Divine Mercy! The Heart of Easter.

Alleluia! Christ is risen!

We have just completed some extraordinary worship here at St. John’s. I’m referring specifically to Holy Week and especially the Easter Triduum: Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, and Easter Day.

Now “The Great Fifty Days” has arrived. I’m referring to the season of Easter and liturgically these next eight weeks are treated as one great day.  For eight weeks we will stand in the glow of the glorification of Christ as we allow The grace of the resurrection to transfigure us slowly from the inside out!

The Great Fifty Days are important because they teach us about divine mercy!

Listen to the words of St. Paul.

“We all once lived in the passions of our flesh, following the desires of our body and mind, and so we were by nature children of disobedience, like the rest of mankind. But God, who is rich in mercy, out of the great love with which He loved us, even when we were dead through sin, made us alive with Christ, and raised us up… to sit with Him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus.” (Eph 2:3-6)

Over the next eight weeks we will explore the depth and wealth of God’s mercy and how grace and virtuous striving are the means to achieve a faithful Christian life.

Is it any wonder that on this first Sunday after Easter Day has come to be known as “Divine Mercy Sunday!”

Is this new to the Christian calendar. No. The theme of mercy belongs to the whole biblical story. The word in Hebrew (hesed) and the Greek (eleos) translated “mercy” together occur nearly 300 times through-out the Bible.  It most always refers to God’s love, to His goodness, kindness, to His faithfulness and favor. One example is with Psalm 89 when God is speaking of His commitment to the human race, “My steadfast mercy I will keep for ever, and My covenant stands firm.” (Ps 89:28).

When mercy refers to a person it often times is found in the language of prayer, such as, “Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life; and I shall dwell in the house of the Lord for ever. (Ps 23:6)  Psalm 136, is called the “mercy psalm” and we are told 26 times in the form of a litany that our heavenly Father’s “mercy” endures forever.

One of my favorite examples is found in the Old Testament book of Lamentations. This is a collection of five poems lamenting the destruction and ruin of Jerusalem in 587 BC. The sacred Temple has been destroyed and its worship has ceased. A great famine now ravaged the people and the spirits of the faithful are broken as they are carried off into exile.  It could not have been worse for the ancient people of God.  Yet the sacred writer concludes, “The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases, His mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning; O’ great is Thy faithfulness. The Lord is my portion, says my soul, therefore I will hope in Him. (Lam 3:22-24)

No, mercy is the theme of the Bible. Mercy is that golden thread that is woven through-out the Bible holding together the story of salvation history. For a person who knows the love and mercy of God, life is never so dark that the glimmer of God’s light can’t be seen.  Everyday we are blessed with renewed mercy and this is a gift from the Holy Spirit.

This renewed mercy is encouragement from God. It should be the source of our motivation to do good, to act kind, and to be firm in faith. Jesus makes this part of His disciples life, “Blessed are the merciful, for they shall obtain mercy.” (Matt 5:7)

Blessed are those whose heart is lived open before God, he or she shall become an instrument of God’s peace and mercy. Jesus has showed that love is present in the world in which we live. Our mercy can ignite that love. When this happens opportunities like repentance, suffering, injustice, and poverty of body and spirit can be transformed into moments of redemption by God’s mercy. Mercy and love make present God who is Father of love and mercy.

Today we see Thomas putting his hand inside the wounds of Jesus. Jesus uses His sacred wounds as evidence of His love and mercy. That’s why they didn’t disappear after His resurrection and glorification. But in fact remain quite visible as a source of blessing the world. These five wounds healed Thomas’ struggle and gave him the faith to believe. These five wounds released water and blood for the cleansing of souls and the birth of new life. That new life we live in each day.

The Church was born from the side of Christ. From these five wounds we find the living source for the water of baptism and the blood of the holy Eucharist. The wounds actually are reaching out right now to any person who wants to draw near to God in Christ.

Souls are justified by the water and the blood. Souls are born to new life by the water and nourished by the blood. From the five wounds Thomas found mercy and a unity of heart and mind with Jesus.

