Spirit and Flesh

The Reverend J. Howard Cepelak
Trinity Church

Waltham, Massachusetts
Eater III – 22 April 2012

Acts 3:12-19, Psalm 4, I John 3:1-7, Luke 24:36b-48

From the Book of the Acts of the Apostles:
Addressing the men of Israel at the Temple gate, St. Peter boldly proclaimed, you denied the Holy and Righteous one…and killed the author of life, whom God raised from the dead.

From St. John’s 1st Letter:
The beloved disciple and apostle instructed his readers, Little children, let no one deceive you. He who does right is righteous, as he [Jesus] is righteous.

From the Gospel According to St. Luke;
The risen Lord, standing amongst His disciples who in their fear thought that He must be a spirit, said, See my hands and my feet, that it is I myself; handle me, and see; for a spirit has not flesh and bones as you see that I have.

Let us pray.
May the words of my mouth and the meditations of all our hearts be acceptable in thy sight, O God, Our Rock and our Redeemer, our Strength and our Salvation,

Listening to various radio talk shows this past week – as I frequently do – one commentator cited an observation on the part of an educator regarding the 100th anniversary of the sinking of the Titanic. The observation was just this. Although all of his students – high school age – knew about the Titanic, they thought it was just a movie. Almost none of his students knew that there had been an actual ship that actually sank with the actual loss of life.

I suspect that too much of the world’s important history has been ignored in our schools today. The emphasis on social issues rather than on reading, writing, arithmetic, history and science has all too often made our schools instruments of political correctness rather than institutions of authentic education.

By the grace of God, we still have many good teachers in excellent schools. These exceptional teachers who do their jobs well make all the difference in the world to the students who learn from them.

As I have studied the Scriptures over all these many years, they have taught me, as a Biblical student, important lessons. I have learned about – and grown to admire and respect – two extraordinary and exceptional individuals in the history of our faith to whom so much of the New Testament bears witness – Saints Peter and Paul.

They were extraordinary in their courage. They were exceptional in their faith – yet humble. Neither man promoted himself. Like any good teacher, these men focused on the lesson to be taught. Scripture presents both men as at once fully faithful and righteous in Christ and yet as fallible sinners.

They come across authentically – not as hypocrites claiming the righteousness while denying the sin, but as confessionally honest men who know who they are as human beings that have been redeemed in the sacrifice of Jesus Christ. Neither man makes any pretense of being holier than thou – both men fully acknowledge their flawed humanity – and yet both men know that they are also righteous by virtue of the righteousness of Jesus Christ in whom they believe.

All of this just might be a bit paradoxical, but it is the reality for every true believing Christian – we are simultaneously fallible sinful people as well as justified and righteous before God in Christ.

(Just a quick aside. The dual nature of every Christian finds symbolic expression in the proper liturgical vestments. The black cassock symbolizes our sinful human nature while the white surplice worn over the cassock symbolizes our righteousness in Christ. The white surplice is the wedding garment provided for the guests who accept the invitation to the feast. We wear both for we are both – and will be until He comes again. But that’s another sermon entirely. Back to the subject.)

I think that the characteristic that I admire and respect most about these two men is the boldness with which they proclaimed the faith. Neither man had any respect whatsoever for the political correctness of their day; nor did they make any compromises with other people’s unbelief. Neither man watered down the faith to make it more palatable for those who found it difficult to believe in the saving miracle of Christ crucified and risen. They minced no words, made no excuses, hedged no bets and cut no deals.

Their message – not their message, but the message revealed to them – the message that they were called by – and commissioned by divine vocation to proclaim – was simple, straightforward and powerful. God, in the crucified and risen Christ, destroyed sin and death for all mankind. Unrighteous man becomes righteous in Christ. Believe and be saved. Simple as that.

Then as now, many people found and find it difficult – or even impossible – to believe in the physical resurrection. Perhaps they see this historical event the way the high school students saw the sinking of the Titanic – a good story and a great movie but not a real event in history.

Granted, the miracle of salvation is hard to grasp. Many think of it as a spiritual reality with no physical aspect whatsoever. The Crucifixion makes sense. Death is a part of life. We see it all the time. We hear about it and read about it. Can’t avoid it. We experience it in the loss of loved ones. And it will happen to us one day as well.

So in the account of Christ crucified, we find a fully believable story of a good man – innocent of any crime yet falsely accused for political reasons – unjustly put to death. A compelling story but not unique. History abounds with good men falsely accused and put to death for politically expedient reasons.

