Friday, April 24, 2009

Sermon: 3 Pascha (3 Easter) 2009

Sermon: 3 Pascha (26 April 2009)
(Acts 3:12-19/Psalm4/1 John 3:1-7/Luke 24:36b-48)
A Case of Mistaken Identity

In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.
Christos anesti! Alithos anesti!

The gospel accounts of the resurrection and the post-resurrection appearances of Jesus are all a-jumble; it is very difficult to construct a consistent timeline from the various narratives – which is exactly the kind of reporting you might expect from eyewitnesses overwhelmed by a eucatastrophe[1] – a good catastrophe – a cataclysmic event of great, good news. Of course, the basic truth of the story emerges clearly and intact: Christ is risen from the dead! – though exactly how that happened and what that means is much less clear.

Certainly, the disciples and apostles seem confused in the Gospel accounts. Take Mary Magdalene, for example, the first to see Jesus. She mistakenly thinks Him the gardener. Of course, Saint John, who records this encounter, does so with a self-conscious, theological eye toward the Genesis account; he wants all to see the greater reality behind Mary’s mistake. It is the first day of the week and we find ourselves in a garden, in the presence of the Gardener. In an obvious parallel to the Genesis creation account, John pictures Jesus as God walking in the cool of the day in his new creation. Jesus’ resurrection is the beginning of the re-creation of the cosmos. (In a similar parallel, Saint Paul considers Jesus the new Adam in whom all mankind is reborn, again a garden reference.) But these insights await decades of theological reflection. All that Mary knows on this great morning is that Jesus is missing and this “gardener” might know where he’s been taken.

Later that day, Jesus appears to Cleopas and a companion as they return home from Jerusalem to Emmaus. Once again, these disciples fail to recognize Jesus. He walks with them a few miles, close enough for an intense conversation, and still they do not know him. And yet, as he opens the Scripture to them on the road, explaining all things about the Messiah, their hearts burn within them, until finally, in the breaking of the bread – a clear reference to the Eucharist – their eyes are opened to see Jesus. Here, too, the Gospels contain a great truth hidden within a case of mistaken identity: it is in Scripture and the breaking of the bread that Christ always becomes present to us and always known to us if faith gives us ears to hear, eyes to see, and hands to touch.

These two disciples immediately return to Jerusalem and the apostles.

They were saying, ‘The Lord has risen indeed, and he has appeared to Simon!’ 35Then they told what had happened on the road, and how he had been made known to them in the breaking of the bread.
36 While they were talking about this, Jesus himself stood among them and said to them, ‘Peace be with you.’
37They were startled and terrified, and thought that they were seeing a ghost. 38He said to them, ‘Why are you frightened, and why do doubts arise in your hearts? 39Look at my hands and my feet; see that it is I myself. Touch me and see; for a ghost does not have flesh and bones as you see that I have.’ 40And when he had said this, he showed them his hands and his feet.41While in their joy they were disbelieving and still wondering, he said to them, ‘Have you anything here to eat?’ 42They gave him a piece of broiled fish, 43and he took it and ate in their presence (Luke 24:34-43, NRSV).

A ghost: that is the best explanation the apostles have to offer for the apparition of Jesus standing in front of them. It would be easy to dismiss them as primitive, superstitious people – easy, perhaps, but not accurate. These men – and perhaps the faithful women are there, too – are realists, struggling for a reasonable, rational explanation to this event beyond their experience. They saw Jesus crucified; they are certain he is dead. And yet, here he is, appearing behind – and that means through – closed doors. If this is vision or delusion, then it is shared delusion – and how is that possible? No, a ghost offers a much better explanation. Many cultures – including our own, modern, enlightened one – have a concept of the persistence of the dead among us. Spirits sometimes linger. Spirits sometimes make contact. Even the very skeptical often speak of sensing or feeling the presence of a recently deceased loved one; some even report visions. Like people of many cultures, the apostles knew of ghosts; what they did not know of was resurrection – the bodily return of the dead in the present moment. And so, they mistakenly identified the risen Christ in his glorified body for a ghost, an immaterial phantom.

Three cases of mistaken identity in the course of a single day: Mary and the “gardener,” Cleopas and the “stranger,” the eleven and the “ghost.” We could see these simply as “human elements” in the reporting of an otherwise divine account, or even “comic relief” in the most serious – though joyful – story ever told. In short, we almost could dismiss them as quaint additions to the real story: almost, but not quite. Mistaken identity is part of the real story because it is still part of our real stories.

This issue of mistaken identity, this gospel account, is captured almost perfectly in a song by Eric Bazilian, though I doubt that was his intent.

If God had a face what would it look like

And would you want to see

If seeing meant that you would have to believe

In things like heaven and in jesus and the saints and all the prophets

What if God was one of us

Just a slob like one of us

Just a stranger on the bus

Trying to make his way home

He's trying to make his way home

Back up to heaven all alone

Nobody calling on the phone

Except for the pope maybe in rome (Eric Bazilian, One of Us).

If recognizing God in the face of Jesus meant “that you would have to believe in things like heaven and in jesus and the saints and all the prophets,” might it not be easier to mistake him for someone else? Recognizing Jesus – seeing his true identity – is costly. When Peter recognized Jesus he was forced to confront his denial. When the ten recognized Jesus they were forced to confront their cowardice. When Thomas recognized Jesus he was forced to confront his doubts. And me? Sometimes all the above and more. Sometimes it’s just easier to mistake Jesus for someone else: a myth maybe, or an unfortunate religious zealot; a teacher and perhaps a very good man – anyone but the now risen Lord of all creation for whose crucifixion I am responsible; anyone but the now risen Lord of all creation before whom every knee will bow in heaven and on earth and under the earth and to whom every tongue will confess “Jesus is Lord,” to the glory of God. Maybe it’s better that he remains the gardener, or a stranger, or just a slob like one of us. The trouble is he keeps appearing behind our closed doors[2], confronting our fears and showing us his wounded hands and side. “What will you make of these?” he keeps asking. It is hard to mistake those wounds for anything but signs of sacrifice and victory. It is hard to think they belong to a gardener or a stranger or a slob like one of us.