The Great Fifty Days is the season of mercy. We are being called by the Holy Spirit to first receive God’s gift of mercy for our own soul’s health; and then to become an instrument of mercy for others.

Let this great season unfold and let us live the faith that conquers the world, the faith that makes us children of mercy.

Remember, each day mercy is renewed to give you always the best day of your life. May God’s peace be with you.

Amen

What… or better “who” do you lack in your life?

This is Friday in Easter Week and our Gospel lesson comes from John 21:1-14.  This is the third post-resurrection appearance of Jesus to His disciples.  John writes, “Jesus revealed Himself again to the disciples by the Sea of Tiberias; and He revealed Himself in this way. Simon Peter, Thomas called the Twin, Nathanael of Cana in Galilee, the sons of Zebedee, and two others of His disciples were together.  Simon Peter said to them, “I am going fishing.” They said to him, “We will go with you.” They went out and got into the boat; but that night they caught nothing.”  (Jn 21:1-3)

Look at John’s details.  Peter is with seven disciples.  The number seven is important.  It is the biblical number for “fullness.”  Peter explains what he plans on doing and the seven follow.  They toil all night and disappointed.  Was this just a bad night for fishing?  What are they lacking?  The answer is not “what” do they lack but “who” do they lack.  They lack Jesus with them.

Later, as the sun was rising Jesus was seen standing on the shoreline.  He explains to Peter what he must do to catch a large amount of fish.  John writes, “He said to them, “Cast the net on the right side of the boat, and you will find some.” So they cast it, and now they were not able to haul it in, for the quantity of fish.” (Jn 21:6)

The amount of fish was overwhelming and yet the net did not break.  John looks to the shore and is about to identify Jesus standing on the shore.  Peter drags the net ashore and lays the whole catch of fish before the feet of Jesus. By this time everyone recognized it was the Lord.

Jesus take a fish and bread and makes breakfast.  Feeding everyone.  Is that single fish that Jesus used to make breakfast with a “sign” of Himself?  The Church may have a fullness with good leadership, gifts, supporting members and resources at her disposal.  But without Jesus and His directions; and without Him feeding His flock in the Holy Eucharist, the Church will always toil long and hard in this world producing little or no results.

In the Gospel we have two things that happen that we must imitate.  The first is we must know that Jesus always reaching out to us to provide direction for us.  And Jesus will feed us as often as we want to be fed.  But secondly, like John, we must open our eyes to recognize Him and see how He is reaching out to us; and like Peter we must prepare ourselves and come to Jesus, we must be willing to swim against the tides of the culture in order to bring to Him the fruit of our labor.  Amen

Ancient Voice guides our Giving from the Heart

The Shepherd of Hermas is very early 2nd century Christian literature.  In its day it was so influential that it was considered as canonical scripture by some of the earliest bishops such as Irenaeus.

By the 2nd and 3rd century it was included in the New Testament in the important Codex Sinaiticus and the Codex Claromontanus.  The author writes in allegory style and it’s organized around five visions, twelve mandates, and ten parables.  Though it didn’t make the final cut of the New Testament, “The Shepherd” still has much to say to Christians of the 21st century.

This early Christian passes on good advice about Christian charity.  Bottom line: simply give whenever you see a need.  Just give and be grateful to God that you are in the position to do so.  We should not worry whether the person really deserves our generosity or if he or she is taking advantage of our generosity.  Our duty is to share, give; and God will take care of us and the person who receives our gift.

Hermas writes in Commandment 2, “Practice goodness, and from the rewards God gives you for your labors, give to all the needy in simplicity.  Don’t hesitate about whether you should give or not give to someone.  Give to all, for God wants His gifts to be shared among all.  The one who receives will render an account to God of what they have received and why.  The afflicted who have received will not be condemned, but the ones who receive on false pretense will be punished.

So the one who gives is guiltless.  For as he received from the Lord, in the same way he has done his service in simplicity, not hesitating about whether he should give or not give to someone.  Whoever gives help in simplicity will live to God.”  Amen

Love Grows as we Love!

