The Pity of Christ

THE SIXTEENTH SUNDAY AFTER TRINITY

Exodus 3:1-15; Ephesians 3:13-21; Luke 7:11-17

In the many different conversations with people interested in the historic church, and Anglicanism, in particular, I find a universal attraction to the church calendar or the 'Liturgical Year.' There are different impulses involved, but from what I've experienced from speaking with people, their main desire is to find meaning. Meaning in life; meaning in what it means to live in this world at this time. Secular materialism is the illness that breeds such symptoms.

A world view which embraces materialism quickly loses any sense of enchantment. Reality is solely defined by what a man can measure: what we can see, touch, taste, hear, and smell. The material world becomes very small, even oppressive. Because, once the marrow of life has been sucked out, what then? Life becomes boring; apathy soon follows, leading to anxiety, depression, and in some cases, a living deadness. Convinced that nothing exists beyond what can be seen, in the end, we arrive at an alarming conclusion: there is nothing beyond ourselves.

Within this false construct of reality, things quickly lose their sense of value and purpose. The rising of the sun and the setting of the same doesn't mean anything, doesn't point to anything beyond itself. Science confidently explains away the mystery of natural and material phenomena. We moderns have conquered the natural world, and in doing so, we've stopped believing in magic. You see, materialism necessarily kills enchantment. A disenchanted world breeds disenchanted lives and souls. Bored with the world, people twist and turn to experience "life" to feel something real.

And this impulse works itself out in so many ways; some healthy some not so much. When the world doesn't reveal or impress any meaning upon the human experience, we turn to extreme adventures, lifestyle choices, and epic adventure to make sense of being. When external pursuits fail, we retreat into the world of emotion, "I feel; therefore, I am." Sadly, this, too, is a temporary fix. Tomorrow is just another day, no different than the day before. And, subsequently, time, for many people, is meaningless. The days, weeks, and years are devoid of meaning, with no higher purpose, with no final trajectory; time isn't going anywhere other than to an abrupt and uneventful conclusion.

In this secular age, we all, to various degrees, suffer from this. Christianity can find itself encased in materialism, as well. For many of our brothers and sisters, Sunday has lost its value and purpose; it's just another day. The seasons are no longer defined by the life of Christ but by secular holidays; with a little Christianity sprinkled on top. Time becomes meaningless and unimportant, just like every other created thing. Time is like swimming in a vast pool of mundanity.

But if we have courage, we will open our eyes to real reality and see that time has its origins in the Creator. Scripture reveals God to be the author and mover of history; it literally is His-Story. Ordaining morning and evening, he purposes six days for labor and one for rest. He orders the seasons, as well. The days shorten in the winter; the cold ground hardens, and seeds lie dormant. With spring comes the renewal of life! Rain breaks forth from the heavens. The hills are green with fertility; the trees, clothed with leaves; the earth gives her fruit bounteously. Awakened from winters sleep, animals abound, filling earth and sky. That which dies in winter is resurrected in the spring. Life matures and grows through the long sun-filled days of summer. If one opens their eyes, they shall see that the natural order of the world reveals the invisible hand of its Creator and speaks beyond its natural self.

Reflect upon the natural order of things and think of what it tells us about the human condition. We, too, have a spring, summer, and winter: for we are born, we grow, and we die. And yet, even this insight is insufficient to interpret real reality: Divine reality. The ultimate meaning of the natural phenomenon we experience, of time and all of human history, finds its true meaning in the birth, life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. Or, to put it another way, the material world ultimate finds its meaning in Jesus Christ. In fact, it points to Him. And herein lies, the allure of ordering one's life around the Christian liturgical calendar: it is a life ordered around and lived within the Divine presence. No longer separating the unseen from the seen. But, embracing a sacramental understanding of being; that God is imminently present. It is a life that participates in higher time: open and vulnerable to Divine action.

Every single day is a gift from God. Each morning we are 'born-again,' thankful to do what the Lord desires. The day ends with the night; a daily reminder of our mortality. We close our eyes and go to sleep, placing ourselves in God's hands; in a small way, we are learning to die with confidence and hope. Then, morning grace wakes us; practicing for that future day when we will be raised from the sleep of death and resurrected unto eternal life. The creation pattern of laboring six days increase longing for rest, to commune with our brothers and sisters in the presence of the Lord. Every seven days, we enter into the sabbath rest of God, refreshed, made new, recreated, and restored to our Creator, each other, and to ourselves. Six days we pray for daily bread, but on the seventh, we are fed with the heavenly mana, from the hand of God himself in the eucharistic feast; the height of the Christian week.

Sunday worship is the God-ordained means that transports us into higher time. We gather around this altar and mysteriously encounter the transcendent invisible God. He meets us, here, in Word and sacrament; just as he promised. With one heart and one voice, we lift our hearts to heaven, and God descends to meet us. Heaven and earth collide in a joyous celebration. The people of God laud and magnify the Lord in concert with angels and archangels, and all the saints in heaven. The unseen comes to the seen and transports us into the realm of enchantment. A liturgically ordered life is open to encountering higher time; Sundays, feast days, the liturgical seasons, all transport us into the divine life, where we participate in that which we cannot fully explain; the mysterious; the magical. And it is higher time, which finally makes sense of lower time. Winter is the glorious season when God the Father, sent his only Son, Jesus Christ, to redeem and give life to all who were dead in sin. The heavenly seed is cast into the dead cold earth. At the Christmas feast, we rejoice, "For there is born to us this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord!" (Luke 2:11).