But the resurrection part is quite another thing altogether. The body – dead – and then alive – the grave open – the tomb empty – well, that just doesn’t happen in most people’s experience. Rare exception such as Lazarus – but these are most certainly exceptions and experienced by only a very few people. Otherwise, resurrection from the dead – the physical resurrection from the dead just doesn’t happen in normal experience.

But the Lord our God is anything but normal. The resurrected Christ instructed His disciples, touch me – handle me see my hands and my feet – a spirit has not flesh and bone as you see that I have. Not bound by the laws that He established for creation, He can – and will – do as He chooses. After all, He created all that is from nothing. He can also recreate life from death. If you can believe in the miracle of Creation, then you can believe in the miracle of resurrection.

We should all be glad that He has chosen to save our sin sick souls – and our sin afflicted bodies as well. Salvation is not an either / or. It’s a both / and. Body and soul. Like the old song goes, it’s like love and marriage, you can’t have one without the other.

Hence, our Lord appeared to His disciples -in an historical event – to manifest Himself to them in His resurrected body – He appeared to them not as a spirit but as flesh and blood – and to be more specific, as bone; physical as well as spiritual.

Thus, the promise of eternal life when fully completed means the total perfection of our persons in both soul and body – in spirit and flesh – alive in dimensions of which we can not imagine. Resurrection in Jesus Christ means the perfection of righteousness in every way -not just as a moral /ethical quality but also as a physical reality. Although it may seem to be too good to be true, it’s actually even better. Don’t settle for anything less. From God’s perspective, you’re worth more than that.

All of this has temporal meaning for us as it feeds back into the lives we’re currently living. It means that we must place our faith in Jesus Christ as the crucified and risen savior of all mankind and also perform works of righteousness as well. Our faith is the key that unlocks the saving grace and the redeeming mercy just as Saints Peter and Paul so boldly proclaimed. Our works give substance to the faith we proclaim. Proclamation is, in and of itself, a righteous work necessary for salvation.

In Peter’s case, this cowardly man who denied his Lord three times soon after those denials courageously accused those who crucified Jesus right to their faces. He said, you denied the Holy and Righteous one…and killed the author of life…. Cowardice to courage. That’s bold. That’s righteous.

Just as Peter physically stood at the gate to the Temple and spoke those words, what we physically do has eternal importance as well. Part of our job as Christians is to physically proclaim the faith as we do good works of a righteous nature. In fact, the entirety of the physical world has ultimate value to the One who created it; so much so, that He redeemed it – the whole thing, not just a part.

But more specifically, the body is not a disposable entity of no eternal consequence. This is a popular notion among those who indulge a spiritual Christianity that does not account for the physical resurrection. A purely spiritual Christianity is not Christianity at all – it’s merely a phantom of the real thing.

Hence, St. John tells us that our deeds must be righteous as well. He who does right…is righteous. And so they must. It is, after all, what we do that makes the most effective witness. Actions do speak louder than words. And faith without works is empty -so says St. James. He’s right.

The story of our salvation in the crucified and risen Christ is not just a good story. Neither is it a great movie. It’s an actual historical event – a miraculous event that changed all of human history forever. Accept it or reject it, you must do one or the other. And that makes all the difference in this world and in the world yet to come.

With this in mind, let us pray.
Heavenly Father grant to us the courage to proclaim your saving Truth in this world and to this world. Like all of your saints, inspire faithful words and righteous deeds that in all that we say – in all that we do – and in all that we are, we may bear witness to you Son,
our only Savior, Jesus Christ
the crucified and risen Savior of all mankind,

Forgiveness Given and Received

The Reverend J. Howard Cepelak

Trinity Church

Waltham, Massachusetts

Easter II – 15 April 2012

Acts 4:32-35, Psalm 133, I John 1:1 – 2:2, John 20:19 – 31

From St. John’s First Letter:
The apostle wrote, If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just, and will forgive our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness.

From the Gospel According to St. John:
On the evening of the Day of Resurrection, the risen Christ appeared to his disciples and said, Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you…Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.

Let us pray.
May the words of my mouth and the meditations of all our hearts be acceptable in thy sight, O God, our Rock and our Redeemer, our Strength and our Salvation,
Amen. †

One of the most popular of all of Jesus’ teachings is this one, and I paraphrase – I have come that you may have life in abundance – I have come for the fullness of life. That’s what we all want to hear – that somehow and in some way, our faith in Jesus Christ as the crucified and risen Savior will mean a good life for us – a good life measured in terms of health, wealth and happiness in this world and eternal bliss in the next.

