The Reverend J. Howard Cepelak
The Sacrament of Holy Communion
Remembrance of the Faithful Departed – Memorial Sunday – Pentecost XXI
Revelation 7:9-17, Psalm 34:1-10, I John 3:1-3, Matthew 5:1-12
From the Revelation to St. John:
[A]nd behold, a great multitude which no man could number, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and tongues, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed in white robes and crying out with a loud voice, Salvation belongs to our God who sits upon the throne and to the Lamb!
From St. John’s First Letter:
Beloved, we are God’s children now.… And everyone who thus hopes in him purifies himself as he is pure.
And From the Gospel According to St. Matthew:
Our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ spoke these words, Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness…Blessed are the merciful…. [and] Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.
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.
This morning’s sermon is actually two sermons in one. The first deals with church architecture and the second with the salvation of the soul. The two are interrelated and I will demonstrate that. But half way through, we will switch gears. But by the end the two will be brought together. So in the immortal words of Betty Davis, Fasten your seatbelts. It’s going to be a bumpy ride.
One of the most distressing aspects of contemporary church life in these United States as well as in Europe is the dreadful – dare I say ghastly, inhumane, profane, brutal and most certainly ungodly architecture of modern church buildings. A church building is supposed to be a sermon in stone, brick or wood – at least an inspiration to those who both look at it and enter into it – and at best, an taste of heaven by virtue of its inspiring beauty.
Currently, we see two trends. First, many people seem to want the church building to be an extension of their living room – a place to flop down, chill out, relax and be entertained – a come as you are kind of place so that you can leave as you were.
This stands over and against the true purpose of a church which is to lift up the heart, mind, body and soul of the worshipper to the very gates of heaven – that no matter how you are when you come in, you will leave having come at least a little bit closer to God. The church building should touch a worshipper’s soul – and change that soul, lifting it up to a higher righteousness. The gap between that higher righteousness and the sin sick soul can be gigantic. But God in Christ bridges that gap. His house of worship should facilitate crossing that bridge.
The second trend is that of abject ugliness. Now, I know that beauty is in the eye of the beholder. But there remain standards that distinguish beauty and ugliness.
Ugliness has no place in church architecture although it plays the major role in so many of our contemporary buildings designed by architects either angry with God if they believe in Him at all or out to make a name for themselves by being as absurd as possible in their designs. If you cannot get recognition for beauty, get it for ugliness.
Many of them are part of what is called the brutal minimalist school of architecture currently at the so-called cutting edge of the discipline. Witness the Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels in Los Angeles, and both the Roman and the Episcopal Cathedrals in Vermont – prime examples of the brutal minimalism that represents the degradation of the current state of our religion – a degradation of heaven’s beauty.
Scripture provides us with a dramatically different vision of heaven, of the eternal kingdom or the courts of the Lord. Biblical descriptions ranging from Isaiah’s to St. John’s in the Book of Revelation, speak of a place of astounding beauty – in fact, the perfection of the beauty of holiness.
The Biblical inspiration and the working of the Holy Spirit throughout the Christian ages, has resulted in the long history of inspiring sacred architecture with examples of divinely inspired churches ranging from huge and magnificent cathedrals to simple but beautiful chapels and meeting houses. This both honor and glorify God – the purpose not only of church architecture but also of the Christian life as well.
Now, here’s where we shift gears from architecture to soul salvation.
One of the best examples is the chapel at Stanford University called Memorial Church – a stunning exercise in holiness executed in a Byzantine – Romanesque style and laden with mosaics, frescos and astounding stained glass.
Although a non-denominational church, this building is one of the most glorious sermons in architecture in the entire world. It boldly proclaims Jesus Christ as the Lord and Saviour of all mankind. The front façade of the building depicts the risen Christ welcoming the righteous into the kingdom of heaven. The central stained glass window over the high alter shows the crucifixion. The mosaics preach the life of Christ performing healing miracles, teaching the Sermon on the Mount and glorifying every aspect of his conception, birth, life, teachings, miracles, death, resurrection and ascension.
Now, why am I so interested in Stanford University’s Memorial Church? I came across it as I researched the memorial service held for Steve Jobs about whom I spoke in my October 9th sermon – a self-proclaimed Buddhist – yet whose funeral was held in one of the world’s most magnificent Christian churches.
You see, I find this man’s life and accomplishments compelling. His contribution to the world has dramatically changed – for the better – the lives of billions of people. Furthermore, his intense and astoundingly creative intelligence, his passionate love for life, for his family and especially for his son, Reed – and his devotion to beauty – something not often noted about his great man – speak of a man upon whom the Holy Spirit has most certainly worked – a man blessed in his genetic makeup by God the creator and a man for whom, like all of us who have ever lived – one for whom Christ hung on the cross to expiate our sins – yours – mine – and Steve’s.
I know that salvation depends upon our reception of Jesus Christ as the only Lord and Saviour of all mankind. But I also know that many otherwise good and truly wonderful, kind, creative, loving and self-sacrificing people who miss the point here and there in their lives – as do you and I who claim the cross – nonetheless, these good people for whatever reason never place their faith in the One True God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit.
