world through faith.

Yet, sometimes, when we see the vicissitudes of the Church in the World, we ponder St. Paul’s word in 1Cor. 1:26: 1 Corinthians 1:26 ”For you see your calling, brethren, that not many wise according to the flesh, not many mighty, not many noble, are called.”

Of course, St. Paul was referring to the origins of the early church. We know that it grew, not from an endorsement from the rich and powerful, but rather despite a benign indifference from the rich and powerful. This point of view changed into an active persecution of Christianity by the time of the Emperor Diocletian. Thus, how can it be that we Christians overcome the world, especially when we consider what our Lord Himself said about the unjust steward in KJG Luke 16:8: “And the lord commended the unjust steward, because he had done wisely: for the children of this world are in their generation wiser than the children of light.”

John answers this internal inquiry we might have when he says, “5 And who is he that overcometh the world, but he that believeth that Jesus is the Son of God? In believing this, there is a sense that many Christians have “confessed that they were strangers and pilgrims on the earth.” To use a well-worn but truthful phrase, that although we are in the world, we are not of the world. In other words, while we honor the Earth and our earthly existence as good and holy things, they are not ultimate. Earthly life does not, or should not, hold complete sway over us. We have seen its glitter and its illusory enticements, yet we are above them.

This is not to say that we Christians despise the good things in life, or earthly success, or worthy material possessions. Far be it from us to think that way! We recognize all these things as gifts from a loving Father in return for our labor and dedication. Most of us are not called to be poor holy hermits, huddled in a cave over our prayers. No, but our point is this: we overcome the world through our faith, our love and our charity. We acquire certain material things, sometimes in great abundance, but yet we do not give them power over us. We do not, or should not, let the material overwhelm the spiritual. If we do, we are in danger. Rather than overcome the world, we have consented to the world’s overcoming us. For the Christian, this should never be.

The Apostle John reinforces our faith that Christ is the One that Overcame as he presents to us Christ’s “credentials.” That is, there are witnesses to Christ’s existence, His glory and his Victory.
First, there is the Spirit of God, who bears witness to Christ constantly in our hearts, through our worship and ingestion of the Blessed Sacrament, and through our reading of the Word of God. All of this confirmation comes to through grace by the Holy Spirit. He is truth, according to the words of St. John.

Continuing, John tells us: “7 For there are three that bear record in heaven, the Father, the Word, and the Holy Ghost: and these three are one.” Only in the Gospel and writings of John is Christ constantly referred to as the “the Word”. The most familiar reference being in John 1:1, where we read: “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.” The Divine Son of God in the Glory that he had at the beginning before the Worlds certainly bears witness to his human nature as well as his divine nature. We know that the Father bore witness to His Son directly, first at his Baptism, when God the Father spoke:
“This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased.” The Father spoke again at the Transfiguration, when Jesus spoke with Moses and Elijah, becoming glistening white. He said, Luke 9:35 “And there came a voice out of the cloud, saying, This is my beloved Son: hear him.” The Holy Ghost also witnessed directly to Jesus at His Baptism, descending bodily upon Him in the form of a dove. We as Christians know that the Holy Spirit witnesses to us daily in our private meditations and prayers, as well as our weekly worship.

The importance of this little section of Scripture cannot be understated: it is proof text for the Holy Trinity: God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Ghost. Just as these three bear witness to Christ, they witness to us about the nature of God. He is One God in Three Persons, not three Gods, three Fathers, three Sons or three Spirits. The Holy Trinity is probably the most baffling, yet most powerful truths of Christianity. These three all bear witness to Christ.

John echoes this, as he says, “And there are three that bear witness in earth, the Spirit, and the water, and the blood: and these three agree in one”. Thus, we have a wonderful parallel of witness, both in heaven and on earth to Christ. As many Church fathers have taught us, and even modern writers like C.S. Lewis, things on earth are a faint reflection of things in heaven.

St John begins to close this discussion by stating that the witness of men of important, but the witness of God is greater. When we see the Scriptures through new eyes, spiritual eyes, and see the overwhelming evidence for the work and victory of Jesus Christ, we receive the witness in ourselves. Thus, we have this witness that Jesus Christ is Lord. To God’s eternal glory, we can only confess that Jesus Christ is Lord by the power of the Holy Spirit. If we have the grace to confess this, it is well with us. In so doing, we are beginning to overcome the world.

