Saturday, March 31, 2018

Collect for Easter Even

GRANT, O Lord, that as we are baptized into the death of thy blessed Son, our Saviour Jesus Christ, so by continual mortifying our corrupt affections we may be buried with him; and that through the grave, and gate of death, we may pass to our joyful resurrection; for his merits, who died, and was buried, and rose again for us, the same thy Son Jesus Christ our Lord, Amen.

Friday, March 30, 2018

"Christ also suffered for us, leaving us an example, that ye should follow his steps."

[I am preaching this brief homily today, Good Friday, on the Second Lesson for Evening Prayer.]

“Christ also suffered for us, leaving us an example, that ye should follow his steps.”


The crucifixion of our Lord on Good Friday frees us from sin and death. When we are “baptized into his death,” as St. Paul says (Romans 6:3), we are transformed in our very being. His death accomplishes our regeneration, but it also provides an example for us to follow when we suffer unjustly in our own lives. In our second lesson today, St. Peter pulls together both effects of the cross: we are transferred from death to life, and we are given an example to follow.

The latter half of our text is explicitly directed to slaves—more specifically, household servants—but there are textual indications that St. Peter intended his advice to apply to all Christians as servants in the household of God. St. Peter calls upon these slaves—who, in context, seem to have pagan masters—to endure unjust suffering patiently, a teaching that was no doubt hard to swallow. But for St. Peter, patiently enduring is not about abstract morality but is, rather, part and parcel of a Christian’s obligation to imitate Jesus. Our text dramatically shifts from the mundane, grim particulars of the Christian slave's daily life to the transcendent reality of Christ's suffering. Why is the Christian slave—and, by implication, every Christian—called to endure unjust suffering? “Because,” St. Peter writes, “Christ also suffered for us, leaving us an example, that ye should follow his steps.” As St. Augustine comments, “Christ taught you to suffer, and he did so by suffering himself.”

In the last few verses of our text, St. Peter draws heavily from the famous “suffering servant” passage of Isaiah 52-53, which is our first lesson today. As God’s suffering servant, Jesus “did no sin, neither was guile found in his mouth.” Despite this, he in “his own self bare our sins in his own body on the tree.” Note the tangible fleshiness of Jesus' sacrificial suffering—the cross is not simply an abstract spiritual battle between good and evil. It is physical, bodily torture. The language of “the tree” draws us back to the Old Testament. We learn in Deuteronomy that a man hanged on a tree for a crime “is cursed by God” (Deut. 21:21-23). The innocent sufferer Jesus is killed like a common criminal under a divine curse.

This profound theological reality undergirds St. Peter’s difficult instruction for day-to-day life. The household servants to whom he writes may be suffering unjustly, but they are, in a larger sense, not innocent of sin. The implication is clear: if he who was in the fullest sense innocent responded in this way, you who are not ought also so to do. “When he was reviled, [he] reviled not again; when he suffered, he threatened not; but committed himself to him that judgeth righteously.” Amidst the reviling of persecutors, Jesus' gaze was ever heavenward. This too should be our response to suffering.

At the end of our text, St. Peter points out that Jesus’ death is more than just a good example for us to follow—because his death is what transforms us. Unlike the suffering of saints and martyrs, Jesus’ death is what actually enables us to follow his example. Christ died “that we, being dead to sins, should live unto righteousness.” In this particular passage, St. Peter is less concerned with the eternal status of our salvation than he is with the earthly practicalities of right living before God. As one translation puts it, Jesus “bore our wrongdoings” so that “we, having abandoned wrongdoing, might live for doing what is right” (Elliott, Anchor Bible, 523).

Christ’s suffering on Good Friday gives us an example to follow—and it empowers us to follow him. 

 As the beautiful Collect for the Monday before Easter puts it,

“ALMIGHTY God, whose most dear Son went not up to joy but first he suffered pain, and entered not into glory before he was crucified; Mercifully grant that we, walking in the way of the cross, may find it none other than the way of life and peace; through the same thy Son Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.”


"Take now thy son, thine only son Isaac, whom thou lovest"

[I preached this short homily last year on the First Lesson for Morning Prayer on Good Friday--the difficult story of Abraham and Isaac in Genesis 22.]

“And he said, Take now thy son, thine only son Isaac, whom thou lovest, and get thee into the land of Moriah; and offer him there for a burnt offering.”


