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In today’s collect, we pray to God, “that in the last day, when he shall come again in his glorious majesty to judge both the quick and the dead, we may rise to the life immortal….”

+ In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost.  Amen.

 

“Preparing for Judgement”

The end things, or Eschaton in Greek, can be categorized in two parts, the individual and the general.

The individual part of the End of Days is the story of our own soul:  Death, our individual judgement, and then either Heaven or Hell.  These are the Four Last Things.  It is the story of our souls at our individual end according to Scripture, especially in the Gospels.

The general part of the End of Days is the story of the entire cosmos, or Creation:  The approach of the End, the resurrection of the body, the general judgment, and the final consummation of all things, new Heaven and new Earth.  This story is told throughout Scripture but especially in the Revelation of St. John.

So, when we speak of Christ’s judgement of our souls in the end, we mean two things, His judgement of each of us upon our deaths and His judgment of all of us at His Second Coming.

Today, let us consider the individual judgement, Christ’s judgement of our soul upon our death.

 

Think of that for a moment.  As if death is not scary and awful enough, we will undergo judgement before the throne of Christ immediately following our death.  We will draw our last breath, our soul will be ripped apart from our body, and then Christ will judge our earthly life.  Christ will justly judge each immediately separated soul and determine its eternal home.

This is eminently logical, but nevertheless quite dreadful.  For no matter how loving and holy a person we are, and so very few of us can say that, not a single one of us is as loving and holy so to not have horrible sins for which Christ will damn us.

We do not like to admit it, and perhaps some of us never admit it, but we do not live our lives as if we are in the presence of Christ.  Maybe we think that God has more important things to do than concern himself with our little lives.  Maybe we act like functional atheists, living our daily lives like God did not exist, not praying to him, not thanking him for our blessings, and doing what we will as if we were not going to be judged.  Maybe we don’t really understand what we mean by “God” – not thinking of him personally so that we could love him, maybe thinking of God as some kind of divine principle or force.

Did you notice what I left out?  I left out living in our sin because we don’t care what will happen to us in the future so long as we get our pleasure now; living like we are junkies only concerned about getting our next fix, not giving a thought for the consequences of doing so.

Sin is enticing.  If sin were not so tasty, hardly anybody would sin.  Adam and Eve were set not only for life but for eternity in the Garden, but sin was so tasty to them that they risked it all and suffered death and misery just for a taste.

Sin makes us stupid.  We love our sin.  We love our greediness.  We love our booze and pills.  We love our prideful disdain of others.  We love talking behind each other’s backs.  We love sin.  So we focus on our beloved sin instead of Christ and His judgement.

 

Some object to being judged upon our deaths on theological grounds.  Some Protestants hold that the dead fall asleep and wake up at the Second Coming of Christ to be judged in the general judgement then.  But when we read the Holy Scriptures, we see that this is not the case.

In St. Luke xxiii.43, Christ says to the penitent thief, “Verily I say unto thee, To day shalt thou be with me in paradise.”  The penitent thief was about to die, to suffer the separation of his soul from his body which is the curse of our sinful ancestors and his own vile sin.  And after that death, according to our Lord’s own words, that that soul was to be with God in paradise.

Also in 2 Corinthians v.8, we see St. Paul speak of the faithful Christian, “We are confident, I say, and willing rather to be absent from the body, and to be present with the Lord.”  The godly Christian, when he is then absent from his body, is present with Christ.  In other words, the faithful and just Christian is present with the people of God here on earth and with God himself in Heaven.  You go from the one state to the other.

We also see in the parable of Lazarus and Dives that each has undergone judgement upon their deaths.  While this is a parable, its setting keeps with Christ’s words to the penitent thief and St. Paul’s words of encouragement to the faithful.  We die, and then we are judged by God.

 

How will we be judged?  We will be judged by faith and by our actions.  Indeed, perhaps the particular judgement may not be Christ sitting on His throne waiting for our death and then sitting as the judge of our souls.  Instead, the moment of our death may be the end of our chance to alter our eternal destination.  For we will have then had the chance to call upon Christ as our Savior, the chance to respond to God’s election of us in Holy Baptism, and the chance to live holy, loving, and morally upright lives here on earth.  Thus, judgement is also a reckoning.  It is the working out of God’s eternal self and law upon us, his creation.

 

Our closing hymn today sums up our end with Christ’s end; that is, it matches our holy response to Christ’s work among us with Christ’s Second Coming.  Instead of death, sin, and Hell, instead we sing:

Yea, Amen!  Let all adore thee,

High on thine eternal throne;

Saviour, take the power and glory;

Claim the kingdom for thine own;

Judgement is that mechanism, that decision-making process that aligns our end with the end of the Cosmos.  Our glory in Christ, which is our salvation from sin and entrance into everlasting life with God Almighty, our glory in Christ is but a part of Christ’s glory in epic cosmic victory, banishing forever the powers of wickedness and sin and triumphing eternally in loving-kindness, mercy, and peace with the Triune God, the glorious angels of Heaven, and all the faithful saints.