The record God has given us is quite simple: it is the sum of the Gospel: “ And this is the record that God hath given to us eternal life, and this life is in his Son. 2 He who has the Son has life; he who does not have the Son of God does not have life.”

We give thanks to God that He has seen fit to call us into the fellowship of His Son… We give thanks the we, through Christ, have overcome the World. For this,we are indeed blessed, we are indeed fortunate; we are indeed the most thankful.

In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost.

AMEN
7 For there are three that bear record in heaven, the Father, the Word, and the Holy Ghost: and these three are one.

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

The Veil of the Temple

Palm Sunday 2012
“The Veil of the Temple…”
Rev. Stephen E. Stults
St. Barnabas Anglican Church
Palm Sunday, March 28, 2010

We hope and pray that this Lent, your Lent, has been productive and rewarding. I pray that it has yielded some spiritual fruit that has been a blessing for you. After all, this is what Lent is all about, preparing your soul for the upcoming Paschal joy. We sincerely hope that this Lent has been meaningful, worthwhile and joyful. If the Lord has blessed you in any of these ways, it is very good.

Now, we are on the threshold of another church season. Without, we pray, overstating the obvious, it is the season that defines Christianity, We are now preparing, in earnest, for the Passion, Death, and Resurrection of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. We are getting ready for the spiritually rich and blessed season of Easter. While it is materially poor when compared with Christmas, it is the more blessed of the seasons simply because it is the raison d’etre for Christianity, its very reason to be.

Today, in preparation for this penultimate feast of Christianity, we read the long and moving Gospel from St. Luke. It details the horrific events that led up to the pre-ordained betrayal, torture and death of Jesus Christ. We say “pre-ordained” because we know the Jesus’ sojourn in the grave was ordained before the world itself was made, as stated in Revelation 13:8. This verse speaks of “the Lamb slain from the foundation of the world.” We brush aside claims from people like Bp. John Spong, who claim that Christ’s offering proves that God is “bloodthirsty”, as simply humanist statements of dis-belief. We reject concepts of Christ as merely the “great teacher” who taught men by example. In fact, we reject anything that doesn’t own Christ for who He is: our Lord and God. When we fully embrace this, we can begin to understand, just a bit, the enormity of His sacrifice.

We get a vivid picture of this as read, with trembling hearts and kindled spirits, the crucifixion account given by Luke. Although we will not focus on its gruesome details today, suffice it to be known that it was a terrible torture-death that only the methodical and efficient Romans could perfect.

Before we come to the scene of Christ before Pilate, we hear of the repentance of Judas Iscariot. When Judas saw that Jesus was condemned, he was stricken with remorse and tried to return the betrayal money. He says, perhaps plaintively, (Matthew 27:4) “I have sinned in that I have betrayed the innocent blood.” To this, he receives the cold reply, (Matthew 27:4) “What is that to us? see thou to that.” To co-opt Lenin’s statement about those who unwittingly aided the Bolshevik cause in the 1917 Revolution in Russia, Judas was simply a “useful fool” for the wicked Pharisees to use.
The scene shifts abruptly to portray Jesus standing before the Roman Procurator, Pontius Pilate. When questioned by Pilate as to his claim to kingship, Jesus simply says, “You have said so.” As the charges mount against Jesus, He is silent, so much that even the hardened bureaucrat marvels at it. He is evidently quite curious why Jesus does not defend himself. He then offers the crowd the traditional Passover appeasement, that of the release of a prisoner. Interestingly, Luke has him even attempt to release Jesus, because he sees the ridiculousness of the charges against Him.
This makes Pilate seem almost heroic, as he tries, perhaps feebly, to free Jesus. One must ask, however, what kind of man was Pontius Pilate, really? Some ancient Jewish sources give us a hint. For example one sources says, “In describing his personality, Philo writes that Pilate had "vindictiveness and furious temper," and was "naturally inflexible, a blend of self-will and relentlessness." He writes that Pilate feared a delegation that the Jews might send to Tiberius protesting the gold-coated shields, because "if they actually sent an embassy they would also expose the rest of his conduct as governor by stating in full the briberies, the insults, the robberies, the outrages and wanton injuries, the executions without trial constantly repeated, the ceaseless and supremely grievous cruelty." It seems that earlier, as a tribute to Tiberius, Pilate had placed several gold-plated Roman shields in the Temple, over which the Jews had raised a tremendous uproar, eventually writing the Emperor himself, who castigated Pilate roundly for being so insensitive to Jewish customs.
We learn that Pilate's term as prefect of Judaea ended after an incident recounted by Josephus. A large group of Samaritans had been persuaded by an unnamed man to go to Mount Gerizim in order to see sacred artifacts allegedly buried by Moses. But at a village named Tirathana, before the crowd could ascend the mountain, Pilate sent in "a detachment of cavalry and heavy-armed infantry, who in an encounter with the firstcomers in the village slew some in a pitched battle and put the others to flight. Many prisoners were taken, of whom Pilate put to death the principal leaders and those who were most influential."[28] The Samaritans then complained to Vitellius, Roman governor of Syria, who sent Pilate to Rome to explain his actions regarding this incident to Tiberius. However, by the time Pilate got to Rome, Tiberius had died.[29]
As to Pilate’s fate, “Eusebius (Historia Ecclesiae ii: 7) quotes some early apocryphal accounts that he does not name, which already relate that Pilate fell under misfortunes in the reign of Caligula (37–41), was exiled to Gaul and eventually committed suicide there in Vienne.”

