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Archive for March, 2008

The Easter Sermon of St. John Chrysostom

About 400 AD

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For many centuries, this sermon has been preached every Easter day in Eastern Orthodox churches…

Is there anyone who is a devout lover of God?
Let them enjoy this beautiful bright festival!
Is there anyone who is a grateful servant?
Let them rejoice and enter into the joy of their Lord!

Are there any weary with fasting?
Let them now receive their wages!
If any have toiled from the first hour,
let them receive their due reward;
If any have come after the third hour,
let him with gratitude join in the Feast!
And he that arrived after the sixth hour,
let him not doubt; for he too shall sustain no loss.
And if any delayed until the ninth hour,
let him not hesitate; but let him come too.
And he who arrived only at the eleventh hour,
let him not be afraid by reason of his delay.

For the Lord is gracious and receives the last even as the first.
He gives rest to him that comes at the eleventh hour,
as well as to him that toiled from the first.
To this one He gives, and upon another He bestows.
He accepts the works as He greets the endeavor.
The deed He honors and the intention He commends.

Let us all enter into the joy of the Lord!
First and last alike receive your reward;
rich and poor, rejoice together!
Sober and slothful, celebrate the day!

You that have kept the fast, and you that have not,
rejoice today for the Table is richly laden!
Feast royally on it, the calf is a fatted one.
Let no one go away hungry. Partake, all, of the cup of faith.
Enjoy all the riches of His goodness!

Let no one grieve at his poverty,
for the universal kingdom has been revealed.
Let no one mourn that he has fallen again and again;
for forgiveness has risen from the grave.
Let no one fear death, for the Death of our Savior has set us free.
He has destroyed it by enduring it.

He destroyed Hades when He descended into it.
He put it into an uproar even as it tasted of His flesh.
Isaiah foretold this when he said,
“You, O Hell, have been troubled by encountering Him below.”

Hell was in an uproar because it was done away with.
It was in an uproar because it is mocked.
It was in an uproar, for it is destroyed.
It is in an uproar, for it is annihilated.
It is in an uproar, for it is now made captive.
Hell took a body, and discovered God.
It took earth, and encountered Heaven.
It took what it saw, and was overcome by what it did not see.
O death, where is thy sting?
O Hades, where is thy victory?

Christ is Risen, and you, O death, are annihilated!
Christ is Risen, and the evil ones are cast down!
Christ is Risen, and the angels rejoice!
Christ is Risen, and life is liberated!
Christ is Risen, and the tomb is emptied of its dead;
for Christ having risen from the dead,
is become the first-fruits of those who have fallen asleep.
To Him be Glory and Power forever and ever. Amen!

Collect of the Day:

Almighty God, who through your only-begotten Son Jesus Christ overcame death and opened to us the gate of everlasting life: Grant that we, who celebrate with joy the day of the Lord’s resurrection, may be raised from the death of sin by your life-giving Spirit; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.

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Opening Prayer

Lord Jesus Christ, as we spend time tonight contemplating what awaits you and with your words from the Upper Room open before us, give us a new understanding of your sorrow over us, true repentance for the sins for which you suffered and an ever deeper gratitude for your redeeming love for us and for all of humankind. Amen.

Lead In

Just a few Sundays ago, Steve and I left late in the afternoon for some Anglican Mission meetings at Pawleys Island, SC. As we drove down I-95 into the Low Country, my mind was flooded with memories of driving the same roads when I was kid with my dad. You see, his family lives down in SC and we would travel down often to visit with them. As Steve and I made our way Southeast, I got a bit nostalgic. Memories of time spent with my dad my Dad, music we would listen to, conversations we had, and the bombardment of the cheesy South of the Border signs. I remembered the convenient store we used to stop at for gas. They were just incidental things that brought back vivid and important memories of my dad.

My father went to be with the Lord over twenty years ago. So it was surprising to me how driving down a familiar road and looking out over a remembered landscape could evoke such powerful and lost memories! It struck me too how important it is for me to hold my memories close. Remembering our loved ones – people who have influenced our lives positively – is an important part of knowing our stories and understanding who we are.

Remembering is Crucial to Faith

For those of us who identify ourselves as followers of Jesus and people of God, remembering is crucial. Just as families celebrate anniversaries and birthdays to commemorate major events that have shaped the life of the family, so too does the community of faith – the family of God. Our seasons and liturgies are the paths we take, winding us through familiar landscapes that recall and bring to mind important memories. Seasons like Lent prepare us because it roots us and reminds us of the story of God.

So where are we in God’s story? Tonight is Maundy Thursday. Tonight we find ourselves seated with Jesus and his friends in the Upper Room at the tipping point of a great convergence. In the biblical narrative there are two great stories of God’s deliverance – the Exodus and the Incarnation. Tonight, these two events come crashing together into the person of Jesus Christ. This convergence confirms that the resounding desire in the heart of God, the hope at the very center of the universe, is for God to rescue his people from the bondage of sin and the work of evil and darkness. The Exodus and the Incarnation are the two events that the community of faith has turned to again and again and again in order to remember the mighty acts of God in human time and history.

So tonight, in Jerusalem in the Upper Room, Jesus and the twelve are celebrating the Passover or the Seder as it is commonly called today. This is the feast in which the Jews celebrate the beginning of their Exodus, their emancipation by God from hard slavery to Pharaoh in Egypt. Like other Jews, Jesus and his friends have gathered to remember what God has done.

Passover

Let’s talk about the Passover.

The Passover is the annual feast that begins the Jewish New Year, so that every year begins by remembering God’s deliverance. It’s a family meal enveloped by litany of prayers, songs, and the re-telling of the story of their liberation. The Jewish family would go to the Old Testament reading tonight in Exodus 12 and they would read how the Lord gave Moses and the Jews in Egypt very specific instructions. God was devising a plan for them to escape. A plan of his own devising and provision, but a plan they had to participate in.

