A Bride adorned for her Bridegroom

Then I, John, saw a new heaven and a new earth. The former heaven and the former earth had passed away, and the sea was no more. I also saw the holy city, a new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Behold, God’s dwelling is with the human race. He will dwell with them and they will be his people and God himself will always be with them as their God. He will wipe every tear from their eyes, and there shall be no more death or mourning, wailing or pain, for the old order has passed away.” The One who sat on the throne said, “Behold, I make all things new.”

Rev 21:1-5a

This morning we read from John’s Revelation how he sees, “the holy city, a New Jerusalem, coming down from heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband.” John then hears a loud voice coming from the throne that says, “the old order has passed away. Behold, I make all things new.”

Here we are in the middle of May and also right in the thick of wedding season. Brides love to be married during the beautiful days of late spring, and so many of you might have recently been to a wedding or are planning to go to one soon. And we see a fair amount of wedding imagery in this reading from the Book of Revelation. This New Jerusalem is prepared as a bride adorned for her husband.

For those of you who have not been at a wedding recently in the age of Pinterest and Instagram, let me share with you how prophetic John’s writing really was. The bride frequently does spend the day getting ready. We were recently at a wedding when the ceremony was scheduled for 6:30 p.m. But the bridal party needed to report somewhere at 9:30 in the morning for a sequence of hair and makeup and dress and various other little episodes, all of which were captured for social media. But what if all of that being prepared as a bride adorned for her husband was not for Instagram and Pinterest, but it really was for her husband?

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Divine Mercy

Today is the Second Sunday of Easter, and it is the end of the Octave of Easter. For the past eight days (last Sunday through today), we have been celebrating Easter Day every day. There are more than forty days of Easter left on the calendar, but the Octave is completed today. Today is also known as Divine Mercy Sunday, thanks to St. John Paul, who suggested we use the Second Sunday of Easter to explore the Divine Mercy.

The message of the Divine Mercy is simple. It is that God loves us – all of us. And, He wants us to recognize that His mercy is greater than our sins, so that we will call upon Him with trust, receive His mercy, and let it flow through us to others. Thus, all will come to share His joy. You’ll notice that the message of Divine Mercy starts with love and then mercy and then trust and then joy. Easter is a time of joy precisely because of the Divine Mercy.

When we talk about mercy, we are also talking about justice. Mercy is justice overwhelmed by love, or overridden by love. Remember that Justice is getting what’s due to you. The job of the justice department in the government is to make sure that the bad guys get punished. We want them to get their due. And mercy is getting a pass on what’s due to you. Mercy is when the judge hears from the state trooper that you were going 85 miles an hour and he lets you off with a warning instead of making you pay a big fine. So you can see that mercy is when you do not get what you’re due, and in that way it triumphs over justice.

So what is the Divine Mercy? It is the triumph of God’s love over the consequences of the Fall in the Garden of Eden. After Adam and Eve turned their back on God, they could no longer stay in the Garden. And everyone born after them is separated from God and therefore headed ultimately towards the place of eternal separation from God. After the Fall, what we are due is Gehenna.

But God’s love for us is so great that he would not abandon us. Instead of sending everyone directly to Gehenna when they died, he sent them to Sheol. This is the realm of the dead but not the realm of everlasting punishment. This is the realm that Jesus goes to on Holy Saturday to preach the good news. In his love for us, God sent the Old Testament heroes to Sheol instead of Gehenna because Jesus – whose name means God Saves – was coming to save us on the cross at Calvary. That is the Divine Mercy.

God’s love for us is so great that he would not abandon us when we committed the ultimate betrayal at the Fall in the Garden. Humanity spurned its creator for a sneaky, slippery liar. We were made by Love itself, and we were made for love, but we chose the deceiver. The Divine Mercy is that our heavenly father kept wooing us back to union with him. He never gave up on us no matter how many times we gave up on him. And finally he sent his son to save us. 

God’s love for us is so great that he will not abandon us. When it became clear that we could not obey him by our own strength, he sent his son to die on the cross for our sins. That is the ultimate Divine Mercy. That divine mercy is why we have our Easter Joy.

