EASTER IV – Cantate Domino
Introit: (Psalm 98) O sing unto the Lord a new song, alleluia: for he hath done marvellous things, alleluia: in the sight of the nations hath he shewed his righteousness, alleluia, alleluia, alleluia. Ps. With his own right hand, and with his holy arm: hath he gotten himself the victory. Glory be … O sing unto the Lord …
Collect: O Almighty God, who alone canst order the unruly wills and affections of sinful men: grant unto thy people, that they may love the thing which thou commandest, and desire that which thou dost promise; that so, among the sundry and manifold changes of the world, our hearts may surely there be fixed, where true joys are to be found; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
OT Lesson: And in that day thou shalt say, O Lord, I will praise thee: though thou wast angry with me, thine anger is turned away, and thou comfortedst me. Behold, God is my salvation; I will trust, and not be afraid: for the Lord God is my strength and my song; he also is become my salvation. Therefore with joy shall ye draw water out of the wells of salvation. And in that day shall ye say, Praise the Lord, call upon his name, declare his doings among the people, make mention that his name is exalted. Sing unto the Lord; for he hath done excellent things: this is known in all the earth. Cry out and shout, thou inhabitant of Zion: for great is the Holy One of Israel in the midst of thee. (Isaiah 12.1-6)
Alleluia. (Ps 118) The right hand of the Lord bringeth mighty things to pass: the right hand of the Lord hath exalted me. Alleluia.
Epistle: Dearly beloved: Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, and cometh down from the Father of lights, with whom is no variableness, neither shadow of turning. Of his own will begat he us with the word of truth, that we should be a kind of firstfruits of his creatures. Wherefore, my beloved brethren, let every man be swift to hear, slow to speak, slow to wrath: for the wrath of man worketh not the righteousness of God. Wherefore lay apart all filthiness and superfluity of naughtiness, and receive with meekness the engrafted word, which is able to save your souls. (James 1.17-21)
Alleluia. (Rom 6) Christ being raised from the dead dieth no more: death hath no more dominion over him. Alleluia.
The Holy Gospel: At that time: Jesus said unto his disciples: I go my way to him that sent me; and none of you asketh me, Whither goest thou? But because I have said these things unto you, sorrow hath filled your heart. Nevertheless I tell you the truth; It is expedient for you that I go away: for if I go not away, the Comforter will not come unto you; but if I depart, I will send him unto you. And when he is come, he will reprove the world of sin, and of righteousness, and of judgement: of sin, because they believe not on me; of righteousness, because I go to my Father, and ye see me no more; of judgement, because the prince of this world is judged. I have yet many things to say unto you, but ye cannot bear them now. Howbeit when he, the Spirit of truth, is come, he will guide you into all truth: for he shall not speak of himself; but whatsoever he shall hear, that shall he speak: and he will shew you things to come. He shall glorify me: for he shall receive of mine, and shall shew it unto you. All things that the Father hath are mine: therefore said I, that he shall take of mine, and shall shew it unto you. (St John 16.5-15)
“Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, and cometh down from the Father.”
What is the best gift you have ever received? We can probably all readily answer this question. Perhaps it was something big and expensive, but most likely it was something small—something which would be totally meaningless to anyone else—but important and deeply meaningful to you because of the spirit of love in which it was given. We can probably all likewise think of the worst gift we were ever given—something we thought we wanted but when we got it proved to be a disappointment, was broken or did not function properly, or that clearly had no thought or sentiment behind it. In today’s Epistle reading, St James says that “Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, and cometh down from the Father of lights, with whom is no variableness, neither shadow of turning.” Now he clearly does not mean that every gift we receive literally descends to us direct from God (although, since God is the Creator of all things, that is ultimately true), but rather that the very thing that makes those best gifts important and special to us—the love behind their giving—has its source in God.
Today’s Gospel lesson is again taken from Our Lord’s final discourse with His disciples at the Last Supper. In last Sunday’s Gospel, He warns them of His departure, and the sorrow it will involve, but reassures them that there will be a purpose in that suffering—it will be like labour pains, giving birth to a new form of life. In today’s Gospel, He explains more precisely the nature of that new life. The departure of the visible, bodily presence of Christ, first through death, and then by His Ascension, although it would entail great sorrow and loss for them, would inaugurate a new and living relationship with God, as Our Lord imparted two precious and life-altering gifts upon His Church—peace with God, and His Holy Spirit. Thus, today’s readings set before us the essence of the Easter season: resurrection and transformation from worldliness to new life.
“It is expedient for you that I go away,” Jesus says, “for if I go not away, the Paraclete will not come unto you; but if I depart, I will send him unto you.” The Greek word, παράκλητος or “paraclete,” is a difficult one to translate. It literally means one called alongside, and its most usual reference is to a legal advocate—someone who speaks on your behalf and in your defence. “Comforter” is the familiar King James word, but in the sense of “fortifier” or “supporter,” rather than “consoler” (although the Spirit does that, too). So Jesus is telling His disciples that only by His departure will they be able to know the real and eternal presence of God in their lives, through the power, the support, the communication of the Holy Spirit. So long as Jesus was physically present with them, they would continue to know Him only in an external way—a great teacher and miracle-worker, a martyr, perhaps a messiah, but nothing more. Only by His departure would that become a deeper, spiritual relationship. He says, in effect, “the Holy Spirit will actually take all that I have taught, and all that I am about to do, and infuse it into your lives. When the Holy Spirit comes to you, I won’t just be standing next to you—I will be in you, and you will be inMe!”
