WHEN the morning was come, all the chief priests and elders of the people took counsel against Jesus to put him to death: and when they had bound him, they led him away, and delivered him to Pontius Pilate the governor. Then Judas, which had betrayed him, when he saw that he was condemned, repented himself, and brought again the thirty pieces of silver to the chief priests and elders, saying, I have sinned in that I have betrayed the innocent blood. And they said, What is that to us? see thou to that. And he cast down the pieces of silver in the temple, and departed, and went and hanged himself. And the chief priests took the silver pieces, and said, It is not lawful for to put them into the treasury, because it is the price of blood. And they took counsel, and bought with them the potter’s field, to bury strangers in. Wherefore that field was called, The field of blood, unto this day. Then was fulfilled that which was spoken by Jeremy the prophet, saying, And they took the thirty pieces of silver, the price of him that was valued, whom they of the children of Israel did value; and gave them for the potter’s field, as the Lord appointed me. And Jesus stood before the governor: and the governor asked him, saying, Art thou the King of the Jews? And Jesus said unto him, Thou sayest. And when he was accused of the chief priests and elders, he answered nothing. Then said Pilate unto him, Hearest thou not how many things they witness against thee? And he answered him to never a word; insomuch that the governor marvelled greatly. Now at that feast the governor was wont to release unto the people a prisoner, whom they would. And they had then a notable prisoner, called Barabbas. Therefore when they were gathered together, Pilate said unto them, Whom will ye that I release unto you? Barabbas, or Jesus which is called Christ? For he knew that for envy they had delivered him. When he was set down on the judgment-seat, his wife sent unto him, saying, Have thou nothing to do with that just man: for I have suffered many things this day in a dream because of him. But the chief priests and elders persuaded the multitude that they should ask Barabbas, and destroy Jesus. The governor answered and said unto them, Whether of the twain will ye that I release unto you? They said, Barabbas. Pilate saith unto them, What shall I do then with Jesus which is called Christ? They all say unto him, Let him be crucified. And the governor said, Why, what evil hath he done? But they cried out the more, saying, Let him be crucified. When Pilate saw that he could prevail nothing, but that rather a tumult was made, he took water, and washed his hands before the multitude, saying, I am innocent of the blood of this just person: see ye to it. Then answered all the people, and said, His blood be on us, and on our children. Then released he Barabbas unto them: and when he had scourged Jesus, he delivered him to be crucified. Then the soldiers of the governor took Jesus into the common hall, and gathered unto him the whole band of soldiers. And they stripped him, and put on him a scarlet robe. And when they had platted a crown of thorns, they put it upon his head, and a reed in his right hand: and they bowed the knee before him, and mocked him, saying, Hail, King of the Jews! And they spit upon him, and took the reed, and smote him on the head. And after that they had mocked him, they took the robe off from him, and put his own raiment on him, and led him away to crucify him. And as they came out, they found a man of Cyrene, Simon by name: him they compelled to bear his cross. And when they were come unto a place called Golgotha, that is to say, a place of a skull, they gave him vinegar to drink mingled with gall: and when he had tasted thereof, he would not drink. And they crucified him, and parted his garments, casting lots: that it might be fulfilled which was spoken by the prophet, They parted my garments among them, and upon my vesture did they cast lots. And sitting down they watched him there; and set up over his head his accusation written, THIS IS JESUS THE KING OF THE JEWS. Then were there two thieves crucified with him, one on the right hand, and another on the left. And they that passed by reviled him, wagging their heads, and saying, Thou that destroyest the temple, and buildest it in three days, save thyself. If thou be the Son of God, come down from the cross. Likewise also the chief priests mocking him, with the scribes and elders, said, He saved others; himself he cannot save. If he be the King of Israel, let him now come down from the cross, and we will believe him. He trusted in God; let him deliver him now, if he will have him: for he said, I am the Son of God. The thieves also, which were crucified with him, cast the same in his teeth. Now from the sixth hour there was darkness over all the land unto the ninth hour. And about the ninth hour Jesus cried with a loud voice, saying, Eli, Eli, lama sabachthani? that is to say, My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me? Some of them that stood there, when they heard that, said, This man calleth for Elias. And straightway one of them ran, and took a spunge, and filled it with vinegar, and put it on a reed, and gave him to drink. The rest said, Let be, let us see whether Elias will come to save him. Jesus, when he had cried again with a loud voice, yielded up the ghost. And, behold, the veil of the temple was rent in twain from the top to the bottom; and the earth did quake, and the rocks rent; and the graves were opened; and many bodies of the saints which slept arose, and came out of the graves after his resurrection, and went into the holy city, and appeared unto many. Now when the centurion, and they that were with him, watching Jesus, saw the earthquake, and those things that were done, they feared greatly, saying, Truly this was the Son of God. St. Matthew xxvii. 1.