Jesus sets before the Church what He believes is the perfection of love. “Greater love has no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends.” (Jn 15:13) When will we wake up on a morning and see this genuine love perfected in all persons? Because of grace this type of love is born in His body the Church. Though it is not fully perfected it needs to be nourished, so that it will not starve. The Holy Eucharist and God’s Word nourishes love. The love we want in the world is found within us. Trust God and open your heart to your neighbor. Your love for your neighbor becomes his love for another! Enjoy your day.

The Great Fifty Days!

A beautiful celebration of Easter Day has come and gone. But part of our Good News is that Easter is not over! This one beautiful and meaningful day is actually fifty days long! Alleluia! In the Anglican Church Easter is a season that extends from the Great Vigil of Easter through the last service on the Day of Pentecost. Up to around the 4th century the “Great Fifty Days” was actually called Pentecost. These days were treated as ‘one great day’ of rejoicing with no fasting and no kneeling.

As the Church grew in her faith the Lord’s Day was realized as both the first day of the week but also the Christian’s ‘eighth day.’  The ‘eighth day’ referenced the eschatological beginning of the new era when Christ shall make all things new. (Rev. 21)

As the Church matured in teaching its theology it was realized that the newly baptized needed specific teaching on the sacramental faith and how to live their life in Christ. Bishops and theologians like St. Ambrose and St. Cyril have left us amazing sermons on the meaning of the sacraments and the new life in Christ. Here is an example: The Power of the Waters of Baptism St. Ambrose.

Instruction centered more and more on the themes of the paschal mystery of Christ, the Resurrection and baptism which gave reason to having a season focused of the Easter mysteries.  In time this pushed the themes of Pentecost into a new season of its own.

Today what you find in the Book of Common Prayer is the Great Fifty Days of Easter with the Day of Pentecost (Whitsunday) as the Eighth Sunday of the Easter season.

The paschal candle burns at every service during the Great Fifty Days of Easter. (BCP, 287)  Previous Prayer Books allowed for the extinguishing of the paschal candle on Ascension Day which is the 40th day of Easter.  This practice was to respect the biblical moment when our Lord ascended into Heaven and the apostles were left to vigil for 9 days waiting for the promised gift of the Holy Spirit. But this practice also obscures the unity of the Great Fifty Days and even suggests that Ascension Day began a new season.  So that practice has ended and the paschal candle remains lit through the Day of Pentecost.

From this event developed the prayer “novenas” (from the Latin ‘nine’) imitating the apostles waiting and praying the nine days between the Ascension of our Lord and the Day of Pentecost in prayer.  Novenas became a practice of many Christians to devote nine days in prayer for a special purpose.

We read a lesson from the Acts of the Apostles each day during the Great Fifty Days including at every Sunday Eucharist. This replaces the Old Testament readings. The Gospel of John is used each Sunday with the exception of the third week of Easter which uses a reading from Luke.

So the Anglican Church celebrates Easter this year through the last Mass on May 24, 2015.  The last Mass on the Day of Pentecost marks the close of the Great Fifty Days of Easter. At which time we begin the season of Pentecost celebrating the outpouring of the Holy Spirit.

The Great Vigil of Easter, April 4, 2015

Tonight at the Great Vigil of Easter the baptismal themes that were explored during the season of Lent reach their logical conclusion in the words of this prayer, “Through the paschal mystery, dear friends, we are buried with Christ by Baptism into His death, and raised with Him to newness of life.” (BCP, 292)

As Christians we participate in the dying and rising of Jesus. This we call the paschal mystery and it’s the heart and soul of the Christian faith and life. St. Paul writes of this participation as a “grace” in Romans 5:2, “Through [Jesus] we have obtained access to this grace in which we stand, and we rejoice in our hope of sharing the glory of God.”

The paschal mystery is the heart of the liturgical year. The dying and rising of Christ and how to apply this mystery to our lives undergirds our weekly celebration of Sunday and explains why we so dutifully participate in Lent and Holy Week.