Well, if not a gardener or a stranger or a slob like one of us, then maybe we can mistake Jesus for a ghost, a temporary visitor from another realm, “trying to make his way home, back up to heaven all alone, nobody calling on the phone, except the pope maybe in rome.” This is a two-storey universe, as Fr. Stephen Freeman[3] describes it: man on the first-storey in the real world and God – perhaps – up in heaven on the second-storey, minding his own business and not interfering in ours. Ancient stories tell us that some of us may one day make it up to that second-storey – and here we may have to amend the metaphor to include a basement, also – but in the meantime God and his story/storey are functionally irrelevant to us and to our stories: Jesus as ghost – not quite real, not quite welcome here. The trouble is, he keeps showing up whenever there’s a meal – broiled fish for the apostles, bread and wine for us. It is hard to deny the reality of Jesus – his presence in this world – when each Sunday we eat his flesh and drink his blood. These pesky, post-resurrection appearances of Jesus destroy the myth of a two-storey universe. So does the prayer that opens many Orthodox services:

O Heavenly King, Comforter, Spirit of Truth, who art everywhere present and fillest all things, Treasury of good things and Giver of life, come and dwell in us and cleanse us of all impurity, and save our souls, O Good One.

These “quaint stories” of mistaken identity are anything but “quaint stories.” They are instead profound revelations of truth: Jesus is not a gardener or a stranger or a slob like one of us (and more about this later). Nor is he a ghost trying to make his way home, somehow lost and irrelevant in this real world. No, Jesus is the risen Lord of all creation before whom the angels and living creatures and elders and ten thousands of ten thousands say with a loud voice:

Worthy is the Lamb that was slain
to receive power, and riches, and wisdom, and strength,
and honour, and glory, and blessing.

And yet again,

Blessing, and honor, and glory, and power,
be unto him that sitteth upon the throne,
and unto the Lamb for ever and ever. Amen (cf Rev. 5:11 ff, KJV).

Given this, it’s hard to mistake Jesus for a gardener or a stranger or even for a slob like one of us: the gospel accounts just won’t let us. But neither will the epistle let us mistake our own identity in Christ. It will not let us see ourselves as “slobs.”

Behold what manner of love the Father has given us that we may be called children of God – and we are. Therefore, the world does not know us because it did not know him. Beloved, now we are children of God, and it has not yet been revealed what we shall be. We know that if he is revealed we shall be like him, because we shall see him like he is (1 John 3:1-2).

I don’t know what your self-image is or where it comes from. I don’t know how others may have damaged it or else over-inflated it. I don’t know if you have been told lies about yourself or if you have lied to yourself. Regardless, it is time to hear the truth and from this moment on to live that truth: Beloved, you are a child of God now – right now – and, if you are abiding in Christ, you are on your way to being like Jesus – not the gardener or the stranger or the ghost or the slob – but the glorified, risen Jesus. There is no room for pride here – amazement, yes, and overwhelming gratitude, certainly – but no room for pride, because this is gift, this is grace.

Our identity as children of God is bound inextricably with Jesus’ identity as risen Lord. If Christ is not risen, Paul writes to the Corinthian Christians, then our faith is empty – futile – and we are still in our sins (cf 1 Cor 15:17) – not children of God at all, but strangers and aliens, dead in our sins. But – thanks be to God – Christ is risen and we are risen with him.

4 [But] God, who is abundant in mercy, because of His great love that He had for us, 5 made us alive with the Messiah even though we were dead in trespasses. By grace you are saved! 6 He also raised us up with Him and seated us with Him in the heavens, in Christ Jesus, 7 so that in the coming ages He might display the immeasurable riches of His grace in [His] kindness to us in Christ Jesus. 8 For by grace you are saved through faith, and this is not from yourselves; it is God's gift— 9 not from works, so that no one can boast. 10 For we are His creation—created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared ahead of time so that we should walk in them (Eph 2:4-10, HCS).

Children of God, raised with Christ, seated with him in the heavenly realms, and future recipients of immeasurable riches of God’s grace: this is who we are. This is our identity through Christ and with Christ and in Christ, through the power of his resurrection.

So this day continues the good and very good news of Pascha. Christ is risen and has appeared to us, not as gardener or stranger or slob like one of us, but as the risen Lord of all creation. And because of his resurrection, we are no longer slobs, but children of God. That’s who Christ is and that’s who we are. Thanks be to God!


[1]A term coined by J.R.R. Tolkien to describe “the sudden happy turn in a story which pierces you with a joy that brings tears,”
[2] This image of Jesus appearing behind the closed doors of our lives is taken from a sermon by Fr. Laird Bryson, 19 April 2009, Apostles Anglican Church, Knoxville, TN,
[3] Fr. Stephen Freeman is the priest of Saint Anne’s Orthodox Church in Oak Ridge, TN and author of Glory To God For All Things blog and Glory To God podcast on Ancient Faith Radio, and, respectively.

Saturday, April 18, 2009

A God-Pleasing Life

The following quote is taken from A Spiritual Life, by St. Theophan the Recluse.

For the entire order of Christian life is thus: Believe in God, in the worshipful Trinity that saves us in the Lord Jesus Christ through the benevolence of the Holy Spirit and, receiving the beneficial powers through the Divine Mysteries of the Holy Church, live according to the commandments of the Gospel, being inspired with the hope that God, for the smallest feasible labor of ours, for the sake of faith in the Lord Savior and obedience to Him, will not deprive us of heavenly blessings.


Friday, April 17, 2009

Sermon: Thomas Sunday (19 April 2009)

Sermon: Thomas Sunday (19 April 2009)
(Acts 4:32-35/Psalm 133/1 John 1:1-2:2/John 20:16-31)
Waiting for the Lord

In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

The church greets us this second Sunday of Pascha, Thomas Sunday, with good and very good news: Christos anesti – Christ is risen! What is our reply? That depends very much on who we are and where we are in the now iconic story of “Doubting Thomas,” a story which began exactly one week prior, on the first day of the week and the first day of new creation.

Very early, while it was still dark, on the first day of the week Mary Magdalene and the other myrrhbearing women approach the garden tomb with spices to complete the anointing of Jesus’ body for proper burial. Ignoring the other women, Saint John tells the story of Mary.

Now the first day of the week Mary Magdalene went to the tomb early, while it was still dark, and saw that the stone had been taken away from the tomb. Then she ran and came to Simon Peter, and to the other disciple, whom Jesus loved, and said to them, “They have taken away the Lord out of the tomb, and we do not know where they have laid Him” (John 20:1-2, NKJV).