The Gospel reading for the Second Sunday of Easter is always the same: it’s always the story of the doubting Thomas. Thomas is also a story of Divine Mercy. Thomas is unwilling to accept the testimony of the other disciples. He needs data. In this respect St. Thomas is a thoroughly modern man, the kind of person who asks you what the temperature is, listens to your answer, and then goes and looks at the thermometer himself. Our God loves us so much that he will not abandon those who insist on seeing it for themselves. He gives us the time we need to feel his presence. He let Thomas touch his hands and his side a week after Easter Sunday, but he did add, “Blessed are those who have not seen and yet believe.” Another example of the Divine Mercy. And in a way, the story of the doubting Thomas – and his dramatic reaction when he does believe – reinforces the testimony of those who did not doubt. Our God loves us so much he gave us not just one but many witnesses of the Resurrection, so that we would know that it’s true and that Mercy has triumphed over Justice.

Thomas is not the only Apostle who experienced the Divine Mercy. Peter’s transformation after forty days with the risen Lord is a Divine Mercy – helping the one who denied him three times become the Vicar of Christ. St. Paul, the one who hunted believers, received the Divine Mercy on the road to Damascus, and he became the Apostle to the Gentiles.

These are all Divine, but they are only possible because of the ultimate Divine Mercy – God became Man to live among us and offer himself as a sacrifice for our sins and to rise from the dead to show us that sin and death no longer need to have dominion over us.  We have to believe, which Thomas struggled with. The faith is a struggle sometimes. All who harbor some doubts should ask Thomas to pray for them. He knows what they are going through since he went through it himself.

God loves us so much that he sent his Son to save us. We are redeemed. The debt has been paid off. We have a new chance at real life. Real life is the Life in Christ. An Easter People is a people free from the worries of the world. That is a Divine Mercy – to be unruffled by the things that worry the world.

God loves us so much he sent his Son to answer the question everyone eventually asks, “What is the point of this life I’m living?” The Divine Mercy is that we understand we do not have to go to Gehenna. We have a choice. This life is given to us so we can choose God or Gehenna.

God loves us so much he gives us his grace through the Sacraments. In a few minutes we will begin the Liturgy of the Eucharist. After we recall his sacrifice on the Cross through the priest’s Eucharistic Prayer, by his Divine Mercy we receive him – all of him – at Holy Communion.

God loves us so much he gives us absolution through the Sacrament of Reconciliation. He is that traffic judge who does not hold us accountable for our transgressions. His Mercy triumphs over Justice in the confessional. And we are freed once again to live the Life of Christ.

Christian joy comes from the knowledge that God’s mercy is greater than our sins, and that we can trust in Him, for his love is so great he gave us the Divine Mercy of his Son’s sacrifice to save us. Accept the Divine Mercy, and be filled with Easter Joy.

Sixth Word Good Friday 2022

There was a jar filled with common wine. They stuck a sponge soaked in this wine on some hyssop and raised it to his lips. When Jesus took the wine, he said: “It is finished.”

John 19:29-30

When Jesus says it is finished, we might ask ourselves exactly what is finished? He is about to die, so is it that his life is finished? He told the disciples last night when he instituted the Lord’s Supper that this was his body and this was his blood, so is it that the institution of the Lord’s Supper is finished?

I think the answer to both of these questions is yes. But today I’d like to look back in the church year to the Annunciation and the Nativity of Our Lord. This is Good Friday, which is an odd name for this day unless we can connect it to the Annunciation and to the Nativity. For what is finished is the consequence of Adam and Eve’s decision in the Garden of Eden to turn away from the Lord and to put themselves – and us – under the dominion of the Evil One. All of salvation history as recorded in Holy Scripture is a response to that original sin. Time after time, our Heavenly Father sent prophets to call us back to the relationship that we were made for. And from time to time we were able to turn back, but we were unable to remain in that good relationship with our creator. We would return, but we wouldn’t stay.