The opening prayer for the Great Vigil sets the tone.  “Dear friends in Christ: On this most holy night, in which our Lord Jesus passed over from death to life, the Church invites her members, dispersed throughout the world, to gather in vigil and prayer. For this is the Passover of the Lord, in which , by hearing His Word and celebrating His Sacraments, we share in His victory over death.” (BCP, 285)

This is a power service, and there is a simplicity of interplay between darkness and light that is found through-out the evening. In the darkness of evening a  fire is blessed and the paschal candle is lit from it. This candle is then lifted high and processed down the center aisle with the priest chanting “the light of Christ.”  And the people respond, “Thanks be to God.”  The purpose is to show how the light of Christ dispels the darkness. Darkness has no power over Christ.  From this ‘paschal light’ other candles held by the faithful are lit so this New Light of Easter, reminiscent of “the true Light that enlightens every man” (John 1: 9) is seen as spreading over the whole body of the faithful. (BCP, 286)

The Liturgy of the Word

“Rejoice now, heavenly hosts and choirs of angels, and let your trumpets shout Salvation, for the victory of our mighty King!”  (BCP, 286)  “Darkness is vanquished!”  These and other paschal themes of Lent are joyfully sung in the ancient hymn “the Exsultet” and they prepare us to hear once again the story of salvation history.

These seven readings woven together provide “the record of God’s saving deeds in history.” This is our story!  This is the story that brought each one of us “… to the fullness of redemption” (BCP, 288).

  • The Creation Story.  Genesis :1-2:2.
  • The Story of the Flood.  Genesis 7: 1-5, 11-18; 8: 6-18; 9: 8 -13.
  • Abrahams Sacrifice of Isaac.  Genesis 22:1-18.
  • Israel’s Deliverance at the Red Sea.  Exodus 14:10-15:1.
  • God’s Presence in a Renewed Israel.  Isaiah 4:2-6.
  • Salvation Offered Freely to All.  Isaiah 55:1-11.
  • A New Heart and a New Spirit.  Ezekiel 36:24-28.

This is the night when all of these plans and purposes of God come true.

This is the night, when all who believe in Christ are delivered from the gloom of sin, and are restored to grace and holiness of life.

This is the night, when Christ broke the bonds of death and hell, and rose victorious from the grave.

This is the night, when wickedness is put to flight, and sin is washed away.  The mystery couched in this night restores innocence to the fallen, and joy to those who mourn.  It casts out pride and hatred, and brings peace and concord.

We say, “this is the night” because the activities of God are never constrained or bound by chronological time. God “moves and has His ways” present and efficacious for all in every age. The sacramental theology of the Church explains this so carefully.

God’s grace-filled Providence makes this night “the night” when earth and Heaven are joined and man is reconciled to God.

The Renewal of Baptismal Vows

Our baptismal pledge is to keep the truth of this night continually shinning in order to drive away all darkness. When Christ returns in glory we pray that He will find this truth ever burning in our soul and influencing our life.

So tonight the liturgy gives us opportunity to recommit ourselves to living our life in Christ into which we entered at our baptism. We do this by renewing our baptismal vows. The Resurrection makes all things new. We are so blessed to have this opportunity to renew our participation in the paschal mystery. On the Cross our Lord triumphed over the forces of evil, trampling down death-by-death and winning salvation for us! Sin and death have no claim over us.  We are free!

The Easter Gospel

Tonight the Easter Vigil Gospel is Matthew 28: 1-10.  This is the Resurrection narrative. Matthew writes, “After the sabbath, toward the dawn of the first day of the week. . . .”  St. Matthew is speaking about the dawn of the New Day. The Resurrection of Jesus Christ has changed everything.  All of Creation was affected by it and is now being healed as we worship tonight!  Things which were cast down are being raised up… and things which had grown old are being brought to their perfection by Jesus… through whom all things were made!  (BCP, 291)

We hear the words of the angel, “Do not be afraid!  I know that you seek Jesus who was crucified. He is not here; for He has risen, as He said.  Now go, quickly, and tell…” Twice in this Gospel we hear the command “Go and tell. . . .”  Let the truth of this night burn in you deeply, then go, and do not be afraid. Jesus has gone ahead of you. Go and tell the world about Jesus.  This is the mission of the Church.  Amen

Good Friday, April 3, 2015

Tradition explains that Jesus hung dying between the hours of 12:00 noon and 3:00 pm.  For three hours He hung between “two robbers… one on the right and one on the left.” (Matt 27:38)

Tradition also explains that one is identified as a “good thief” and the other as a “bad thief.”  This seems appropriate as Jesus is always in-between what is good and what is bad.