Given via Zoom on March 22 at 2 p.m.
“I am the true vine, and my Father is the husbandman. Every branch in me that beareth not fruit he taketh away: and every branch that beareth fruit, he purgeth it, that it may bring forth more fruit. Now ye are clean through the word which I have spoken unto you. Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself, except it abide in the vine; no more can ye, except ye abide in me. I am the vine, ye are the branches: He that abideth in me, and I in him, the same bringeth forth much fruit: for without me ye can do nothing.
1) Spiritual communion is not a substitute for feeding upon Christ in the mass. If you can attend mass then the need for spiritual communion does not exist. What makes Spiritual Communion a blessing and benefit to the Catholic is that we may benefit from the Sacrament of the Altar when an impediment prevents us from participating in the mass.
2) Real impediments may be things like:
a) First of all the sort of situation we are going through right now is a universal impediment to receiving the Blessed Sacrament
b) individual illness that prohibits one attending mass
c) the absence of a priest to consecrate the elements
d) or some other necessity that is out of your control
e) an uneasy conscious wherein one doesn’t feel one can receive communion with confidence in God’s mercy
f) when one’s family is on vacation and no Anglo Catholic mass is available.
Spiritual Communion is not a valid alternative to attending the mass apart from some necessity that prohibits you from attending mass.
3) Spiritual Communion is an act of faith in God’s mercy whereby one places one’s full confidence in God’s mercy & loving kindness and thus receives from God all the benefits that flow to the Christian when receiving the Blessed Sacrament, even when it is impossible to receive the Sacrament itself. It is not merely an exercise to make us feel better about things, but it is an act of faith in God the Blessed Trinity. It is an act of love for God, the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. And it is an act of hope, in which we lay hold of God’s will for our lives and the life of the world.
In addition to that, this present danger, may also help us experience a solidarity with Christians over the years whose experience of sacramental depravation was simply not part of our real life experience. Now it its. Imagine those members of Christ Body in lands & times when the Church had no priests because they had been imprisoned and frequently executed. Imagine those times and nations in which the Church’s very existence was against the law of the land. Think of the days after the Russian Revolution, or a nation like Saudi Arabia, or Japan from 1549 – 1614 when Church was illegal and public worship was impossible. Even in those times and in those nations Christ was present to his Bride. Maybe this necessity laid upon us today can help us passover to the situation of much of Church through out history when she was deprived of the life giving Sacrament.
Today’s readings confront us with a stark choice — between Jesus and Beelzebub, light and darkness, faithfulness and apostasy. In truth, we confront this choice day-by-day and moment-by-moment. All our blessings, all our relations, and all our challenges are opportunities to grow more like Jesus or more like his enemy.
Our sermon text comes from the Gospel:
“But if I with the finger of God cast out devils, no doubt the kingdom of God is come upon you… He that is not with me is against me: and he that gathereth not with me scattereth.”
