There’s an amazing “conversation” that has developed over the past weeks regarding “morality” and the “the Christian life.” Here’s a nice rejoinder and summation commended to all.
There’s an amazing “conversation” that has developed over the past weeks regarding “morality” and the “the Christian life.” Here’s a nice rejoinder and summation commended to all.
Drafted on October 20, 2009
Released on November 20, 2009
Christians are heirs of a 2,000-year tradition of proclaiming God’s word, seeking justice in our societies, resisting tyranny, and reaching out with compassion to the poor, oppressed and suffering.
While fully acknowledging the imperfections and shortcomings of Christian institutions and communities in all ages, we claim the heritage of those Christians who defended innocent life by rescuing discarded babies from trash heaps in Roman cities and publicly denouncing the Empire’s sanctioning of infanticide. We remember with reverence those believers who sacrificed their lives by remaining in Roman cities to tend the sick and dying during the plagues, and who died bravely in the coliseums rather than deny their Lord.
After the barbarian tribes overran Europe, Christian monasteries preserved not only the Bible but also the literature and art of Western culture. It was Christians who combated the evil of slavery: Papal edicts in the 16th and 17th centuries decried the practice of slavery and first excommunicated anyone involved in the slave trade; evangelical Christians in England, led by John Wesley and William Wilberforce, put an end to the slave trade in that country. Christians under Wilberforce’s leadership also formed hundreds of societies for helping the poor, the imprisoned, and child laborers chained to machines.
In Europe, Christians challenged the divine claims of kings and successfully fought to establish the rule of law and balance of governmental powers, which made modern democracy possible. And in America, Christian women stood at the vanguard of the suffrage movement. The great civil rights crusades of the 1950s and 60s were led by Christians claiming the Scriptures and asserting the glory of the image of God in every human being regardless of race, religion, age or class.
This same devotion to human dignity has led Christians in the last decade to work to end the dehumanizing scourge of human trafficking and sexual slavery, bring compassionate care to AIDS sufferers in Africa, and assist in a myriad of other human rights causes – from providing clean water in developing nations to providing homes for tens of thousands of children orphaned by war, disease and gender discrimination.
Like those who have gone before us in the faith, Christians today are called to proclaim the Gospel of costly grace, to protect the intrinsic dignity of the human person and to stand for the common good. In being true to its own calling, the call to discipleship, the church through service to others can make a profound contribution to the public good.
We, as Orthodox, Catholic, and Evangelical Christians, have gathered, beginning in New York on September 28, 2009, to make the following declaration, which we sign as individuals, not on behalf of our organizations, but speaking to and from our communities. We act together in obedience to the one true God, the triune God of holiness and love, who has laid total claim on our lives and by that claim calls us with believers in all ages and all nations to seek and defend the good of all who bear his image. We set forth this declaration in light of the truth that is grounded in Holy Scripture, in natural human reason (which is itself, in our view, the gift of a beneficent God), and in the very nature of the human person. We call upon all people of goodwill, believers and non-believers alike, to consider carefully and reflect critically on the issues we here address as we, with St. Paul, commend this appeal to everyone’s conscience in the sight of God.
While the whole scope of Christian moral concern, including a special concern for the poor and vulnerable, claims our attention, we are especially troubled that in our nation today the lives of the unborn, the disabled, and the elderly are severely threatened; that the institution of marriage, already buffeted by promiscuity, infidelity and divorce, is in jeopardy of being redefined to accommodate fashionable ideologies; that freedom of religion and the rights of conscience are gravely jeopardized by those who would use the instruments of coercion to compel persons of faith to compromise their deepest convictions.
Because the sanctity of human life, the dignity of marriage as a union of husband and wife, and the freedom of conscience and religion are foundational principles of justice and the common good, we are compelled by our Christian faith to speak and act in their defense. In this declaration we affirm: 1) the profound, inherent, and equal dignity of every human being as a creature fashioned in the very image of God, possessing inherent rights of equal dignity and life; 2) marriage as a conjugal union of man and woman, ordained by God from the creation, and historically understood by believers and non-believers alike, to be the most basic institution in society and; 3) religious liberty, which is grounded in the character of God, the example of Christ, and the inherent freedom and dignity of human beings created in the divine image.