Huge and prosperous tele-evangelistic ministries like that of Robert Schuler and Joel Osteen proclaim a message of blessing for the true believers – that faith, combined with positive thinking make for a successful life, a happy marriage and a lucrative career. Although life is most certainly better with faith in Christ, it isn’t necessarily easier or more successful in worldly terms.

As you know, Schuler’s Crystal Cathedral ministries have gone bankrupt. Although it’s most certainly a good thing to have a positive outlook on life rather than living as a gloomy Gus, always down at the mouth and pessimistic – we also know that other forces still move powerfully in this world and often target the one’s who are the most faithful.

The fact is that many other of Jesus’ teachings also apply to the faithful life – like when He said, Take up your cross and follow me. That one we’d rather not hear. This teaching acknowledges that the faithful may be – in fact, will be – tested by the bad guy – sometimes harshly. Each of us has a cross to bear. It’s just part of life in this world.

A consistent theme in my preaching over these past 40 years has been that we cannot cherry pick the scriptures – choosing to believe in the passages that suit us and ignoring or discrediting those that we do not like. People do this all the time. But it’s wrong. We have to take the entirety of God’s revelation and deal with all of it. Faithfulness demands it.

Now some of the passages that get cherry picked frequently – when it applies to us – are those regarding forgiveness. Our Lord told Peter that we must forgive over and over again – even eternally. How many times? Seventy times seven! – That’s a lot! And seven and seventy being holy numbers mean eternal. When we’re the recipient, that’s great. But when we’re the victim of someone else’s offense, well that another story entirely. Do we have it in us to forgive on that dimension of mercy? Or are we much more tempted towards revenge calling it justice than mercy? Please do not misunderstand. Justice remains an attribute of God Himself. But often we seek vengeance and call it justice s that we can feel better about ourselves.

Forgiveness – given and received – is a key to a better life. A quality of essential happiness does indeed come into one’s life when we forgive – however difficult that might be.

Forgiveness of another’s offense sets you free from the hurt and pain of that offense. The failure to forgive means carrying the hurt and pain forever – and the offense, now an artifact of one’s personal history lives on damaging any prospect for happiness. Sins not forgiven are, as Jesus instructed, retained.

I know people – and you do as well – to whom something hurtful happened years and years ago – and having failed to forgive the offense, relive the hurt on a daily basis. Their bitterness stains their lives – the anger blocks the reception of goodness and their souls slowly diminish.

Forgiveness is an essential part of the Way, the Truth and the Life who was – and is – and will be forever, Jesus Christ. The cross proclaims God’s mercy. Our Lord’s blood, shed on that cross, in His own words is shed for you and for many for the remission of sins. It is God’s will that we live free from sin.

Let me re-emphasize – the offender’s repentance has nothing to do with your forgiveness. His repentance – and the mercy that comes with that – is all God’s business – not yours or mine. Simple as that.

So if you’re looking for some kind of dramatic television style statement of I’m sorry with crocodile tears and every other dramatic contrivance, then you’re not there yet – not by a long shot. True repentance has to be from the heart – not forced – not done because it’s expected – and not done because it gets you off the hook or gives a sympathetic advantage.

When the public figure – most likely a politician -indulges such as dramatic repentance it’s so that he or she can get the trouble over with and continue in office to continue in corruption. Pardon my cynicism but you know all too many cases where this is precisely the situation. True repentance some in an entirely different phenomenon.

Now forgiveness also applies to another kind of situation – those that we often call acts of God? Actually, they may very well be simple acts of nature – not sent by God – just part of the fallen condition of nature itself; tornadoes, floods, wild fires, earthquakes, tsunamis, draught, famine – that kind of thing. In these situations, the message for those who believe is to turn to God for help. We should turn to Him in all conditions of life but especially when we’re overwhelmed. To claim that He sent them as a punishment for sin might be a bit overstated. I’m not saying that He can’t do that. He most certainly can. But I am saying that He doesn’t generally operate in this fashion. He created this world – and set it free; and in the freedom, bad things happen.

All of this begs the question, How do we forgive the events such as the ones just mentioned when we have no one in particular to blame – where there’s enough blame to go around several times and when the hurt and heartbreak overwhelm the soul? These things happen all the time.

