Friday, March 28, 2008

Thursday, March 27, 2008

With Desire, I Have Desired

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

The Holy Triduum (Three Days) of Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, and Holy Saturday are rightly considered the Passion of our Lord Jesus the Christ. Passion is a word that has many connotations in contemporary English: great love, strong emotion, firm conviction, even lust. In Middle English, and in Latin prior, however, the word passion referred to suffering, particularly Christ’s suffering, beginning, most pointedly, on Holy Thursday.

Truly Jesus began His Passion Thursday evening as He reclined to eat the Passover with His disciples. He said “I have earnestly desired to eat this Passover with you before I suffer.” The two words “earnestly desired” are, in Greek transliteration, epithumia epithumāsa, two forms of the same word “desire”. Jesus says literally “with desire I have desired to eat this Passover with you.” This kind of intentional redundancy was a common rhetorical device in the ancient world, both in the Hebrew and in the Greek languages, to emphasize the importance, depth, or significance of something. Jesus’ earnest desire to eat the Passover with His disciples is best understood when one considers the type of love He had for them. Jesus’ type of love is essentially defined in John 15:3 - Greater love has no one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends.” Greater love is not possible than the sacrificial love that Jesus was about to exhibit for His friends in the Passover meal and in His bitter suffering and death.

Of course, this was no ordinary Passover meal. Jesus, the Great Rabbi (Teacher), interpreted the Passover meal, indeed the entire account of the exodus out of captivity and bondage in Egypt, in terms of Himself as its fulfillment. The unleavened bread of the Passover is Jesus’ body. The wine in the Cup of Blessing is His blood. And as the angel of death sheathed His sword and passed over the Hebrew posts and lintels marked with the Passover lamb’s blood, so death cannot claim those so marked with the Holy Blood of the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world. Greater love is not possible!

Jesus so loved His disciples, and all men, that from the very bowels of His being He earnestly desired to fulfill the Passover for them. In passionate agony and bloody sweat He prayed three times to His Father that there might be another way, but submitted, willingly, to His Father’s will. The Lamb of God went uncomplaining forth to die, His blood marking the post and lintel of His cross that the Angel of death might pass over once again. It is fulfilled, it is finished.

Still, our resurrected and ascended Lord and Savior Jesus Christ earnestly desires to eat the Passover with you. From the bowels of His love and compassion He eagerly desires to sup with you. Still He offers to you His holy body, His holy blood in remembrance of His Passion and for the forgiveness of your sins. This is but a foretaste of the feast to come, the marriage feast of the Lamb in His kingdom that has no end, but He is present with His Words and His Wounds to join you to Himself now, that you may eat and drink with Him in the Kingdom of God.

He is risen! He is risen indeed! Alleluia!
Blessed Easter
Pastor Ellingworth

Wednesday, March 5, 2008

Ad latus (to the side)

This Lent for our Wednesday evening Vespers I have been preaching a series of Meditations on the Bodily Sufferings of the Christ on the Cross. The inspiration comes from St. Bernard of Clairvaux's 12th century Rythmica Oratio, a series of poems addressed to the different members of Christ's body on the cross: ad pedes (to the feet), ad genua (to the knees), ad manus (to the hands), ad latus (to the side), ad pectus (to the breast), ad cor (to the heart), and ad faciem (to the face or head). This sort of mystical contemplation is handed down in Lutheranism through Buxtehude's cantatas Membra Jesu Nostri and the more familiar hymn O Sacred Head, Now Wounded by Paul Gerhardt.

Wednesday in Laetare

Ad latus (to the side)

In the Name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit.

Upon the First Adam, the LORD God caused a deep, death-like sleep to fall. And while the First Adam slept, the LORD God took one of his ribs and closed up its place with flesh. That rib the LORD God made into a woman and then He presented her to Adam. Adam recognized her at once saying, This is at last bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh; she shall be called Woman, because she was taken out of Man. Then Moses records for us in Genesis 2:24 the LORD God’s institution of marriage: Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and they shall become one flesh.

Now Genesis 3:15 is typically referred to as the protoevangelium or “First Gospel”, because, after the Fall into sin, God responds, in a curse upon the serpent, the devil, by promising that a seed, a descendent of Eve would crush Satan’s head and destroy his power. However, I posit to you that the prior verse, Genesis 2:24, is a Gospel proclamation which precedes the traditional First Gospel.

The reason that the proclamation, Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and they shall become one flesh, is a Gospel proclamation is because a fuller meaning than mere human marriage was to be fulfilled in our Lord, Savior, and Bridegroom Jesus Christ.

Jesus Christ is the Second Adam, a new, better, perfectly human Son of God. Where the First Adam failed, the Second Adam is faithful. Jesus too was tempted by Satan, not once, but three times; not in a lush garden paradise where life was easy and comfortable and food plentiful, but in a barren desert wilderness where He had been fasting for forty days and was hungry. He resisted the devil by faithfully trusting in the Word of God, not adding to it or subtracting from it.

The LORD God caused also a deep, death-like sleep to come upon His Son, Jesus the Christ, the Second Adam, as He sent Him to the cross to die for the First Adam’s, and for all sons and daughters of the First Adam’s, sin. There, on that cursed tree, the LORD God made Him who knew no sin to become sin, that in Him we might become the righteousness of God. Protesting not that He was innocent, that He was God, He humbled Himself, becoming obedient, obedient even unto death on the cross.

Therefore a man – The Man – left His Father in heaven and the glories thereof; therefore a man – The Man – left His mother Mary…, that He might hold fast to His wife…, and that the two become one flesh.

As the Second Adam slept in death-like sleep, the LORD God opened His side. A centurion thrust his spear through Jesus’ side and out of His opened side issued, not a rib, but blood and water. As the LORD God from the rib He removed from Adam’s side made for him a wife, so the LORD God from the pure blood of Holy Communion and the recreating water of Holy Baptism, flowing from the pierced side of Jesus, made for His Son a wife, a bride, the Church, that the two might become one flesh. This is He who came by water and blood – Jesus Christ; not by the water only but by the water and the blood.

It is the precious blood and the holy water of Christ that makes the Church His pure and holy Bride. We are birthed from His pierced side chaste and clean. Apart from Him we are unclean; we are no Eve “the mother of all the living” but the progenitors of sin and death. We are more like Hosea’s prostitute bride. But our Bridegroom has loved His Bride and gave Himself up for Her, that He might sanctify Her, having cleansed Her by the washing of water with the Word, so that He might present the Church to Himself in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish.

So they are no longer two, but one flesh. The one flesh union of the Second Adam and the New Eve, of the Bridegroom Christ and His Bride the Church, is refreshed, renewed, nourished, sustained, and, yes, even consummated, in the Eucharistic Feast of the Body and Blood of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. You eat His body, your flesh is united with His flesh; you drink His blood, and His blood courses through your veins. You are one flesh, one body, and He is the head of His body the Church. You are as intimately united as husband and wife, indeed as God the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. This mystery is profound, and I am saying that it refers to Christ and the Church.

Hail, side of the Savior
wherein sweet honey is found,
wherein love’s power is revealed,
from which pours a fountain of blood
which cleanses foul hearts.

Behold, I approach You.
Pardon, Jesus, if I am in Your debt.
With reverent countenance
I come to You of my own will
to behold Your wounds.

In the hour of death, may my breath
enter, Jesus, Your side.
Expiring from me may it enter You;
lest the fierce lion pounce,
let it dwell with You.

In the Name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit.