Monday, April 24, 2017

The First Sunday after Easter - Low Sunday

Dear Fathers, Friends in Christ,

I John 5:4-12 and John 20:19-23

Jesus said to his disciples, "Peace be with you.  
As the Father has sent me, so I send you."  

This Sunday after Easter Sunday poses a bit of a difficulty for a priest to preach a sermon simply because last week was so special. What is it that I could say to you that you could carry away today as you leave church? Fortunately, this Church of ours presents to us such a rich bill of fair in the Scriptures today that it shouldn't be too difficult for all of us to carry away something to enrich our lives. 

Today, we think about the night of the Resurrection, Easter Sunday night, when these events in today's Gospel took place. The doors being shut, Jesus appears to His disciples in the upper room, the same place where they had celebrated the Last Supper with Jesus on the previous Thursday. Now he stands before them and says, "Peace be with you." The doors were locked, but that was no problem to Jesus. After all, if a stone in front of a tomb couldn't hold him, neither could a locked door. 
There are some, of course, who would say that the Resurrection of Jesus is merely symbolic; that Jesus didn't rise from the dead. Rather, it was only a "faith statement" on the part of the disciples. We don't believe that. The Scripture is very clear on this. Jesus showed them His hands and his side. He showed them the wounds. They were marks of victory. As a warrior king, he had entered into the battle with the powers of darkness and he had defeated them. He wore those wounds proudly and he showed them to his disciples. The disciples believed and understood. It is the Lord! This is the name that was given to Jesus after his resurrection. They called him Lord, for so he is. 

This appearance of Jesus before His disciples is an interesting one for many reasons. First of all, if you remember the Gospel readings last week and the story of the Resurrection, we had Peter and John running to the tomb. Peter and John looked in, saw, and believed. 

Now that same night, here they are in the upper room, behind locked doors cowering in fear. It doesn't seem to quite fit with what they did in the morning. But, for John, this does point out that they had not received the fullness of the Holy Spirit. In John's Gospel, when Jesus died on the cross, He cried out with a loud voice and handed over His Spirit. He handed over the Holy Spirit to the Church. But they had not received the fullness of the Spirit and it would be this night that they would receive the Holy Spirit in a new and special way. (St. Luke describes it as fifty days later, on the feast of Pentecost, when the Holy Spirit would come upon the Church.) But here they receive the Holy Spirit in a very special way this night. But before they received him, they would cower in fear behind locked doors; fearful that something awful might happen to them. Not very brave people! 

The next thing that we see in this narrative of John is the way in which he speaks of the disciples. Who were the disciples? The apostles were disciples; they were the followers of Jesus. Disciples are followers. But these were more than just the ten. After all, there were only ten at this point. Two were missing: Judas, who had gone out and hanged himself. And Thomas. Thomas was - we don't know where. Because of Thomas' absence, Jesus appeared to him a week later to deal with him in matters of faith. 

But there were more than just these ten there. For John, the whole Church was there. That's the point of his Gospel this morning. The whole Church could fit in an upper room. 

Jesus says to them, "Peace be with you." When he's saying that word to his disciples, it's much more than "Hello", or "Hi, guys, here I am." Peace is what he had promised to his disciples the previous Thursday. 

In the fourteenth chapter of John, Jesus said this: 
"Peace is my farewell to you. my peace is my gift to you. I do not give it to you as the world gives peace. Do not be distressed or fearful. You have heard me say, I go away for awhile and I come back to you.' If you truly love me, you would rejoice to have me go to the Father, for the Father is greater than I." 

Peace is his farewell gift and now he is saying to his disciples, "Yes, you have that peace that is grounded in your faith that I am truly risen. You can be at peace with your God for I have reconciled you to your Father." That's really what he is saying to these disciples. You can really be at peace. "I told you," Jesus said, "that you can trust your Father. You can trust him precisely to the point that even if they kill you, you can trust your Father. I have the wounds in my feet, my hands and my side to prove it. This is my peace that I give to you." 