· 1) He tells them to select a spotless one year-old lamb and to kill it.

· Then, take its blood and sprinkle it on the doorframe of the home.

· Then take lamb meat and roast it with bitter herbs. Eat it with bread cooked without yeast.

· And then wait inside their homes safely behind the blood sprinkled door.

That very night God Passed through Egypt taking the lives of all the firstborn children in Egypt. According to his plan, he Passed Over the blood-marked homes of the Israelites, shielding them from his threatened destruction. This was the final plague that God sent on Egypt. A terrified Pharaoh and all the Egyptians urge the Israelites to leave. To go. To depart from them. Exactly 430 years after entering Egypt, the bonds of the Hebrew people are shattered, and they begin their Exodus – as free people delivered by the power and provision of God.

It’s a powerful story of God’s faithfulness. He heard the cries of his people and he responded to save them. He then continues to act in their lives in mighty ways. He guides them through the wilderness. He sends them manna – heavenly food –to feed them. He gives them water in the desert. He renews his covenant with them. He promises to bring them into a land of abundance.

So how did things go with the Israelites after their deliverance? Well,

sadly, after all these miraculous acts of liberation and provision, what happens? The story of Israel is a story of a people who consistently forget their deliverance and their God.

· He delivered them BUT they quickly lost their faith in him

· He delivered them BUT they rebelled against him

· He delivered them BUT they wanted a human king to rule over them

· He delivered them BUT they stopped worshipping the Living God and ran to worship idols of stone and wood

· He delivered them when they were poor and abused BUT they forgot and became people who mistreated the poor and abused their power

· God delivered them BUT they did not remember.

As I said before, on this night in that Upper Room in Jerusalem the Exodus and the Incarnation converge. While Jesus and the disciples are celebrating the Passover, Jesus surprises his friends by changing the traditional Passover prayers. Luke 22:17 says,

“And he took a cup, and when he had given thanks he said, “Take this, and divide it among yourselves. For I tell you that from now on I will not drink of the fruit of the vine until the kingdom of God comes.” And he took bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it and gave it to them, saying, “This is my body, which is given for you. Do this in remembrance of me.” And likewise the cup after they had eaten, saying, “This cup that is poured out for you is the new covenant in my blood.”

By saying these words, Jesus is alerting us to a new thing. The bread has become his body and the wine his blood. Jesus is letting his disciples know that he is the ultimate fulfillment of the Passover sacrifice. For on this night, the son of God is about to be betrayed. He will be handed over to the authorities who prosecute him though he is innocent. They sentence him to execution on the wood of the cruel cross to be die.

Let me say more about this convergence.

The parallels between what happened at Passover and the crucifixion of Christ Jesus are profound. They really do come together in amazing ways.

· First, like the spotless lamb, the perfect, sinless Jesus shed his blood to bring deliverance and salvation.

· Second, the Israelites are to roast and eat the lamb so they will be prepared for their Exodus. In the Eucharist, we are instructed to eat Christ’s body and drink his blood for spiritual sustenance for our journey – a new exodus.

· Third, the lamb’s death, like the death of Christ, was part of a God-initiated, God-orchestrated plan to liberate his people from Egypt.

· Fourth, Jesus has become a Passover lamb. Not just a lamb but THE lamb. The Passover lamb of God who dies once and for all for the sins of the world.

· Lastly, as the Israelites hoped in the blood of the lamb on their doors, Jesus is our hope, our deliverance and our salvation.

Through Jesus Christ, God Himself takes into himself our sin to bring deliverance and freedom. He is the lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world. This is precisely why we proclaim every Sunday in our Eucharistic liturgy – “CHRIST OUR PASSOVER HAS BEEN SACRIFICED FOR US! THEREFORE LET US KEEP THE FEAST!” That is, let us remember him and receive with open hands and hearts what his death has accomplished for us. Something we could not accomplish on our own.

What does he say to his disciples? Do this in remembrance of me.

Remember me, Jesus says. Has it ever hit you that this is a command? A command to remember? Over and over again in scripture, God gives commands. Sometimes they are negative commands like do not steal, do not fear, do not kill. But Remember is one of the most often used, positive commands! Positive commands demand participation and responsibility. Jesus is saying, Remember me comprehensively…not just tonight. Remember who I am. Remember what you have heard me say. Remember what you have seen…the miracles, the healings, remember Lazarus. Remember what you will see tonight as I am handed over to the authorities. Remember tomorrow as I suffer on the cross. Remember the empty tomb on Sunday. Remember my nail scarred hands. Remember your slavery to sin and brokenness. Remember how much I love you. Remember what I’ve done to bring about your deliverance. Remember. Remember.

God knows we are quick to forget. Jesus comes to deliver us, to save us from the most fundamental problem we have as men and women. That problem is the disorientation of sin – or looking in the wrong direction, wanting what we shouldn’t want and ignoring what we need. We, like the Israelites, forget. Like people with amnesia, we forget and lose our way because we forget about God’s ways.

Remembering is important because it ensures that we stay connected in our hearts and minds to the contours of God’s purposes. By remembering, we ensure that we do not lose sight of who we really are.

One of the rituals of the modern Passover feast is that the youngest child has the important task of asking a series of questions during the meal. The questions correspond to different parts of the story and serve to advance the narrative of the Passover along. One of those questions is, “What makes this night different from every other night?” It’s a good question for us. “What makes this night different from every other night?”

Will YOU remember? Remember. Remember.

Blessed be God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Amen.

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