Newsletter Article for the April edition of The Hillside Messenger
“A Hermit’s view of Passiontide and Easter”
In traditional Christian teaching about the Church, the corporate nature of the Church is often emphasized, since this, rather than an individual view of faith, is paramount in Holy Scripture. Though it is as an individual each of us comes to faith and has a relationship with God the Father through the Lord Jesus Christ in companionship with the Holy Spirit, yet both in the Old and in the New Testament, God’s people work out their salvation as a community of faith.
In these times, however, we all have to comply with the orders of county and state to shelter at home, so that the spread of the covid-19 virus may be contained, and that as many lives as possible be spared, and the strain on health care resources be lessened. Though in the normal circumstances of life, we have stressed the importance of regular attendance at church services, we now live a way of life in which attendance at church services is impossible, except virtual attendance of services online. One might even say that the secular authorities have gone as far as they can in pointing us in the direction of living a cloistered, or even an eremitical, life. How can this be a good thing, and what difference does it make to us Anglican Christians, as we enter Passiontide, Holy Week and the celebration of Easter?
One great advantage of this way of life, and of looking at life, is that we have to spend much more time at home, either alone or with our families. Spending time with our families is what many Americans need to do, for we have often spent so much time away from our families, commuting to work, or on business travel. This is a time in which we must realize that God has given us all our families as a gift and blessing for our lives here on earth, and we must hold them close to our hearts, and live at peace with them, showing them the love of God which we are commanded to show. Let us remember how our Lord Jesus Christ, dying on the cross, brought a new member into his own family by saying to the beloved disciple, John, “Behold thy mother,” and to his mother, “Woman, behold thy son” (John 19:26-27, KJV), and from that moment St. John took St. Mary into his own home. So we see how the Lord creates a new family, in the very process of dying, and leaving his own. In these times, we must appreciate God’s gift of family to us, as well as his intentions for a happy, loving and peaceful family life for every family. In this light we should often pray this Blessing on the Families of the Land, as found on p. 598 of the Book of Common Prayer, 1928:
ALMIGHTY God, our heavenly Father, who settest the solitary in families; We commend to thy continual care the homes in which thy people dwell. Put far from them, we beseech thee, every root of bitterness, the desire of vain-glory, and the pride of life. Fill them with faith, virtue, knowledge, temperance, patience, godliness. Knit together in constant affection those who, in holy wedlock, have been made one flesh; turn the heart of the fathers to the children, and the heart of the children to the fathers; and so enkindle fervent charity among us all, that we be evermore kindly affectioned with brotherly love; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
Every Christian has the responsibility to root out of his family life bitterness, the desire of vain-glory, and the pride of life, and to pray and live to this effect for his family, to show his spouse that love and affection commanded by God in Holy Scripture, and to teach sons and daughters the commands and doctrines of the Bible, and to live at peace with the younger and the older generation.
But what if there is no family left at home, and one is living alone? This situation may be a very lonely one, but it is a time of life in which one can enter deeply into prayer, and intercession for the whole of God’s family on earth. But not only individuals at home, but every Christian should use this time to reflect on God’s word, as well as to pray, and to intercede for his own family and the family of God, the Church.
The Collect for Passion Sunday (the Fifth Sunday in Lent) asks God to look mercifully upon his people and to govern and preserve them forever, both in body and in soul. How much time do we spend praying for God to govern and preserve the Church? Many of us have not spent enough time praying for God to govern the Church. We wonder why so much has gone wrong in the life of Church and society, and we are prone to criticize instead of to pray. As we begin Passiontide, let us pray for the Church and all its leaders, as well as all believers, to cooperate with the Lord Jesus Christ’s governance of the Church through the Holy Spirit. Let us identify ourselves with the Lord Jesus Christ’s intercession for the Church, for example, as we find in in John 17, where Christ prays both for the unity of the Church in himself and its preservation (John 17:11), as well as its sanctification through his own sanctification by dying on the cross (John 17:19). The unity of the Church, he prays, will so reflect the unity of God the Father and the Son that the world will know that God sent him and loves the Church as he has loved Christ (John 17:23).
The Shelter in Place order affords all of us the time to reflect, pray and evaluate our spiritual progress – where do we stand with Christ now? Are we obeying his will and following him as our Lord and Savior? Can we honestly say that we know him and that he knows us? I remind you of our Lord’s warning in these verses:
Not every one that saith unto me, Lord, Lord, shall enter into the kingdom of heaven; but he that doeth the will of my Father which is in heaven. Many will say to me in that day, Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in thy name? and in thy name have cast out devils? and in thy name done many wonderful works? And then will I profess unto them, I never knew you: depart from me, ye that work iniquity.
(Matthew 7:21-23, KJV)
Does the Lord Jesus Christ know us? Of course, being God, he knows everything about all of us. He is speaking of having fellowship with us, having a relationship with us, which he can only do if we both believe in him and obey him. Now is the time to see to it that we build that relationship with the Lord, and continue to build it by trust and obedience.
Those that delight in skipping from Epiphany and Mardi Gras to Easter without observing Lent, Passiontide, Holy Week and Easter, may feel less inclined to do so under circumstances which confront each of us with his own mortality. In the face of a pandemic, we must all ask the question, “Am I ready to die now, if God so disposes? Am I sure I have eternal life in the Lord Jesus Christ?” if we are not ready, we must turn from our sins with all our heart, believe in the Lord Jesus Christ, and follow him, and we shall be ready. If we are ready, we must face the future with the confidence and trust in God that he gives us. In Psalm 32:11, we read, “Great plagues remain for the ungodly; but whoso putteth his trust in the Lord, mercy embraceth him on every side” (p. 378, Book of Common Prayer, 1928). The word “plagues” reflects the Septuagint and the Vulgate rendering of this verse, and the word “troubles” or “griefs,” the Hebrew Massoretic text. Let each of us find that God’s mercy and protection surround us as we trust in him.
Now, as we come to Holy Week, even if we cannot hold services in our Chapel, we can use the valuable resources of Bible and Prayer Book to “enter with joy upon the meditation of those mighty acts by which thou hast given unto us life and immortality” (Collect for Wednesday before Easter, p.147, Book of Common Prayer, 1928). For every day of Holy Week, our Prayer Book provides a Collect and Lesson from the Passion narrative in one of the Gospels (pp. 134-162, Prayer Book). I commend these Collects and Lessons to you for your use in Holy Week. In the absence of services of Holy Communion, I commend to you also the practice of Spiritual Communion and meditation on the Lord Jesus Christ, receiving his Body and Blood spiritually. We should also remember how the Holy Communion takes up the theme of the Passover Festival, in which is celebrated both the Exodus of the Jews from bondage in Egypt and their salvation from the destroying angel by the blood of the sacrificed lamb put on the doorposts and lintel of each family’s home. This reminds us that the Blood of the Lord Jesus Christ saves his people from the destruction of God’s judgement on sin, and gives us eternal life.
Having thoughtfully and prayerfully meditated on these events that led to salvation, we shall be able the better to appreciate and rejoice in the great Easter victory of the Lord Jesus Christ’s resurrection from the dead! May God guide each of you to a truly meaningful Holy Week and Easter!