But Judgment recognizes that all this glory is not a given; it is worked for.  God the Son worked for this glory by suffering the indignity of becoming a mere man as a babe in a manger in Bethlehem, by living the life of a mortal man, of suffering His Passion, of experiencing excruciating death, rising again, defeating death forever, and Ascending into Heaven.  You and I work for it by believing in Christ, joining with Him in His Body the Church so that He can save us, and conforming our sinful lives to His holy life.

Both experience and Scripture show us that we have a choice.  Many exterior forces work upon us, such as where we are born, the caliber of our family, the opportunities to hear the Gospel and so on.  Many interior forces work upon us, such as our mental health, the pain which afflicts us, our past sins, and so on.  Even with these exterior and interior forces working upon us, we still have the choice – even if it is a small one – to follow Christ and obey Him or not to follow Christ and disobey Him.  And what matters is not what we claim to do, but what we actually do, and Christ is the judge of that.

Judgement is Christ stopping the clock at our death and seeing what we have done with our lives.  He is with us every minute of every hour of every day of our life.  He is not ignorant of us when He judges us; He knows us intimately and loves us dearly.  But upon our death, when our soul rips away from our body, our time on Earth is done.  The moment of truth has arrived.  It is the same thing when Christ returns in power and great glory – our moment of truth has arrived.

What have we done with what He has given us?  That is the ultimate point of judgement.

And in the end, the discerner of hearts and lover of souls will decide if we would rather live without Him and thus go to Hell with the wicked angels and men, where God’s presence is withdrawn, or if we would rather live with Him and thus go to Heaven with the holy angels and men, to live in the presence of God for all eternity.

Sometimes we hear of meeting somebody half-way.  Christ has met us all the way.  He left His Heavenly home and come all the way down to earth to become one of us as a little baby that Christmas morning in Bethlehem.  Christ is the only way to God, for He is both man, like us, and God.  Our salvation absolutely and completely relies upon Him.  All our efforts are to become like Him, to help and not hinder Christ’s transformation of us into His divine image.  For Heaven is the home of the divine, and we must be perfectly holy to life with Him there.

At the Resurrection of the Dead, we will receive our new heavenly bodies.  But what about our souls?  We can do nothing about our future bodies now, but each one of us can make the most life-altering decisions about our souls today.

To be awarded Heaven when Christ judges our souls, we must be like Christ:  Pure of heart and innocent in deeds.  We must work with the Holy Ghost in transforming ourselves to Christ’s image by doing works of righteousness and confessing our sins when we fall.

 

In today’s collect, we pray to God, “that in the last day, when he shall come again in his glorious majesty to judge both the quick and the dead, we may rise to the life immortal….”

+ In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost.  Amen.

 

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In today’s collect, we pray to God, “that in the last day, when he shall come again in his glorious majesty to judge both the quick and the dead, we may rise to the life immortal….”

+ In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost.  Amen.

 

“Preparing for Death”

I remember watching my father breathe his last breath and literally expire.  One minute my father lay sick, and the next minute his body lay dead.  Right before was the last minute of my life with him, and right after was the first minute of my life without him.

Anguish washed over my soul.  I did not know how to breathe without him in my life; I did not know how to eat, sleep, or go to school without his presence.  But I learned.  And learning how to live my life without him was horrible beyond description.

 

We fear death.  We fear death because in dying we leave this way of existence and head into another way of existence, a way which we know nothing about by personal experience.

We fear death because we have seen others die.  We continue on, and they apparently do not.  We wish to continue on, even if our current life is miserable.  We instinctively cherish our own lives and do not want to give them up.

We fear death because death comes when the body sustains irreparable damage by accident, disease, or age.  All three are deeply ugly in our sight.  We shudder when we imagine ourselves receiving damage from a horrible accident, or succumbing to a deadly disease, or wasting away in our elder infirmity.  We would rather live in our youthful bodies, or failing that, our bodies as we currently have them.

We fear death because we naturally perceive that death is contrary to the created order of things.  Why would God create us if we were to die?  God Incarnate, Christ Himself cried when He beheld the dead body of His friend Lazarus.  If God who overcomes death cries at death, we who cannot overcome death certainly quail in its presence.

 

Death is one of the essential facts of Creation’s brokenness.  The other is sin, intimately related to death.

