Thursday, March 31, 2011

Fr. Charles McClean: Lent III Vespers Sermon

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Immanuel Church
Lent 2011

We continue this evening with our meditations on the Catechism and the Passion. Last week we considered the Creed and saw how we know the Maker of all things to be our good and gracious Father only through Jesus’ passion. For as Saint Paul wrote to the Church at Corinth, “It is the God who said, ‘Let light shine out of darkness,’ who has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Christ,” the thorn-crowned face of Christ whose risen body still bears the marks of the nails and spear, the certain tokens of His love.

Our theme this evening is the Lord’s Prayer and the Passion, the Our Father in the light of Jesus’ suffering and death.

Now it’s true that God is the Father of every human being in the sense that He made us each and every one, as the Catechism teaches us to say, “I believe that God has made me.” But we have lost the right to call Him “Father.” For beginning with the Fall of Adam we have all turned our backs on Him, rebelled against Him. C.S. Lewis put this in a memorable way: “Fallen man is not simply an imperfect creature who needs improvement: he is a rebel who must lay down His arms.” And that is true of you, of me, of all whose nature is now thoroughly corrupted: not only turned away from God but actively turned against Him. We are, as we say in the Catechism, “lost and condemned creatures,” in need of a Savior - and a Savior we have been given! In the beautiful words of John Henry Newman:

O loving wisdom of our God!
When all was sin and shame,
A second Adam to the fight
And to the rescue came.

All four Gospels tell us of Jesus’ praying: Jesus’ whole ministry in fact arises from prayer and is sustained by prayer, His unbroken union with the heavenly Father, but only Saint Matthew and Saint Mark have recorded the Lord’s Prayer in their Gospels, Saint Matthew in the Sermon on the Mount. But Saint Luke introduces the prayer with the following words: Jesus “was praying in a certain place, and when He ceased, one of His disciples said to Him, ‘Lord, teach us to pray.’” The sight of Jesus’ praying awakens in the disciples the desire to learn from Him how to pray, they want to be drawn into His praying. And so the prayer He then teaches His disciples to pray is much more than a set form of prayer; it aims to form us, to conform us to the inner attitude of Jesus, the mind of Christ. And nowhere do we see the mind of Christ more clearly than in His holy passion and death. For “the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve and to give His life a ransom for many.”

Jesus teaches His disciples to pray, “Hallowed be Thy Name, Thy kingdom come, Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven,” and in Jesus’ passion God’s Name is kept holy, His kingdom - His gentle rule of mercy - comes, and His will is perfectly done on earth as it is in heaven. As we sing:

No work is left undone
Of all the Father willed;
His toil, His sorrows, one by one,
The Scriptures have fulfilled.

“Give us this day our daily bread,“ we pray. Jesus provides more than daily bread in the sense of “all that supports this body and life.” For in His passion is fulfilled the word He spoke after the feeding of the five thousand, “And the bread that I will give is My flesh which I will give for the life of the world.” And so in His passion that flesh is scourged and crucified, put to death and buried, but then on the third day raised from the dead so that the body once given into death now becomes for His people the living Bread from Heaven until His coming again.

“Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us.” Himself sinless, Jesus cannot ask forgiveness for Himself but prays for all us mortal sinners and goes on loving to the end, “sincerely forgiving and gladly doing good to those who sin against” Him: “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.”
“And lead us not into temptation.” Fully human as we are, tempted in every way as we are yet without sin, He resists every temptation, praying in the Garden of Gethsemane, “O my Father, let this cup pass from Me; nevertheless, not My will but Yours be done,” and on the cross resisting the temptation to despair, dies with those words of complete trust on His lips, “Father, into Your hands I commend My spirit.”

“But deliver us from evil.” The wages of sin is death and so, as our Substitute, as the Lamb of God who bears all sin, He endures death for us; but because He is Himself the sinless Son of God, death had no claim on Him, death could not hold Him, and death itself is dead, the Last Enemy conquered - so that “when our last hour is come” He will “graciously take us from this vale of tears to Himself in heaven.”

And so we see that every petition is not only commanded by Jesus but also fulfilled by Him who is Himself the fulfillment of all God’s promises, the great “Amen!” to all our longing. As Saint Paul writes to the Church at Corinth: “For the Son of God, whom we preached among you was not Yes and No; but in Him it is always Yes. For all the promises of God find their ‘Yes‘ in Him. That is why we utter the “Amen” through Him to the glory of God.”

The martyred third century Bishop of Carthage, Saint Cyprian said, “When we pray the Our Father, we are praying to God with words given by God” - and we might add, with words not only given by God but in fact lived by the God-Man. And so, when we pray these words our Savior taught us, our hearts and minds are thereby being conformed to His. For the prayer He taught His disciples to pray is not only a prayer to be prayed but also a way of entering into His very life, shaping our lives as we pray in harmony with Him, “with all boldness and confidence,” as those who through Holy Baptism have been made the children of God, the brothers and sisters of Jesus, His Father our Father, His prayer our prayer, prayed in union with all who are His.

“Help us,” dear Savior, “this and every day to live more nearly as we pray.” Amen.


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