We are Christians who have joined together across historic lines of ecclesial differences to affirm our right – and, more importantly, to embrace our obligation – to speak and act in defense of these truths. We pledge to each other, and to our fellow believers, that no power on earth, be it cultural or political, will intimidate us into silence or acquiescence. It is our duty to proclaim the Gospel of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ in its fullness, both in season and out of season. May God help us not to fail in that duty.
So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them. Genesis 1:27
I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full. John 10:10
Although public sentiment has moved in a pro-life direction, we note with sadness that pro-abortion ideology prevails today in our government. The present administration is led and staffed by those who want to make abortions legal at any stage of fetal development, and who want to provide abortions at taxpayer expense. Majorities in both houses of Congress hold pro-abortion views. The Supreme Court, whose infamous 1973 decision in Roe v. Wade stripped the unborn of legal protection, continues to treat elective abortion as a fundamental constitutional right, though it has upheld as constitutionally permissible some limited restrictions on abortion. The President says that he wants to reduce the “need” for abortion – a commendable goal. But he has also pledged to make abortion more easily and widely available by eliminating laws prohibiting government funding, requiring waiting periods for women seeking abortions, and parental notification for abortions performed on minors. The elimination of these important and effective pro-life laws cannot reasonably be expected to do other than significantly increase the number of elective abortions by which the lives of countless children are snuffed out prior to birth. Our commitment to the sanctity of life is not a matter of partisan loyalty, for we recognize that in the thirty-six years since Roe v. Wade, elected officials and appointees of both major political parties have been complicit in giving legal sanction to what Pope John Paul II described as “the culture of death.” We call on all officials in our country, elected and appointed, to protect and serve every member of our society, including the most marginalized, voiceless, and vulnerable among us.
A culture of death inevitably cheapens life in all its stages and conditions by promoting the belief that lives that are imperfect, immature or inconvenient are discardable. As predicted by many prescient persons, the cheapening of life that began with abortion has now metastasized. For example, human embryo-destructive research and its public funding are promoted in the name of science and in the cause of developing treatments and cures for diseases and injuries. The President and many in Congress favor the expansion of embryo-research to include the taxpayer funding of so-called “therapeutic cloning.” This would result in the industrial mass production of human embryos to be killed for the purpose of producing genetically customized stem cell lines and tissues. At the other end of life, an increasingly powerful movement to promote assisted suicide and “voluntary” euthanasia threatens the lives of vulnerable elderly and disabled persons. Eugenic notions such as the doctrine of lebensunwertes Leben (“life unworthy of life”) were first advanced in the 1920s by intellectuals in the elite salons of America and Europe. Long buried in ignominy after the horrors of the mid-20th century, they have returned from the grave. The only difference is that now the doctrines of the eugenicists are dressed up in the language of “liberty,” “autonomy,” and “choice.”
We will be united and untiring in our efforts to roll back the license to kill that began with the abandonment of the unborn to abortion. We will work, as we have always worked, to bring assistance, comfort, and care to pregnant women in need and to those who have been victimized by abortion, even as we stand resolutely against the corrupt and degrading notion that it can somehow be in the best interests of women to submit to the deliberate killing of their unborn children. Our message is, and ever shall be, that the just, humane, and truly Christian answer to problem pregnancies is for all of us to love and care for mother and child alike.
A truly prophetic Christian witness will insistently call on those who have been entrusted with temporal power to fulfill the first responsibility of government: to protect the weak and vulnerable against violent attack, and to do so with no favoritism, partiality, or discrimination. The Bible enjoins us to defend those who cannot defend themselves, to speak for those who cannot themselves speak. And so we defend and speak for the unborn, the disabled, and the dependent. What the Bible and the light of reason make clear, we must make clear. We must be willing to defend, even at risk and cost to ourselves and our institutions, the lives of our brothers and sisters at every stage of development and in every condition.
Our concern is not confined to our own nation. Around the globe, we are witnessing cases of genocide and “ethnic cleansing,” the failure to assist those who are suffering as innocent victims of war, the neglect and abuse of children, the exploitation of vulnerable laborers, the sexual trafficking of girls and young women, the abandonment of the aged, racial oppression and discrimination, the persecution of believers of all faiths, and the failure to take steps necessary to halt the spread of preventable diseases like AIDS. We see these travesties as flowing from the same loss of the sense of the dignity of the human person and the sanctity of human life that drives the abortion industry and the movements for assisted suicide, euthanasia, and human cloning for biomedical research. And so ours is, as it must be, a truly consistent ethic of love and life for all humans in all circumstances.
The man said, “This is now bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh; she shall be called woman, for she was taken out of man.” For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and they will become one flesh. Genesis 2:23-24
This is a profound mystery – but I am talking about Christ and the church. However, each one of you also must love his wife as he loves himself, and the wife must respect her husband. Ephesians 5:32-33
In Scripture, the creation of man and woman, and their one-flesh union as husband and wife, is the crowning achievement of God’s creation. In the transmission of life and the nurturing of children, men and women joined as spouses are given the great honor of being partners with God Himself. Marriage then, is the first institution of human society – indeed it is the institution on which all other human institutions have their foundation. In the Christian tradition we refer to marriage as “holy matrimony” to signal the fact that it is an institution ordained by God, and blessed by Christ in his participation at a wedding in Cana of Galilee. In the Bible, God Himself blesses and holds marriage in the highest esteem.
Vast human experience confirms that marriage is the original and most important institution for sustaining the health, education, and welfare of all persons in a society. Where marriage is honored, and where there is a flourishing marriage culture, everyone benefits – the spouses themselves, their children, the communities and societies in which they live. Where the marriage culture begins to erode, social pathologies of every sort quickly manifest themselves. Unfortunately, we have witnessed over the course of the past several decades a serious erosion of the marriage culture in our own country. Perhaps the most telling – and alarming – indicator is the out-of-wedlock birth rate. Less than fifty years ago, it was under 5 percent. Today it is over 40 percent. Our society – and particularly its poorest and most vulnerable sectors, where the out-of-wedlock birth rate is much higher even than the national average – is paying a huge price in delinquency, drug abuse, crime, incarceration, hopelessness, and despair. Other indicators are widespread non-marital sexual cohabitation and a devastatingly high rate of divorce.
We confess with sadness that Christians and our institutions have too often scandalously failed to uphold the institution of marriage and to model for the world the true meaning of marriage. Insofar as we have too easily embraced the culture of divorce and remained silent about social practices that undermine the dignity of marriage we repent, and call upon all Christians to do the same.
To strengthen families, we must stop glamorizing promiscuity and infidelity and restore among our people a sense of the profound beauty, mystery, and holiness of faithful marital love. We must reform ill-advised policies that contribute to the weakening of the institution of marriage, including the discredited idea of unilateral divorce. We must work in the legal, cultural, and religious domains to instill in young people a sound understanding of what marriage is, what it requires, and why it is worth the commitment and sacrifices that faithful spouses make.
The impulse to redefine marriage in order to recognize same-sex and multiple partner relationships is a symptom, rather than the cause, of the erosion of the marriage culture. It reflects a loss of understanding of the meaning of marriage as embodied in our civil and religious law and in the philosophical tradition that contributed to shaping the law. Yet it is critical that the impulse be resisted, for yielding to it would mean abandoning the possibility of restoring a sound understanding of marriage and, with it, the hope of rebuilding a healthy marriage culture. It would lock into place the false and destructive belief that marriage is all about romance and other adult satisfactions, and not, in any intrinsic way, about procreation and the unique character and value of acts and relationships whose meaning is shaped by their aptness for the generation, promotion and protection of life. In spousal communion and the rearing of children (who, as gifts of God, are the fruit of their parents’ marital love), we discover the profound reasons for and benefits of the marriage covenant.
We acknowledge that there are those who are disposed towards homosexual and polyamorous conduct and relationships, just as there are those who are disposed towards other forms of immoral conduct. We have compassion for those so disposed; we respect them as human beings possessing profound, inherent, and equal dignity; and we pay tribute to the men and women who strive, often with little assistance, to resist the temptation to yield to desires that they, no less than we, regard as wayward. We stand with them, even when they falter. We, no less than they, are sinners who have fallen short of God’s intention for our lives. We, no less than they, are in constant need of God’s patience, love and forgiveness. We call on the entire Christian community to resist sexual immorality, and at the same time refrain from disdainful condemnation of those who yield to it. Our rejection of sin, though resolute, must never become the rejection of sinners. For every sinner, regardless of the sin, is loved by God, who seeks not our destruction but rather the conversion of our hearts. Jesus calls all who wander from the path of virtue to “a more excellent way.” As his disciples we will reach out in love to assist all who hear the call and wish to answer it.