The displaced stone and the empty tomb greet Mary with good and very good news: Christos anesti – Christ is risen! What is her reply? “They have taken away the Lord out of the tomb, and we do not know where they have laid Him.” Where we expect to hear, where we hope to hear, “Alithos anesti – He is risen, indeed!” we hear only confusion and doubt. Mary cannot yet say Alithos anesti because she has not yet encountered the risen Christ.

Peter reacts quickly to Mary’s news; he and the disciple whom Jesus loved – almost certainly John – run together to the tomb. John, probably younger and certainly faster than Peter, reaches the tomb first, but hesitates to enter.

And he, stooping down and looking in, saw the linen cloths lying there; yet he did not go in. Then Simon Peter came, following him, and went into the tomb; and he saw the linen cloths lying there, and the handkerchief that had been around His head, not lying with the linen cloths, but folded together in a place by itself. Then the other disciple, who came to the tomb first, went in also; and he saw and believed. For as yet they did not know the Scripture, that He must rise again from the dead. Then the disciples went away again to their own homes (John 20:5-10, NKJV).

The linen cloths and the napkin, neatly folded and lying by itself – and only an eye-witness account would contain such seemingly trivial detail – these greet the Apostles with good and very good news: Christos anesti – Christ is risen! What is their reply? Silence. Where we expect to hear, where we hope to hear, “Alithos anesti – He is risen, indeed!” we hear only the faintest stirrings of faith, these overwhelmed by confusion: they did not yet know the Scripture. Peter and John cannot yet say Alithos anesti because they have not yet encountered the risen Christ.

By now Mary has returned to the garden. She thinks herself alone there and is surprised first by angels and then by Jesus, himself, though at first she does not know him.

She turned around and saw Jesus standing there, and did not know that it was Jesus. Jesus said to her, “Woman, why are you weeping? Whom are you seeking?”
She, supposing Him to be the gardener, said to Him, “Sir, if you have carried Him away tell me where you have laid Him, and I will take Him away.”
Jesus said to her, “Mary!”
She turned and said to Him, “Rabboni!” (which is to say, Teacher).
Jesus said to her, “Do not cling to Me, for I have not yet ascended to My Father; but go to My brethren and say to them, ‘I am ascending to My Father and your Father, and to My God and your God.’”
Mary Magdalene came and told the disciples that she had seen the Lord, and that He had spoken these things to her (John 20: 14b-18, NKJV).

First the angels, then later Jesus, greet Mary with good and very good news: Christos anesti – Christ is risen! And now, in her cry of “Rabboni!” and in the words she carries to the Apostles – “I have seen the Lord!” – Mary finally responds – and she is the first to do so – Alithos anesti – He is risen indeed! Now, and only now, can Mary proclaim Alithos anesti! because she has now encountered the risen Christ. The reality of his presence compels her to proclaim, “He is risen, indeed!”

Later, on the evening of this same day – the first day of the week – Jesus appears to the disciples as they sit huddled in fear behind closed doors. “Shlama alookh,” he says, “Peace be among you,” as he shows them the marks of victory on his hands and side. Again he says, “Shlama alookh,” as he breaths on them the Holy Spirit and sends them forth in his name. This is a moment of new creation when God, as he did once in the Garden, breathes again the breath of life – his very Spirit – into man, re-forming man in his own image and re-making man a living being. Jesus greets the disciples with the good and very good news: Christos anesti – Christ is risen! Now, and only now, can they proclaim Alithos anesti! because they have encountered the risen Christ, because He has spoken peace in their hearts, because he has filled them with his very Spirit and has renewed them in the image of God.

For reasons left unexplained Thomas is absent from the assembly when Jesus first appeared to the disciples. When he returns – apparently later on that same first day of the week – his companions greet Thomas with good and very good news: Christos anesti – Christ is risen! But what can Thomas reply? Certainly not Alithos anesti! because he has not yet encountered the risen Christ. So, he responds as he can, genuinely: “Unless I see in His hands the print of the nails, and put my finger into the print of the nails, and put my hand into His side, I will not believe” (John 20:25b, NKJV). This is not willful, stubborn disbelief in spite of sufficient evidence. This is the humble admission that Thomas is no different – no better, no worse – than Mary Magdalene, Peter, John, and all the other disciples – none of whom could say Alithos anesti – He is risen, indeed! – until they had encountered the risen Christ.

Scripture passes over the next week in silence, but our thoughts need not be silent. We are no strangers to anxious waiting, to that strange human mixture of disbelief and hope-against-hope: the pending medical results, the birth of a first child, the rapidly approaching end of an aged parent. I am not certain what Thomas did, though I think I have a reasonable idea. But I know what I would have done. In Thomas’ position I would have remained with the community, badgering them again and again for every detail of every appearance: “What did Jesus say, again? How did he look? Was he angry or disappointed or pleased? Did he say where he was going or when he might return? Did he mention me?” I would have searched my memory for every word Jesus ever spoke to me or to you or to the crowds: What have I missed? What am I not seeing? I would have poured over the ancient texts – the Law and the Prophets and the Writings – and the ancient rites of the faithful, looking for hints and clues and insights. I would have prayed – the Psalms of my people and my own words – often in inarticulate groans and sometimes in utter silence, and almost certainly with fasting. I would have let my heart break with longing for an encounter with the risen Christ and I would have settled for nothing less.

One week Thomas waits, until this day – Thomas Sunday – when Jesus once again appears behind the same closed door. After his now familiar greeting of “Shlama alookh,” peace be among you, Jesus turns his attention solely to Thomas. “Reach your finger here, and look at My hands; and reach your hand here, and put it into My side. Do not be unbelieving, but believing” (John 20:27, NKJV). This is a moment for the human heart to burst asunder with the joy of every good thing in all creation, with the joy of every glad tiding ever spoken, with the joy of the good and very good news: Christos anesti – Christ is risen! And now, finally, Thomas, too, can respond, Alithos anesti – he is risen, indeed! “My Lord and my God,” is how Thomas words it, but it is all the same: Christ is risen! He is risen indeed!

It is not incidental – it is by God’s grace – that immediately following this account of Thomas, John writes in his Gospel:

Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not written in this book. But these are written so that you may come to believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that through believing you may have life in his name (John 20:30-31, NRSV).

This account of Thomas was written for us, John says, for all who never had or never will have – this side of kingdom come – the chance to see the risen Lord in his glorified body. Thomas serves as metaphor – as the patron saint, if you like – for every Christian, because our experience so parallels his own.

