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Posts Tagged ‘Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil’

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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“A certain man made a great supper.”

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

 

We may read earlier in St. Luke’s Gospel: “And Jesus said unto him, No man, having put his hand to the plough, and looking back, is fit for the kingdom of God.”

We are each called to the great supper of the eternal good host.  Yet as we see in the Holy Gospel, not all who are called respond to that call.  The Holy Ghost prompts each and every one of us to respond to the call of God, but we are not all equally responsive.

In the context of Christ’s own time, the original invitation is for the pious Jews, the second invitation to the “the poor, and the maimed, and the halt, and the blind” in the “streets and lanes of the city” is for the impious Jews, and the last invitation to the riffraff out in the “the high-ways and hedges” is for the Gentiles, in other words, folks like us. This is our place in salvation history. Put all together, all the guests who attend become the reconstituted Israel, the new Church.

Considering it thusly, those of us sitting here today would not have identified with the fancy people first invited who rejected their invitations, nor even with the poor, the crippled, the blind, and the lame who were invited in their stead, but rather with the country bumpkins. We are the bums. But, we are bums invited to an incredible feast. Our thanks and praise should echo from the highest heavens! We who are last are coming to a magnificent banquet which will satisfy our every need, will make us whole, will change our lives.

There is no shame in not being called first so long as one comes when called. Here’s an example of being called first, second, and last.

That part of the universal Church of Christ called the Church of England stopped obeying the Church of Rome in the Sixteenth Century. The Church of England carried on the ministry and work and witness of the one ancient Apostolic and Catholic Church for generations. When England made her colonies, the Church of England was right there with them. St. Paul’s Church downtown was part of the Church of England when she was founded. These American Anglican parishes suffered a break from the Church of England as our nation won her independence and then reconstituted themselves as the Protestant Episcopal Church.

As the Episcopal Church, God’s great banquet was fully spread for generations in America, until most of the members of it made their excuses not to come to God’s great spread.  That was when we, the Anglican Catholic Church, the faithful remnant of the worldwide Anglican Church, sprang forth at the great Congress of St. Louis to continue the apostolic and catholic work of the Anglican Church as handed to us by the Episcopal Church and the Church of England.  The continuation of grace and glory of the Anglican Church as handed to us by the Episcopal Church and the Church of England puts us not in the first call nor the second call, but firmly in the third call.

Although as Christians in general and Anglicans in particular we are part of the last call, yet we have much to learn from those first few who threw away their good invitation.

A great book title I saw many years ago was Yes, Lord, I Have Sinned: But I Have Several Excellent Excuses. There are always excuses if you roll up your sleeves and diligently apply yourself to look for one or are creative enough to invent one.

Back to the Gospel lesson, all who made excuses from attending the great supper did not make sinful excuses. The matters involved were innocent. But, their excuses showed their deep involvement and complicity in the world. The host did not demand that they give up these pursuits, but the invited guests would rather do their business than come to the supper. They did not have to do those things at that time, but they choose to do them then instead of later.

The guests who would not come had different reasons but the same heart: They put themselves first. These things were lawful in themselves, but by the actions of their hearts these things became stumbling blocks. As Father Melville Scott put it, “There is room at the feast, but no room in their hearts.”

In our everyday lives, we have many things which must be done: groceries, work, laundry, family, driving, eating, sleeping, bathing. And these things are all quite decent in themselves. However, each day we suffer the temptation to place these decent things above the things of God, beyond the invitation by God to sup with him. And that is the time when those otherwise good things become stumbling blocks, temptations to serve ourselves before our good God, to put our hand to the plough and look back.

It would be funny if it were not true. Worldly and unimportant things demand our immediate attention when God comes calling. John Wesley said, “The most urgent worldly affairs frequently fall out just at the time when God makes the freest offers of salvation.”

These excuses show how much we are tangled up in owning things and relationships with persons other than God. We cannot hear the call of God amidst all the noise. Invited, the first guests had agreed to come, but when the time came to bathe and dress and set out, they made their excuses. Instead of responding to the call of God, we keep our head down and our mouth busy addressing things of our own interest.