We further acknowledge that there are sincere people who disagree with us, and with the teaching of the Bible and Christian tradition, on questions of sexual morality and the nature of marriage. Some who enter into same-sex and polyamorous relationships no doubt regard their unions as truly marital. They fail to understand, however, that marriage is made possible by the sexual complementarity of man and woman, and that the comprehensive, multi-level sharing of life that marriage is includes bodily unity of the sort that unites husband and wife biologically as a reproductive unit. This is because the body is no mere extrinsic instrument of the human person, but truly part of the personal reality of the human being. Human beings are not merely centers of consciousness or emotion, or minds, or spirits, inhabiting non-personal bodies. The human person is a dynamic unity of body, mind, and spirit. Marriage is what one man and one woman establish when, forsaking all others and pledging lifelong commitment, they found a sharing of life at every level of being – the biological, the emotional, the dispositional, the rational, the spiritual – on a commitment that is sealed, completed and actualized by loving sexual intercourse in which the spouses become one flesh, not in some merely metaphorical sense, but by fulfilling together the behavioral conditions of procreation. That is why in the Christian tradition, and historically in Western law, consummated marriages are not dissoluble or annullable on the ground of infertility, even though the nature of the marital relationship is shaped and structured by its intrinsic orientation to the great good of procreation.
We understand that many of our fellow citizens, including some Christians, believe that the historic definition of marriage as the union of one man and one woman is a denial of equality or civil rights. They wonder what to say in reply to the argument that asserts that no harm would be done to them or to anyone if the law of the community were to confer upon two men or two women who are living together in a sexual partnership the status of being “married.” It would not, after all, affect their own marriages, would it? On inspection, however, the argument that laws governing one kind of marriage will not affect another cannot stand. Were it to prove anything, it would prove far too much: the assumption that the legal status of one set of marriage relationships affects no other would not only argue for same sex partnerships; it could be asserted with equal validity for polyamorous partnerships, polygamous households, even adult brothers, sisters, or brothers and sisters living in incestuous relationships. Should these, as a matter of equality or civil rights, be recognized as lawful marriages, and would they have no effects on other relationships? No. The truth is that marriage is not something abstract or neutral that the law may legitimately define and re-define to please those who are powerful and influential.
No one has a civil right to have a non-marital relationship treated as a marriage. Marriage is an objective reality – a covenantal union of husband and wife – that it is the duty of the law to recognize and support for the sake of justice and the common good. If it fails to do so, genuine social harms follow. First, the religious liberty of those for whom this is a matter of conscience is jeopardized. Second, the rights of parents are abused as family life and sex education programs in schools are used to teach children that an enlightened understanding recognizes as “marriages” sexual partnerships that many parents believe are intrinsically non-marital and immoral. Third, the common good of civil society is damaged when the law itself, in its critical pedagogical function, becomes a tool for eroding a sound understanding of marriage on which the flourishing of the marriage culture in any society vitally depends. Sadly, we are today far from having a thriving marriage culture. But if we are to begin the critically important process of reforming our laws and mores to rebuild such a culture, the last thing we can afford to do is to re-define marriage in such a way as to embody in our laws a false proclamation about what marriage is.
And so it is out of love (not “animus”) and prudent concern for the common good (not “prejudice”), that we pledge to labor ceaselessly to preserve the legal definition of marriage as the union of one man and one woman and to rebuild the marriage culture. How could we, as Christians, do otherwise? The Bible teaches us that marriage is a central part of God’s creation covenant. Indeed, the union of husband and wife mirrors the bond between Christ and his church. And so just as Christ was willing, out of love, to give Himself up for the church in a complete sacrifice, we are willing, lovingly, to make whatever sacrifices are required of us for the sake of the inestimable treasure that is marriage.
The Spirit of the Sovereign LORD is on me, because the LORD has anointed me to preach good news to the poor. He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim freedom for the captives and release from darkness for the prisoners. Isaiah 61:1
Give to Caesar what is Caesar’s, and to God what is God’s. Matthew 22:21
The struggle for religious liberty across the centuries has been long and arduous, but it is not a novel idea or recent development. The nature of religious liberty is grounded in the character of God Himself, the God who is most fully known in the life and work of Jesus Christ. Determined to follow Jesus faithfully in life and death, the early Christians appealed to the manner in which the Incarnation had taken place: “Did God send Christ, as some suppose, as a tyrant brandishing fear and terror? Not so, but in gentleness and meekness…, for compulsion is no attribute of God” (Epistle to Diognetus 7.3-4). Thus the right to religious freedom has its foundation in the example of Christ Himself and in the very dignity of the human person created in the image of God – a dignity, as our founders proclaimed, inherent in every human, and knowable by all in the exercise of right reason.