In Genesis, we read that “God created the heaven and the earth.”  And after each day of Creation, “God saw that it was good.”  Except on the last day, when “God said, Let us make man in our image, after our likeness.”  On that sixth day, “God saw every thing that he had made, and, behold, it was very good.”

So the human race is the capstone upon Creation, that finishing part that made it “very good” in God’s sight.  We were to live with God for all eternity in the Garden.  Possessing both body and soul, we were to walk with God and enjoy his immediate and direct presence.

But our ancestors broke our communion with God when they defied him and sought to live in power and glory without him, partaking of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil.  And lest they stretched forth their hands and partake of the Tree of Life, God expelled them from the Garden.

Before he expelled them, God cursed us, saying, “In the sweat of thy face shalt thou eat bread, till thou return unto the ground; for out of it wast thou taken: for dust thou art, and unto dust shalt thou return.”

So it is that death is an unnatural state brought upon by Man’s Fall into sin.  It is necessarily related to sin.  Sin brought death into the world of men.  The only way to remedy death is by remedying sin.

 

Death is a miserable predicament.  Death breaks asunder that which God created to be one.  We are meant to be whole, body and soul.  Death is like unto divorce, which rips apart that which God has joined together.  Once God has put these things together into one essential and holy thing, it is against nature and God to destroy it.  Thus, death is an abomination by its nature and by its disobedience to God’s will.

We brought upon ourselves this death, this destruction.  By following their will instead of God’s will, Adam and Eve chose to destroy themselves.  They didn’t know what they were getting into, but out of their stupid lust they went and wrecked what God had created.

And we are no better than they were.  You and I are guilty of this sin.  We have caused our own deaths.  Even the best of us “have sinned, and come short of the glory of God;”  By thinking that our ways are better than God’s ways, we stray from him.  God is the creator, nurturer, and sustainer of life; yet we think that we can create, nurture, and sustain ourselves away from him.  Each one of us has earned his own death.

 

So from the time of Adam and Eve until the Annunciation to the Blessed Virgin Mary, death reigned in the lives of men without any sure remedy.  But God did not leave men alone.  The Patriarchs spoke with God personally, and he guided them.  God gave the Law through Moses to Israel.  God sent the Prophets to preach to Israel.

Then, as St. Paul wrote in Galatians iv.4:  “But when the fulness of the time was come, God sent forth his Son, made of a woman ….”  Christ became Man, uniting the fulness of divinity and the fulness of humanity in one holy Person.  St. Paul also wrote in Romans xiv.9, “For to this end Christ both died, and rose, and revived, that he might be Lord both of the dead and living.”

We need not die like those without hope.  Christ took on our mortal human nature and died.  God the Father sent God the Son into the world as the Christ, the Messiah, the Savior of the world.  And He conquered death.  But He conquered death in a most interesting way:  Christ conquered death by dying Himself.  He apparently yielded to sin and death.

But no!  Christ rose from the grave, defeating death and sin.  In Christ, we are victorious over the grave.  The grave has claimed the life of almost every man who ever lived, save only Enos and Elijah in the Old Testament.  Christ has destroyed the hold of the grave over us.  Yet we must enter the grave just like our Lord Christ did.  Each of us will die, but for those who are counted among the redeemed of the Lord, we will live with God for all eternity.

 

So, given that each of us must die unless the Lord returns first, it obviously follows that we must prepare for our deaths.  I say obviously, but sometimes it doesn’t seem obvious at all.  I want to forget that I will die, my body will rot, and my soul will flee.  I want to live my life blissfully ignoring this obvious fact of my life.  I want to ignore it because I want to do whatever I want whenever I want.  I want to dictate the terms of my life to God, just like Adam and Eve did, just you do, just like we all do.

This is wrong.  But we still do it.  So, the first thing we must do to prepare for our inevitable end is to think upon our death each and every day.  This is called memento mori.  Some will object that this is morbid and sad.  To this the Church answers that the only way to life everlasting is through faith in Christ, and that means that we must think on our death and on our Savior.  So first, remember that you will die.

Secondly, we must not only remember that we will die but have faith in Christ and repent of our sins.  The minimum duty of Churchmen, the Six Duties of Churchmen, are not only our least duty but also our saving path.

We must attend Mass each and every Sunday and Holy Day of Obligation.  We must receive the Body and Blood of Christ at least three times a year, one of those times being during Christmastide.  We must tithe, fast, and keep the Church’s rules for sexual relations.  And we must keep our consciences clean.  These tidily fall into three sections for preparing ourselves for Heaven.

First, we must focus upon the objective worship of Christ in the Mass.  We each subjectively worship Christ in many parts of our lives, such as holy thoughts, devout feelings, and inspired sharing.  But Christ gave us His Body and Blood to partake of it, not to ignore it.  When we join ourselves with Christ’s offering of Himself to the Father, we mystically join together with Christ.  A woman who has done this reverently for seventy years is better prepared to meet Christ’s Judgement than a man who mostly forgets to show up to worship.