He then goes on to speak of the effects of this new spiritual relationship: “When he is come, he will reprove the world of sin, and of righteousness, and of judgement: of sin, because they believe not on me; of righteousness, because I go to my Father, and ye see me no more; of judgement, because the prince of this world is judged.” To know God through the Holy Spirit is to have a new and significantly different worldview; sin and righteousness and judgement are no longer seen in terms of worldly standards and authorities. To talk and think about human life, morality, and even religion, in terms of “values” is to conform our minds to this present world. The language of values assumes that we human beings determine our own destiny and goals, that we create what is good for us, and that we form our own character. Christianity teaches quite the opposite. God as Judge determines the destiny of us all. God creates the true human good by the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, and then recreates, renews, and transforms our lives and characters by re-shaping them according to the likeness of His dear Son. Thus our good is not of our own effort (much less our own essence); it is a gift from God, and the gift of His goodness is our new birth. The resurrection is the basis of our faith—we trust in the God who raised Jesus from the dead. And the resurrection shows us our eternal future. As mentioned in a previous reflection, especially in St John’s Gospel, sin is essentially unbelief—a rejection of the revealed truth of God in Jesus Christ, while righteousness is obedience to that truth. When God’s truth is obeyed, the basis of judgement will no longer be a worldly standard, but a heavenly one, “because the prince of this world is judged,” and proven false. The Holy Spirit will be the living Guide to all that is true, because He is “the Spirit of Truth.”
Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, and cometh down from the Father of lights, with whom is no variableness, neither shadow of turning. Of his own will he brought us to birth by the Word of Truth, that we should be a kind of first-fruits of all his creation.
“What is truth?” asked Pilate at Christ’s trial. That has been the perennial question since the dawn of the human race. For many today, truth is relative, nebulous, ever-changing, purely personal and subjective—the only truth is “my truth,” and only “for this moment.” But is that really to be our standard? “What is truth?” The Gospels show us that the better question might be, “Who is truth?” for Jesus says earlier in this same discourse, “I am the Way, the Truth, and the Life: no man cometh unto the Father, but by me (John 14.6).” The truth, then, is not some abstract philosophical concept, but a concrete and living Person. The truth of God is fully revealed in the Person of Jesus Christ through the power of the Holy Spirit. That is the Christian Faith. “When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all truth, for he will not speak on his own authority, but whatever he hears he will speak … He will glorify me, for he will take what is mine and declare it to you.”Just as Our Lord never sought His own glory, but was always seeking to glorify the Father, so the Holy Spirit never seeks His own glory, but always points us to Jesus and seeks to glorify Him. The Spirit shines the light of Christ into the hearts of sinners and turns our eyes to the eternal truth of God. But, in pointing people to Christ for righteousness, the Spirit also reveals judgement upon those who refuse His light, preferring to dwell in the shadows. The Spirit’s mission is to guide Christ’s people—collectively, not individually—into truth—God’s Truth; not following “the unruly wills and affections of sinful men” or “the sundry and manifold changes of the world,” but loving “the thing which Thou commandest.” Our lives find their truth and meaning in God’s engagement with our humanity through the Son and by the Spirit. As St James says, “Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, and cometh down from the Father of lights, with whom is no variableness, neither shadow of turning. Of his own will begat he us with the Word of Truth.”
As the Body of Christ, we need each other in order to function in the way Our Lord intended, but to do so we have to follow the leading of the Holy Spirit, rather than pursuing our own ways and then trying to claim them as the work of the Spirit when we get what we want. Many people nowadays claim that their experience of “the work of the Holy Spirit” contradicts some teaching of Christ or some commandment of God revealed in the Scriptures. But such a contradiction is impossible. As God told Malachi, “I am the LORD, I change not (Mal 3.6).” God does not change in either His goodwill towards us or in His revelation of Himself to us. Thus, the Holy Spirit cannot possibly contradict what God and His Christ have already revealed, since they revealed it, after all, by the Holy Spirit in the first place—that same Spirit Who is Himself God, One with the Father and the Son, and Who with them, as the Lord God, does not change. Consider the words from today’s Gospel: “Howbeit when he, the Spirit of truth, is come, he will guide you into all truth: for he shall not speak of himself; but whatsoever he shall hear, that shall he speak: and he will shew you things to come.” The Holy Spirit does not speak independently, but for and with the Father and the Son. As our Lord continues: “He shall glorify me: for he shall receive of mine, and shall shew it unto you (16.14).” But even Jesus Himself has no separate truth of His own, as He explains, since all of the Truth begins with God the Father. “All things that the Father hath are mine: therefore said I, that he [the Holy Spirit] shall take of mine, and shall shew it unto you (16.15).” That Spirit of Truth Who descended upon the Church at Pentecost is in perfect union with God the Father and God the Son. So when the Holy Spirit leads the Church and her members “into all truth,” it is not some new truth, but must be the same perfect Truth revealed by the Blessed Trinity in the Holy Scriptures, because that is the changeless Truth of the one and only changeless God.