My old professor Luke Timothy Johnson wrote:

“[T]he call of God issued by the prophet must relativize all other claims on life. The parable shows how entanglement with persons and things can in effect be a refusal of the invitation. The demands make clear that the choice for discipleship demands precisely the choice against a complete involvement in possessions or people. There is little that is gentle or reassuring in this.”

This cold realization of our own propensity to wander is good to keep in mind when we consider that God invites us to the greatest feast of all, the Body and Blood of our Lord Jesus Christ. Every human being is invited to come, and when those who are bidden refuse to come due to their selfish choices, then God will find others to take their place and reject the ones who rejected him. It is not so much that God damns people as people damn themselves. But in the face of the damned, others will be called to take their place, for God would have everyone, even those whom we despise, partake of the great feast.

God says in the Revelation of St. John the Divine: “Blessed are they which are called unto the marriage supper of the Lamb” (Rev. xix. 9.)

One of our obligations as Christians is to attend Mass every Sunday.  As a measure of mercy, those who cannot make their Sunday duty may attend a weekday service.  The Lord has prepared the greatest feast ever known – the Body and Blood of Jesus Christ, Who gave Himself to us for our salvation, not when we asked for it, not when we deserved it, but rather when in the fullness of time He came down from Heaven and was made incarnate in the womb of the Blessed Virgin Mary.

Incarnate means “in the flesh”, but we could more literally read it as “in the meat”.  Christ took on meat for us and then gave us Himself as a holy meal.  Adam ate the fruit of the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil in the Garden of Eden, disobeying God and bringing the curse of sin and pain and isolation and sickness and disease and separation from God and death upon all our heads.  The New Adam, Jesus Christ the Righteous, came down from Heaven and gave us His very Flesh and Blood as a consecrated meal to counteract and remedy Adam’s Fall.  Christ provides the cure for our grave disease of sin and death, and that cure is found in His very Incarnate Body, wherein God became Man and so saved us all.

Yes, one of the most basic obligations of the Christian is to attend the Holy Eucharist every Sunday.  Yes, sometimes we’re sick; sometimes our car breaks down; sometimes we have work.  But we are obliged to God the Father, creator of Heaven and Earth, to pay attention to the Son of God and partake of the mysteries of His Body and Blood every week.

Now, we do not need to actually eat His Body and drink His Blood every week.  Sometimes we are not in loving-kindness with our neighbors; sometimes we have unrepentant sin.  To eat His Body and drink His Blood when we are willfully engaging in sin and refusing to repent of it is to eat and drink to our damnation.  We rightfully abstain from receiving the Holy Communion when we are out of sorts with God and our fellow man.  Yet as Christians we are obliged to receive Christ’s Body and Blood at least three times a year.  But we give God the glory when we faithfully attend the Holy Mass even when we do not receive.

We must give of ourselves to Him who gave Himself to us. This mutual giving of self is the essence of loving-kindness, the sacrificial love which is the highest and most noble and honorable love of all.

You and I can only invite so many people to our home for a feast lest we run out of room. But the heavenly banqueter can and does invite everybody to the great feast. There is plenty of room for everyone. There is no lack; there is only abundance. The more we promote each other’s happiness, the more happiness there is for everyone. The more we love each other, the more love there is amongst us all. The more we give of ourselves to God and to our neighbor, the more we love in the pureness of loving-kindness. It is here that we best remember, in the words of St. John, that God is love.

Outside of sacred Scripture, I can think of no better words that the words of Blessed George Herbert, Seventeenth-Century Anglican country priest and poet, in his poem, Love (III):

Love bade me welcome, yet my soul drew back,
Guilty of dust and sin.
But quick-ey’d Love, observing me grow slack
From my first entrance in,
Drew nearer to me, sweetly questioning
If I lack’d anything.

“A guest,” I answer’d, “worthy to be here”;
Love said, “You shall be he.”
“I, the unkind, the ungrateful? ah my dear,
I cannot look on thee.”
Love took my hand and smiling did reply,
“Who made the eyes but I?”

“Truth, Lord, but I have marr’d them; let my shame
Go where it doth deserve.”
“And know you not,” says Love, “who bore the blame?”
“My dear, then I will serve.”
“You must sit down,” says Love, “and taste my meat.”
So I did sit and eat.

 

“A certain man made a great supper.”

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

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