Christians confess that God alone is Lord of the conscience. Immunity from religious coercion is the cornerstone of an unconstrained conscience. No one should be compelled to embrace any religion against his will, nor should persons of faith be forbidden to worship God according to the dictates of conscience or to express freely and publicly their deeply held religious convictions. What is true for individuals applies to religious communities as well.
It is ironic that those who today assert a right to kill the unborn, aged and disabled and also a right to engage in immoral sexual practices, and even a right to have relationships integrated around these practices be recognized and blessed by law – such persons claiming these “rights” are very often in the vanguard of those who would trample upon the freedom of others to express their religious and moral commitments to the sanctity of life and to the dignity of marriage as the conjugal union of husband and wife.
We see this, for example, in the effort to weaken or eliminate conscience clauses, and therefore to compel pro-life institutions (including religiously affiliated hospitals and clinics), and pro-life physicians, surgeons, nurses, and other health care professionals, to refer for abortions and, in certain cases, even to perform or participate in abortions. We see it in the use of anti-discrimination statutes to force religious institutions, businesses, and service providers of various sorts to comply with activities they judge to be deeply immoral or go out of business. After the judicial imposition of “same-sex marriage” in Massachusetts, for example, Catholic Charities chose with great reluctance to end its century-long work of helping to place orphaned children in good homes rather than comply with a legal mandate that it place children in same-sex households in violation of Catholic moral teaching. In New Jersey, after the establishment of a quasi-marital “civil unions” scheme, a Methodist institution was stripped of its tax exempt status when it declined, as a matter of religious conscience, to permit a facility it owned and operated to be used for ceremonies blessing homosexual unions. In Canada and some European nations, Christian clergy have been prosecuted for preaching Biblical norms against the practice of homosexuality. New hate-crime laws in America raise the specter of the same practice here.
In recent decades a growing body of case law has paralleled the decline in respect for religious values in the media, the academy and political leadership, resulting in restrictions on the free exercise of religion. We view this as an ominous development, not only because of its threat to the individual liberty guaranteed to every person, regardless of his or her faith, but because the trend also threatens the common welfare and the culture of freedom on which our system of republican government is founded. Restrictions on the freedom of conscience or the ability to hire people of one’s own faith or conscientious moral convictions for religious institutions, for example, undermines the viability of the intermediate structures of society, the essential buffer against the overweening authority of the state, resulting in the soft despotism Tocqueville so prophetically warned of.1 Disintegration of civil society is a prelude to tyranny.
As Christians, we take seriously the Biblical admonition to respect and obey those in authority. We believe in law and in the rule of law. We recognize the duty to comply with laws whether we happen to like them or not, unless the laws are gravely unjust or require those subject to them to do something unjust or otherwise immoral. The biblical purpose of law is to preserve order and serve justice and the common good; yet laws that are unjust – and especially laws that purport to compel citizens to do what is unjust – undermine the common good, rather than serve it.
Going back to the earliest days of the church, Christians have refused to compromise their proclamation of the gospel. In Acts 4, Peter and John were ordered to stop preaching. Their answer was, “Judge for yourselves whether it is right in God’s sight to obey you rather than God. For we cannot help speaking about what we have seen and heard.” Through the centuries, Christianity has taught that civil disobedience is not only permitted, but sometimes required. There is no more eloquent defense of the rights and duties of religious conscience than the one offered by Martin Luther King, Jr., in his Letter from a Birmingham Jail. Writing from an explicitly Christian perspective, and citing Christian writers such as Augustine and Aquinas, King taught that just laws elevate and ennoble human beings because they are rooted in the moral law whose ultimate source is God Himself. Unjust laws degrade human beings. Inasmuch as they can claim no authority beyond sheer human will, they lack any power to bind in conscience. King’s willingness to go to jail, rather than comply with legal injustice, was exemplary and inspiring.