The events of our text occur shortly after a major turning point in Jesus’ ministry. The first half of St. Luke’s Gospel describes Jesus’ birth, childhood, and early ministry in Galilee. Then, in verse 51 of chapter 9, we read:
“And it came to pass, when the time was come that he should be received up, he steadfastly set his face to go to Jerusalem.”
Our Gospel reading, then, takes place near the beginning of our Lord’s long, slow journey to Jerusalem—a journey which will culminate in his crucifixion on Good Friday. Earlier accounts of miracles explain what Jesus does in detail, while the astonishment of the crowds and the rapid spread of his renown are briefly summed up in a sentence or two. Now, however, St. Luke emphasizes not the miracles themselves but rather the responses of the crowds. He begins reporting division among them, and he highlights individual comments as well as generalized reactions. Jesus’ ministry, we come to see, evokes not just amazement but also animosity and anger.
Let’s turn to the text.
“JESUS was casting out a devil, and it was dumb. And it came to pass, when the devil was gone out, the dumb spake; and the people wondered.”
After this single-verse description of an exorcism, the following twenty-two verses are devoted to this miracle’s aftermath—a back-and-forth between Jesus and the crowds, who respond not only in wonder but also ambivalence, resistance, and rejection.
When I was younger and more naive, I assumed that witnessing a miracle would remove all of my doubts about God. The Bible consistently reveals that this is not the case. Those who witnessed miracles confronted the same dilemma we do — whether to follow Jesus or to reject him.
In our story, Jesus’ audience does not reject the reality of the exorcism. Unlike today, not many at the time were so naive as to assume that reality could be reduced to the merely material. There were no skeptics claiming that the man wasn’t really ever possessed in the first place, no “Jesus truthers” suggesting that Jesus and the mute man were conspiring to defraud the gullible. But their acceptance of the miracle’s reality is not followed by acceptance of the miracle worker Jesus. Some even accuse him of being in league with the devil! Jesus responds, famously, by quoting Abraham Lincoln’s “house divided” speech:
“A house divided against a house falleth. If Satan also be divided against himself, how shall his kingdom stand?”
Satan casting out Satan hardly makes sense. Jesus elaborates the point with a metaphor: the devil is “a strong man armed,” and if the devil has been overcome, then one must conclude that someone “stronger than he” has “come upon him.”
“If I with the finger of God cast out devils, no doubt the kingdom of God is come upon you.”
In the first half of St. Luke’s Gospel, we as readers are anonymous witnesses to Jesus’s acts, left to wonder along with the crowd. But as the narrative shifts from Christ’s actions to the response, the spotlight turns on us. Like the crowds, we too are pushed to make a choice. No longer can we remain neutral. We cannot respect Jesus at a distance while maintaining comfortable and independent lives. We must either follow him on his journey to the cross, or we must reject him.
“He that is not with me is against me: and he that gathereth not with me scattereth.”
Like this demon-possessed man, we too are people who have been exorcised. At our baptism, we were transferred from darkness into light. That “strong man armed,” the devil, has been expelled from our lives by one “stronger than he,” Jesus. This was something done to us — not by us. Although the baptismal candidate or his parents and godparents renounce “the devil and all his works,” it is only through baptism that we are given, in the words of the baptismal liturgy, “power and strength to have victory, and to triumph, against the devil, the world, and the flesh.” The unregenerate are enslaved to sin — as helpless as that demon-possessed man.
Jesus goes on to tell a story about an unclean spirit departing from a man, only to return later with “seven other spirits more wicked than himself.” This is quite the scene! Presumably the man Jesus just freed from demonic possession is standing right there amidst the crowd, and I have to think the message came through loud and clear: having a demon cast out of you by Jesus himself does not automatically keep you in a state of grace. And I hope the message for us is equally clear.
Our Gospel text concludes,
“blessed are they that hear the word of God, and keep it.”
The epistle reading elaborates on what it means for us to “keep” the word of God. By grace and through baptism we are equipped to follow our Lord’s path. St. Paul writes,
“Be ye therefore followers of God, as dear children; and walk in love, as Christ also hath loved us, and hath given himself for us an offering and a sacrifice to God for a sweet-smelling savour… For ye were sometimes darkness, but now ye are light in the Lord.”