Our Heavenly Father loves us; he loves us so much, he sent his only begotten son into the world, not to condemn the world, but that the world might be saved by his son’s sacrifice. His birth was announced to Our Lady by God’s messenger, the Archangel Gabriel. And Our Lady responded as Adam and Eve did not: “Be it done unto me according to thy will.” Like Eve, whose name means “the mother of all,” Mary was born without an ingrained inclination to sin. Like Eve, she could freely choose to follow God’s will or to reject God’s will. Unlike Adam and Eve, Mary freely chose to follow God’s will. From such a holy body, our Lord was born on Christmas Day. The word became flesh and dwelt among us.

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Dead and Buried

One of the most offensive claims that Christians make about their faith is captured in the next phrase: “Dead and buried.” Gods are immortal. Gods do not die. But Christians claim that God did die. He died on the cross on Friday. He was put in a tomb. He was in the tomb all of Holy Saturday. God was truly dead. For as you remember, we believe that Jesus was truly man and also truly god. So to state joyfully that the Son of God is allowed to die is an extraordinary thing for non-Christian ears to hear. And nothing was done to Jesus without the cooperation of his human will. So we cannot slip into the fallacy that somehow or other his human nature was overridden by his divine nature. If Jesus is fully man then he has free will. He cannot be some kind of a human robot that is directed by his divine will.

Because he’s human he gets to choose. And Jesus chose to cooperate with his father’s plan. He accepted death on a cross as his Heavenly Father’s will for him. He chose death. On Good Friday here at Saint Catherine’s, we have meditations on the seven last words from the cross. And whenever I meditate on those seven last words I am struck by the sense that Jesus was completely in control of things all the way to the very end. Especially when you read the Passion as given to us by Saint John, it’s very clear that Jesus was not a victim in the sense that he had no power, but he was a victim in the sense that he was the offering – the Holocaust – that resulted in the atonement we talked about last time.

And the word “buried” is included in the Creed because it means that he not only died but he stayed dead. We see in the gospels many times where a child is dead but immediately comes back to life when Jesus speaks. In the ttory of Lazarus, the writer makes it clear that the man is really dead because he’s been in the tomb for a number of days. The sister Martha complains that opening the tomb is going to be a bad idea because it’s going to stink. That’s what it means by buried. I hope some of you Monty Python fans are immediately going to the dead parrot sketch. Jesus was not merely pining for the fjords, he was really dead buried in a tomb.

And meditating on this can be very fruitful for us. Holy Saturday is a very quiet day in the church calendar. There’s no Holy Saturday mass. The first Mass after Holy Thursday is the Easter Vigil, and officially that really starts in the middle of the night of Sunday morning. Over the years, church men have gotten used to moving it so that you know it’s dusk on Saturday, but that’s to accommodate for the fact that Father has to get up and do three more masses tomorrow morning.

So we are really invited on Holy Saturday to enter into the quiet bleakness of the day. We know Jesus is dead because we were there on Good Friday when he died. But on Holy Saturday we don’t know that tomorrow on Easter he will rise from the dead. Those of you who are praying the Liturgy of the Hours will find on Holy Saturday one of the readings for the Office of Readings is an ancient sermon describing what’s known as the harrowing of hell, when Jesus went down to the realm of the dead and preached the good news to those who hadnever been able to hear it during the time of the Old Testament. So even on the quiet bleakness of the morning of Holy Saturday, there is this small but growing sense of joy. So he is dead and buried, but he will rise on the third day.

Was Crucified

The next phrase in the Creed is “Was Crucified.” Crucifixion was a method of execution that everyone agreed was so awful it was reserved for those situations when the Roman State needed to make an example of the criminal. No Roman citizen could be executed by crucifixion; it was just for the rebellious foreigners and slaves. And so they chose crucifixion for these particular cases.