Then Jesus says, "As the Father has sent me, so I send you." These are disciples. They are followers and now he is making them apostles. He is sending them out. "As the Father has sent me, so I send you." The Father sent Jesus into the world for one purpose: reconcile all of mankind to the love of our heavenly Father. That ministry of reconciliation was the reason why He was born. For this he came into the world. For this he suffered and died on a cross. The vindication of that sacrifice is the fact that the Father raised him up on the third day. Now he could say, "As the Father has sent me on this mission of reconciliation, so now I send you. You are to be apostles, ministers of reconciliation, one to another." Now this is what the Church is for. Priests and laity alike, all of us, are involved in this ministry of reconciliation. Jesus is saying this, not only to those apostles in the upper room, but to all of us as well. 
We have the ministry of reconciliation. How do we do that? Many, many ways! You don't have to go down to the main street  and stand on a soap box and say, "Jesus Christ is Lord." Some special people might do that. But you don't have to. There are simple ways in which you and I can work out this ministry of reconciliation with one another. People will see you and ask, "Why is she so joyful? Why is he so peaceful and happy? What is there about this person?" Joy and peace can be signs of the presence of the risen Lord in your life. That is what can be so attractive that people say, "You must have found something. Tell me about what you have found." They may not articulate it. But you can tell when they want to know, and you can say it. Maybe a word here, a word there, something you share with a friend or a neighbor or relative. In one way or another, you work out that ministry of reconciliation; you have been sent. 

This is the reason why you received the Holy Spirit. He breathed on the disciples and said, "Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive men's sins, they are forgiven them; if you hold them bound, they are held bound." This is reconciliation, forgiveness of sins. This is why the Church exists: to reconcile all of mankind, in Christ, to the Father. We are the Body of Christ and therefore, it is our role. As the Father has sent Christ, so he sends us. 

Jesus breathed on His disciples and here is where John wants us to hearken back to the Old Testament. In the second chapter of Genesis, when God formed man out of the earth, he breathed life into his nostrils. Now Jesus breathes on His Church and breathes life into it. This is the life of grace; this is the life of the Spirit that he has given to each and every one of us. 

There is another wonderful example of God breathing and bringing to life. It's in the thirty-seventh chapter of the Book of Ezekiel. You know the story. It is the story of the dry bones. In a field, the plains of Esdralon, were the bodies of those slain in battle, their bones bleaching in the sun, according to the vision of Ezekiel, and the Spirit of God breathed into those bones new life and they rose up as a great army. 

What a beautiful image for the Church, a Church that in so many places is moribund - dead, if not deadly. The Church needs a new outpouring of the Holy Spirit, that new breath of life that only God can give in order that it can rise up as a mighty army to do the work of God, to bring about reconciliation. There are so many things that you and I can understand in that short passage of John's Gospel today. It doesn't even get into that dialogue with Thomas. Thomas wanted empirical evidence, sensual evidence, that Jesus was truly risen, "Put your fingers into the place of the nails and your hand into My side and do not persist in your unbelief," he says to Thomas. "Become a believer." All Thomas has to do is profess his faith, to say, "My Lord and My God." 

We are a people of faith, like Thomas. You and I can say, "My Lord and My God." Because of that living faith that has been breathed into us by the Holy Spirit, we can accept the commission that Christ our Lord gives to us this day to be reconcilers. We can forgive the sins of those who sin against us. We can bring all people together under the headship of Christ. Let that be our prayer as we offer our sacrifice to the Father this day. 

Father Ed Bakker
Anglican Catholic Church / Original Province
Mission of Saint Aidan of Lindisfarne

Thursday, April 20, 2017

Thursday within the Octave of Easter

Dear Fathers, Friends in Christ,

Psalm 8:2, 5-9
Luke 24:35-48

Thursday within the Octave of Easter

As the crippled man who had been cured clung to Peter and John, all the people hurried in amazement toward them. (Acts 3:11)

Whatever happened to the man who was healed by Peter? The Book of Acts doesn’t say. Maybe the small detail that he “clung” to Peter and John can give us a clue. Having received such a remarkable miracle, this man must have come to faith in Jesus that day. He probably also joined the growing community surrounding the apostles, just as all the other new believers had done. And he likely continued to cling to Peter and John. He must have held a special place in his heart for these two men. How could he not admire their lives and ministry and pay extra attention when they taught? Wouldn’t you do the same?

It’s a good thing to “cling” to the people who have most helped you along on your spiritual journey. They can be great mentors as you learn to walk with the Lord, since we all have so much to learn. You may be fortunate to have someone in your life like Peter or John, someone who has introduced you to the Lord or helped you grow in your spiritual life. If so, observe how that person walks with the Lord. See how he or she interacts with fellow parishioners, neighbors, or coworkers. Listen especially to how the Spirit might speak to you through that person, and try to follow his or her example.