One of the most dramatic of such events occurred at 2:20 this morning, one hundred years ago today. The world’s largest and most luxurious ocean liner, the RMS Titanic, sank in the icy waters of the North Atlantic, about 400 miles off the coast of Newfoundland. Of the 2,223 passengers on board, 1,514 died. It was one of the most serious losses of life in maritime history – and to this day ranks as the 7th greatest loss of life on a passenger vessel.

I suspect that of all the ships that have ever sailed the seas, the Titanic is the best known. The compelling story of the world’s largest man-made moving object – state of the art in technology, luxury, prestige and glamour, is just that – compelling. Titanic had been hailed as unsinkable. Yet this magnificent creation of near human perfection sank – dramatically, horribly and shockingly.

Dr. Page was Pastor of this church at that time. He preached on the sinking – as did so many other clergymen on the following Sunday. The ship sank on a Monday. Preachers talked about it all over the world six days later. He identified the hubris – the arrogance of believing that anything that man can create could be infallible. To claim that any ship would be unsinkable represented a foolishness that can come only with the arrogant belief in man rather than in the humble belief in God.

When we read about the events of that night, we’re always heartsick. The lifeboats – enough to save only half the passengers – went in to the water half empty. Hubris again – We don’t need lifeboats – the ship is unsinkable! So some thought. People on board did not believe that the ship would go down and were reluctant to get into a lifeboat. Precious time was taken to convince people that they were in fact going down.

And then perhaps the ugliest part – that after the ship went under, the hundreds who were still alive in the water – well the lifeboats did not go back to retrieve them. One survivor said that the most horrible sound was that of the screams for help – only one thing was more horrible – the silence when those screams stopped.

Well, this is just one example of the kind of thing that happens all the time in this world – who to blame? Is blame the issue? Is blame the answer? Does blame solve the problem of the shattered human heart?? In this case, was it the captain’s fault for attempting to set a record for speed in crossing? Were the designers to blame? Or the builders?

Many people blame God for all of these things. They forget that fallen nature combined with human error can have devastating consequences. Faith in either nature or human intelligence, ingenuity or ability always leads to disaster. Nature cannot be controlled. Human beings always disappoint if you believe in them as one should only believe in God. Yet secular humanism – the popular de facto religion that believes in human ability as if it were divine – remains the prevailing religion today – a religion that is destroying our civilization. Even casual Christians are really secular humanists. A deadly mistake.

Although many hold a grudge against God – How can I believe that God is good when He allows these things to happen? They fail to see God the Father on the cross as God the Son. In the freedom accorded to this world, evil happens. That’s why God came into the world – to save it from that evil. If you do not look to the cross, you will only see despair. The bad guy still rules in this world as the Prince of the Air.

What does that mean? It means that all of the lies and deceptions of this world’s false prophets and power brokers fill the air. The bad guy is in charge of everything false – hence he’s called the Father of Lies. Only God the Holy Spirit – for the Holy Spirit is first of all, the Spirit of Truth – can defeat the power of the Father of Lies. When the Holy Spirit fills the air, the Spirit of Truth prevails.

So we might entertain the notion that an individual might forgive God. Now, that’s as arrogant a statement as one can make. Who are we to forgive God? But to the arrogant mind – to the arrogant individual who judges God and finds Him guilty – well, this might make some kind of perverse sense.

If we blame God for everything and hold a grudge against Him – then we fall outside of the mantle of salvation. Forgiveness may be the answer.

Now, this is most important – to forgive God can only happen if you receive His forgiveness first. The arrogant person will not receive God’s mercy because he – or she – is convinced that he has no sin. St. John knew better. He said, If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us. Furthermore, the arrogant cannot receive God’s mercy because reception requires humility. Get the picture?

The fact is, we cannot forgive Him because He has made no offence. We’re just blaming Him for something the bad guy does. But if we receive God’s mercy, then the portal of salvation opens wide and we can enter into the eternal courts of the Lord. Simple as that.

And one last thought. Although God always gives us to opportunity to obey or disobey, nonetheless, some things are commanded. Love God above all else. That’s one. Another is Love thy neighbor as thyself. All of this comes within the commandment – the mandate that we celebrated on Maundy Thursday – Jesus said on the night of His betrayal, Love one another as I have loved you.

