holy cross sermon for the third sunday of easter, year a, may 4, 2014

In the Name of the father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

“Alleluia! Christ is risen! The Lord is risen indeed. Alleluia!”

The word “Alleluia!” comes from Hebrew, and it means “Praise the Lord!” It is a joyful expression, and while the liturgy of the Church forbids it during Lent, the liturgy during Eastertide is sprinkled with it, like confectioners’ sugar.

I have occasionally been asked whether the Church forbids “Alleluia!” to be said in the course of normal conversations during Lent. As far as I know, it does not. But the question arises from an ambiguity about the relationship between ordinary life and the liturgy. Put another way: what does what we do in this place have to do with what we do out there, in the world?

The short answer is that the world “out there” is passing away. The second epistle of Peter says that, “the day of the Lord will come like a thief, and then the heavens will pass away with a loud noise, and the elements will be dissolved with fire, and the earth and the works that are upon it will be burned up,” (2 Peter 3.10).

As Christians, we have given our assent to the narrative of salvation as outlined in Scripture and summarized in the Creeds. We believe that God made the heavens and the earth. We believe that man sinned and fell from grace – and that the earth and its works have been poisoned by sin. And you don’t have to read the Bible to have that point confirmed: read the paper or watch the news. But we also believe that God chose Israel, and that from Israel arose a Savior, Jesus Christ, who saved us from the mess we had gotten ourselves in. We believe that he accomplished this by being born, by dying, and by rising again from the dead. We believe that he has ascended into heaven. And there is but one final chapter of our faith yet to unfold: we believe that he will come again to judge the living and the dead. It is of this final chapter, yet to come, that Peter speaks when he speaks of “the day of the Lord” coming like a thief, and the elements being dissolved with fire, and the earth and the works that are upon it being burned up.

What will remain? Nothing telluric, nothing that belongs to the earth. Only what belongs to heaven will remain. St. Paul calls Jesus “the man of heaven,” contrasting him with Adam, “the man of dust,” (cf. 1 Corinthians 15). And he says, “you were buried with [Jesus] in baptism, in which you were also raised with him through faith in the working of God, who raised him from the dead,” (Colossians 2.12) – Because we belong to Christ, because we have been baptized into his death and resurrection, because we commune with him, because we eat his body and drink his blood, we are heirs of his glory: Saint Paul says: “…as is the man of heaven, so are those who are of heaven,” (1 Corinthians 15.48).

Here is the point: the liturgy of the Church, what we do “in here,” is a participation in the liturgy of heaven. We do this thing in the world, but what we are doing is not “of” the world. It is a divine work, a heavenly work. If you pay attention to the words of the mass, and especially the Eucharistic prayer, it becomes clear that we are participating in the GREAT and quintessentially heavenly work – the eternal and acceptable, loving and devout self-offering of the Son to his Father. What we do in this place transcends the judgment of the world by fire, because it is a participation in the person of Jesus, who is risen from the dead, ascended and glorified, never to die again (cf. Romans 6.9).

And this, by the way, is why it is so important to come, to participate in this action, in the mass, because it is our ticket out of here, it is what constitutes us as belonging to Christ’s Body – belonging irrevocably, that is, to the Judge, and therefore exempt from the judgment.

In answer to the question of why one ought to come to mass, Blessed John Henry Newman said this:

“I come then to church, because I am an heir of heaven. It is my desire and hope one day to take possession of my inheritance: and I come [to mass] to make myself ready for it, and I would not see heaven yet, for I could not bear to see it. [But by participating in the mass] I am allowed to be in [heaven] without seeing it, that I may learn to see it.

“In these is manifested in greater or less degree, according to the measure of each, that Incarnate Saviour, who is one day to be our Judge, and who is enabling us to bear His presence then, by imparting it to us in measure now. A thick black veil is spread between this world and the next. We mortal men range up and down it, to and fro, and see nothing. There is no access through it into the next world. In the Gospel this veil is not removed; it remains, but every now and then marvellous disclosures are made to us of what is behind [the veil]. At times we seem to catch a glimpse of a Form which we shall hereafter see face to face. We approach, and in spite of the darkness, our hands, or our head, or our brow, or our lips become, as it were, sensible of the contact of something more than earthly. We know not where we are, but we have been bathing in water, and a voice tells us that it is blood. Or we have a mark signed upon our foreheads, and it [speaks] of Calvary. Or we recollect a hand laid upon our heads, and surely it had the print of nails in it, and resembled His who with a touch gave sight to the blind and raised the dead. Or we have been eating and drinking; and it was not a dream surely, that One fed us from His wounded side, and renewed our nature by the heavenly meat He gave. Thus in many ways He, who is Judge to us, prepares us [for the judgment],—He, who is to glorify us, prepares us to be glorified, that He may not take us unawares; but that when the voice of the Archangel sounds, and we are called to meet the Bridegroom, we may be ready.”

But we have left unanswered the question of whether we ought to avoid saying “alleluia” in our normal conversations during Lent, as we do in the liturgy, and whether perhaps we ought to sprinkle our conversations with “alleluias” during Eastertide. The answer, which some may find unsatisfactory, is that our whole life “out there” must be subsumed to our life “in here.” All of our actions, our thoughts, desires, relationships, spending habits, EVERYTHING, the whole constellation of discreet realities that constitute me as a life, as a PERSON, must be laid on the altar – offered to God in union with Jesus. We have to give EVERYTHING, without reservation, to Jesus. And the liturgy of the Church is the means, given to us by Jesus himself, of “doing this” in memory of Him.

Our Easter task is thus to make the Resurrection of Jesus our own. Dom Prosper Gueranger asks:

“And how could it be that we should not retain this divine impress within us? Are not all the mysteries of our divine Master ours also? From his very first coming in the Flesh, he has made us sharers in everything he has done. He was born in Bethlehem: we were born together with him. He was crucified: our ‘old [humanity] was crucified with him.’ He was buried: ‘we were buried with him.’ And therefore, when he rose from the grave, we also received the grace that we should ‘walk in newness of life.’” (The Liturgical Year, vol. VII, p. 23)

Let us give ourselves again to God, in union with Jesus, whose Body and Blood we are about to offer on this altar. And let the power of his self-gift to God on our behalf inform all that we say or think or do. Alleluia.

In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

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About Fr Will

Fr Will Brown is rector of Holy Cross Dallas
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