Second, tithing, fasting, and keeping the Church’s Law of Marriage help us live our lives in the moral way Christ would have us live them.  We ought to be generous, loving, patient, self-sacrificing, and treat our selves and other people’s selves in holiness and godliness.  If we were to tithe, fast, and keep ourselves sexually as we are supposed to while worshipping God and keeping our consciences pure, then we would find ourselves moving in the right direction to God, thus preparing for our judgement.

Third, we must keep our consciences pure.  On the one hand, we must avoid sin and eagerly seek after righteousness.  On the other hand, we must confess our sins.  Thus we repent, or turn away from, our sins.  We should privately tell God each day what we have done wrong, our firm resolution to avoid doing that again, and asking him for forgiveness.  We also can assist our devotion at Mass by remembering our sins and earnestly saying the confession with these sins on our hearts.  We can also come to me or another priest and confess our sins in the Sacrament of Penance.

When our last hour comes, our soul will be brutally torn away from our body.  Satan and the wicked demons will assail us at that hour to tempt us away from Christ with thoughts that He cannot save us, that our sins are more than He can forgive, and that we have no need of Christ at all.  Although our guardian angel and patron saints will powerfully intercede for us at that moment, the singularly best way for us to prepare for the torment and temptation of our death is to be strong in prayer and pure in soul.  And that requires preparation.

 

Advent is upon us.  Holy Church has for many centuries preached on death this very Sunday, which is most proper for helping us prepare for Christ’s return or our death, whichever comes first.

This Advent, I urge you to prepare for the inevitable fate you face.  I love you as my dear children.  I want each and every one of you to prosper in the loving-kindness of Jesus Christ our Lord.  I want each and every one of you to live with each other forever in God’s Kingdom.  I want to enjoy your presence forever before God our Father in the Holy Ghost.

With these wishes of love and peace and enjoying you as you were made by our Lord God, I ask you this week to try at least one of two things.  First, thoughtfully make a list of your sins and then reverently confess them to Christ either with the prayer of confession in the Prayer Book or in the Sacrament of Confession.  Second, pick your most intractable or hardest to control sin and try very hard to confess and turn from it every day this week.

The best way to prepare is to exercise.  The best way to prepare for a spiritual struggle is spiritual exercise.  Try at least one of these confessions of sin this week and prepare to meet your maker.  If you earnestly try, you will find yourself in better shape to be judged by Christ.

 

“that in the last day, when he shall come again in his glorious majesty to judge both the quick and the dead, we may rise to the life immortal….”

+ In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost.  Amen.

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“STIR up, we beseech thee, O Lord, the wills of thy faithful people; that they, plenteously bringing forth the fruit of good works, may by thee be plenteously rewarded;”

+ In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost.  Amen.

 

“Preparing for Our Lord’s Return”

This beautiful collect is famous for its call for God to “stir up … the wills of thy faithful people.”  Archbishop Cranmer used this old Latin prayer in our Book of Common Prayer.  In this collect, we ask God to stir up our wills, the “wills of thy faithful people”, so that in “bringing forth the fruit of good works”, we may be rewarded plenteously by God himself.

I have heard today called “stir up” Sunday.  These words are inspiring.  We hereby ask God to move us into action by quickening our wills.  The will is the part of ourselves that moves other parts of ourselves into action.  Think of this as cranking a lawn mower.  Before it is started, the lawn mower has an engine, blade, fuel, and physical structure holding it all together.  But one thing is lacking – getting the thing to start doing what it is made to do.

So it is for us.  We have reason, memory, and intellect; we have body, spirit, and all things necessary to love and to serve and to obey Almighty God.  But until we are spurred into action, until our wills are stirred up, we are all potential and no actuality.  In this prayer, we ask God to move us, to start us, to get us going so, in the words of the thanksgiving after Mass, “we may continue in that holy fellowship, and do all such good works as thou hast prepared for us to walk in.”

As Christians, we need to do more than sit pretty and receive God’s grace.  We are called to respond to God’s love; we are to do that which God would have us to do.  We are to “bring forth the fruit of good works.”

 

We pray this prayer on this Sunday, the Sunday next before Advent, for a reason.  During Advent, we are to do works of holiness and righteousness; we are to prepare to receive the King of Kings and Lord of Lords.

In the season of Advent in the Christian Year, the faithful look back and remember the first advent of Christ as a baby in Bethlehem and look forward to the second advent (or second coming) of Christ in power and great glory as He returns to put an end to suffering, misery, and death and gloriously fulfill His mission of saving His people and creation.