Christmas gives way to the season of Epiphany, the manifestation of the Messiah to the gentiles. Epiphany shines its glorious light, like the Eastern Star, into the long days of winter. Lent reinterprets the continuing dark days of winter through the passion of the Lord Jesus Christ, gathering all of the darkness in Good Friday. And then, like the first bloom of spring, life bursts forth on Easter morning; Christ arises from the dead, and we are swept up in the resurrected life, into the eternal day to which the lengthening days of spring and summer resemble.

But most importantly, the liturgical calendar, day by day, preaches the Gospel to each and everyone one of us. From Advent to Easter, the liturgical seasons tells the story of the God who took pity upon us. Of a good and loving Father who, from a vast well of compassion, sent his Son to come and redeem us from death. You see, the God of Scripture is the attentive God. He hears the cries of his people. He sees their plight. Did not God hear the cries and see the suffering of Israel at Pharaoh's hand? "And the Lord said, I have surely seen the affliction of my people which are in Egypt, and have heard their cry by reason of their taskmasters; for I know their sorrows."

Not only does he see and hear our sorrow, but scripture also says, he knows our sorrow. In other words, he feels and experiences our grief; he participates in the suffering of his people. In fact, he moves well beyond empathy, he willingly enters into our affliction; shares in it. Listen to what he promises to Moses, "And I am come down to deliver them out of the hand of the Egyptians, and to bring them up out of that land unto a good land and a large, unto a land flowing with milk and honey." Divine pity moves; it takes action; it comes down.

Who is this God that willingly leaves the heights of heaven? It is the God of pity, of compassion, of love. He sent Moses to deliver his people from bondage into freedom, from the fleshpots of slavery unto heavenly bread, from the wilderness into the promised land. Oh, the goodness and kindness of God! And here we understand the sending of the Son, the true Moses, who left the riches of heaven and entered into the Egypt of death to break that great taskmaster's hold upon sinful humanity. The Psalmist rejoices for, "[God] has pity on the weak and the needy, and saves the lives of the needy" (Ps 72:13). The compassion of God, the love of God, the pity of God rescues and redeems the lost. And pity leads us through the wilderness and finally, brings us into the broad and pleasant land.

See how wonderful and restorative the pity of Christ is in today's Gospel. Place yourself as the dead Son being carried on a funeral bier among a procession of sorrow. For that dead man was being buried, and many friends were conducting him to his tomb. But there on the road of sorrow met him the Life and Resurrection, Jesus the Christ: the Destroyer of death and Reverser of corruption. St. Luke writes, "And Jesus came and touched the bier, and they that bare him stood still. And he said, Young man, I say unto thee, Arise. And he that was dead sat up and began to speak."

Jesus alone restores our fallen nature back to that which it originally was, and liberates our death-fraught flesh from the bonds of death. Friends, do you truly realize what Christ has done for you? For you who have responded to the Divine call, you who have been awakened from death. With St. Paul, I too pray that we having been made alive in Christ, raised with Christ in baptism, "being rooted and grounded in love, may be able to comprehend with all saints what is the breadth, and length, and depth, and height; and to know the love of Christ, which passeth knowledge, that ye might be filled with all the fullness of God." The pity of Christ makes those who are spiritually dead alive again: this is the first resurrection of this story.

But there is a second resurrection as well. Jesus had mercy upon the woman, and that her tears might be stopped, He commanded, saying, "Weep not." And immediately the cause of her weeping was done away: how, or by what method? He touched the bier, and by the utterance of his holy word, made him who was lying thereon return again to life: for He said, "Young man, I say unto thee. Arise;" and immediately that which was commanded was done: the actual accomplishment attended upon the words, "And that dead man, it says, sat up, and began to speak, and He gave him to his mother." The Lord not only resurrected that which was dead but resurrected the joy of the sorrowful; for Christ is the Lord of resurrection, and he is making all things new. Friends, no matter how heavy the burden, or deep the sorrow, nothing is beyond Jesus' ability to resurrect it unto life.

St. Peter, in his first epistle, tells us to "cast all of our cares upon Jesus, for he cares for us." Remember, The Lord not only sees and hears but knows your sorrow, for Isaiah reminds us, "he [himself] was a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief" (Isa 53:3). The Word was made flesh and dwelt among us, and he knows firsthand what we go through. Remember the epistle to the Hebrews, "we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin."

And this perfect Savior will resurrect us on this earthly pilgrimage of sorrow. Perhaps not as expediently as we'd like, but always according to Divine time, to accomplish Divine purposes. Was this not the case with Lazarus, whom the Lord waited four days before coming upon that sorrowful gathering in front of the dead man's tomb? To whom, the Lord said, "This sickness is not to end in death, but for the glory of God, so that the Son of God may be glorified by it."

Beloved have faith. The same God who pitied Israel and the sorrowful widow has set his gaze of compassion upon you. He who resurrected you from death shall surely raise you on the last day. I exhort you, be comforted by the Lord Jesus Christ, "For this is the will of my Father, that everyone who looks on the Son and believes in him should have eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day." Amen+