Like Thomas we are surrounded by a cloud of witnesses who, from their own experience, proclaim Christos anesti – Christ is risen! Alithos anesti – He is risen indeed! The apostles, the five hundred who at one time saw Jesus, the five thousand on the day of Pentecost filled with the Holy Spirit, the fathers of the early church, the holy martyrs of persecutions past and present, the desert abbas and ammas, the saints throughout history – Romanos, Anne, Hermione, Barbara, John the Forerunner, Catherine, Mary Magdalene, Macarius, Augustine, Francis, Silouan – and modern elders like Paisios: all these and countless others proclaim Christos anesti. All these speak with one voice, “We have seen the Lord.” Some days we find the testimony of their words and their lives compelling and we are moved to cry out, for their sakes if not our own, Alithos anesti – He is risen indeed! But, other days, we are like Thomas listening to Peter and the rest, caught between hope and disbelief, able only to say, “Unless I see…unless I touch.” On these days we rely on the faith of others; we let them speak for us or we echo their certainty when we lack our own. On these days we take great comfort in Jesus’ words to Thomas: “Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed” (John 20:29b, NKJV). On these days, like the man who sought healing for his demon-possessed son, we call out, “Lord, I believe; help my unbelief” (Mark 9:24, NKJV).

On these days we wait for Jesus to appear, to make himself known to us: beyond doubt, beyond words, beyond doctrine, beyond belief. On these days the song we sometimes sing expresses our longing well:

Open our eyes, Lord,
we want to see Jesus,
to reach out and touch him,
and say that we love him

Open our ears, Lord,
and help us to listen,
open our eyes, Lord,
we want to see Jesus (Open Our Eyes, Bob Cull).

So, what do we do on these days – during the long week between resurrection and appearance? We do what the church tells us; we do what the saints tell us. We do what those who have experienced the risen Christ tell us. We take our place as part of the worshipping community, part of the body of Christ. We engage in the work of the people, the liturgy, and we treasure the sacraments. We ask the saints around us – saints on earth and saints in heaven -- what they know of Jesus, where they’ve seen him last, and what they were doing when he appeared to them. We devote ourselves to the ancient texts – to the Scriptures and the writings of the saints, to the accounts of their lives. We pour over them as if our lives depend on them, for indeed they do. We discipline ourselves to say no to the world and to ourselves so that we might say yes to the Lord. We fast and we pray, striving to pray continually; the saints say that such prayer leads to Jesus. We treasure faith and doctrine but we learn never to be content with either; it is Jesus we want and we determine never to settle for less. We do all these things because Jesus appears to those who do – in his own time and in his own way, but he appears. We do these things because, like Thomas, we are determined to say our own “Alithos anesti! My Lord and my God!”

Let us pray.

Everliving God, who strengthened your apostle Thomas with firm and certain faith in your Son’s resurrection: Grant us so perfectly and without doubt to believe in Jesus Christ, our Lord and our God, that our faith may never be found wanting in your sight; through him who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.

Saturday, April 11, 2009

Christos Anesti! Christ is risen!

Greetings in the name of the risen Christ!

The following link to is an audio/video of the ancient hymn of the church, Christos Anesti (Christ is Risen), sung around the world on Pascha (Easter). Rejoice in the listening! At Trinity Church we will gather in the darkness of this night, light candles from the new fire, and process to the church singing this glorious hymn.


A rough transliteration of the Greek follows, as well as a translation.

Christos anest ek nekron
thanato thanaton patisas
ke tis en tis mnimasi zoin
hari samenos.

Christ is risen from the dead
trampling down death by death
and upon those in the tombs bestowing life.

May you have a most blessed Pascha!

Friday, April 10, 2009

Easter Vigil Homily (11 April 2009)

Easter Vigil: 11, 12 April 2009
(John 20:1-18)
Rejoice and Sing: Christos Anesti

Glory be to God – Father, Son, and Holy Spirit – now in this world
and unto the ages of ages. Amen.

Beloved of God and my beloved, as the darkness of this night is dispelled by the flames of the paschal candles I greet you with the ancient proclamation of the church, with the proclamation that dispels all darkness: Christos anesti – Christ is risen! Al­­ithos anesti – He is risen indeed! This is not the night for lawyers to quibble over marriage contracts and debate pre-nuptual agreements. This is the night for the wedding party to rejoice and sing, for the bridegroom has arrived, and we, as wise virgins with lamps trimmed and glowing, are invited to the feast. Christos anesti – Christ is risen! Al­­ithos anesti – He is risen indeed! This is not the night for weary slaves to dread another dawn and the making of bricks without straw. This is the night for free men and free women to rejoice and sing, for Christ our Passover has been sacrificed for us, and the Paschal Lamb who was slain has risen victorious from the grave, trampling down death by death. And we, as sons and daughters and slaves no longer, are being led forth by the mighty hand and outstretched arm of our God Almighty. Christos anesti – Christ is risen! Al­­ithos anesti – He is risen indeed! This is not the night for the race of man, the sons of Adam and the daughters of Eve, to bewail their fallen state – their corruption and alienation. This is the night for the image-bearers of God to rejoice and sing, for Christ, the new Adam, has made all creation new, restored the divine image in man, and reconciled man to God. Christos anesti – Christ is risen! Al­­ithos anesti – He is risen indeed!

Once we sang the song of exiles, or held our tongues in silence because we could not sing.

1 By the waters of Babylon we sat down and wept, *
when we remembered you, O Zion.

2 As for our harps, we hung them up *
on the trees in the midst of that land.

3 For those who led us away captive asked us for a song,
and our oppressors called for mirth: *
“Sing us one of the songs of Zion.”

4 How shall we sing the Lord’s song *
upon an alien soil (Ps 137:1-4, BCP 1979)?

Once we sang the song of exiles, or held our tongues in silence because we could not sing, for we were “aliens from the commonwealth of Israel and strangers from the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world” (Eph 2:12, NKJV).

But now in Christ Jesus [we] who once we far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ.

Now, therefore, [we] are no longer strangers and foreigners, but fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God, having been built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Jesus Christ Himself being the chief cornerstone, in whom the whole building, being fitted together, grows into a holy temple in the Lord, in whom [we] also are being built together for a dwelling place of God in the spirit (Eph 2:13, 19-22).

Now we sing the song of citizens. Now we cannot hold our tongues in silence.