Because we honor justice and the common good, we will not comply with any edict that purports to compel our institutions to participate in abortions, embryo-destructive research, assisted suicide and euthanasia, or any other anti-life act; nor will we bend to any rule purporting to force us to bless immoral sexual partnerships, treat them as marriages or the equivalent, or refrain from proclaiming the truth, as we know it, about morality and immorality and marriage and the family. We will fully and ungrudgingly render to Caesar what is Caesar’s. But under no circumstances will we render to Caesar what is God’s.
1Alexis de Tocqueville, Democracy in America
In my humble opinion, Metropolitan Jonah briefly describes the only direction in which the Episcopal Church, and the Anglican Communion in general, may proceed toward life and health.
1. Let us commemorate today the solemnity of the burial of Our Saviour. He has undone the bonds of death of those who were in Hades, filled Hades with His splendour, and roused from sleep those lying there; and we on earth rejoice exultant, recalling to mind His Resurrection, and now we fear death no more, for it shall not prevail against immortality. Because Thou wilt not, says the Scripture, give Thy Holy One to see corruption (Ps. xv.10).
It may be that the Jews and the Greeks will laugh at our wisdom; the former looking for another Christ, the latter bringing their own hopes to an end in the grave; of whom the prophet has rightly said: And their sepulchres shall be their houses forever (Ps. xlviii.12). They now laugh, but they shall weep: for they shall weep when they look upon Him Whom they have pierced (Jn. xix.37; Zach, xii.10; Ps. xxi.16), and tormented with injuries. We now weep, but our grief will be tempered with joy.
Death has seized Our Lord Jesus Christ; but shall not keep its hold on Life. It swallowed Him; it swallowed Him, not knowing Him: but, with Him, it will give up many. Of His own will He is now held; tomorrow, He shall rise again, and Hades shall be emptied. Yesterday, on the Cross, He darkened the sun’s light, and behold in full day it was as night; today death has lost its dominion; suffering itself a kind of death. Yesterday the earth mourned, contemplating the evil hate of the Judaens, and in sadness clothed itself in a garment of darkness. Today, the people that walked in darkness have seen a great light (Is. ix. 2).
Yesterday the earth trembled, as though it would dissolve, threatening to swallow those who dwelt in it; and the mountains were cleft asunder, the rocks were split, the Temple appeared as though naked, and as though it were a living being threw off its veil, seeking as it were to show by what had happened to itself that its holy places were no longer sacred to the Lord. They that suffered these things were lifeless, without mind. The elements mourned, as though it wanted little for them to dissolve in chaos, and bring disaster on the world, were it not that they could see the purpose of their Maker: namely, that of His own will He suffered.
2. O new and unheard of happening! He is stretched out upon a Cross Who by His word stretched out the heavens (Is. li.13). He is held fast in bonds Who has set the sand a bound for the sea (Jer. v. 22). He is given gall to drink Who has given us wells of honey (Num.xiii.27.). He is crowned with thorns Who has crowned the earth with flowers (SongSol. ii.12). With a reed they struck His Head Who of old struck Egypt with ten plagues, and submerged the head of Pharaoh in the waves. That countenance was spat upon at which the Kherubim dare not gaze. Yet, while suffering these things He prayed for His tormentors, saying: Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do (Lk. xxiii. 34).
He overcame evil by goodness. Christ undertook the defense of those who put Him to death: eager to gather them into His net, annulling the charge, and pleading their ignorance. Made the sport of their drunken frenzy, He submitted without bitterness. He suffered their drunkenness, and in His love for mankind called them to repentance. What more could He do?
Profiting nothing from that goodness, they enclose Him in a tomb Whom creation cannot contain. They seal the tomb, safe-guarding our deliverance; and fearing He would rise again, they station soldiers to watch the sepulchre. Who has ever seen the dead placed under watch? Or rather, who has ever seen a dead body treated as an enemy? Who has ever seen one struck by death causing fear to those who have slain him? Who fears his enemy, once he has killed him? And who will not forget his enmity when sated by the death of his adversary?
Why do you still fear Him… Him Whom you have done away with? Why do you dread Him Whom you have slain? Why do you still dread Him Who has gone forth from among the living? Why do you fear the Dead? Why do you still fight with One Whom you have crucified? His slaughter has made you safe: rest secure. If it is a mere man who has died, he will not rise again. If it is a mere man has died, then there is no truth in those words of His: Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up (Jn. ii.19). If He was a mere man, then death will keep him. If He was a mere man, what need to seal His tomb: is it not useless? Wait till the third day, and see the disproof of His madness? Cease to labour in vain, and you will see what comes to pass. Cease to rage against the truth. Do not try to wage war against God, inflicting wounds only on yourself. Cease offering insults to the Sun of Righteousness (Mal. iv.1), thinking you can put out its light. Cease I say, and do not try to seal up the fountain of life.
