28 April 2019
Sermon for Easter 2, Quasimodo Geniti, 2019
John 20:19-31 • Rev. William Gleason
"Like newborn infants long for the pure spiritual milk of the word."
I cannot help but find some irony in Peter's appeal to imitate infants in a day when university students, triggered by scary thoughts, run to "safe spaces" to find comfort with teddy bears and coloring books; or grown men who cuddle together to ease their anxiety; or adults who are wrapped up in swaddling clothes to relieve their stress. Those are actual "therapies" that people today use to cope with their fears and uncertainties.
Whatever one might think of those therapies, what is, perhaps, more surprising are the trivial anxieties that prompt their employ. College students say they feel threatened by hats that say, "Make America Great Again." Grown adults claim undue stress over normal eight-hour work days. People lie awake at night anxious over their lack of Facebook friends. These are the 21st century worries that must be soothed by hugging stuffed toys or cuddling with friends.
My parents' generation somehow made it through the hardships of the Great Depression and the horrors of World War II without needing a single snuggle bear or a cuddling friend. Oh, they may have embraced one another with tears over crops destroyed by draught or loved ones killed in battle; but once their weeping was done, they rolled up their sleeves, picked up the pieces, and carried on.
And here is a bit more irony: the reason they could do that was because, for the most of them, "Like newborn infants, [they] craved the pure spiritual milk of the word." It was their faith in God's word and promises that consoled, sustained, and strengthened them for the uncertainties of life. Their trust in the crucified and risen Jesus Christ as their God and Lord soothed their fears and bolstered their courage to face life's trials. God's word still has the power to console and strengthen people today to face the challenges of our world.
That same word of God brought courage and hope to the Israelites who were captive in Babylon. Conquered and dragged into exile far from their promised land, they had fallen into a deep despair. Like the dry bones of men long dead, their spiritual vitality had withered away. Their hope of returning to their homeland was dried up. But God commanded Ezekiel to prophesy to them a new hope; to preach His word of renewal and restoration. The Lord would raise them up and give them new life. Like corpses resurrected from their graves, God would revitalize their hopes and their lives by returning them to the land of Israel. By His word, He would breathe into them His Spirit, the Lord and Giver of life. And when He brought them back to the land of milk and honey, they would know and believe that He is the Lord.
That's the same faith and life that St. John wrote about in his epistles. He appealed to his readers, whom he called "my little children," to hold fast to the faith that was preached to them. John came to them proclaiming the "word of life" that is manifested in Jesus Christ, the incarnate, crucified, and resurrected Lord. Because Jesus had overcome the world by His death and resurrection, they would overcome the world by their baptismal union in Him. This "victory," as he called it, is a victory over sin and the grave. They shared in that victory by believing in the testimony that God has borne concerning His Son. That testimony is "the word of life" that he preached to them.
The Christians to whom John wrote were also facing spiritual dangers. They were threats to their life in Christ and the true hope they possessed by faith in Him. John warned them about "antichrists" that had come teaching false doctrines. These false teachers came with a special "knowledge" (or Greek "gnosis" from which we get the name of their heresy: Gnosticism). With this "knowledge" they tried to deceive the Christians. And what was the deception? That Jesus of Nazareth, born of Mary, was not the real Christ. That only through their special "knowledge" could one find the true, spiritual Christ. They also taught that the spiritual world was one of both light and darkness and that one needed their "knowledge" to understand it. This knowledge came by special works and righteousness, and a proper understanding and love of the world. John told them plainly that these were lies from the "wicked one," the devil.
Against these lies John preached the truth. Of the heavenly realms being both light and darkness, he wrote: "This is the message we have heard from him and proclaim to you, that God is light, and in him is no darkness at all." Of attachment to the world, "Do not love the world or the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him." Of the incarnation of Jesus Christ, "Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, … every spirit that confesses that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is from God, and every spirit that does not confess Jesus is not from God." And finally of the truth and life in Christ, "We know that the Son of God has come and has given us understanding, so that we may know him who is true; and we are in him who is true, in his Son Jesus Christ. He is the true God and eternal life."
That was the "word of life" John preached to guard their hearts and minds and to keep them in the one, true faith. In the face of their fears of sin and death and hell's darkness, John proclaimed: "If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness." "Herein is love, not that we loved God, but that he loved us, and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins." "I write these things to you who believe in the name of the Son of God that you may know that you have eternal life." That was the eternal Gospel he proclaimed and by which they found victory over the world.
And that was the victorious word that Christ spoke to His disciples when He appeared to them after His resurrection. In the face of their fears, doubts, and confusion, Jesus came to them preaching "peace." Peace to their anxious hearts; peace to their doubting minds; and peace to their troubled souls. It was a peace that came by His holy wounds—wounds that testified of sins forgiven.
After that, He breathed on them His Holy Spirit so that they may go out and proclaim that same peace to a trouble world. Now every penitent sinner burdened by his guilt may find peace and forgiveness through the absolving word of Christ's ministers, for their forgiveness is Christ's forgiveness.