How about casting your net even wider? Some people cling to a favorite Christian speaker or author by reading their books or listening to their podcasts. A mentor like this doesn’t need to live near you—or even in this century! Maybe you feel a special kinship with St. Thérèse of Lisieux or St. Augustine. By befriending them through their stories and getting to know them in their writings, you can receive tremendous guidance and consolation. You can also find yourself stretched and challenged by them.

Jesus cares for you and wants to draw you close to his side. It’s incredibly thoughtful, isn’t it, that he would send mentors your way—people you can cling to just as this man clung to Peter and John.
“Lord, as I seek to know you more, open my eyes to the spiritual friends you have put in my life.”

Father Ed Bakker
Anglican Catholic Church / Original Province
Mission of Saint Aidan of Lindisfarne
Launceston on Tasmania

Monday, April 17, 2017

The Resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ - 10 April 2017

Dear Fathers, Friends in Christ,

"Christ our passover is sacrificed for us: Therefore let us keep the feast, not with old leaven, neither with the leaven of malice and wickedness; but with the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth" (1 Cor. 5:7-8—the Easter Canticle). 

All over the world in recent days, trendy Christians have met to hold a Seder, the ritual meal of the Jewish Passover. They probably mean well, but they have become so disconnected from the Holy Scriptures that they do not see that holding a Seder to celebrate Easter is as ridiculous as celebrating Moses’ or Samuel’s birthday at Christmas. 

Our English word "Easter" was provided by early missionaries, who borrowed the name of an ancient Germanic celebration of the rising of the sun on the day of the spring equinox, which occurs of course in the East. Those missionaries tried to give us a "native" English word for the rising-again of the Light of the World, without whom life is as impossible for mankind as it would be for a world without the sun. The fact remains, however, that in most languages the name of Easter is "Pascha," the Greek and Latin form of the Hebrew word for "Passover."
Nevertheless, Jesus Christ is our Passover, as St. Paul tells us, and not the Passover of the Jews. The first Passover, of course, was very important. It was a living prophecy in time and space of Jesus Christ. So, also, was the annual commemoration of the first Passover a prophecy of the annual Christian celebration of Easter in which we are now engaged. We can even say that it is impossible to understand Easter without understanding the first Passover, but we need to be very careful not to confuse the one with the other. It was the inherent promise of Jesus Christ contained in that the first Passover that made the Passover powerful and holy. The first Passover does not "ratify" Jesus Christ. Jesus Christ ratifies and fulfills the ancient Passover, and supersedes it by his death and resurrection. 

The first Passover was the founding of the nation of Israel by God, through his deliverance of his Chosen People from slavery in Egypt. God commanded the Israelites to sacrifice a lamb, to mark the doorposts of their homes with its blood, and to eat its flesh in a ritual meal of obedience and communion. When God sent his destroying angel upon Egypt, the angel "passed over" the homes of the Israelites, sparing their children, to claim the first-born of the idol-worshipping Egyptians. 
These mighty works of God resulted in the Exodus, the Israelites’ departure from Egypt for a new life in the Promised Land. The completing event of this Exodus, and the outward and visible sign of its power, was the passage through the Red Sea. The waters of the sea opened to allow the Israelites to cross over into freedom and closed again upon the Egyptian army that was pursing them, so that it was destroyed. Now the Israelites were completely lifted out of their bondage under a foreign tyrant and made a free people whose allegiance belonged to God alone. 

The ritual meal of the Old Testament, the Seder (from the Hebrew word for "order") commemorates the Exodus of Israel from Egypt. The "paschal" or "Passover" lamb is, of course, the center of the feast. Almost as important, however, is the unleavened bread that is also eaten at the meal. 