The as I have loved you is the hard part – His love went to the cross. Yet He commands it.

We have this commission – reflective of the Great Commission – its own kind of command. As the Father has sent me, so I send you. Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any they are forgiven and it you retain the sins of any they are retained.

He sends us – all of us – on a mission of mercy – that is, a mission of proclamation and of mercy. None of us has the power to do it on his own. But by and in the power of the Holy Spirit, well, we just might make some real progress.

Let us pray.
Heavenly Father bless us with humble hearts always open to the power of your Holy Spirit. Grant to us the grace to give and receive forgiveness and live as you would have us live. And deliver us from the powers of evil in this world, that your goodness and grace may always prevail. We ask this in the name of and for the sake of you Son,
our only Savior, Jesus Christ the Lord. Amen. †

Total Convergence

The Reverend J. Howard Cepelak

Trinity Church

Waltham, Massachusetts

The Day of Resurrection – Easter Sunday – 8 April 2012

Isaiah 25:6-9, Psalm 118:1-2, 14-24; I Corinthians 15:1-11, John 20:1-10

From the Book of the Prophet, Isaiah:
Isaiah wrote, the LORD…will swallow up death forever, and the LORD God will wipe away tears from all faces…let us be glad and rejoice in his salvation.

From St. Paul’s First Epistle to the Corinthians:
The apostle said, I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received, that Christ died for our sins…that he was buried, [and] that he was raised on the third day….

And From the Gospel According to St. John:
Mary Magdalene, heartbroken to find her Lord’s tomb empty on the morning of the third day, and thinking that the body had been stolen, wept. And Jesus asked her, Woman, why are you weeping?

Let us pray.
May the words of my mouth and the meditations of all our hearts be acceptable in thy sight, O God, our Rock and our Redeemer, our Strength and our Salvation, Amen. †
I have entitled this morning’s sermon Total Convergence because in the crucifixion and resurrection of our Lord, Jesus Christ all things, both material and spiritual – all hopes and fears, loves and hatreds, prides and prejudices – all natural forces and all supernatural powers – all rights and wrongs, all good and evil, all truth and falsehood – everything in all creation comes together – converges – at one moment in time – an historical moment in our time – a moment in time from beyond time – that moment when time met eternity – that moment when Jesus Christ died on the cross; a total convergence of all that was – and of all that is – and of all that ever shall be.

In that one moment in time, everything changed – forever. For at the moment, God the Father, in and through God the Son, destroyed death. All that’s good and right and true met face to face on the battlefield of God the Son and all that’s bad and wrong and false met defeat. The power of sin was broken and the hope for salvation given to all mankind. In that total convergence, the One True Holy God won – and saved all of our sin-sick souls as He also redeemed our mortal bodies.

Everything from the first moment of creation had looked forward to that moment of the cross – and everything that has happened since has looked back at it. All true prophecy like that of the great prophet, Isaiah had predicted that someday God would swallow up death. When Jesus died on the cross, that prophecy became reality.

Although we’re here this morning joining with Christians from all over the world, to celebrate the resurrection victory, we know that the work of salvation occurred on Friday – in the crucifixion. In the early hours of Sunday morning, the victory won on Friday became manifest to the world as the crucified Savior became the resurrected Lord.

St. Paul spoke – or wrote – of the resurrection as a stumbling block to the Jews and folly to the gentiles. That’s because the Jews always wanted signs form God as proof of – well just about anything. The resurrection, for whatever reason, was not the sign that they had wanted. So it became a stumbling block to their believing.

The gentiles, so highly influenced by the intellectualism of the age as practiced by generations of Greek philosophers – you know some of their names – Plato, Socrates, Epicurus, Cantor, Plutarch and Aristotle to name just a few among hundreds – wanted everything to make sense in material and rational terms – to fit into the laws of both nature and reason. Logical Greek thinking had no room for the supernatural divine miracle of resurrection. Reluctant to suspend intellect, the resurrection seemed to them a folly – foolishness in the face of reason.

They did not know – and those who worship at the altar of human intelligence in this generation – do not know – that one need not suspend one’s intellect to believe but rather allow for the possibility that all of mankind’s highest and best thoughts can be fulfilled by faith and will be fulfilled by faith in the divine Truth – capital T. Truly, we can only discover that which God has chosen to reveal.

We may think that we, by virtue of our intelligence discovered some great truth. But that discovery comes only because God has chosen, at some point in time, to reveal it. And our intelligence, inferior to His, yet comes from Him as He had created us in His image in the first place.