This was Pontius Pilate, a tough Roman administrator who had, arguably, one of the tougher posts to govern. Imagine trying to keep a restive population of Jews, including Pharisees and Zealots, in line. Imagine the discussions, complaints and petitions he endured daily.
Now, imagine this tough soldier-governor confronted with the phenomenon of Jesus. He sees a man, simply garbed, silent, who answers nothing to the multitude of false charges leveled against him. Pilate even says so to Christ, as he stands impassively by while the lies pile up against him. This goes on and on, until their false testimony is finally over.

Pilate then offers the crowd a substitute, as was the custom of the Romans at Passover. As a sop to the Jews, the Roman procurator usually released one prisoner to the crowd. He offers them a known terrorist and revolutionary names Barabbas, who had been arrested for fomenting rebellion against the Romans, and who had committed murder during this activity. This seems a just exchange, a just man who had healed many and who had done no wrong whatsoever for a murdering rebel.
As we know, however, the Pharisees and others of the priestly class would have none of it. They obviously used their authority and presence to persuade the mob to ask for Barabbas and deliver Jesus to the tender mercies of the Romans.

Now, we come to the very crux of human sin. Fueled by fear and envy, the chief priests have their way and Jesus is led away to die upon the cross in unspeakable agony. His death would take several hours. If it were even possible to make matters worse, the same chief priests walked by the place of crucifixion clucking their tongues and mocking Jesus, as he hung on the cross, fighting for every breath. The completely sinless man suffers for a debased and corrupt population. This perfect and sinless man suffered for all of us. This perfect and sinless man died for the very same people who celebrated His entry into Jerusalem just a few days earlier. Then, they had cried “Hosanna to the Son of David.” Now, the cry is, “Barabbas, give us Barabbas!”

The gruesome scene continues with the last horrible event Christ must face. Hanging upon the Cross, he assumes the sin of mankind into His perfect and sinless self. He is offering Himself for the sins of mankind, and in so doing must face the ultimate humiliation and alienation. Figuratively speaking, as the sin entered into Christ, God the Father turned his face away. In other words, The Absolute and Holy God could not look on sin, and thus for a while, could not look on His Son. For a little while, from the time of this absorption of sin until his physical death upon the cross, Jesus was utterly alone. Thus, the One who was God and yet Son, Man and yet God, felt the awesome and horrible feeling of desolation. Can you imagine? Probably not. No one but Christ will ever know what the weight of the world’s sin feels like. Even those unfortunate souls who willfully reject God willfully throughout their earthly life, and suffer separation from Him for eternity, will ever know. They will, sadly know the agony of separation from God, but they only have to bear their own sins, not those of all mankind.

This alienation prompts the heart-rending, soul-piercing cry of “Eli, Eli, lama sabachthani?” (“My God, my God, what hast Thou forsaken me?”) Jesus is alone and He knows it to the very fiber of his being. He is desolate.

Misinterpreted or misunderstood by the onlookers, one says that Jesus “calls for Elias”, or John. This is followed by one taking a sponge on a stick and offering Christ a drink of sour wine, or wine turned to vinegar. Christ accepted this humble drink in order to fulfill the prophecy of Psalm 69:21 “1 They gave me also gall for my meat; and in my thirst they gave me vinegar to drink.”