That means that in the Roman – and crucifixion actually seems to be something that the Romans learned from the Persians centuries earlier – so not only in the Roman mind but in the general Pagan mind crucifixion is a special agony reserved for special cases. When there was a rebellion against the Roman state, the crosses would come out. The one thing that the Roman State would not tolerate was rebellion. In many ways it was a very tolerant empire, provided you acknowledged its authority. If you did rebell, then you needed to be canceled, and crucifixion was the most extreme version of cancellation.

But for the Christians, the cross becomes a sign of victory rather than a sign of defeat. It is through the Cross that victory over death has been won for us. The Cross involves suffering – great suffering – but through that suffering even unto death on a Cross, Jesus won for us eternal life. And the sign of the cross, the shape of it, invites so much hope for us. People talk about a circle as being endless, but if you think about it is completely limited: all you can do is go around on the same circle over and over again. But the cross points out with its arms to Infinity, and you may remember how Father Neil frequently says that the cross represents “I crossed out” as a reminder that we must die to self if we wish to gain heaven. And the figure of a cross is so simple, so easy to make the sign of the cross, which means Christians can make a very powerful prayer quickly and without even using words.

So the fact that he was crucified opens us to many of the Mysteries the faith.

Under Pontius Pilate

The phrase “Under Pontius Pilate” reminds us that the crucifixion of Jesus Christ was an historical event. It is an event that can be corroborated by non-gospel sources. So it is not just a story made up later by the faithful.

Monsignor Knox contrasts that when you tell a fairy tale, you open it with a phrase such as “Once Upon a Time.” But the gospel says when Pilate was procurator in Judea. And that means we can pretty much mark in history when these things happened.

And Monsignor Knox discusses why it would have been at the time of Pontius Pilate. This is a little bit of Western Civ history, so I apologize in advance. Alexander the Great was a very successful empire builder around 330 BC, and his Empire stretched from North Africa all the way to India. He spoke Greek, and so the Greek language was spread across the empire at that time. He didn’t last very long, but his empire was divided and remained established so long that the entire world came to know the Greek language in much the same way that the entire world knows the English language today.

The Roman Empire eventually followed Alexander’s and came to dominate all the way from Great Britain to Persia. The Roman civil wars ended around 30 BC, so the entire Mediterranean area was at peace. And the Temple of Jerusalem was destroyed around 70 AD. Monsignor Knox explains that that means we have about a hundred year period when the entire world understood the Greek language and the entire world was relatively peaceful and safe under the Roman Empire. This is the fullness of time when God chose to send his son to a remote corner of the Roman Empire but with a message that would change the world. And that’s why “Under Pontius Pilate” is in our Creed.

He Suffered

The next phrase is “he suffered.”

We are familiar with the agony in the Garden of Gethsemane that Jesus endured on the night before his passion, but there are other times in the gospel stories where it’s clear that our Lord is suffering. After his 40 days in the desert, he is hungry. And hunger is a kind of suffering. He is also hungry when he comes to the fig tree that does not bear fruit. And when he meets the woman at the well, the woman with the irregular marriage situation, he is tired and thirsty. That’s why he stops at the well and asks for water.

These are important things for us to remember as part of our faith because they confirm our teaching that Jesus was fully human. Except for sin, he was human in all things like us. And it helps us make sense of suffering a little bit when we know that our Lord suffered with some regularity before the end of his life. Being hungry, being tired, or being thirsty are all things that all of us have experienced in our lives and expect to experience in our lives. And Jesus experienced them as we do.

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Born of the Virgin Mary

The next phrase from the Apostles Creed is, “conceived by the Holy Spirit, born of the Virgin Mary.” Monsignor Knox points out that the title Our Lady is not an ancient title that we see from the early days of the Church, but it seems to come perhaps in the Middle Ages and perhaps it’s connected to the tradition of the troubadours who sang epic songs of heroes and of a courtly love for the beautiful noble maiden. If you’re familiar with Dante’s Comedy, the woman Beatrice is one of these beautiful noble maidens for whom Dante has a chaste and courtly love.

Monsignor Knox then gets to his main point about this phrase. Mary was really the mother of Jesus. Like a true mother, she gave birth to the boy. It was a real live birth. Jesus was not some kind of a phantom; he was a real human baby. So when we refer to her as the mother of God, we are saying he was his true mother. When we say that Mary is the mother of God, we are also saying that Jesus is truly God.