The Gospels record part of the conversation between the good thief and Jesus.  The thief confesses, “I am a sinful man. My fate is my own doing.  In Your charity… will You remember me when You come into Your Kingdom.”  (Lk 23:42)

Those words were sweet music to the ears and heart of our Lord.  They were words coming from the thief of confession and contrition and seeking peace and a new way.  Just when it seemed like that the “Sanhedrin Plot” was going to work out and Jesus would finally be pushed into obscurity… “out of sight, out of mind”… the mystery of the Holy Spirit moves the heart of a dying man to confess his sinful ways and seek a life with Jesus.  The “hidden fruit” of the Cross is already blossoming.

Who knows how many people passed by the Cross screaming their insults and ridicule and taunting Jesus to show what power He had and “come down from the Cross.” (Matt 27:40)

Jesus was deeply moved by the petition of the thief. His heart was filled with joy. “I assure you, Jesus replies, that this day you will be with Me in Paradise.”  (Lk 23:43)

The fruit of the Cross is limitless because it is always at work. It’s power and authority has filled the world with God’s peace, and with His grace and loving forgiveness.  It has restored peace to the guilty, and given everlasting happiness to souls who seek God’s Kingdom. Today the Cross reminds billions that everlasting salvation is available today, any time, any place, anywhere.

The redemption which Christ carried out on “the hill of the skull” is now applied to those who open their heart and will to receive Jesus and His way. The Son of God loves, thats all He can do.  And He died for you in the hopes you would come to love His sacrifice.

A precious way we access the eternal Cross and its fruits are in the Mass Jesus established in the Upper Room on Maundy Thursday night.  By receiving Holy Communion we are able to stay on the path He has made for us that moves us from death to life… from struggles and sins to new beginnings and healing.

Maundy Thursday, April 2, 2015

Today is Holy Thursday or in our Anglican tradition we say “Maundy Thursday.” The word “Maundy” is from the Latin “mandatum,” or “mandate.”  “Mandatum novum do vobis ut diligatis invicem sicut dilexi vos.”  Translated this reads, “A new commandment I give unto you, That you love one another; as I have loved you.” (Jn 13:34)  On this holy night Jesus gave to His Church His “new commandment” and that is “to love.

On this night Jesus did so many things that were done to become the pattern for His Church to live and minister by.

  • Jesus washes the feet of His apostles as a sign of His love for them and their successors, and as marking “the way of the Church.” He commands, “I have given you an example, that you should do as I have done to you.”  (Jn 13:15)
  • Jesus celebrates the first Mass.  (Matt 26:20, 26-29; Mk 14:22-25; Lk 22:14-20; Jn 13:1-38; and 1 Cor 11:17-34.
  • During the first Mass He institutes the ordained priesthood.  When Jesus spoke, “Do this for remembrance of Me” (Lk 22:19 and 1 Cor 11:24) these words after the consecration of the bread and wine, ordained the apostles priests for offering the sacrifice that is the Mass. This priesthood of Christ is still with the Anglican Church today as men are ordained to the three-fold ministry of bishops, priests, and deacons.  Later on, after His resurrection, Jesus would expand the spiritual powers of the priesthood by bestowing on the apostles His authority to absolve sins.  This gift of authority came when Jesus breathed on them and said, “Receive the Holy Spirit.  Whose sin you shall forgive, they are forgiven them; and whose sins you shall retain, they are retained.”  (Jn 20:22-23)  Just as when God breathed over creation in the beginning to make life within man so the breath of Christ breathed upon the apostles created the sacrament of reconciliation which a priest uses to create and make a new heart within the person who is contrite and seeks God’s love and help.
  • Jesus calls His commandment to love a “new commandment.” St. John reminds us that this commandment is “new” and it is also “not new; [but an] old command, that we have had from the very beginning…. However the command is new because its truth is seen now fulfilled in Christ and also in you. For the darkness is passing away, and the real light is already shining.”  (1 Jn 2:7-8) This is the love that Jesus calls His Church to “abide in.” (Jn 15:9)
  • After this first Mass was completed Jesus prayed for the unity of His Church in the Garden of Gethsemane.