When the LORD restored the fortunes of Zion,
then were we like those who dream.
Then was our mouth filled with laughter,
and our tongue with shouts of joy.
Then they said among the nations,
“The LORD has done great things for them.”
The LORD has done great things for us,
and we are glad indeed (Ps 126:1-4, BCP 1979).

This is the night to rejoice and sing. Christos anesti – Christ is risen! Al­­ithos anesti – He is risen indeed!

Once we groaned in the bondage and corruption of all creation, groaned with the labors of birthpangs, eagerly waiting for the adoption, the redemption of our bodies. Now we rejoice for Christ dwells in us and though the body is dead because of sin, the Spirit is life because of righteousness. And if the Spirit of Him who raised Jesus dwells in us, He who raised Christ from the dead will also give life to our mortal bodies through His Spirit who dwells in us (cf Rom 8:9 ff). This is the night to rejoice and sing. Christos anesti – Christ is risen! Al­­ithos anesti – He is risen indeed!

Once we were deaf to the song heaven, to the praise which resounds continually around the throne. But on this night the tomb is opened and so, too, are our ears opened to hear

the voice of many angels around the throne, the living creatures, and the elders; and the number of them was ten thousand times ten thousand, and thousands of thousands, saying with a loud voice:

“Worthy is the Lamb who was slain
To receive power and riches and wisdom,
And strength and honor and glory and blessing!”

And every creature which is in heaven and on the earth and under the earth and such as are in the sea, and all that are in them, [we hear] saying:

“Blessing and honor and glory and power
Be to Him who sits on the throne,
And to the Lamb, forever and ever” (Rev 5:11-13, NKJV).

This is the night to rejoice and sing. Christos anesti – Christ is risen! Al­­ithos anesti – He is risen indeed!

This is the night, when all who believe in Christ are delivered from the gloom of sin, and are restored to grace and holiness of life. This is the night to rejoice and sing. Christos anesti – Christ is risen! Al­­ithos anesti – He is risen indeed!

This is the night, when Christ broke the bonds of death and hell, and rose victorious from the grave. This is the night to rejoice and sing. Christos anesti – Christ is risen! Al­­ithos anesti – He is risen indeed!

This is the night, when wickedness is put to flight, and sin is washed away. This is the night to rejoice and sing. Christos anesti – Christ is risen! Al­­ithos anesti – He is risen indeed!

This is the night, when the fallen are restored to innocence and those who mourn to joy. This is the night to rejoice and sing. Christos anesti – Christ is risen! Al­­ithos anesti – He is risen indeed!

This is the night, when earth and heaven are joined and man is reconciled to God. This is the night to rejoice and sing. Christos anesti – Christ is risen! Al­­ithos anesti – He is risen indeed (Exsultet
, adapted)!

Let no Christian remain silent on this holy night. Let all heaven and earth together rejoice and sing. Christos anesti – Christ is risen! Al­­ithos anesti – He is risen indeed!

The Day of Resurrection! Let us be illumined, O ye people! The Passover, the Passover of the Lord! From death unto life, and from earth unto heaven hath Christ our God brought us over, singing a song of victory!

Christ is risen from the dead!

Let us purify our senses and we shall behold Christ, radiant with the light ineffable of the Resurrection, and shall hear him say, in accents clear: Rejoice! as we sing the song of victory.

Christ is risen from the dead!

For meet is it that the heavens should rejoice, and that the earth should be glad, and that the whole world, both visible and invisible, should keep the Feast. For Christ is risen, the everlasting joy!

The Day of Resurrection! Let us be illumined, O ye people! The Passover, the Passover of the Lord! From death unto life, and from earth unto heaven hath Christ our God brought us over, singing a song of victory!

Christ is risen from the dead, trampling down Death by death, and upon those in the tomb bestowing life (Easter Service, Service Book of the Holy Orthodox-Catholic Apostolic Church, Antiochian Orthodox Christian Archdiocese of North America).

Tonight, the wise ones of this age, the skeptics will shake their heads in wonder that gullible ones still cling to myths of resurrection. They will doubt, but we will rejoice and sing, for Christ is risen from the dead, the everlasting joy!

Tonight, the academic theologians will debate atonement theories and the role of resurrection in our salvation. They will debate, but we will rejoice and sing, for Christ is risen from the dead, the everlasting joy!

Tonight, the merchants will hawk their wares: cards and chocolate bunnies and cr̬me-filled eggs Рresurrection as commodity. Wait one day and you can have resurrection on sale. They will take their profit, but we will rejoice and sing, for Christ is risen from the dead, the everlasting joy!

Tonight, the world will turn as always – though we know everything has changed – the world will turn as always and turn blind eyes and deaf ears, oblivious to the glory and power of God in the resurrection of Christ. They will ignore the resurrection, but we will rejoice and sing, for Christ is risen from the dead, the everlasting joy!

Lift up your heads, O ye people,
and be lifted up, O ye saints of God,
for Christ is risen from the dead
trampling down death by death
and upon those in the tombs bestowing life.

Lift up your heads, O ye people,
and be lifted up, O ye saints of God,
for the Kingdom of God has come
and Christ has begun his reign.

Lift up your heads, O ye people,
and be lifted up, O ye saints of God,
for this night we can rejoice and sing
and give voice to all creation:
Christos anesti – Christ is risen! Al­­ithos anesti – He is risen indeed!

Amen! Alleluia!

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Homily: Maundy Thursday (9 March 2009)

Homily: Maundy Thursday (9 March 2009)
(Exodus 12:1-14a/Psalm 78:14-20, 23-25/1 Corinthians 11:22-32/John 13:1-15)
The Tables of Power

In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

Like many Christians I struggle with the role of faith in the public sector: How may we build best for the Kingdom of God in a fallen world, using the rubble of a fallen culture? Some Christians – and I express no judgment here – actively engage the political process hoping to gain for themselves, or for their elected representative, a seat at the tables of power where policies are formulated and laws first proposed. It is a way, I suppose, to influence public behavior toward a religious ethic, though whether the ways of men can rightly be used to accomplish the ends of God is a question we need seriously to consider.

The tables of power in Washington are found in the Oval Office, in the chambers and conference rooms of Congress, around the bench at the Supreme Court. Sit at one of these and you are important. Sit at one of these and you influence the course of history. Sit at one of these and people curry your favor and treat you with respect.