Do not begin to make difficulties for yourself. Do not speak of guards. Have no traffic with corruption; and the bribing of those who keep watch. Do not attempt what is foolish; nor spend what you have in impiety; nor imagine that you will defeat God. Do not give money to the soldiers, to say this and not that. Do not set a crowd to watch the tomb. Put not your trust in armour. The Resurrection will not be stopped by force of arms, nor impeded by seals, nor put down by soldiers, nor concealed by bribes. Rather it shall be believed in.
Have you not seen Lazarus a little while ago throw off death as though it were a sleep (Jn.xi.11)? Have you not seen him come forth, clothed in his cerements (burial rags), at the words: Come forth (Jn.xi.43)? Have you not seen the dead obedient to His voice when He bade him come: and the winding sheet did not prevent Him? Have you not seen how His voice restored a man already dissolving in death? He Who did that can also do this. He Who raised His Own servant, much more shall He Himself be raised up. He Who gave life again to a body already corrupting shall not leave Himself in death.
The great blindness of the Judaens, who, beholding these wonders, yet could not see: For, they have eyes and see not! For, the god of this world hath blinded the minds of unbelievers, that the light of the Gospel may not shine unto them (Ps. cxiii. 5; 11 Cor. iv.4). But let us for a time leave these unhappy ones in their unbelief, and let us, while contemplating in spirit the tomb of our Saviour, say with the faithful Mary: They have taken away our Lord, and we know not where they have laid Him. To Him and to the Father Undefiled, together with the Holy Spirit, be there glory for ever and ever. Amen.
What is happening? Today there is a great silence over the earth, a great silence, and stillness, a great silence because the King sleeps; the earth was in terror and was still, because God slept in the flesh and raised up those who were sleeping from the ages. God has died in the flesh, and the underworld has trembled.
Truly He goes to seek out our first parent like a lost sheep; He wishes to visit those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death. He goes to free the prisoner Adam and his fellow-prisoner Eve from their pains, He who is God, and Adam’s son.
The Lord goes in to them holding His victorious weapon, His cross. When Adam, the first created man, sees Him, he strikes his breast in terror and calls out to all: ‘My Lord be with you all.’ And Christ in reply says to Adam: ‘And with your spirit.’ And grasping his hand He raises him up, saying: ‘Awake, O sleeper, and arise from the dead, and Christ shall give you light.
‘I am your God, who for your sake became your son, who for you and your descendants now speak and command with authority those in prison: Come forth, and those in darkness: Have light; and those who sleep: Rise.
‘I command you: Awake, sleeper, I have not made you to be held a prisoner in the underworld. Arise from the dead; I am the Life of the dead. Arise, O man, work of My hands, arise, you who were fashioned in My image. Rise, let us go hence; for you in Me and I in you, together we are one undivided person.
‘For you, I your God became your son; for you, I the Master took on your form; that of a slave; for you, I who am above the heavens came on earth and under the earth; for you, man, I became as a man without help, free among the dead; for you, who left a garden, I was handed over to Jews from a garden and crucified in a garden.
‘Look at the spittle on my face, which I received because of you, in order to restore you to that first divine inbreathing at creation. See the blows on My cheeks, which I accepted in order to refashion your distorted form to My own image.
‘See the scourging of My back, which I accepted in order to disperse the load of your sins which was laid upon your back. See My hands nailed to the tree for a good purpose, for you, who stretched out your hand to the tree for an evil one.
‘I slept on the cross and a sword pierced My side, for you, who slept in paradise and brought forth Eve from your side. My side healed the pain of your side; my sleep will release you from your sleep in Hades; My sword has checked the sword which was turned against you.
‘But arise, let us go hence. The enemy brought you out of the land of paradise; I will reinstate you, no longer in paradise, but on the throne of heaven. I denied you the tree of life, which was a figure, but now I Myself am united to you, I who am Life. I posted the kherubim to guard you as they would slaves; now I make the kherubim worship you as they would God.