In this regard, we need the collective wisdom and witness of the whole of the Church Catholic—both our brothers and sisters here on earth (the entire Church Militant), AND those who have gone before us and are now part of the Church Triumphant—whom the same Spirit has led into truth before us. The Spirit unites us in Christ’s Body, and when He guides us into truth, it is specifically into Christ’s truth—into God’s eternal Truth. Those “good gifts” we now enjoy have been given by God to help us tend towards Him. James continues, “Wherefore, my beloved brethren, let every man be swift to hear, slow to speak, slow to wrath: for the wrath of man worketh not the righteousness of God. Wherefore lay apart all filthiness and superfluity of wickedness, and receive with meekness the engrafted word, which is able to save your souls.”
The witness of the Holy Spirit is the witness of the Church. It is now up to the Church, animated by the Holy Spirit, to convict the world about sin, about righteousness, and about condemnation. By our very lives as members of a Christian Body, you and I are committed to show the world the folly of sin. Christ is the sinless One. As His Body, this is what we aspire to as well. We would be sinless as He is sinless. It is so important for us to understand that the witness that you and I give is a reflection upon Our Lord. We influence our neighbours primarily by the example of our lives. Thus, as Christians, we must strive to remove sin and all its root causes from our lives. We are then able to receive the Gospel, “the ingrafted Word,” and live the new life Christ offer to us. Faith is not a natural attainment of human endeavour, but the work of the Holy Spirit—a divine gift planted in our hearts—but we must willingly cooperate with it, being “doers of the Word, and not hearers only.” But God alone can give us a goal and object of our faith, hope, and love which is worthy and good. As St Augustine writes:
Present reality without that hope is, to be sure, a false happiness, in fact an utter misery. For the present does not bring into play the true good of the mind; since no wisdom is true wisdom if it does not devote its attention, in all its prudent decisions, its resolute actions, its self-control and its just dealings with others, toward that ultimate state in which God will be all in all, in the assurance of eternity and the perfection of peace. (City of God XIX, 20)
Today’s collect expresses this same teaching as we pray: “O Almighty God, who alone canst order the unruly wills and affections of sinful men: grant unto thy people, that they may love the thing which thou commandest, and desire that which thou dost promise; that so, among the sundry and manifold changes of the world, our hearts may surely there be fixed, where true joys are to be found.”
“Behold, God is my salvation,” sings Isaiah, “I will trust, and not be afraid: for the Lord God is my strength and my song; he also is become my salvation. Therefore with joy shall ye draw water out of the wells of salvation (Is 12.2-3).” In John chapter 7 Jesus says: “If any man thirst, let him come unto me, and drink. He that believeth on me, as the scripture hath said, out of his belly shall flow rivers of living water.” And, John adds, “this he spake of the Spirit, which they that believe on him should receive (7.37-39).” With His physical departure from this world, Our Lord will send the good and perfect gift of the Holy Spirit to guide us into that truth which leads to eternal life. We have been “brought to new birth by the word of truth” through God’s gift of grace, and we now live in that Word of truth by the Spirit of Truth. If we would be a Church full of spiritual life and vitality, we need first to be people steeped in the truth of the Word of God which Jesus declares to us and applies to our hearts through the Holy Spirit. If we seek to transform our world, the power to do so comes only as we first allow the Spirit to transform our own lives. And if we are to be bearers of the light of Christ, we must live the truth of the Gospel each and every day through the fortifying power of the Holy Spirit. These are the good and perfect gifts of new birth and new life … resurrection and transformation … which are from above, and come down from the Father of lights, with Whom is no variableness, neither shadow of turning, Who of His own will begat us with the Word of Truth, that we should be a kind of firstfruits of His creation. God has drawn us to Himself through Christ, and has given us His Spirit. We are caught up into the very life of the Holy Trinity. This is the life-giving and life-changing gift of the great Paschal mystery within us. What better gift could we ever receive?
“Cry out and shout, O inhabitant of Zion: for great is the Holy One of Israel in the midst of thee.”
! ܡܫܝܚܐ ܩܡ
Christ is risen!
Collect: O Almighty God, whom truly to know is everlasting life: Grant us so perfectly to know thy Son Jesus Christ to be the way, the truth, and the life, that we may stedfastly follow his steps in the way that leadeth to eternal life; through the same Christ our Lord. Amen.
The God of peace, who brought again from the dead our Lord Jesus, that great shepherd of the sheep, through the blood of the everlasting covenant, make you perfect in every good work to do his will, working in you that which is well-pleasing in his sight:
And the blessing of God almighty, the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost, be amongst you and remain with you always. Amen.