The church is sometimes interested in these tables of power – sometimes inordinately so – but not so much this day. This day another table beckons, one in an upper room in Jerusalem. It, too, is a table of power; in fact, it – and its host – defines power for Christians and defines our relationships with the powers-that-be, with all those who sit at other tables of power.

It is Passover week and Jesus sits at this table with his friends for a final meal, a last supper before his passion. James and John are there, the Sons of Thunder. I imagine they’ve jostled by their fellow disciples and planted themselves firmly next to Jesus – one at his right hand and one at his left – in this foretaste of the Kingdom banquet. John as much as “fesses up” in his account of the night. Calling himself the disciple whom Jesus loved he writes, “one of his disciples – the one whom Jesus loves – was reclining next to him” (John 13:23, NRSV). Of course, Peter is there, blustering as always, full of himself – full of pride and confidence in his own power. Judas is there, also, for a time, before Satan fills him and drives him out into the darkness of betrayal. The rest of the Twelve are seated at the table, as well: Philip, Andrew, Thomas, and Matthew emerging as distinct personalities with the others remaining mostly nondescript. Tables of power draw an assortment of characters: self-promoters, sycophants, doubters, anonymous functionaries, and traitors. And yet, with one notable exception, they are all here because they love Jesus, and mostly because he loves them.

At some point during the meal Jesus, the center and source of power at this table, leaves behind his role of host. Only John records what happens next.

1Now before the Feast of the Passover, when Jesus knew that his hour had come to depart out of this world to the Father, having loved his own who were in the world, he loved them to the end. 2During supper, when the devil had already put it into the heart of Judas Iscariot, Simon’s son, to betray him, 3Jesus, knowing that the Father had given all things into his hands, and that he had come from God and was going back to God, 4rose from supper. He laid aside his outer garments, and taking a towel, tied it around his waist. 5Then he poured water into a basin and began to wash the disciples’ feet and to wipe them with the towel that was wrapped around him. 6He came to Simon Peter, who said to him, "Lord, do you wash my feet?" 7 Jesus answered him, "What I am doing you do not understand now, but afterward you will understand." 8 Peter said to him, "You shall never wash my feet." Jesus answered him, "If I do not wash you, you have no share with me." 9Simon Peter said to him, "Lord, not my feet only but also my hands and my head!" 10Jesus said to him, "The one who has bathed does not need to wash, except for his feet, but is completely clean. And you are clean, but not every one of you." 11 For he knew who was to betray him; that was why he said, "Not all of you are clean."

12When he had washed their feet and put on his outer garments and resumed his place, he said to them, "Do you understand what I have done to you? 13 You call me Teacher and Lord, and you are right, for so I am. 14If I then, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet. 15For I have given you an example, that you also should do just as I have done to you. 16Truly, truly, I say to you, a servant is not greater than his master, nor is a messenger greater than the one who sent him. 17If you know these things, blessed are you if you do them (John 13:1-17, ESV).

This thing that Jesus does, this thing is outrageous; this thing is scandalous. Only the lowest house slave washes feet. Never would a disciple be required to wash the feet of his master, yet here the Master willingly washes the feet of his disciples.

In this moment of high drama, Jesus forever shifts the locus of power from the table to the floor, from the head to the feet, from the master to the servant. There is no room at the tables of power for the disciple of Jesus, but there is an infinite expanse of floor on which to kneel and wash feet. There is no position of mastery for the disciple of Jesus, but there are endless calls to service. There is no quarter for pride in the heart of the disciple of Jesus, but there is room enough and to spare for humility.

“Do you understand what I have done to you?” Jesus asks, and if we are honest we have to reply, “Probably not.” But he has given us an example to follow; so, at least on this one day each year, we, too, put aside our striving for power, we shelve our pride, and we kneel and wash one another’s feet. It is a small thing, a humble gesture, but that is precisely the point: we are people of the small thing, a community of the humble gesture. “We can do no great things,” Mother Teresa reminds us, “only small things with great love.” We are not greater than our Master. It is enough to be like him in this and in everything.

The church is sometimes interested in the world’s tables of power – sometimes inordinately so – but not so much this day. This day another table beckons, one in an upper room in Jerusalem. It, too, is a table of power; in fact, it – and its host – defines power for Christians and defines our relationships with the powers-that-be, with all those who sit at other tables of power.

14 And when the hour came, he reclined at table, and the apostles with him. 15And he said to them, "I have earnestly desired to eat this Passover with you before I suffer. 16For I tell you I will not eat it until it is fulfilled in the kingdom of God." 17And he took a cup, and when he had given thanks he said, "Take this, and divide it among yourselves. 18 For I tell you that from now on I will not drink of the fruit of the vine until the kingdom of God comes." 19 And he took bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it and gave it to them, saying, "This is my body, which is given for you. Do this in remembrance of me." 20And likewise the cup after they had eaten, saying, "This cup that is poured out for you is the new covenant in my blood” (Luke 22:14-20, ESV).

These words of Jesus, this sacrament, this new covenant forever redefine true power as true sacrifice. At this table of power – to which all the world is invited – the high priest becomes the sacrificial Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world and the host becomes the meal – body broken as bread and blood poured out as wine. “Can you drink the cup I am about to drink?” Jesus once asked James and John and continues to ask each of his disciples who lifts the cup of salvation at this table of power. “Will you take up your cross and follow me?” is, of course, what he means. This meal forever shifts the locus of power from table to cross, from marbled halls to borrowed tomb. There is no room at the tables of power for the disciple of Jesus, but there are many loaves – many lives – to be broken, much wine – much blood – to be poured out, and many crosses to be taken up and carried.

“Do you understand what I have done to you?” Jesus asks, and if we are honest we have to reply, “Probably not.” But he has given us an example to follow – an example and a commandment: “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another; as I have loved you, that you also love one another. By this all will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another” (John 13:34-35, NKJV). And this is sacrament and grace and wonder, that true power is manifest as sacrificial love.

There is no room at the tables of power for the disciple of Jesus, but at the table of love – at the table of love there is always room for one more.


Sunday, April 5, 2009


Grace to you and peace from God our Father and from our Lord Jesus Christ.

Those who know me best know that I am a technological underachiever -- Luddite is more like it. To me, a hardware upgrade is a new refill for my fountain pen. Thus it is with some trepidation that I announce the addition of a podcast to this blog. Consider it an experiment, please. Under the heading "Favorite Podcasts" (below in the right column) I have added "Trinity Church Podcast." Here, at least today, you will find a podcast of the most recent sermon. This is not an audio of our worship service --I would find that too intrusive and distracting -- but was made "after the fact."