Advent is a time of compassionately looking back and expectantly looking forward.  Traditional practices of preparing for the coming of our King include lighting the candles of the Advent wreath, omitting our joyful Gloria in Excelsis at Mass, changing the liturgical color to purple and rose, singing Advent hymns, giving for missions in mite boxes, and preaching on the Four Last Things.

What are the “Four Last Things”?  They are death, judgement, Heaven, and Hell.  According to medieval and modern tradition, these are preached on the four Sundays of Advent.  This is part of preparing ourselves for Christ’s arrival, both in the past in His Incarnation and in the future when He returns again.

The ancient tradition of preaching on “The Four Last Things” on the Sundays in Advent (Death, Judgment, Heaven, and Hell), goes back to the early medieval period, more than a thousand years ago.  The Four Last Things were explicitly mentioned in a Confession of Faith at the Second Council of Lyons in 1274.  More than a hundred years later, Saint Vincent Ferrer particularly emphasized the Four Last Things in his preaching.  He died in 1419.  Since that time, it became embedded in the traditions of Holy Church.

First Sunday of Advent – November 30th – the subject is death,

Second Sunday of Advent – December 7th – judgment,

Third Sunday of Advent – December 14th – Heaven, and

Fourth Sunday of Advent – December 21st – the subject is Hell.

They are called the four last things because these are the four last things until Christ returns for the Last Judgement, when He will finally and permanently separate the sheep from the goats, the wheat from the chaff, and the elect from the damned.  We are not gloomy when we consider these serious subjects, preparing for one of the most glorious times of the year, Christmas.  Instead, we take our joy and our preparation to meet that joy seriously.

As we acknowledge that we will die, be judged, and go to either Heaven or hell, so we encourage ourselves to build up what is weak in our lives, repent of our sins, and strive to more fully love our God and our neighbors.  We are reminded that whether we like it or not, whether it is a polite topic or not, each one of us will die unless God returns again first.

And whether we like it or not, once we die, Christ will judge us.  This is inevitable as we come face to face with our maker.  Simply being confronted by the ultimate being who is love himself, our faults and lack of love will become more evident than ever before.  And after the judgement, we will end up in either Heaven or Hell.  There is no third place where we will spend eternity.  We will live with God forever or not.  It is that simple.

These sermons are supposed to examine these last things before Christ returns and inspire us to bring “forth the fruit of good works” so that we of God may “be plenteously rewarded.”  We are to change our behavior and conform to the model of Christ our Lord.  We are to live our lives now as if we truly believed Christ was coming soon, because the fact is that Christ will return, and with His return, this broken mortal life as we know it will disappear into the glory of immortality.

In the words of St. Peter in his second epistle,

But the day of the Lord will come as a thief in the night; in the which the heavens shall pass away with a great noise, and the elements shall melt with fervent heat, the earth also and the works that are therein shall be burned up.

We do not know when Christ will return, only that He will return.  And when Christ returns, if you are anything like me, you will sorely regret that you did not spend your time now preparing for His return.  For Christ has told us that He will return again and that we will answer for how we have lived our lives.  He says in St. Matthew xvi.27, “For the Son of man shall come in the glory of his Father with his angels; and then he shall reward every man according to his works.”

 

Here at St. Luke’s this Advent, we will follow the custom of Holy Church and prepare for the coming of Christ at Christmas and in the future.  Our main goal now is to think ahead to next month on how we are going to join in the Church’s preparation for Christ’s return.  What concrete steps will we take this Advent to prepare for Christ’s return?

Will you take advantage of our weekday Masses to attend an extra Mass per week of Advent?

Will you take advantage of our Sunday Morning Prayer to add to your prayer life on the Sundays of Advent?

Will you forgo listening to Christmas music to concentrate instead upon the Church’s season of Advent, of preparing to make the most of Christmas?

Will you take on the responsibility of reading a chapter of Scripture each day of Advent?

Will you respond to the sermons on death and judgement, Heaven and Hell by confessing your sins to your priest this Advent?

Will you respond to the glory of Christ’s Incarnation, or taking on of our frail human nature, to give sacrificially over and above your tithe for missions with the mite box?

Will you reflect upon your calling from God and the need of your parish to discern a new area of ministry for you to enter into?

You do not have to decide today.  But Advent begins next week.  How will you prepare for the coming of Christ this Advent?

 

“STIR up, we beseech thee, O Lord, the wills of thy faithful people; that they, plenteously bringing forth the fruit of good works, may by thee be plenteously rewarded;”

+ In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost.  Amen.

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“But put ye on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make not provision for the flesh, to fulfil the lusts thereof.”

+ In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost.  Amen.