In their haste to leave Egypt, the Israelites had no time for their bread to rise. They left behind in Egypt the fermented "bread starter" (what we call "sour dough") that would have been used to raise or leaven their bread. Thus, all they had for their journey was the simple sort of bread or biscuit that could be made from plain flour and water. In the Passover meal, therefore, the unleavened bread symbolized three things. First, it represented the complete break with the past in Egypt by God’s grace. Second, it represented the dedication of the Chosen People to God and to his deliverance ahead of all earthly concerns. Third, since unleavened bread is the simplest and purest form of bread, its very plainness represented the unity of God’s people in spiritual purity and communion, without adulteration of any kind. 
The entire order of sacrifice under the Mosaic law was derived from the first Passover and the meal that celebrated it. We can see that sacrificial order laid out in great detail in Leviticus (chapters 8 and 9), when the priesthood of Aaron and his sons was ordained and inaugurated, but it can be summarized simply in this way. There is first of all, the shedding of blood, the offering of a life for life, as a sacrifice for the remission of sins. No other sacrifice could be offered until the sacrifice for sin had been offered. Then came the sacrifice of complete dedication to God, represented by a whole burnt offering of the sacrificial victim, so that nothing was left that did not belong to God. Finally came the sacrifices of peace offerings and of thanksgiving, which were eaten as a sign of communion with God at his table. 
None of these sacrifices, however, had any power of its own. Their power was a promise of, and a sharing in, the perfect sacrifice that was to come. Jesus Christ, our Lord, is that perfect and permanent sacrifice that all of the Old Testament sacrifices, including the sacrifice of the Passover, looked for and hoped for. Jesus Christ, the eternal Son of God made man, is both the victim of this sacrifice and the high priest who is raised from the dead by the Father to offer it—to offer himself, once for the redemption of the whole world. 

And so, Jesus Christ is our Passover. He is the Lamb of God, slain for the forgiveness of sins. He offers his life in the place of our lives, which we had forfeited by sinning. His Blood is shed, instead of ours, so that all the prayers ever offered for the forgiveness of sin, either before or after his death on the Cross, are answered by his Father only on the basis of his one death on the Cross. We are forgiven and redeemed, and given a whole new eternal life, by the sacrificial death that Jesus Christ offers for us to his Father in heaven. Nothing else can save us, and we are not saved until the Father by his grace and the Holy Ghost gives us, as his free gift, the benefits of this one and only perfect and effective sacrifice for sin. 

Jesus Christ is our sacrifice of dedication, not merely offering himself to the Father in our place, but also offering himself to the Father, completely and absolutely, as one of us, as our representative, as the one man in all of history who has offered perfect obedience to God in heaven. Moreover, if we are faithful to Jesus Christ’s sacrifice, then we, too, are absolutely dedicated to God. We belong to God alone, and God alone must hold all of our allegiance, obedience, and loyalty. 

Jesus Christ is our sacrifice of peace, thanksgiving, and communion. In the Sacrament of the Holy Communion, instituted by Christ on the night before he died, we eat his Flesh and drink his Blood, the Flesh and Blood of the one perfect sacrifice, at God’s table. The meal we eat at Jesus Christ’s commandment unites us with the Father in heaven, in a communion with the Father’s love and purposes, by the working of the Holy Ghost who dwells within us. The communion that Jesus Christ gives us in himself, with his Father, and by the Holy Ghost, is also the communion that binds us together, one to another, as the members of Christ’s Body and the adopted children of God. 

When St. Paul announces that Jesus Christ is our Passover, sacrificed for us, he intends that our lives and our homes should be marked with the Blood of Christ as belonging to the household of his Father in heaven. He intends us to understand that no evil, not even death, can overcome those who are marked with the Blood of this sacred sacrifice. He intends that we should believe that the waters of Baptism through which we have passed are our "Red Sea," so that we are now totally freed from the tyranny and despotism of Satan, to live the new life that Jesus Christ has promised us, and purchased for us, in his Father’s kingdom. 

In this, our Christian Passover, we do not slay and eat a new lamb, a different lamb, every year. Instead, we sit at table in thanksgiving with the one, true Lamb of God, risen from the dead, making the sacred memorial he commanded of his one sacrifice, once offered. We continue, by the mighty grace of God, to eat the Flesh and to drink the Blood of the one Lamb of God, through him, with him, and in him, offering our praise and thanksgiving for so complete and perfect a deliverance from our sins and from eternal death. The old Passover is done away, not because it was evil, but because it is now complete in Jesus Christ. 

St. Paul writes of "leaven," then, not to command us to eat the old Passover, but to tell us how to live in the kingdom brought into this world by the Passover of Jesus Christ. We are to follow the Lamb of God, now raised from the dead and enthroned at his Father’s right hand, by making a complete break with our sinful past; by dedicating ourselves completely to the God who saves us, above any other concern in heaven or earth; and by maintaining our communion in Jesus Christ through the spiritual unity that is only possible among a pure people who live in sincerity and truth every day of their lives. 