In this, as in all efforts to convey the Word of God, I ask for his mercy and in faith hold to the words of Isaiah:

For as rain and snow fall from the heavens

and return not again, but water the earth,

bringing for life and giving growth,

seed for sowing and bread for eating,

so is my word that goes forth from my mouth;

it will not return to me empty;

but it will accomplish that which I have purposed,

and prosper in that for which I sent it.

May it be so.

Glory to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit:

as it was in the beginning, is now, and will be for ever. Amen.

Saturday, April 4, 2009

Sermon: Palm/Passion Sunday (5 April 2009)

Sermon: Palm/Passion Sunday (5 April 2009)
(Mark 11:1-11)
The Battle Begins

In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

“Do not think that I came to bring peace on earth. I did not come to bring peace but a sword. For I have come to ‘set a man against his father, a daughter against her mother, and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law’; and ‘a man’s enemies will be those of his own household.’ He who loves father or mother more than Me is not worthy of Me. And he who loves son or daughter more than Me is not worthy of Me. And he who does not take his cross and follow after Me is not worthy of Me. He who finds his life will lose it, and he who loses his life for My sake will find it” (Matthew 10:34-39, NKJV).

A battle is coming, Jesus says, a battle which will test and strain all loyalties, a battle in which lives will be lost and lives will be found. And Jesus has come to engage that battle, to wield the very sword of God.

It is an ancient battle, one begun near the dawn of time, one begun in heaven and pursued on earth – a battle of angels.

And war broke out in heaven: Michael and his angels fought with the dragon; and the dragon and his angels fought, but they did not prevail, nor was a place found for them in heaven any longer. So the great dragon was cast out, that serpent of old, called the Devil and Satan, who deceives the whole world; he was cast to the earth, and his angels were cast out with him (Rev 12:7-9, NKJV).

Into the Garden the battle raged: quietly, unobtrusively, deceptively – a battle of hints and innuendos and lies. And man became its casualty, the entire race of man taken prisoner of war by the serpent, bound over to death and sin by our ancient foe Satan.

Not willing or desiring that man should cease to be, not willing that His own image in man be forever lost, the Creator mounted a counter offensive, fielding an army of patriarchs, priests, kings, prophets, a whole nation – a patient general campaigning over the millennia, all the while preparing a people, preparing the world, for a Champion – a Champion to wage the battle to end all battles. And so, in the fullness of the times, that Champion comes.

And it came to pass in those days that a decree went out from Caesar Augustus that all the world should be registered. This census first took place while Quirinius was governing Syria. So all went to be registered, everyone to his own city.

Joseph also went up from Galilee, out of the city of Nazareth, into Judea, to the city of David, which is called Bethlehem, because he was of the house and lineage of David, to be registered with Mary, his betrothed wife, who was with child. So it was, that while they were there, the days were completed for her to be delivered. And she brought forth her firstborn Son, and wrapped Him in swaddling cloths, and laid Him in a manger, because there was no room for them in the inn (Lk 2:1-7, NRSV).

The enemy loses no time, but conspires with the powers of this age – with Herod – to slaughter the innocents of Bethlehem in a vain attempt to destroy God’s Champion. From there, but for one brief episode in the temple, the record goes silent; for thirty years the battle rages unobtrusively, hidden from public sight. We can only imagine its intensity.

It breaks into view again at a river in Aenon near Salim where the Champion comes to be baptized by a wilderness prophet. From there it moves directly into the surrounding wilderness, a frontal attack of the enemy this time, an attack repulsed by the Champion with prayer and fasting and the Word of God his Father. Some three years of skirmishes follow: sickness, death, demons, storms, politicians and clergy – all pawns in the conflict, a conflict moving inexorably toward a climactic battle.

Today it begins; today the final assault begins.

Then they brought the colt to Jesus and threw their clothes on it, and He sat on it. And many spread their clothes on the road, and others cut down leafy branches from the trees and spread them on the road. Then those who went before and those who followed cried out, saying:

‘Blessed is He who comes in the name of the LORD!’
Blessed is the kingdom of our father David that comes in the name of the Lord! Hosanna in the highest!”

And Jesus went into Jerusalem and into the temple (Mk 11:7-10, NKJV).

Jesus casts down the gauntlet. Riding at the head of a coronation procession, he comes as King to an occupied city, occupied by the world-striding, world-conquering power of Rome. Hailed as the one who comes in the name of the LORD, he comes as Lord to an occupied temple, occupied by thieving merchants and power hungry priests.

The climactic battle is coming and the Triumphal Entry is the opening volley – Jesus on the offensive. But is the battle really to be waged against such would-be powers of the world as those arrayed against Jesus – a battle waged against priests and Sadducees, scribes and Pharisees, Herodians and Roman soldiers? Surely these are no match for Very God from Very God incarnate. Surely, Jesus came not to destroy these, or even to conquer them, but to save them. No, the coming battle is not against flesh and blood – even though the cross makes it seem so – but “against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms” (Eph 6:12, NIV). Though many of the “enemy” foot soldiers are indeed flesh and blood, the true battle is the ancient one begun in heaven, pursued in the Garden, and waged across the pages of history – a spiritual battle with the dragon. The battlefield is the heart of man, conquered by the enemy and guarded by his demon soldiers of barrenness, hypocrisy, and rebellion.

Now the next day [the day following the Triumphal Entry], when they had come out from Bethany, He [Jesus] was hungry. And seeing from afar a fig tree having leaves, He went to see if perhaps He would find something on it. When He came to it, He found nothing but leaves, for it was not the season for figs. In response Jesus said to it, “Let no one eat fruit from you ever again.”
And his disciples heard it.

Now in the morning [of the next day], as they passed by, they saw the fig tree dried up from the roots. And Peter, remembering, said to Him, “Rabbi, look! The fig tree which You cursed has withered away” (Mk 11:12-14, 20-21, NKJV).