 

Death

 

There are three ways that we can meet the end of our mortal life here on this earth.  From most likely to happen to least are:  Our death, Christ’s return, or direct entry to Heaven like Enoch, Elijah, and St. Mary.

In Genesis v.24 we read:  “And Enoch walked with God: and he was not; for God took him.”

Not to spoil Naomi’s Sunday School, but in II Kings ii.11 we read:  “behold, there appeared a chariot of fire, and horses of fire, and parted them both asunder; and Elijah went up by a whirlwind into heaven.”  Elijah did not die, but he was taken up into heaven.

According to the non-Scriptural but goodly understanding of the early Church, the Blessed Virgin Mary did not die and meet corruption on earth but was assumed directly into Heaven.

So we know that we can be taken into heaven without dying, but we have only two Scriptural and one post-Scriptural examples of this.  We had better not count on God ‘miracleing’ us off of the earth.

We also know that the Lord will return one day to judge the quick – or living – and the dead.  This is known as the Second Coming.  This first day of that holy season, we may think of this as Christ’s Second Advent.

As Isaiah says in the thirteenth chapter, “the day of the Lord is at hand” and “Behold, the day of the Lord cometh”.  As Christ says in the Gospel according to St. Matthew about the five wise and five foolish virgins, “Watch therefore, for ye know neither the day nor the hour wherein the Son of man cometh.”  As St. Paul says in I Thessalonians:  “For the Lord himself shall descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of the archangel, and with the trump of God: and the dead in Christ shall rise first: then we which are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds, to meet the Lord in the air: and so shall we ever be with the Lord.”

But we still wait for Christ’s Second Advent.  We do not know when it will be; only that it will be.  Until then, we are left with only one expectation of how we shall meet our end here on earth:  Our death.

Death is an unnatural state brought upon by Man’s Fall into sin. 

In the third chapter of Genesis we read words familiar from our Ash Wednesday service:  “for dust thou art, and unto dust shalt thou return.”  Due to sin entering into the lives of the ancestors of our human race, Adam and Eve, we suffer a debilitating separation from God, who is the only source of goodness, holiness, health, and life.  Therefore, we labor under the conditions of wickedness, disease, and death.

Death is necessarily related to sin.  Sin brought death into the world of men.  Only by addressing sin can we effectively address death.  We must understand that the cancer that killed my father twenty-four years ago is related to the sin I committed yesterday, as well as to the slaughter of the Holy Innocents by King Herod, and is only effectively met by the sacrifice of Christ on the Cross.

We cannot meet death on death’s terms without losing.  On death’s terms, we will suffer violence at the hands of other people, sickness and deterioration at the hands of disease, and will die eternally separated from God in Hell forever.  That is what death is.  Death is a metaphysical sickness which medicine and clean living can at most delay.  Death is our end without God.

Therefore, we must appeal to God to assist us with our death.  We must prepare for death.

Momento mori.  In Latin, that means, “Remember that you will die.”  Every day we must be mindful of death if we are to prepare for death.  We have heard that we ought to live each day as if it would be our last.  We should not take this to mean that we ought not to plan ahead, but rather that we firmly understand that our time is the Lord’s, and he will give us what he wants, not what we think we need.  We must always be mindful of our coming death.  Have you heard the Coast Guard’s motto?  Semper Paratus, which means Always ready.  Do you remember that Scout motto?  Be prepared.  To be ready for our death, we must be prepared.

Part of preparing for our death is to make provision for the disposition of our earthly substance.  We ought to have our financial things in order for those who will dispose of our estate.  We ought to leave our valuables where our loved ones can find them.  Importantly, we ought to leave plans for what type of funeral we are to have.  As a parishioner here at St. Luke, you are absolutely entitled to a Prayer Book funeral, a Prayer Book committal, and a requiem Mass.  These are free of charge.  You may choose one, two, or all three of them.  But you really ought to consult with me about them, write down what you want, and keep those instructions in a place your loved ones can find immediately upon your death.

But that is simply the beginning of our preparations for death.  We must also provide for those who are dependent upon us.  We must leave instructions on who should care for our minor children, an infirm parent, and any household pets we might have.  Your dog or cat will still need fresh water the day of your death.

We ought also to provide for the distribution of our worldly wealth.  Our families should be provided for.  We ought to heed the Book of Common Prayer in the Visitation of the Sick, where it enjoins the priest “to advise the People, whilst they are in health, to make Wills arranging for the disposal of their temporal goods, and, when of ability, to leave Bequests for religious and charitable uses.”

Unclear wishes about the disposition of your property often lead to courts, and courts tend to disrupt the harmony of families.  Far better to prepare ahead of time than to leave confusion and bitterness in your wake.  Also important is to leave bequests for scholarships, good works, and parish support.  Our parish is currently operating under a tremendous financial difficulty which is only bearable for a while due to the generosity of dead parishioners and their bequests.