It is at this point that Jesus has fulfilled all prophecy. In the book of John, we read, (John 19:30): “When Jesus therefore had received the sour wine, He said, "It is finished!" And He bowed His head, and gave up His spirit.” He has completed the monumental, universal task appointed him and he retires from this earthly life.

It is at this point that amazing things begin to happen. The earth quakes, the veil of the Temple splits from top to bottom, and the graves of “the saints”, or various holy people were opened. They arose from the dead and appeared “unto many” in Jerusalem.

All of these events are amazing. They all show God’s displeasure and illustrate the cataclysmic nature of the Crucifixion. There is one event, however, on which we should focus briefly to understand what had just happened. That event is the splitting of the Temple Veil from top to bottom. The veil, you will recall, was the one that separated the congregation from the Holy of Holies. It was the same veil that the High Priest passed through one time a year, not without sacrificial blood.

The significance for us is that Christ’s death caused the split. In other words, in a real, tangible way, we actually see the separation of man from God being taking away. Just as the veil of the temple was taken away, so is our separation from God, caused by sin, taken away though Christ.

This is amazing and wonderful. It prompts us to ask the question: is there still a veil over our hearts concerning Christ? Have we truly accepted Him as our Lord and Savior? Have we, without reserve, totally rested our souls in Him? Have we acknowledged that there is but one way to the Father, and that way is Christ?

Glory be to God if these statements apply equally to you. May you rest in Christ in peace, love, and joy. If you still have some reserve, let me urge you to cast that away this week. Cast it away and allow the profound truth of Jesus Christ into your life. This is the week for a complete renewal of our faith. This is the week in which our sinful separation from God was wiped away.
Glory be to God the Father, and to God the Son and God the Holy Ghost, now and forever. AMEN

The Veil Split for Us

The Rev’d Stephen E. Stults
St. Barnabas Anglican Church
Maundy Thursday, 2012
The Veil split for Us

Welcome to this year’s celebration of Maundy Thursday, which is called by many outside the Anglican Communion Holy Thursday. We Anglicans call it “Maundy Thursday”, after the Latin verb “Mandate”, or command. This is an important night, but one that doesn’t always get the attention it deserves, perhaps because of its placement in Holy Week, or perhaps it takes a sense of the liturgical to fully appreciate its significance. Yet, one doesn’t have to be a liturgical Christian to appreciate the glory of this night. For several reasons, Maundy Thursday means a great deal to all orthodox Christians.

We can say without possibility of contradiction that this is a glorious night. On this night, approximately two thousand years ago, Jesus Christ changed everything. He changed from it meant to be master and servant. He changed our salvation from being one based on works to one based on grace. Finally, he changed our whole approach to God. Let’s consider each point briefly in turn.

First, Christ did what would have been unthinkable in the ancient world. He arose from supper, put off his own seamless robe, and wrapped himself in a towel. He then took a basin, filled it with water, and began to wash the disciples’ feet. Can you imagine? Here was the disciple’s Lord and Master performing the most menial, lowly, and humble task possible. Keep in mind that in the ancient Middle East, dirty, dusty and hot, offering to wash one’s guests’ feet was considered a great service. It was done, however, not by the master of the house, but by the lowliest servant. Yet here was Christ, who performed this task without flinching and without complaint. He actually redefined what being the master really is. In the really great organizations and companies, the manager or chief officer actually know what it means to in charge. It is not just the wielding of ego- driven authority, but the realization that the one who is in charge is actually servant of all. That is, without his or her services, the whole organization falters, or even crumbles into inefficiency. Yet, with Christ, there is so much more. Here is God Himself, the One who spoke the world into being, performing the task of a humble servant. His message for so doing is plain: do as I do. Jesus says, John 13:14-15 14” If I then, your Lord and Master, have washed your feet; ye also ought to wash one another's feet. 15 For I have given you an example, that ye should do as I have done to you.” Nothing could be plainer. We Christians, in love, are to serve one another, just as Christ our Lord has served us.

Next, on this glorious night, mankind’s salvation was translated from a works-oriented system to one based on faith and on the limitless mercies of God. On this glorious night, Jesus Christ changed the way we believe and the way we remember our salvation. For, it was on this night that Jesus Christ ushered mankind into the New Testament era, one based on hope and faith and trust.