‘The kherubim throne has been prepared, the bearers are ready and waiting, the bridal chamber is in order, the food is provided, the everlasting houses and rooms are in readiness; the treasures of good things have been opened; the Kingdom of Heaven has been prepared before the ages.’
This was offered at the ecumenical service this week…
The Parable of the Prodigal Son. The sin of asking for what wasn’t his yet, and then going away from his father (hiding, should remind us of Adam and Eve in the Garden), squandering his inheritance on himself: there’s a sermon behind each of these steps through this parable.
But I want to sit for a moment on the notion of this young man and the pigpen. Anybody ever live near a pig farm or a stock yard? If you’re only visiting, it can be pretty obnoxious…
Same with a paper mill, onion farms, oil refiners, and the fetid sea smell near a fishery… or, a little closer to home, a nursing home, or a vet’s office, or what a plumber has to endure…
We get used to a lot of bad things. I’ve concentrated on smells, but there are sights and sounds and tastes and touches we get used to as well. Think of the sights we’re used to: semi-pornographic billboards, or the outfits some of us let our daughters wear, or the smut on prime time TV and in the movies, don’t forget the horoscopes in the newspaper; think of the sounds we’re used to: not just the boom-ba-boom-boom that we have to put up with at the stop light but the obscene words hurled out of cars driving down our streets; think of the tastes we’ve gotten used to: the medicines or those “health drinks” and things we have to swallow, or the beer, wine and liquor we pour excessively down our throats; think of the touches we’ve gotten used to: the needle prick, or the insane shoes, or the physical abuse… Bad things. And yet we get used to them… Thus far I’ve focused on the senses. But there are other things…
We get used to fear. We get used to being mean-tempered, we get used to having our own way or never getting our way, we get used to isolation or alienation, we get used to inertia, we get used to spinning our wheels, we get used to thinking our way is the only way, we get used to anger, we get used to grief, we get used to persecuting people or being a victim. We get used to things the way they are… we’re used to gossip, jealousy, selfishness, impatience and irritability, unthankfulness, judgmentalism, worldliness. Some day I’d like to preach a sermon to Del Rio about the sin of denominations. There’s a lot we’ve gotten used to.
All sin, no matter how subtle it may seem to us, is poison. It corrupts and pollutes our souls. Some subtle sins we really don’t much pay attention to either at the time or afterward. We often tolerate our ‘acceptable sins’ as merely “what we’ve gotten used to.” But even these are an affront to the glory of God. Now remember the prodigal son “coming to himself” and remember our ancestors.
Noah stopped being used to his neighbors’ sins and built an arc. Abraham put aside the idols of his family and he left his father’s house to obey God. Joseph over came Potiphar’s wife and his brothers’ treachery. Moses over came the Israelites. Joshua and Gideon overcame the people’s fear. King David overcame himself…
Fast forward to the New Testament and remember Simeon and Anna, old people, waiting at the Temple. They refused to get used to the way things were. And the apostles, and Nicodemus and Joseph of Arimathea, and Paul: they are still remembered for not remaining used to the sin they were living in.
In His good pleasure, God has graciously provided the antidote for the sinful things we’re used to in the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.
Not a fatted calf: tomorrow we will remember that the Son of Man has been slain for us. And Saturday night and Sunday morning we will celebrate His resurrection and the life that is ours in Him. The servants are gathering the finest, the musicians will be playing and an Eternal Feast is prepared for us. We know this. But come to yourself, look around: see what you’ve gotten used to that isn’t pleasing to God; see what alienates you from yourself and your neighbor. Will (I/you) come to our senses and allow the party to continue with (me/you) as the guest of honor? Right before our lesson starts today Jesus says, “I tell you, there is joy in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner who repents.”
Our Father is waiting for the first sign from us that we want to return, that we want to be fully members of His Family. He wants to help us complete our return. He wants us to share in an unending celebration of peace and joy. All we have to do is return. There is rejoicing in heaven for the sinner who repents and returns to the Lord. Will we say, with the younger son, “I will leave my present circumstances and return to my Father…?”
O Lord and Master of my life, take from me the spirit of sloth, despondency, lust for power and idle talk.
And grant unto me, Your servant, a spirit of chastity and integrity, humility, patience and love.
Yes, O Lord and King, grant me to see mine own faults and not to judge my brother. For blessed art Thou unto the ages. Amen.