St. Paul does not say that the Ephesians were “in darkness” — rather, they were darkness, and now they are light. Darkness and light in this Pauline sense are not, therefore, a result of our location or circumstances but rather proceed from who we are. Whereas the Ephesians once carried about with them the darkness of the sin to which, like the demon-possessed man from the gospel, they were enslaved, now the light of Christ bursts forth from their very being.
And so, precisely because they are light, St. Paul commands them to “walk as children of light” in “the fruit of the Spirit” — “all goodness and righteousness and truth.”
So what does it look like for us to walk as children of light during Lent — especially during this particular, exceedingly strange Lent? I don’t know about you, but I tend to find Lenten disciplines easy and enjoyable for the first week or so — a nice change of pace, a sharpening of mind and spirit. Right about now, though, is when motivation flags. The novelty has worn off. Now it just seems difficult. It would be easy to let things slide. Now is when we need to be shaken — hence the conclusion of our epistle text:
“Awake thou that sleepest, and arise from the dead, and Christ shall give thee light.”
Throughout the Gospels, Jesus startles his audience out of their complacency. He never permits a lukewarm neutrality but pushes towards crisis, towards critical moments of decision. Our lives are filled with such decisions — to follow Christ or to neglect him, to grow through ever-deepening conversions or to fall into slumber and slip away in a practical apostasy.
Perhaps we ought to conceive of our current, unusual circumstances as just such a moment. I am not at all suggesting that God allowed, much less foreordained, a coronavirus outbreak to boost your spiritual life — heaven forbid I should be so presumptuous. But I am suggesting that, while we have little control over the things we confront, we do control how we interpret and respond to them.
Many of us will find our lives less busy in the coming days. Most of us will be at least somewhat affected financially — in some cases, perhaps quite seriously. As one author wryly commented yesterday, “[I] honestly hadn’t planned on giving up quite this much for Lent.”
We may also find ourselves more uneasy. And yet, because the light in which we dwell comes from who we are in Christ and not our circumstances, even amidst the dark anxiety of this very moment we have the opportunity to bring forth Christ’s light.
To that end, let me close with a few suggestions:
First, consider how you might help those in need, especially those of this parish, which is a local instantiation of the Body of Christ. Our parish’s St. Stephen’s Fund exists to help those among us in financial need. Consider making a contribution. Others may suffer from loneliness due to the “social distancing” measures encouraged by public health experts. Think about ways that you might safely mitigate the impacts of such isolation for others. This is part of what it looks like for us to “walk in love, as Christ also hath loved us, and hath given himself for us an offering and a sacrifice to God.”
Second, recognize when a prudent desire to stay informed becomes an unhealthy obsession. Consider placing deliberate boundaries around your media consumption.
Third, take this as an opportunity for spiritual formation. Every day and every moment we choose whom we will serve. That’s true of the most mundane periods of our lives, and it is true now. The best way to do this is simply to continue your Lenten rule of life, but if you find yourself at home or alone more often or with less work than usual, consider dedicating more time to prayer and devotional reading. And if you find yourself more anxious than usual, the Book of Common Prayer can help you channel and reshape your anxiety in healthy ways. The prayer on page 45 of the BCP expresses this beautifully:
“O MOST mighty and merciful God… grant that, perceiving how frail and uncertain our life is, we may apply our hearts unto that heavenly wisdom which leadeth to eternal life.”
Likewise, the Lenten collects are generally quite appropriate for use in any time of need. Last week’s is especially potent in this moment, and so I would like to finish by reading it:
“ALMIGHTY God, who seest that we have no power of ourselves to help ourselves; Keep us both outwardly in our bodies, and inwardly in our souls; that we may be defended from all adversities which may happen to the body, and from all evil thoughts which may assault and hurt the soul; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.”