Suspension is not the issue. Fulfillment is. Knowing the limits of our intelligence brings us to an appreciation for the infinite intelligence of God Himself. We can gain no greater wisdom. And with that wisdom we see clearly the foolishness that we once indulged. Paraphrasing St. Paul, The foolishness of God is wiser than the wisdom of man.

Eventually, many did believe. St. Paul simply preached Christ crucified and risen and pointed out that their Greek rationality did indeed have room for an unknown god – He said that Jesus Christ filled that gap. Over time, most of the ancient world claimed Christ as Lord and Savior.

Faith for the intellectuals – both genuine of which there are few and pseudo of which there are many – is always a difficult proposition. But permit me an example of a man – an authentic intellectual – who just recently told me about how he came to believe in the resurrected Christ.

A physician by vocation and a philosopher by avocation, he subjects everything to careful intellectual analysis. He identifies himself as a scientist, has the best education available, reads everything that he can and both practices medicine and teaches it as well. Now in his mid 70s, he still values intellect especially as it applies to healing. Now, this is how he came to believed in the crucified and risen Lord.

About 25 years ago, his wife died from cancer at the age of 48. They had been high school sweethearts, got married right after college and together had been blessed with three children. They were the kind of couple where when one inhaled the other exhaled; they thought the same thoughts shared the same values did almost everything together.

He had been brought up a Unitarian. His wife had been an Episcopalian. But church life in either form had been very casual indeed.

For him, theology, doctrine and Bible study were an academic pursuit without significant value for living. Although he found some degree of truth in this particular field, he had missed the ultimate Truth. He was one to believe, as so many do, that truth is relative, that all religions are pretty much the same and all lead to God – God being defined – in his mind – as the impersonal source of creation.

His wife’s affliction with cancer tested him. With only the most casual belief in God and no faith in Jesus Christ other than as a great teacher, the whole issue of suffering and eventually death hit him at the very center of his being.

He saw himself as a healer. He believed only in the miracle of science. Yet, for the one whom he loved he could not heal and science had no answer. He was useless.

Her suffering seemed meaningless. Her pain torn him apart. And her death left him an empty void. Life without her was not worth living. He kept on for the sake of their children.

About eight years later, on a trip to Israel for an international medical conference, he took time to visit the Church of the Holy Sepulcher, the magnificent sanctuary built on the traditional site of the crucifixion at one end and of the resurrection at the other. He noticed an especially beautiful icon. In front of the icon was a bank of votive candles. Not one for ceremony, he nonetheless took a candle lit it and placed it in the rack. He whispered, Sweetheart, this is for you.

Standing next to him was a Greek Orthodox priest who had heard the whisper. The priest put his hand on his shoulder and said in English, You’ve lost someone you loved. With those words, he began to cry – weep actually – something he never did – and he wept to use his words, uncontrollably. Through the tears, he saw the crucifix nearby at the location of the actual crucifixion.

Literally, in that moment in time, everything in his life converged. His wife’s suffering took on the perspective of sanctification in and by Christ’s suffering. Her death fit into His. And His resurrection meant that she lived. He became powerfully peaceful – for the first time since she had died. And he knew the meaning of the peace that surpasses human understanding. Through no exercise of his own mind, the mind of God blessed him with perfect peace.

He loved his wife more than he could ever express. But he came to know that God loved her even more. And all of these thoughts and all of these feelings – everything that they had shared together and all of his life after her death – even the emptiness of life without her – converged. It all somehow made sense. It all fit.

And it was, finally, all good – not because any form of suffering, pain or death is ever, in and of itself, good – it is not – but because the suffering and the pain the sorrow and tears- even death itself – have been redeemed in the cross of Christ.

That’s how it happened for him. And in that moment, the power of the crucified and risen Savior bound up another broken heart. Convergence – total convergence.

All of us who love know that pain – the almost unbearable heartbreak of the loss of one so dearly loved. True love always suffers.

Jesus spoke to the grieving Mary and asked her, Woman, why are you weeping? In some sense, He asks each of us the same question – Why are you weeping? We know, by faith – that He fulfills everything. Even our grief manifested in our tears finds fulfillment. And in Him, we also know that although weeping may tarry for the night, joy comes with the morning.