These events and many more mark the beginning of the “paschal triduum.” These next three days form the summit of our liturgical year. Though they are detailing the last three days in our Lord’s earthly life, liturgically they “unfold” as “one great day” showing us the unity of Christ’s paschal mystery.  This unfolding is seen through worship at the Mass of the Lord’s “Last Supper”, Good Friday of the Lord’s Passion, and the Mass of the Resurrection of the Lord!

Love unites us to Christ and it is to unite us to those people around us where we spend the greater part of our lives.  How well do they see you as a disciple of Christ?  God’s love poured out through our life should not be reserved for important matters or persons, but it should be found even among the smallest of details of our daily life.

Wednesday of Holy Week, April 1, 2015

Today is Wednesday in Holy Week.  At sundown tonight the season of Lent officially ends and the sacred triduum begins.  The triduum are the last three days of our Lord’s earthly life celebrated as Maundy Thursday, Good Friday and Easter Day!

Our Gospel reading for this day is John 13:21-30.  It is Judas’ betrayal of Jesus.  Let us read it, “Jesus… was troubled in spirit, and said, “Truly, truly, I say to you, one of you will betray Me.” The disciples looked at one another, uncertain of whom He spoke. One of His disciples, whom Jesus loved, was lying close to Jesus; so Simon Peter beckoned to him and said, “Tell us who it is of whom He speaks.” So the disciple moved even closer to Jesus and said to Him, “Lord, who is it?” Jesus answered, “It is he to whom I shall give this bread when I have dipped it.” So when He had dipped the bread, He gave it to Judas, the son of Simon Iscariot. Then after Judas received the bread, Satan entered into him. Jesus said to him, “What you are going to do, do quickly.” Now no one at the table knew why He said this to Judas…. So, after receiving the bread, he immediately went out; and it was night. (Jn 13:21-30)

What on earth happened with Judas? He knew Jesus well.  He witnessed many miracles, many healing, and he knew the poverty of most of the people who came looking for Jesus and he also knew the genuine love Jesus had for every one.  Judas was so trusted that he had been chosen and called to be an apostle by Jesus Himself.  What happened to him that he would now betray his friend for thirty pieces of silver?

Looking at how Judas ignored his heart may be a clue as to what happened to make him change. Judas was acting like a person whose once intense love has now grow cold?  Maybe his confidence and enthusiasm for “the way of Jesus” had grown to be merely external and stale.  Judas lost his way.  Love when it has grown cold becomes stale.  But Jesus knew that even cold hearts can be warmed up and made new!

Pay attention to how Jesus identifies His “betrayer.”  It was by dipping a piece of His own bread into some oil and giving it to Judas.  Seems simple.  This was common to do in that day. Often the host would begin the meal by doing just this.  Selecting one person and share his bread to show special appreciation to a friend, neighbor or family member.  It’s like making that person a guest of honor.  Jesus uses this gesture to begin the “Last Supper.” He tells Judas to “go and do what you must” (Jn 13:27) but know “as you leave… you leave as a guest of honor!”  How much did Jesus love Judas.  In Eucharistic Prayer D we recall the “Last Supper.”  We pray, “When the hour had come for Him to be glorified by You, His heavenly Father, having loved His own who were in the world, He loved them to the end… (BCP 374)

It’s important to keep this in perspective.  Because we too can struggle with our love growing cold. Things we are deeply committed to can become mere external living. We can loose our passion.  Pushing through those “cold times” and persevering is the work of grace helping us in even small everyday things with faith; but “pushing through” must be supported by the humility desiring a beginning again when we go astray through weakness.