How did this happen? How could this happen? Let’s review just a bit. St. Paul tells us in today’s Epistle from 1 Corinthians that Jesus took bread, gave thanks, broke it and distributed it to the disciples. He said, “Take, eat: this is my body, which is given for you. This do in remembrance of me.” He then took the cup and did likewise, saying, “This cup is the new testament in my blood: this do ye as oft as ye shall drink, in remembrance of me.” These words changed everything. Christ now offered Himself as the Passover Lamb to take away our sins. Moreover, this sacrifice was not temporary, needing to offered year by year to atone for the sins of the people. Rather, it was, in the words of the Prayer Book: “the one oblation of himself once offered: a full, perfect, and sufficient sacrifice, oblation, and satisfaction, for the sins of the whole world.”

The best authority to help us understand this is the Epistle to the Hebrews, chapter 9:
“For if the blood of goats and bulls, and the ashes of a heifer sprinkling them that have been defiled, sanctify unto the cleanness of the flesh: 14 how much more shall the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered himself without blemish unto God, cleanse your conscience from dead works to serve the living God?” We know from our study of the Old Testament that the High Priest of Israel went once a year into the Holy of Holies in the Temple and offered blood for the sins of the people. This was what God commanded. It was not, however, a permanent or durable sacrifice to take away sins. It also could not purge the conscience of sins. Yet, in the fullness of time and in the wideness of God’s mercy, Jesus came. As the first chapter of Hebrews tells us: “God, who at various times and in various ways spoke in time past to the fathers by the prophets, 2 has in these last days spoken to us by His Son, whom He has appointed heir of all things, through whom also He made the worlds; 3 who being the brightness of His glory and the express image of His person, and upholding all things by the word of His power, when He had by Himself purged our sins, sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high, 4 having become so much better than the angels, as He has by inheritance obtained a more excellent name than they.”

The third major thing Christ changed this night is the way we approach God. Before, Man always approached God with fear and trembling, and always with a sacrifice.... Now, that sacrifice has been made for us. Now, our way to God has been made plain. Turning again to Hebrews, we read in Hebrews 4:16 “Let us therefore come boldly unto the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy, and find grace to help in time of need.” Not with fear and trembling, but with the boldness and assurance of absolute Love on our side. We are not groveling slaves, crawling towards a tyrant, but rather free men in Christ joining in fellowship with our God through Christ.

Thus, Christ came, spoke, ministered, and died for us. He was betrayed into the hands of sinners, as we read on Palm Sunday. Despite man’s best efforts to kill Jesus for the world’s reasons, God’s Will was done and our salvation was secured. If we refer to the ninth chapter of Hebrews, we read: “And for this reason He is the Mediator of the new covenant, by means of death, for the redemption of the transgressions under the first covenant, that those who are called may receive the promise of the eternal inheritance.”

Thus, we reformed Christians, we Anglican Christians, and in fact, all Christians, don’t have to rely on a system of good works to try to earn our way into heaven, thank God. We rely instead on the “one, perfect and sufficient sacrifice” of Jesus Christ. That is what our Lord bequeathed to us in the Lord’s Supper, the Eucharist.

Through the Supper, we remember His sacrifice of Himself for us. Through the Supper, we receive grace to be Christians, “little Christs” in the world; and through the Supper we are fed spiritually with Christ Himself. Bp. Sutton once said, “Through the liturgy of the Eucharist, we take Christ into ourselves, and we become part of Christ. This is a great mystery.’ Indeed it is, one which we will never fully understand, until, perhaps in Heaven God chooses to enlighten us. After all, our glorification in Heaven will be blessed, fulfilling and eternal.

Returning to the Sacrament of the Eucharist, indeed it is one of the greatest and most glorious mysteries. It is one of the greatest mysteries known to man, or better said, known to the household of faith. For it is only in the Body, the Church, and its graceful fellowship that one receives this mystery. Christ gave us the Church, he gave us the Eucharist, and now he gives us grace to carry on in His name, until we feast with Him in heaven.

We invite you to ponder these great and good mysteries tonight and always
This is indeed a great mystery. This is indeed a great gift to us. This is indeed a glorious night.


Cor. 11:26 “For as often as ye eat this bread, and drink the cup, ye proclaim the Lord's death till he come.”

In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost. AMEN