Easter tells us that finally, goodness prevails. In the total convergence of everything that happened in the moment in time from beyond time that Jesus Christ died, the holy love of the righteous God won the victory for everyone who will simply believe – and in faith – by faith – and through faith – love Him who loved us so much as to go to the cross for us – there to die so that we could live.

By faith everything converges and makes sense. In faith, everything comes together for the good. And through faith, we win the victory that Christ won for us.

So we can say,

The strife is o’er, the battle done;
The victory of life is won;
The song of triumph has begun:

Let us pray.
Heavenly Father, we thank you for the gift of our salvation – for your Son’s death on the cross of our redemption and for His victory won for us that we might live forever. As He rose from the dead, so bless us with a full faith in Him that we may rise up victorious over all our afflictions and rejoice and be glad all the days of our lives and so live that
all that we say and
all that we do and
all that we are
will honor and glorify the same
Jesus Christ,
our crucified Redeemer,
our risen Savior –
and the only Savior of all mankind,
Amen. †

The Power Struggle Continues

The Reverend J. Howard Cepelak
Trinity Church

Waltham, Massachusetts

The Sacrament of Holy Communion
Palm Sunday – 1 April 2012

Isaiah 50:4-9a, Psalm 118:25-29, Philippians 2:5-11, Mark 11:1-11

From the Book of the Prophet Isaiah:
I hid not my face from shame or spitting. For the LORD God helps me; therefore, I have set my face like a flint, and I know that I shall not be put to shame; he who vindicates me is near.

From St. Paul’s Epistle to the Philippians:
Regarding Jesus Christ, the apostle wrote, And being found in human form he humbled himself and became obedient unto death, even death on a cross. Therefore God has highly exalted him….

And From the Gospel According to St. Mark:
Welcoming Jesus into the holy city of Jerusalem, the crowds shouted, Hosanna! Blessed is he who comes in the name of he Lord! Blessed is the kingdom of our father David that is coming! Hosanna in the highest!

Let us pray.
May the words of my mouth and the meditations of all our hears be acceptable in thy sight, O God, our Rock and our Redeemer, our Strength and our Salvation,
Amen. †

This is a magic wand – a real magic wand. In fact, this wand is an exact replica of the wand used by one of the fantasy world’s most important and powerful wizards, Harry Potter himself. He bought it Ollivander’s Wand Shop on Diagon Alley in London. So you know that this is the real thing!

Now, I will prove it. By waving this wand and uttering the proper incantation, I will turn this entire congregation into frogs. The incantation is, of course, in Latin, Congregation frogmentum – so here goes – in just one second, all of you will be frogs. Congregation frogmentum!! There – Hmmmmm – I don’t see any frogs. Let’s try again – Congregation frogmentum! Ooops! You didn’t change. It didn’t work. Did I hear a ribbet from the choir??? It’s good to be green!!!

Now as all of you well know, there’s no such thing as a real magic wand. This wand holds no magic – there’s no Ollivander’s Wand Shop and there’s no Diagon Alley. And there’s no wizard named Harry. It’s all a part of the magical world of fairy tale.

Magic, the instrument of which is often a wand, is itself not real; it’s the art of illusion. When David Copperfield, currently one of he world’s most renowned magicians, made Diamond Head in Hawaii disappear – and then the statue of Liberty in New York City, neither the mountain nor the monument really disappeared. They just seemed to. For those who saw it, one moment they were there and the next – presto – they were gone; but not really. How he did it I don’t know. But what I do know that it was all an illusion, a trick, a deception – a great deception – a convincing deception – a thrilling deception – but a deception nonetheless. Magic.

We love magic. David Copperfield and other great magicians become multi-millionaires by performing their various illusions. And the more dramatic they are the more that we enjoy them.

Nothing wrong with that. We know it’s a magic show. We come to see the illusion. And we delight in the deception – so long as we know that we’re being deceived – that it’s not really real.

But there’s another kind of magic – a virulent kind that deceives claiming truth, makes promises that can only be illusions and rather than entertain and delight, it entraps and destroys. It’s so bad that the magicians will never identify themselves as deceivers – neither will they call their work evil.

It’s the kind of deception that characterizes the ongoing power struggle between good and evil, right and wrong, truth and falsehood. The good, the right and the true never deceive. The evil, the wrong and the liars always deceive. It’s how they operate in this world as they are empowered by the great deceiver, the Father of Lies, also known as the one who constantly accuses the good of the evil that he performs. And right there is one of the first points of identification of the deceiver. He always blames someone else for the destruction that comes from him.