Yet we love these people. And we hope – and pray – that by God’s grace, they may yet arrive in the beautiful courts of the Lord. If we, who are sinners, can love them so much how much more does God, who has no sin but loves in perfection – how much more does He love them? Jesus bears witness to this holy love in both His teachings and in His sacrifice. It’s full application remains somewhat of a mystery – the holy mystery of salvation.
Yes I – and I know many of you – hope that somehow and in some way they receive another opportunity to receive the Saviour even after they depart from this world. Many parts of the church teach of this opportunity. Many say that you must accept Jesus as your Lord and Saviour before you doe to this life. If not, you miss heaven and literally go to hell. Both positions justify themselves in the Biblical witness. Yet I, and you, hope. There is no sin in hope so long as it’s hope in the Lord.
Now I say I hope because Steve Jobs (and so many others) never confessed a faith in Jesus Christ. Yet I hope – there’s that word again – that deep down in the center of their souls, that there’s a genuine hunger and thirst for righteousness, a burring desire to see God face to face and a purity of motive and intention that will at least bring these otherwise non-believing people to the throne of the Most Holy God, to Jesus Christ the King of Heaven and the King of Angels, and see Him face to face, for the face of God the Father is the face of God the Son – and upon seeing His face, believe in Him – and in believing be saved for the one whom they now see is the one whom they so deeply loved but did not know it or could not receive it on this side of death.
Steve’s sister gave a eulogy – profoundly touching – in which she talked about how he changed her life by virtue of his kindness – of how he devoted himself to his work which was, for him, play – about his endless pursuit of beauty – eternal beauty – an astoundingly humble man of such great accomplishment who treasured happiness and who loved to love. He especially loved his wife and children.
His only son, Reed, held a special place in his father’s heart. (Steve, as a child, did not have a special place in his biological father’s heart.) Steve said, as his physical condition worsened, that he made a bargain with God – or with whatever – those are his words – that he wanted to live to see Reed graduate from high school. Now it’s important the he said God because in true Buddhism, there is no God let alone eternal life in heaven.
Perhaps, Steve had in his consciousness, a space for God. Maybe the bargain, (please note, we can make NO BARGAINS WITH GOD. We think we can, but we cannot) the terms of which remain undisclosed, had a hope for God – and in that hope the possibility of the purification of the righteousness that comes when we desire to see God face to face – and approach his heavenly throne upon which sits the Lamb of God who takest away the sins of the world.
We know that people of all nations, tribes, tongues and races stand around His heavenly throne. In St. John’s vision, they proclaim that salvation belongs to the Lamb, the Lamb of God that takes away the sins of the world – the Lamb of God who was and is and will be forever Jesus Christ the incarnate God. And, dressed in the white clothes righteousness, they sing His praise. We know that all are welcome, but will all make it?
Again, we’re saved by faith. I just hope that God offers another opportunity on the other side of death to this life so that those whom we love who do not now believe can believe and be saved.
Hope – St, John says that everyone who thus hopes in him purifies himself in that hope. A holy hope purifies.
Steve Job’s last words before fading out of consciousness were simply – Oh wow! Oh wow!, Oh wow!
His sister said that he had gazed into the eyes of his wife and each of his children and then began his departure. No more words were spoken to them. She said that he then looked far beyond them and with a gentle smile simply said, Oh wow! Oh wow! Oh wow! Then he was gone.
I hope that what he saw was the face of God and in seeing believed. He loved beauty and spoke of eternal beauty. If one can see the face of God, what can be more beautiful? From what his sister said of him, Steve hungered and thirsted for righteousness. He had a purity of heart. I believe that counts for a lot.
I do not believe in coincidence. His funeral was held in that most magnificent building dedicated to Jesus Christ. He was memorialized in the beauty of holiness with every inch of that architectural masterpiece proclaiming that salvation belongs to the Lamb. And I hope that when he said, Oh wow!, it was because he saw the holiness of Christ, and as a child of God, found a welcome into the heart of the Father.
As we come to this sacred table of the Sacrament of Eternal Life, we come to taste here the feast of the banquet of haven. We remember the faithful departed. We’re united with them in communion as we share in the Sacrament called Holy Communion.
And we place our hope in Jesus Christ, in His broken Body and in His shed Blood. For He, and He alone, is the Lamb of God – the bread of heaven and the cup of salvation. In Him only can we hope.
Let us pray.
Heavenly Father, as we give you thanks for the saving sacrifice of your Son our only Saviour, so we pray that in your grace and by your mercy, you will receive all the souls of those who love, of those who hunger and thirst for your righteousness and for all who seek the beauty of holiness. Grant to us who claim your name that we may bear a faithful witness to you -that other will believe as they see our witness and enter into heaven, to dwell in your courts forever.
We ask this in the name of
and for the sake of you Son,
Jesus Christ, the King of Heaven,