Judas found that his love for Jesus was still there. He figured this out.  He also realized that he allowed himself to be used by the Sanhedrin to betray Jesus. For Judas his shame was so deep there was no going back.  Yet, Jesus loved him, and took that love for Judas with Him to the Cross.  He loved Judas to the end.

Jesus loves you. Can you love Him with an everlasting love?  Try by opening your heart to grace, and humble yourself before Him and pray for beginning again.  Be not afraid, God desires to bless you!

 

Tuesday in Holy Week, March 31, 2015

Today is Tuesday in Holy Week.  Our Gospel lesson is drawn from Mark 11:15-19, the story of Jesus cleansing the Temple.

What is going on in this story must be carefully understood. So let’s read through it first, “And they came to Jerusalem. And Jesus entered the Temple and began to drive out those who sold and those who bought in the temple, and He overturned the tables of the money-changers and the seats of those who sold pigeons; and He would not allow any one to carry anything through the temple. And He taught, and said to them, “Is it not written, ‘My house shall be called a House of Prayer for all the nations’? But you have made it a den of robbers.” And the chief priests and the scribes heard it and sought a way to destroy Him; for they feared Him, because all the multitude was astonished at His teaching. And when evening came they went out of the city.” (Mar 11:15-19)

There are two important hermeneutical keys that we need to use that will help us find a correct understanding of this passage.

The first “key” is the theological and political syncretism of the Temple leadership. Jesus was not denigrating the Temple nor is He chastising the people who come there to worship. In Matthew’s reading (Matt 21:12-16) we see how “the blind and the lame came to Him in the Temple, and He healed them. But when the chief priests and the scribes saw the wonderful things that He did, and the children crying out in the temple, “Hosanna to the Son of David!” they were indignant; and they said to Him, “Do you hear what these are saying?” And Jesus said to them, “Yes; have you never read, ‘Out of the mouth of babes and sucklings thou hast brought perfect praise’?” (Mat 21:12-16)  God was in the Temple!

No, what Jesus was doing is attacking the political and religious syncretism that was the accepted “Temple philosophy” of the day.  He was speaking to the Temple leadership and to their syncretistic ways that sadly they were passing on to the faithful as “the faith.” Their syncretistic godless philosophy is the “den” that Jesus refers too.  The “robbers” are the leadership and teachers who know better but have chosen to steal the people’s hearts away from the faith.

A second “key” is the Temple itself.  That amazing wonder of the world was built to be a bridge between the temporal and eternal, earthly and heavenly realities. Walking into it one should feel like they are in Heaven on earth. The earthly Temple was always intended to point beyond itself to God who is always reaching out to man. What often prevents God from getting through is the sin of pride. Sin has soiled man’s soul with a stain that only Jesus can remove.  Jesus can restore our soul to a “glistening, intensely white, as no bleach on earth could do” (Mk 9:3 and Rev 7:14-14)  by His bloody sacrifice on the Cross. We who are baptized into His blood are delivered from “the gloom of sin, and restored to grace and holiness of life.”  (BCP 287)

In baptism the soul is made perfect by grace. Our life now is the story of God’s continual watchfulness over us. Each one of us is the object of the Lord’s special love. Jesus was ready to do everything for Jerusalem, but the city was not willing to open up her gates to His mercy. This is the deep mystery of human freedom which always retains that sad possibility of rejecting the grace of God.

The cleansing Jesus accomplished on the Cross continues in every age through the Church. We see its beginnings today in Jerusalem. It is God’s plan to use the Church to spread this cleansing influence and power (see Acts 19:20), and to become the imperishable seed by which every heart is born anew (see 1 Peter 1:23).

If you have been away from the Church for any amount of time, come home this Easter!  If you have not been baptized and want to learn more about the Christian faith give us a call at St. John’s.  We are here to help.