Another important part of preparing for our death is shaping our legacy while we are alive.  We buried a fine man this past week, Francis “Mac” MacDonald.  Mac and his wife Gini left behind a formidable legacy of generosity, hard work, diligent governance, and loving-kindness.  Any Christian should be honored to walk in their paths.  But each of us walks his own path.  You will leave behind a legacy.  What will people say about you?

The final and most important part of preparing for our death is preparing our soul to meet her maker and redeemer.  As best we can tell from Holy Scripture and the teachings of Holy Church, we will be judged initially upon our death and then finally upon Christ’s Second Coming.  What will He say to you?

If we trust in, if we depend upon, if we rely upon ourselves, our wealth, our ideology, or anything other than Christ, we probably won’t like what He has to say to us on that Last Great Day.  There is no one who can defeat death other than Christ.  There is no one who loves us enough to interpose Himself between us and death than Christ.  There is no solution to the problem of death other than Christ.

Christ came to us on Christmas morning to save us from death.  Through sin, death entered into the world of men.  Starting with Abel and lasting through this very moment, we men have died the death of this world.  Little babies die in the womb.  Old women die in their beds.  Young men die in combat.  Old men die in the hospital.  We die.

But God has intervened in our situation.  We need not die like those without hope.  God the Father sent God the Son into the world as the Christ, the Messiah, the Savior of the world.  And He conquered death.  But He conquered death in a most interesting way:  Christ conquered death by dying Himself.  This apparently gave Satan and sin and death the victory.  But no!  Christ rose from the grave and killed death itself.  No mythic hero of ancient literature accomplished such a feat!  Christ died, defeating death by dying Himself and Resurrecting.

We who live in Him participate in the victory which He won without our assistance.  When we join in His holy Body the Church, we too will experience Resurrection on that Last Great Day.

The ignorant of our society claim that Christians wish ill on the world by praying and hoping for Christ’s Second Coming.  This is foolishness.  We Christians pray and hope for Christ to come again soon so that death may be overcome all the sooner.  We know that it will mean that we will face Christ as judge in the Last Judgement, but we so eagerly seek for death to be done for forever.

As we reflect upon our own deaths and the deaths of our loved ones, let us put on Christ our Lord and put to death our sins.

 

“But put ye on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make not provision for the flesh, to fulfil the lusts thereof.”

+ In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost.  Amen.

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“And there appeared unto them cloven tongues like as of fire, and it sat upon each of them. And they were all filled with the Holy Ghost”

+ In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost.  Amen.

 

Most of us sitting in here and our friends, families, neighbors, and total strangers outside this church are not ready for what is to come.  We will die and be judged.  If we don’t die first, then Christ will return and judge us.  Each and every one of us has offended God and earned the fires of Hell.  Only Christ stands between us and everlasting damnation.

Since we have lived for ourselves and not treated God or our neighbors with pure loving-kindness, that lack of love has prepared us for the pains and separation of Hell.  Since we think that we are always right and think it proper to sit in judgement of our neighbors, we will fit right in there.

The Blood of Christ will get us into Heaven if we call upon His Holy Name and submit our straggly ole selves to dying and being reborn with Him in the sacrament of Holy Baptism.  But even when He claims us for His own, we, being the way we are, are in no fit shape to live in the presence of God forever, much less a single day.

For this reason, Christ has ascended into Heaven and ten days later given us the Holy Ghost.  When the disciples walked and talked with Him on earth, they did not have the Holy Ghost.  Christ left them staring up at the sky, and He sent the Comforter, the Spirit of Truth to them in the Upper Room ten days later, on Pentecost, this very day.

Today we celebrate the coming of the Holy Ghost upon the gathered brethren, the Church.  We celebrate that Christ gave us the Holy Spirit of God to be with us and dwell within us so that we might snap to it and get with the program.  We are not okay the way we are.  We are not ready for Heaven.

Do you think about dying?  Do you think about mortality?  I grew up among churches that held proper funerals with proper viewings.  I knew that my elders died, and that one day, hopefully long in the future, I would join them.  I walked the cemeteries containing the bones of my ancestors.  I visited the grave of my first namesake.  I figured that I would die – one day.

But when I grew up some to be a teenager and looked at the Army and Marines with an increasingly serious eye, I began to reflect on what might happen if I did join up.  I wanted to be a good young man and do right by my country.  If that involved combat, then that would involve death.  If it did not involve my death, it would involve the death of somebody else.  That stopped me cold.  I enjoyed the next few years with cars and girls and kept thinking about that in the back of my mind.

When I finally did swear the oath, I was ready.  I wasn’t a soldier yet, mind you, but I stepped up to be made into one.