And this brings Monsignor Knox to focus on the word “virgin.” Mary was truly a virgin. Jesus had no earthly father. And Mary remained a virgin the rest of her life. You might have heard of the objection that elsewhere in the scriptures people refer to Jesus’s brothers, and you might have heard of the explanation which is that in those languages, there was no distinction among close relatives. We know that John the Baptist was Jesus’s cousin because we know that his mother Elizabeth was a close relative of Mary, but those languages did not have differentiation between brother and cousin the way our English language does. So when we read the word brother in the scriptures, we need to mentally substitute the phrase close relative. Jesus had no brothers or sisters in the way we mean the word today, for Mary remained ever virgin.

And Monsignor Knox argues that it is fitting, indeed, it is appropriate, that the son of God should be born in a miraculous way. It seems right that the Son of God would be born to a virgin who would remain one. Certainly if you put yourself in the shoes of Joseph, you might realistically choose not to insist upon natural marital rights with a woman about whom an angel came and visited you in the middle of the night, a woman whose birth was in a stable attended by the animals, but then shepherds showed up saying that Angels had sung to them from the heavens about the birth of this boy. And then three foreigners who are some kind of philosopher / magicians come to pay homage to your son and offer gifts of frankincense, gold, and myrrh. Joseph can tell that something miraculous is going on with this boy who was born of the Virgin Mary.

Monsignor Knox notes that for some reason people stumble more over this claim that Mary was a virgin before and after and always more than they stumble over the claim of the Resurrection. And it does seem that if believers are willing to say that a man was killed on Friday and then rose by his own power from death on Sunday, then it takes no greater leap of faith to say that he was born of a virgin who remained a virgin after his birth. But for some reason, people do struggle over this teaching.

Why a Virgin Birth

And Monsignor Knox offers an answer as to why this is the case. And I’ve put it here on the screen because I think it’s so well said. “The resurrection, through which our Lord passed out of his mortal life, is meant to assure us that life is a bigger thing than death. The Virgin birth, by which he entered into mortal life, is meant to assure us that spirit is a bigger thing than body.”

He then offers this explanation: After the fall in the Garden of Eden, therefore a consequence of original sin, our passions can dominate our will — our bodily desires and urges can overwhelm our intellect and choosing functions — so that the body can seem more important or more powerful than the spirit or the soul. And Monsignor Knox argues that we see this confusion complicates important things such as Love and Marriage.

Born of the Virgin Mary

His conclusion, which I have on the screen, is: “The word was made flesh in order that we, creatures of the flesh, might be brought, once more, under the power of the spirit.”

And in Jesus Christ Our Lord

The next phrase from the Apostles Creed is and in Jesus Christ his only son.

Jesus is just the Aramaic form of the word that we see in the Old Testament Joshua. So it’s a relatively familiar name for a boy, and as is the case with so many Hebrew names, it means something. In this case it means “he who saves, savior.” It’s also a noble name in that it connects to Joshua, who led his people across the Jordan into the promised land completing the Exodus. So the name Joshua or Jesus is automatically a powerful and impressive name for a person.

But Monsignor Knox focuses more on the next term, Christ, for that is the weightier term. Calling somebody the Christ is calling somebody the Messiah. You might remember the scene from the gospels when Jesus asks his disciples, “Who do people say that I am?” And there are answers that suggest people think he’s a prophet like Elijah, and others think he might be John the Baptist. When Jesus asks, “But who do you say that I am,” that’s when St Peter has one of his greatest moments and blurts out, “You are the Christ.” And Jesus confirms how important this is because he says, “Blessed are you Simon son of Jonah. For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my heavenly Father.” [Mt. 16:17]

The Christ is the Messiah and the anointed one, for that’s what they all mean. Christ is just the Latin word for anointed one, and Messiah is the Hebrew word for anointed one, so we’re all talking about the same thing no matter which word we use.

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