Jesus has come to battle barrenness in Israel and in the human heart. To Israel belongs “the adoption, the glory, the covenants, the giving of the law, the worship, and the promises; to them belong the patriarchs, and from them, according to the flesh, comes the Messiah, who is over all, God blessed for ever. Amen” (Rom 9:4-5, NRSV). And yet, when Jesus looks for the fruit born from these incomparable blessings he finds only a tree in full foliage, leaves concealing its utter barrenness. What is this? In the presence of Jesus fish miraculously school into nets, water turns into wine, bread is multiplied, storms are stilled. Creation knows its Creator and bends the knee before him. But this tree, this Israel? It refuses to bear fruit for its Creator, for its Messiah. And so, Jesus wields the sword, condemning its barrenness.

From his battle with the barren fig tree Jesus comes to Jerusalem.

Then Jesus went into the temple and began to drive out those who bought and sold in the temple, and overturned the tables of the money changers and the seats of those who sold doves. And He would not allow anyone to carry wares through the temple. Then He taught, saying to them, “Is it not written, ‘My house shall be called a house of prayer for all nations’? But you have made it a ‘den of thieves.’”
And the scribes and chief priests heard it and sought how they might destroy Him; for they feared Him, because all the people were astonished at His teaching (Mk 11:15-18, NKJV).

What is a priest, if not a servant, a shepherd to lead his flock to God? But these priests act not as good shepherds, but as hirelings who care nothing for the sheep. They break into God’s house to steal; they have made it a den of thieves and have become thieves themselves. All the while wearing their robes and turbans, lifting their hands in prayer, offering the appointed sacrifices – now these “shepherds of Israel” plot how they might destroy the Good Shepherd. They are the worst kind of hypocrites: those who pretend to honor God and speak for him, but who know him not and have never heard his voice. The glory they should direct toward God they divert toward themselves. Jesus has come to battle this hypocrisy in Israel’s priests and in the human heart. And so he wields the whip, driving out the merchants – the priests’ lackeys – freeing the sacrificial doves before their blood is spilled in empty ritual, disrupting the priests’ vain worship. Yes, Jesus wields the whip, condemning hypocrisy.

The following day Jesus is accosted by the chief priests, the scribes, and the elders while walking in the temple. “And they said to Him, ‘By what authority are You doing these things: And who gave You this authority to do these things’” (Mk 11:28, NKJV)? Jesus answered in a parable.

A man planted a vineyard. He put a wall around it, dug a pit for the winepress and built a watchtower. Then he rented the vineyard to some farmers and went away on a journey. 2At harvest time he sent a servant to the tenants to collect from them some of the fruit of the vineyard. 3But they seized him, beat him and sent him away empty-handed. 4Then he sent another servant to them; they struck this man on the head and treated him shamefully. 5He sent still another, and that one they killed. He sent many others; some of them they beat, others they killed.
6He had one left to send, a son, whom he loved. He sent him last of all, saying, 'They will respect my son.'
7But the tenants said to one another, 'This is the heir. Come, let's kill him, and the inheritance will be ours.' 8So they took him and killed him, and threw him out of the vineyard.
9What then will the owner of the vineyard do? He will come and kill those tenants and give the vineyard to others. 10Haven't you read this scripture: 'The stone the builders rejected has become the capstone; 11the Lord has done this, and it is marvelous in our eyes'?
12Then they looked for a way to arrest him because they knew he had spoken the parable against them. But they were afraid of the crowd; so they left him and went away (Mk 12:1-12, NIV).

Jesus has come as the faithful Son to reclaim the vineyard for God his Father; he has come knowing full well the tenants will kill him and throw him out of the vineyard. He has come to battle the rebellion in the leadership of Israel and in the human heart. And so, he wields the power of the word against this rebellion, the power of a parable which will either break hearts and bend knees or harden hearts and stiffen necks. Yes, Jesus wields the word, condemning rebellion.

The Triumphal Entry – and the ensuing battle – had profound historical and spiritual significance for Israel. For its barrenness, hypocrisy, and rebellion – particularly of the religious establishment – Israel was judged by God and, in only forty years, destroyed by the Romans. Though Israel never was and is not now excluded from God’s redemptive work, the thrust of that redemptive work in the world shifted to the nations – to the Gentiles, though St. Paul holds out hope, as do we all, for a great awakening of his people. For Israel, the Triumphal Entry was the beginning of judgment, though the hope of restoration remains.

But the Triumphal Entry marks the beginning of another battle, as well – and, pray God, not a battle unto judgment. Having conquered sin and death, having defeated our ancient foe Satan – having risen from the dead, trampling down death by death – our Champion Jesus makes triumphal entry into every human heart and wields the sword against the barrenness, hypocrisy, and rebellion he finds there. Let us make no mistake: if we are his, if we have surrendered the vineyard of our lives to him, Jesus will have us fruitful; he will have us genuine; he will have us humble. He is a mighty warrior and wields the sword to great effect. The cuts are deep and painful. The wounds are mortal wounds; none survive his onslaught. Every old man, old woman, old child must die – every vestige of barrenness and hypocrisy and rebellion must be destroyed – so that a new man, a new woman, a new child may be born and may press on toward maturity. The sword in the hands of the Warrior proves to be the scalpel in the hands of the Healer – a healer who battles our human hearts not for their destruction but for their perfection.

This is not a battle in which we can remain neutral: we are both battleground and combatant – we are engaged. We may choose to fight with Jesus for the deliverance of our hearts or against him for – What? – to remain barren, to live in hypocrisy, to rebel against the one who loves us and longs to free us from our corruption and slavery? But if we choose to fight with him, our Champion equips us, arms us for battle and assures us of victory.

The weapons we fight with are not the weapons of the world. On the contrary, they have divine power to demolish strongholds. We demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God, and we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ (2 Cor 10:4-5, NIV).

13Therefore put on the full armor of God, so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground, and after you have done everything, to stand. 14Stand firm then, with the belt of truth buckled around your waist, with the breastplate of righteousness in place, 15and with your feet fitted with the readiness that comes from the gospel of peace. 16In addition to all this, take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming arrows of the evil one. 17Take the helmet of salvation and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God. 18And pray in the Spirit on all occasions with all kinds of prayers and requests. With this in mind, be alert and always keep on praying for all the saints (Eph 6:13-18, NIV).

Truth, righteousness, peace, faith, the Word of God, and prayer – continual prayer in the Spirit – these are our weapons. Add to this arsenal humility, obedience, self-sacrifice, service, and love – above all, love – and the victory for our hearts and our very lives is certain.

There is a battle raging, not only in the world, but in our hearts. May Jesus truly come to us in Triumphal Entry. May we truly cry out,

Blessed is He who comes in the name of the LORD!