God has done a mighty work, which we commemorate on this day, whether we call it "Easter" or "Pascha." And by that mighty work, God calls us to equally mighty works, in the imitation of his Son, the Lamb of God, and by the richness of his grace. We are a new people. We are freed from slavery to Satan, sin, and death. God has made all things ready for us to live good lives now, and to live perfected lives with him forever. Christ our Passover is sacrificed for us. Therefore, let us keep the feast. 

Father Ed Bakker,
Anglican Catholic Church / Original Province
Mission of Saint Aidan of Lindisfarne
Launceston on Tasmania, Australia

Friday, April 14, 2017

Good Friday

Dear Fathers, Friends in Christ,

Isaiah 52:13–53:12
Psalm 31:2, 6, 12-13, 15-17, 25
Hebrews 4:14-16; 5:7-9

Good Friday of the Passion of the Lord
Behold, your king! (John 19:14)

Today stands as one of the most somber days of the year: the day we contemplate Jesus’ arrest and crucifixion. But rather than just reminiscing or feeling sad and withdrawn, let’s take Pilate’s exhortation literally and behold our King. Let’s join Mary and John at the foot of the cross and fix our gaze on Jesus.

Behold your king! Look at his broken body. See him crowned with thorns. Focus on his hands, his feet, his side. See his love flowing down to us as the blood continues to pour out from his side. Gaze into his eyes, and see the sorrow and the joy on his face: sorrow that our sins have brought him to this point; joy that his Father would raise him up—and raise us with him.

Behold your king! He is not just a ruler from the annals of history. He is not just a distant sovereign king. He is your King. He knows your name. He chose you to be his own, before you were even created. You belong to him. He sees every detail of your life, and he loves you. Hear him announce, “It is finished” (John 19:30). Know that this is a cry of victory. Believe that your king has completed his mission and opened the gates of heaven—for you.

Behold your king! There he is, the King of glory, the One who sustains the universe, hanging on a cross. This king came to serve, not to be served. Mocked and ridiculed, he suffers in silence. He conquers not with armies but through sacrifice. He delights in showing mercy, not vengeance. Gaze upon him, and see the Son of God offering his life for the sins of the world—for your sins.

On this holy day, try to set aside some extra time to be with Jesus. Your parish probably has a special celebration of the Stations of the Cross today. Join in if you can. Let the Stations show you what Jesus did for you. Fix your eyes on the crown of thorns, the nails, his side. As you do, behold your King, and let his sacrifice move your heart. Offer him your love, your trust, and your obedience.

“Jesus, my King, thank you for dying for me. I love you.”

Father Ed Bakker,
Anglican Catholic Church / Original Province
Mission of Saint Aidan of Lindisfarne
Launceston on Tasmania

Wednesday, April 12, 2017

Wednesday in Holy Week

Dear Fathers, Friends in Christ,

“The Lord God is my help; who will prove me wrong?”
-Isaiah 50:9A

In our worldliness, we often forget that there are things more important than life and worse than death. Judas forgot this when he betrayed Jesus for 30 pieces of silver. By his sin of betraying Jesus, betraying God, he broke off his relationship with God, which is more important than life itself. This is why Jesus says “It would be better for that man if he had never been born.”

In other words, it is better to die than sin. This is a hard teaching, and we often rationalize our sin by saying things like “my sins aren’t as bad as Judas’, so I am fine.” Yet this fails to recognize that all sin separates us from God. To die, separated from God for all eternity, is a worse fate than anything we can encounter on this earth. For however much pain and suffering or inversely joy and happiness we go through on this Earth, it will end when we die. Eternity will not.

Jesus did not promise us an easy life, in fact he told us to pick up our cross daily and follow him. To follow Jesus is to suffer in this life for the sake of the next. This is evident in the readings from Isaiah and today’s psalm. We must offer up our sufferings to God and trust in God to help us. Yet, while these reading show how we suffer for the sake of the kingdom of God, they also show that while we may suffer and undergo trials, God will be with us.

Lastly, it is good to remember that Judas was not the only apostle to betray Jesus; Peter did as well. Yet after Peter sinned, he repented and turned back to God and became a great saint. If we break our relationship with God through sin, if we are truly sorry for our sins, we can repair it through confession and get a second chance at eternal life with God.

Do I believe it is better to die than sin?
When I sin do I repair my relationship with God as soon as possible?

Father Ed Bakker
Anglican Catholic Church / Original Province
Mission of Saint Aidan of Lindisfarne
Launceston Tasmania