The Reverend J. Howard Cepelak
The Sacrament of Holy Communion
Pentecost XXIII – 4 November 2012 – Memorial Sunday
Deuteronomy 6:1-9, Psalm 146, Hebrews 9:11-14, Mark 12:28-34
From the Book of Deuteronomy:
Hear O Israel: The Lord our God is one Lord; and you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your might…these words which I command you this day shall be upon your heart; …teach them diligently to your children.
From the Epistle to the Hebrews:
Regarding the perfect sacrifice who was – and is – and will be forever, Jesus Christ, the writer said, For if the sprinkling of defiled persons with the blood of goats and bulls and with the ashes of a heifer sanctifies for the purification of the flesh, how much more shall the blood of Christ…purify your conscience from dead works to serve the living God.
From the Gospel According to St. Mark:
When asked which commandment is the first of all, our Lord said, Hear O Israel, the Lord our God is one; and you shall love him with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind, and with all your strength.
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,
Without a doubt, all of Holy Scripture bears witness to the greatness – to the goodness – to the holiness – and to the perfection of God. All of Holy Scripture instructs us that our love for Him must be unconditional – that He and He alone must be our highest priority.
All of the law – all of the prophets – and the Gospels themselves – as well as the instruction – the commandment – of our Lord Himself say the same thing. Set God first. Give to Him – and to Him alone – all the glory – all the honor – and all the power – all of your love, commitment, faith, hope, adoration, devotion, praise, and in short, worship.
Everything else comes after that – and what comes after will be determined by that priority. Faithfulness to Him brings with it the blessing of abundant life. God has revealed this to us in His Son, that when God is our priority we will receive the perfection of eternal life. That’s the reward for our faithfulness. Unfaithfulness brings despair and destruction and an eternity of abject, unimaginable misery.
Without God as the priority, we become radically open to the power of evil as it operates in this world and in our hearts, minds, bodies and souls. If the evil takes hold, and when, under the control of that perverse power, we begin to call evil good and good evil, see vengeance as justice, love as hatred, family and friends as instruments of self- interest and self – gratification and death as life. We loose the opportunity for the full reception of the power of the One True and Living God who alone loves us – so much so as to die for us to defeat both sin and death.
The blessed assurance of eternal life in the glorious presence of God Himself, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, has been achieved in the sacrifice of God the Son. Under the Law – which had as its priority the unconditional love for God – nonetheless commanded the ongoing offering of animal blood sacrifices to insure God’s blessings and to atone for our sins.
God instituted the New Covenant of Salvation by ending the sacrificial system that offered the blood of animals to atone for the guilt of a defiled people. With the divine sacrifice of God the Son, the one, full, perfect and all sufficient sacrifice for the sins of the whole world has been offered. Only in the shedding of divine blood can the divine blessing of the perfection of mercy be achieved. Only His perfect divinity – combined with His perfect humanity – is powerful enough to save us.
It happened once in human history, 2,000 year ago. It happened once and only once. It will not happen again. His cross stands as our history’s fulcrum. Everything before our Lord’s crucifixion and resurrection looked forward to it. And everything after it looks back at it – either to accept it and live forever or reject it and – well, you know what happens then.
This one great historical event in time from beyond time comes to living memory as we celebrate the Sacrament of Holy Communion, the Sacrament of Eternal Life. In this great Sacrament of His saving love, we receive Him into our selves so that He will receive us into Kingdom. Jesus said, (paraphrase) You must eat my flesh and drink my blood to live forever.
As we observe Memorial Sunday today, we carry on a practice that originated in the second century. Variously designated as the Remembrance of the Faithful Departed, Feast of All Saints, Remembrance Sunday or Memorial Sunday we remember the lives of those who died to this life to be born again to life eternal. We remember before God, those who set God as their highest priority, knowing full well that no one does that perfectly but that some do it better than others. Those who do and did it well are the true saints. The rest of us are the lesser saints in greater need of the saving grace.
In the second century, those remembered were mostly the martyrs of the faith who died at the hands of the pagan Romans. They kept the faith in all conditions of life and even under persecution and death. Hence, they fulfilled their part of God’s new covenant established in and through Jesus Christ. Having set the example of true faithfulness, they set a standard to be emulated as their memory is venerated. They had proved themselves worthy of our admiration.
The age of martyrdom ended in 313 when the Emperor Constantine issued the Edit of Milan prohibiting the persecution of Christians.
In church history, remembering the martyrs accomplished what the Old Testament Law required – that we teach diligently the priority of God to our children and throughout the generations. The martyrs became the heroes and heroines of the faith, – men and women to whom the upcoming generation could look for inspiration and courage when adversity would come in their lives. Hence, as the Deuteronomist instructed, set God as your priority and teach this to your children.
Over the centuries, the Feast of All Saints broadened to include remembering those who set good examples including those who had not been martyred. Eventually, especially after the Protestant Reformation with the emergence of the free churches, all those who clamed Christ could somehow be included.
Although not saints with a capital “S” there were most certainly lesser saints, indeed, saintly sinners who sought the Lord and loved Him however imperfectly. They sought His mercy and desired His saving grace. In other words, the salvation of the sinner / saint – and that includes all of us here as well as most people in any generation of Christians – availed themselves of the benefits of Christ’s sacrifice and trusted in the divine mercy manifested on His cross and offered to us by His grace – received by faith and celebrated in this most Holy Sacrament.
That’s why we’re here today – because God set us as His priority for the sake of our redemption and did – for us and for those whom we love – and whom God loves – what we, in our sin, could not – and cannot – do for ourselves.
With this in mind, let us pray.
Heavenly Father, grant us the grace to set you as our highest priority that we may avail ourselves of your redeeming mercy and saving grace. Grant that we may so love you in all that we say, in all that we do and in all that we are, that we may prove ourselves worthy of your sacrifice, offered for us on the cross of your Son, our only Savior, Jesus Christ the Lord.