Preached July 1, 2012
St. John 19:30–35a
+ In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost. Amen.
We come to the fourth Sunday after Trinity, with the continuation of the unusual circumstance of having a major feast that in most years falls during the week, this year occurs on Sunday and thus seems to interrupt the normal teaching cycle of the Trinity season. The regular Mass lessons for Trinity 4 are Romans 8:18–23 and St. Luke 6:36:–42. The first verse of that Gospel lesson is Luke 6:36 Be ye therefore merciful, as your Father also is merciful, which establishes the theme for Trinity 4 as the mercy of God. It is immediately evident then that the theme for Trinity 4 and the feast day work together, they are essentially one and the same, so that there are many possibilities for exploring both of these together, just we were able to work with the themes of humility and the nativity of St. John Baptist last week.
Let us begin by considering the concept of mercy. Just what is mercy? What does it mean to be merciful? What do we understand when we read, Be ye therefore merciful; what do we do to be merciful? To be merciful is to be forgiving, to be compassionate and willing to overlook transgressions. Thus mercy is the willingness to forgive, to have compassion and to overlook transgressions. This is not something that comes easily or naturally to most folks; it is much more a divine characteristic (as your Father also is merciful) than it is a typical human characteristic, but we are enjoined to cultivate this characteristic, even as we see it in God the Father who forgives us.
In the development of our own sanctification, we must learn to be merciful to others. This is a part of the broad theme that runs throughout the Gospels, that in order to love God, we must also love our fellow man. We cannot love our fellow man unless we are merciful and forgiving in our dealings with others. We are reminded specifically of the petition within the Lord’s Prayer: Matthew 6:12 And forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors. In the Lord’s Prayer, we ask that the Lord forgive us, only in so far as we forgive others, making it incumbent upon ourselves therefore to forgive others if we expect and wish to be forgiven, which of course we do.
The development of our own personal sanctification would all be a moot point were it not for the great act of mercy extended to us by God the Father in sending His only Son, Jesus Christ, to die on the Cross for us. It is only by that bloody sacrifice that we are saved, justified, our sins washed away, and we are made right with God. This is a very difficult point for modern man who says that it makes no sense. What can the shedding of the blood of one Man do to make us right with God? What does a blood sacrifice have to do with any sort of reconciliation? Shouldn’t there be some sort of apology, reparations perhaps, and a handshake with God?
All of these questions simply reflect two things: (1) the vast ignorance of modern man of the ways of the eternal God who has long ago defined how we are to approach Him for the forgiveness of our sins, and (2) the unbounded ego of modern man in presuming to approach the Triune God to negotiate as an equal. The second is an arrogance that assures that man will not be heard by God, that such a man is hopelessly lost forever. To say that the sacrifice of Jesus Christ “makes no sense,” is for man to presume to judge the gracious action of God the Father, a grievously offensive act in itself, and a hideous presumption. A man with just a tiny bit of wisdom will consult the Holy Bible, where he will read Leviticus 4 which lays out, in detail, the procedure for offering sacrifices for sins for people of various ranks. The process is similar for all in that in all cases, the sins of the offender are transferred to the sacrificial victim, the victim is slain, its blood is smeared upon the horns of the altar of sacrifice and the remainder of the blood is poured out at the base of the altar while the body is burned. Note particularly the need for the shedding of blood; without the shedding of blood, there is no remission of sins! This is a fundamental principle. Modern man may say it does not make sense, it is unreasonable, or whatever else he wants to say, but this is the principle of God Almighty, and He makes the rules!
Now, let us look at the sacrifice of Jesus Christ, in the light of the foregoing comments. The victim of the sacrifice was supposed to represent a compensation for the offenses committed. But we remember Psalm 49:8 For it cost more to redeem their souls, so that he must let that alone forever.(Coverdale Bible Translation) There is no ordinary sacrificial victim available that could fully redeem a man from his sins; this is why the Jewish sacrifice had to be offered again and again, year after year. The Jewish sacrificial rites required that the victim be an unblemished male of the proper species according to the rank of the person to be redeemed.
As a key part of the Plan of Salvation, it was the intention of God the Father to forgive the sins of all those who would turn back to Him. By His own standards, this required a sacrifice for sin that was worthy to bear the sin of the whole world, and there was no such victim in the world. It was for that purpose that He sent His Son, Jesus Christ into the world, to suffer and die on the Cross, to be the worthy Victim for the necessary sacrifice in order that the world might be justified by the Blood of Christ. This is the Most Precious Blood of Our Lord Jesus Christ that we celebrate today, the blood poured out for us by Jesus Christ on the Cross at Calvary.
Now under ordinary circumstances, crucifixion would not be a bloody death. It is certainly true that Jesus and the other men crucified that day had been badly abused by the Roman guards before the crucifixion, with scourgings, whippings, and beatings, and were no doubt bleeding from these wounds. But this is not what is generally meant by shed blood. But recall that the crucifixion of Jesus took place on a Friday afternoon, and the Jews asked that their legs might be broken so as to hasten death, to get them down before the beginning of the Sabbath. Death by crucifixion usually occurs by suffocation when the condemned is unable to lift himself up to breath. He lifts himself by a combination of his arms and his legs. If the legs are broken, then they can no longer be used to help breathing, and death comes that much sooner because the arms alone simply cannot do the job. John 19:33-34 33 But when they came to Jesus, and saw that he was dead already, they brake not his legs: 34 But one of the soldiers with a spear pierced his side, and forthwith came there out blood and water. Here we have the reason why, at the Eucharist, we always have a mixed cup, consisting of both wine and water to begin the sacrifice. When Jesus instituted the Eucharist on Maundy Thursday, He did not say anything about adding water to the Chalice, but in His actual sacrifice on the Cross of Calvary, both water and blood were found mingled together. Hence our practice today at the Mass.
Thus we identify the life giving blood of Jesus, shed on the Cross of Calvary, on the one hand with the sacrifice for sin described in Leviticus, and on the other hand with Jesus’ words in instituting the Eucharist, Matthew 26:28 For this is my blood of the new testament, which is shed for many for the remission of sins. It is all one and the same, the Most Precious Blood of Our Lord and Saviour, Jesus Christ. Thus that same blood that was shed once for all, is available to us yet again and again, week after week, in the Holy Communion of our Lord Jesus Christ. It was given once to cover all of our sins, and yet Christ Himself comes to each of us who want to receive Him into our hearts, bring us spiritual renewal, fresh hope, a renewed and strengthened connection to Himself.
Receiving each week the Body and Blood of our Saviour, Jesus Christ, should promote within us a renewed understanding of the meaning of mercy. Each week we are receiving mercy on a scale beyond all imagination. When we weigh the offenses we receive and give to others during the week, compared to the offenses we commit against the Lord God daily, the comparison is simply staggering. We fall so very far short every day from living the lives that God intended for us to live, and yet, He forgives us! Certainly not because we are worthy, or because we are attractive, or because we show “potential” (whatever that might mean?), but simply because Jesus Christ has paid the price for our sins, and we are forgiven if we approach Him with repentance through Jesus our Saviour. With that in mind, how can we not be more merciful in our dealings with other people? What possible basis have we for failing to be merciful?
Let us pray again the Collect for the Day:
Almighty and everlasting God who didst ordain that thine only begotten Son should be the Redeemer of the world and hast vouchsafed to accept his Blood as the propitiation for our sins: mercifully grant that we who here rejoice to honor that Blood, the price of our salvation; may be defended by its power in the present world, and rejoice in the everlasting fruits thereof in the world to come. Through the same thy Son, Jesus Christ, our Lord. Amen.
+ In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost. Amen.