Thomas doubted that word when he heard it, but Jesus removed His unbelief when He showed the disciple His pierced hands and side. Then Thomas, too, found peace and forgiveness in the wounds of Christ. But Jesus told him that truly blessed are those who believe in those healing wounds without seeing or touching them. They are blessed because they have found peace and forgiveness of sins by faith in the "word of life" that is proclaimed in the Name of Christ. They are blessed because they have been filled with the breath of life that flows from the Spirit of God. They are blessed because by believing they have eternal life in Jesus Christ, God's Son.
Beloved children of God do not fear the world with its threats of harm, its boasts of knowledge and its promises of wealth. Empty are its promises and powerless are its threats because Christ has overcome the world and its prince. He is risen! And He gives to you the "pure spiritual milk of the word that by it you may grow up into salvation." Ever hunger and thirst for that spiritual milk, the source of life and peace. The Lord who delivered you when you called out in distress has heard your cries for help. He who brought you out of your bondage to sin and death by the forgiveness of your sins will continue to satisfy you with His gifts. And blessed are you who have not seen and yet believe. Amen.
25 April 2019
21 April 2019
20 April 2019
Prayer of Preparation for Easter
Lord God, we praise You; Lord God, we thank You that You have granted us to see the holy day of Easter in peace and good health. Most especially we glorify You for giving us the victory over all our enemies by the resurrection of Jesus Christ, Your beloved Son.
O Lord Jesus, we thank You for Your triumphant resurrection from death by which You opened heaven to us, destroyed death, and obtained for us the comfort that You are the resurrection and the life.
O God the Holy Spirit, we thank You for Your paschal message, and we pray that You would plant the paschal joy in our hearts and increase and sustain it in us. And as by Your power the troubled hearts of the disciples were made glad at Easter, so comfort us with Christ's resurrection and that we have a gracious God, we shall live forever, hell and Satan have no power over us, and the world cannot hurt us.
O Holy Trinity, God the Father, God the Son, and Holy Spirit, sustain Your Church against all her enemies, spiritual and physical. Grant that after this life we may all keep the joyful feast of Easter in Your life of gladness, and with all the angels praise, extol, and glorify You, most blessed forever. Amen.
P. 46, 47
Appetizers: Sausage Stuffed Mushrooms topped with 5 year aged Cheddar; Deviled Eggs; Bay Scallops wrapped in Bacon; Mimosas
Main: Saganaki; Lamb-Beef-Feta balls; Felafel; Couscous; Greek Salad; Goat Cheese; Home-made Pita; Greek Shrimp; Tzatziki Sauce; Humus; Red Grapes; choice of Cab or Sauvignon Blanc
Dessert: Homemade Vanilla Ice-cream (made with homemade vanilla too!); Baklava; assorted Dark Chocolate; Limoncello and pour-over Coffee.
We did a similar meal last Easter and it proved so popular with the family, we decided to stick with it. Only thing missing this year was the spanakopita, but we subbed in Greek Shrimp instead.
And tomorrow, we'll be doing double duty: a delayed birthday celebration for Cindi (who doesn't even have to give a thought to clean up) and of course the great celebration of our Lord's Pascha (which commences tonight with the Great Vigil at 8; continues tomorrow with Easter Matins at 6:30; and reaches its culmination at 9 with the Divine Service for Easter Day).
19 April 2019
Earlier, Cindi and I had taken Lydia, Henry and Oliver to the Chief Service, where they were good as gold for us. The Chief Service is longer and filled with some moments of silence, but they made hardly a peep. That liturgy begins unusually (though the way the ancient liturgy DID begin) with simply a collect and then the reading commences. Also unusual that a collect follows the first reading (Isaiah 53) and the second (2 Corinthians 5). Then we sang the first stanza of "Jesus, I Will Ponder" and proceeded to do just that: ponder His Passion as the St. John passion was read, interspersed with the singing of seven stanzas of the rhythmical version of "O Sacred Head." Sermon, then Fortunatus' "Sing My Tongue." The bidding prayer followed and I was delighted to hear grandson Henry chiming in on the Our Father at the end. Then the adoration of the cross with the reproaches (the school children sang the response to the pastor and we joined in the "Lamb of God" after each). They sang the last canticle: "We adore You, O Christ, and we bless You, for by the wood of Your Cross You have brought joy into all the world" as the altar was readied for the Sacrament. Unlike our Roman brothers and sisters, our rite calls not for administration of the pre-sanctified carried from the altar of repose, but for an abbreviated communion rite. So we proceeded from Preface to Our Father to Verba and then Distribution. After the school children communed they sang a lovely Hildebrand setting of "God So Loved the World." Otherwise the Distribution was in silence. A collect after the Distribution and then "The Royal Banners" was sung and we left.
Only one more service to go for this year's joyous Triduum, the Great Vigil of Easter tomorrow. It will not start until 8 p.m. Our pastor (as I have noted before) is no trimmer. The whole provision for the rite will be done, and the service will stretch into the evening with its 12 Old Testament Readings; an epistle reading connected with the Baptismal Remembrance; the Easter Litany, and then the Easter Gospel and the Easter Homily of St. John Chrysostom and then the Sacrament celebrated. Just thinking about it, brings such joy!
The tilt happens tonight. From here on out we're pressing toward the Descent into Hell, the Resurrection, and the Joy that cannot never be taken from us.