The text appointed for the sermon is taken from the Epistle: “Awake, thou that sleepest, and arise from the dead, and Christ shall give thee light.”
A couple of months ago, I finished reading The Lord of the Rings to my son Phin. It had been a long time since I read this trilogy about Middle Earth, so I had forgotten some of the key parts of the story near the end. If any of you have read this fantasy series, especially out loud, you will know that the climax to the story comes, and you realize that there are still 80 pages to read. The evil in the story has been overcome, the ring destroyed, the king is crowned and sits on his throne. It seems like the story should end there, but then the hobbits (Frodo, Sam, Pippin, and Merry) have to return to the Shire, their homeland, and when they do, they find the place in a mess. The final chapters detail the scourging of the Shire, as the hobbits kick out the last remnants of evil remaining in Middle Earth. To some, these pages appear to be tacked on, as if Tolkein just loved writing so much he forgot to stop when the story stopped. But, I have come to realize how important this section is to the whole story, because it highlights the way in which evil is encountered and conquered while the final days of its reign come to an end.
I bring this up, because this week’s Gospel illuminates our struggle with the devil and his demons. While we know that Christ has conquered evil, he was resurrected from the dead and ascended to His Father, we still deal in our temporal lives with the day to day struggle with the devil and we witness evil in our world. In our Collect for this morning, we still pray: “stretch forth the right hand of thy Majesty, to be our defence against all our enemies.” And those enemies, of course, are both physical (for those Christians who face physical persecution) but also spiritual (for all of us who fight against our enemy the devil and his demons). So what is our relationship with these demons now that Christ has conquered death? Well, like the Hobbits, we are now in a unique time, in which the end has been achieved, but we still fight the forces still lingering and fleeing the present King. It is a time which the NT writers and Early Church deemed the Last Days. This morning I want to investigate this more in order to help you see what is our present fight with Satan and his demons.
All the way back in Genesis, the fight with Satan begins. And even as Satan has tricked Adam and Eve to lose their innocence and behold their own nakedness, God declares that Satan’s head will be crushed by the seed of Eve. The end has been declared even while at the same time, God declares that there will be enmity between the serpent and the seed of Eve. And indeed, there is enmity because Satan hates God’s good creation, especially those silly, fleshy creatures called humans. Satan thought he ruined all of creation when he tempted Eve, but all of his work is turned by Almighty God to greater good. Therefore, when Adam and Eve ate of that forbidden fruit, Satan rejoiced because he saw that humanity itself had been wounded.
And indeed, without Christ, man is succumbed to the wounds of the fall–wounds that are festering and kill a man in the end. Not only is our state of being in sin and death, but our struggle against the devil is weak and insufficient. We are ignorant of spiritual things, we have lost the inclination to do good, we have a disordered desire for our immediate sensual needs, and we have a weakened will to stand against the difficult temptations of the devil.
This is the description of the man whom Jesus mentions in the Gospel. He might fight off a demon for a day, clean his house so to speak, but then the demon comes back with seven companions and now his first state is worse than the first. You see, the man attempts to reform himself, but he is unable to fill his soul with the truly Good and so when the demons come back and find his house ready for more occupants, they come right on in. Man has been so wounded by the fall that he cannot help himself fight off the demons
But the story does not end there, praise be to God. There is a secret prayer of the priest at the offering of the host that says: “O God who did wonderfully create, but more wonderfully renew the dignity and nature of mankind…” God has renewed mankind through Jesus Christ. And already in Lent we have seen Jesus re-work the errors of our parents Adam and Eve. In the wilderness, Jesus renews the dignity of mankind by perfectly obeying the Will of His Father and rejecting the temptations of the devil.
This week we now see Jesus come with authority and devils flee before his presence. They scream to get away from Him. Luke records that Jesus sends out 70 disciples, and they come back amazed that the devils are subject to them just by the name of Jesus. God has come among his people and Satan with all his demons tremble at the sight. But Jesus knows that mankind needs more help than just the power over demons. And so he heads to Jerusalem and His death in order to conquer death for all of us. At the Cross, another time where Satan thinks he has triumphed, Jesus dies so that all of us may live in him. Finally, death itself has been overcome, and mankind is free from the wounds of the fall. The wounds now may heal by the power of Christ, the temptations of the devil may be overcome, and we may conquer death by entering into eternal life.
Let me be clear, we still do fight against the devil. But we fight knowing that we are fighting in victory. That victory is declared to us when we are baptized. If you look at the liturgy for baptism, you will see that we pray for God to mystically wash away sins, but then to fill the soul with the Holy Ghost. Any time there is an exorcism we cast out the evil and then fill the space with a blessing, in this case, the Holy Ghost himself. We do not, like in the Gospel passage, cast out a demon and then live it empty. No, your soul and body are filled with the Holy Ghost, the spirit of the Living God!
This is why Saint Paul, in the Epistle appointed for this morning, declares so boldly: “Now are ye light in the Lord: walk as children of light!” For Paul, there is an urgency, not because we are about to lose the fight, but because we have already won, and he desires so strongly that you and the Ephesians stay on the winning side. “And have no fellowship with the unfruitful works of darkness, but rather reprove them; for it is a shame even to speak of those things which are done of them in secret. But all things that are reproved are made manifest by the light: for whatsoever doth make manifest is light.”
In your own personal life, you live out this conflict on a day to day basis. Your fight against personal sin may be giving up anger and bitterness, turning away from another bottle, resisting prideful thoughts that arise, or looking away from whatever is on the screen in front of you. It is a daily fight, but I want you to see that it is fought within a cosmic battle that has already been won. Seek after the light, dedicate your soul and body to Christ every morning, and remember that your life is hid with Him.
“Therefore it is said, Awake, thou that sleepest, and arise from the dead, and Christ shall give thee light.”