This story is rich with layers of meaning and symbol. Abraham provides us with a model of great faith. As one commenter notes, his faithful response has enabled many to accept the “incomprehensible, unendurable and contradictory and to reflect upon it” (Clemens Thoma). In this story we also find a prefiguration of Jesus as the sacrificial lamb, sacrificed for us on Good Friday. And as the writer of Hebrews notes, Isaac is figuratively brought back from the dead—a foreshadowing of Easter Sunday. On Good Friday our primary focus will rightly be on the sacrificial suffering of Jesus and on our own penitential and sorrowful response. But in light of this passage I would like to reflect briefly on one other symbolic layer of the story—Abraham as the father sacrificing his “only son.”

At first glance, the description of Isaac seems an error—Abraham had in fact two sons, Isaac and Ishmael. In the translation of Hebrew scholar Robert Alter, God tells Abraham, “Take, pray, your son, your only one, whom you love, Isaac.”

Alter comments, “The Hebrew syntactic chain [the order of the words] is exquisitely forged to carry a dramatic burden, and the sundry attempts of English translators from the King James Version to the present to rearrange it are misguided.” Alter then quotes from a medieval rabbi’s imaginative rendering of the scene: God says, ‘ “Your son.” [Abraham] said to Him, “I have two sons.” [God] said to him, “Your only one.” [Abraham] said, “This one is an only one to his mother and this one is an only one to his mother.” He said to him, “Whom you love.” He said to him, “I love both of them.” He said to him, “Isaac.” ’

Your son, your only one, whom you love, Isaac. These brief phrases reveal the unbearable weight of “God’s terrible imperative” to sacrifice his beloved son, the child of the promise.

God’s incomprehensible demand reminds me of the parable of the wicked tenants from Mark 12. In that parable, a distant landlord sends a servant to collect rent from tenants who instead beat the poor man. Jesus says, “And he sent another, and him they killed. And so with many others: some they beat, and some they killed. He had still one other, a beloved son. Finally he sent him to them, saying, ‘They will respect my son.’ ” Guess what: they don’t. I remember reading that not too long ago and immediately thinking, “What a very stupid landlord!” Of course, a moment’s reflection reveals that the landlord symbolizes God our Father who sent his Son into the world to be killed. So too does Abraham in our story prefigure the Father who will not withhold his Son.

What are we to make of this God, our Father?

Romans 8 gives us an answer. “What shall we then say to these things?… He that spared not his own Son, but delivered him up for us all, how shall he not with him also freely give us all things? … Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword? As it is written, For thy sake we are killed all the day long; we are accounted as sheep for the slaughter. Nay, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him that loved us. For I am persuaded, that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor powers, nor things present, nor things to come, Nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature, shall be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.”

As we consider the sacrifice of Jesus on the cross, as we reflect on our sins for which he suffered and on our own terrible need for this Savior, let us also reflect upon the immeasurable love of the Father.

“He that spared not his own Son, but delivered him up for us all, how shall he not with him also freely give us all things.”


Friday, March 23, 2018

Sermon for Lent V

I preached for Lent V this past Sunday.
...while Jesus’ life story discloses God’s relation to creation, that relation is only understood by first grasping what went before. Our Lord’s narrative recapitulates Israel’s narrative. First, Jesus relives Israel’s wilderness wandering, and he reverses Adam’s failure by defeating the Tempter. Next, Jesus reveals his superiority to Moses by miraculously feeding the multitude. The Old Testament lesson for Morning Prayer this past Thursday recounted Pharaoh’s attempt to execute all male Hebrew babies—which foreshadows Herod’s attempt to kill Jesus by murdering all male babies around Bethlehem. But before Herod could lay hand on Jesus, the Holy Family took flight to Egypt, which reminds us of Israel’s sojourn there. 
This week’s gospel reading culminates in a startling claim: “Before Abraham was, I AM” (John 8:58). “I AM,” of course, refers to the Hebrew YHWH, the sacred name of the Lord God, who first bestowed upon himself that title in Exodus 3—tomorrow morning’s Old Testament lesson. 
These are the echoes of the Old Testament in just a few of our Lenten readings.... I’d urge all of you to revisit the felt-board stories of Sunday School. Be attentive to the Old Testament lessons in Morning and Evening Prayer. Because knowing Jesus means knowing his story, and his story is the story of Israel.

Read the rest here.