Keep all of his in mind as we look at how our Lord used His power. In Him was there was no deception. From Him came no evil. And trough Him we find Truth.

When he entered the holy city of Jerusalem, He arrived to the cheers of the crowds who hailed Him shouting, Hosanna! Blessed is He who comes on the name of the Lord – hoping that He would be the One who would deliver them from the oppression of their Roman masters. They sought an earthly kingdom like that of their greatest King – King David – when the nation ruled that part of the ancient world. Living under the brutal Roman authority, they hungered for redemption.

When people feel desperate, when their lot seems hopeless, they will believe in any one who speaks the words they want to hear, who promises to give them what they want – and all of this will come at no cost to them. In other words, the people – and all of human history testify to this – will place their faith, hope and devotion in the one who embodies and proclaims the fulfillment of their illusion.

The people in that crowd had come to Jerusalem to celebrate the Passover commemorating the passing over of the angel of death when they were enslaved in Egypt. But just how much the majority of the people who comprised that crowd actually knew about their religious heritage remains a mystery. We know that faithful Jews studied their scriptures and practiced their religion.

But many others – perhaps the majority of the people – had only a casual knowledge of their faith and the history of their spiritual heritage. Most did not even speak the language of the Holy Scriptures – Hebrew. Most spoke Greek and the local Aramaic.

Although not enslaved in their generation, as had been their ancestors in Egypt, they nonetheless felt the brutal burden of Rome. They wanted a Messiah who would lead the revelation and set the people free. They wanted a military hero forgetting that Rome’s overwhelming power could easily crush them.

Perhaps they had forgotten how costly had been their last revolution. Throwing off the tyranny of the Seleucids in the Maccabeen Revolution of just a hundred and fifty years before, they achieved a temporary victory. But sadly, their war heroes became corrupt in the next generation and the Romans viciously conquered them. Thousands upon thousands were crucified. Jewish blood situated the soil.

Now, years later, the people were once again desperate. Caught up in the possibility of deliverance, they sought a man who could wave a magic wand – or in this case, a powerful, if you will magic sword, and give them a victory that was truly impossible to achieve. Magical thinking.

Assuming that most of the people did not know their religion well – or if they did, did not take it seriously having compromised it under the cultural pressure of the Greeks and Romans – perhaps they were unfamiliar with the writings of the prophet, Isaiah who had predicted that the true Messiah would come as a suffering servant and not as a mighty warrior – a servant who would endure rejection, hatred, disgrace, torture, suffering and humiliation – but would ultimately come out victorious because the Lord God would give him the victory.

The suffering servant would win this worldly victory having defeated the powers of this world at their source – their source being from the power of the world beyond – or better expressed, from the world below. Heaven would defeat hell. Spiritual victory in – and over – the material world.

Jerusalem would be the battlefield – but not the whole of that city – but a small hill in the shape of a skull just outside the city gate. There the battle would be fought. There the suffering servant – the one who did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped but would humble himself and become obedient even unto death – death on a cross – that cross was the battlefield.

No bloodshed as in most warfare; only the shed blood of the suffering servant. And that would be the shed blood of God made man – of Jesus Christ, the true Messiah and not of just one more worldly power broker who would so willing shed everyone else’s blood and make of everyone else his suffering servants. And his method of operation would be false promises – deceptions in which the people would believe as they gave themselves to slavery in the faith that he would make them free. Magical thinking with disastrous consequences. Yet the way of this world – then as well as now.

So we come to this sacred table and share in the Sacrament of our deliverance. We come to feast at His victory banquet. We come for the ultimate liberation from the powers of sin and death. We come to taste of the eternal kingdom won on the suffering servant’s cross on which He shed His blood. And we say, Take and drink. The blood of Christ shed for you.

Nothing magical about this at all. No wooden wands – just a wooden cross. No magic – just a divine miracle. No magicians – just the True Messiah.

So come to this sacred table and receive the victory won for you. And feed on Him in thy hearts by faith, with thanksgiving.

Let us pray.
Heavenly Father, deliver us we pray from the sin if magical thinking that salvation can come from anyone other than from you. Open our hearts to your miracle. Enlighten our minds with your Truth. And deliver us from the powers of this world, that we may taste of your Kingdom now – and live there forever –
in and through your Son,
our only Savior,
Jesus Christ the Lord.
Amen. †