When we take up our cross and follow Christ along the path of sorrows up to our own Golgotha, we should know that we are facing death in a mature and adult way.  When we follow the way of Christ, when we keep the faith and run the course, then we are Heaven-bound.  It is better to finish the race dead last than it is to fall out.  We must step up and remain faithful to Christ to the very end.

Our prize is Heaven, and in Heaven we will live with God forever.  But we won’t only live with God forever, we will live with our faithful brothers and sisters who also faithfully ran the course.  We will live with the elect of God forever.  And if we are going to live with our brethren forever, we had better learn some good manners so that we all get along in Christ.

Christ has sent us the Holy Ghost.  We are bought with the death of Christ and are marching on to the heavenly Jerusalem, but we are not ready to live there.

Daddy Hall said of the Holy Ghost:  “He is also the gift of God, and it is by His presence that the Father and the Son are made present in our hearts and operate effectually for our good.”  By the indwelling of the Holy Ghost does the redeeming work of Christ avail us.  In the Holy Ghost, we are made proper children of God.  By the indwelling of the Holy Ghost, our very bodies are made temples of Almighty God.  Our own bodies!

Christ says in St. Matthew’s Gospel, “Be ye therefore perfect, even as your Father which is in heaven is perfect.”  We have a very high bar to meet, and Christ gave us the Holy Ghost to stay with us and in us for our journey here on Earth.  We do not even have to earn our salvation, for Christ has done that for us.  Even as we grow in holiness befitting Heaven, we have the Holy Ghost – who is God, mind you – to dwell within us.

Summarizing St. John, Hall says:  “[The Holy Ghost] is sent by the Son, and it is by His operation that we are made members of Christ and Christ comes to us with saving power.”  Christ is with us through the Holy Ghost.  With the Holy Ghost, we grow ever closer to Christ.

To do anything other than strive hard to improve ourselves into the likeness of Christ is sheer laziness and impudence.  How dare we look our Savior in the eye as He sits in judgement of us on that last great day and say “thank you for saving me” having held back part of ourselves as we tried to skate by with the least we could do!  It’s a disgrace.  It’s an affront.  It puts our sins and contrariness between us and our Lord.  And we will no doubt pay the price for our mouthiness and disobedience in the future.  For those of us going to Heaven, we will be made fit for that beautiful place of light and refreshment whether we like it or not.

The Holy Ghost unifies us with our Savior.  We enter Heaven through the Body of Christ.  That Body of Christ is right here among us right now, in that tabernacle behind that veil.  Christ’s Body is both Man and God which allows us access to eternity and endless loving-kindness.  We enter Heaven through that Body, and in the next few minutes, Christ’s Body will be with us and given to you.  We don’t take Christ’s Body; we receive Christ’s Body.  This is why we cross our palms right over left to make a throne for Christ to dwell upon.  This is why we open our mouths and take Christ’s Body, either from that throne you have made for Him or from the hand of Christ’s priest.  We receive Christ, and in receiving Christ with faith and repentance, we are joined with Christ.  Receiving Christ without faith and repentance damns us to Hell.  It is better to cross our arms in front of our chests and receive a blessing than to eat the Body of Christ unworthily.  The Holy Ghost carries the grace of Christ to us in that most Holy Sacrament, and to receive Christ unworthily dishonors the Holy Spirit of God as well.  But when we receive Christ faithfully and truly, then the Holy Ghost works in us to bring us ever closer to God, purifying us and strengthening us with Heavenly Grace freely given from on high.

A certain modern set of preachers and praise songs will tell you that to fall in love with Jesus is to lose control in the mode of a teeny-bopper or fanboy.  Nothing could be further from the truth.  Following Christ and being filled with the Holy Ghost enables each one of us to grow into the full stature of the man or woman we are each called to be by God the Father.  We are given the gifts we are given so that we may exercise Christ’s ministry amidst this hurting and fallen world.  We are strengthened with virtues and heavenly power not for us to lose control, not for us to selfishly pursue our own agendas, not to benefit our friends, but instead to advance the Kingdom of God here on earth, to build up Christ’s Church, to help save the lost, to build up and not to tear down, to love one another as Christ loves us.

My sons and daughters, I commend to you this day of Pentecost calling upon God the Holy Ghost to strengthen you in all virtue and help root out all vice from you.  Pray to God the Holy Ghost to confirm and strengthen you in the way of life everlasting.  Ask God the Holy Ghost to guard and ward your way in this life, to convict you of your sins so that you may repent and be forgiven, and to protect you amidst the temptations of our wily enemy.

 

“And there appeared unto them cloven tongues like as of fire, and it sat upon each of them. And they were all filled with the Holy Ghost”

+ In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost.  Amen.

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