Christ is in our midst! He is and ever shall be!
In the Name of the Father, and of the + Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
“For when God made promise to Abraham, because He could swear by no greater, He swore by Himself, . . . .”
St. Paul in his Epistle to the Hebrews (some believe this to be more of a sermon than a letter) uses an image quite familiar to us all. He uses the image of swearing. Not the kind of swearing that is sinful such as the taking of the Lord’s Name in vain or using it to curse someone or something (Ex. 20:7; Dt. 5:11), but the kind we hear at presidential inaugurations or during trials, the oath made with one hand on the Bible and the other raised, solemnly promising to “tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth, so help me God.”
St. Paul uses this same image of God solemnly promising the Patriarch of Israel and icon of faith and obedience that Abraham will indeed be blessed and multiplied abundantly! The Apostle uses a Hebrew grammatical technique to press home this point by doubling up the blessing and the multiplication that God will make happen: “’Surely in blessing I will bless thee, and in multiplying I will multiply thee.’” The Apostle says that, unlike us, God could swear by no one greater than Himself, so that’s what He did. “’[I]n blessing I will bless; in multiplying I will multiply.’” There is nothing or anyone greater than the Almighty, and so we who are mere mortals turn to Him to underscore our sincerity or to impress on others that we are not lying because God – the God of Heaven and of earth before Whom we all must one day stand for Judgment – it is this God Who is my witness. Of course, the inference is that if we aren’t telling the truth or we’re being deceptive may God punish us or worse, strike us dead! This is the force of the Covenant God made with Abram when God promised and swore an oath to Abram that Abram would in fact have children – lots of them! – but one in particular. And God sealed the deal, the Covenant, through the offering up, the slaughtering, of sacrifices by Abram. “And it came to pass that when the sun went down and it was dark, behold, a smoking furnace and a burning lamp passed between those pieces. On the same day the Lord made a Covenant with Abram, . . . .” (Gn. 15:1-21). In essence, the implication of the symbolism of the slaughtered carcasses is that if God fails to keep His word of promise and His oath, may He experience the fate of these sacrifices.
But, we know that Abraham doesn’t have to worry about that, about God not keeping His promise and His oath, because, as the Apostle assures his hearers and us who are listening in, God can do anything except lie (St. Clement of Rome)! By two immutable things, that is, by two realities that cannot be changed or altered – the divine promise and the divine oath – it is “impossible,” says St. Paul, “for God to lie.” To be sure, Abraham had to patiently endure for a period of time (approximately 25 years!), but “he obtained the promise”!
But, why does the Apostle, of all things, find it necessary to remind his congregation – and us – of this truth about God Almighty? He says,
Thereby God, willing more abundantly to show unto the heirs of promise the immutability of His counsel, confirmed it by an oath, that by two immutable things, in which it was impossible for God to lie, we, who have fled for refuge, might have strong consolation to lay hold upon the hope set before us.
What Abraham experienced is equally applicable to us. That’s what the Apostle is driving at. “[W]e, who have fled for refuge, . . . .” Like ancient Israel long before us fled the cesspool of Egypt, so we flee the cesspool of this fallen world. We flee to God, to His Kingdom, to the arms of His Son and to the Cross of Jesus Christ. We flee from the darkness of this benighted world whose ruler is the prince of darkness and the father of lies, a murderer from the beginning (Jn. 8:44; 12:31; 14:30; 2 Cr. 4:4; Ep. 2:2). We flee from our passions and our sins. We flee from death to the Empty Tomb. “[W]e, who have fled for refuge, . . . .” You and I – we’re refugees, and we have fled from sin, death, and the devil all because of the ancient immutable promise of God Almighty, “Maker of Heaven and earth” (Nicene Creed), “And the Lord God said unto the serpent, . . . ‘And I will put enmity between thee and the woman, and between thy seed and her Seed; it shall bruise thy head, and thou shalt bruise His heel’” (Gn. 3:15). And centuries later, this same God, now incarnate of the Holy Spirit and the prophesied Woman, the Virgin Mary and Theotokos, promises on oath,
‘Come unto Me all ye that labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take My yoke upon you and learn of Me, for I am meek and lowly in heart, and ye shall find rest unto your souls. For My yoke is easy, and My burden is light’ (Mt. 11:28-30).
And, again, He promises, “’[W]hosoever drinketh of the water that I shall give him shall never thirst; . . . the water that I shall give him shall be in him a well of water springing up into Everlasting Life’” (Jn. 4:13-14). And, again, “’I AM the Light of the world. He that followeth Me shall not walk in darkness, but shall have the Light of Life’” (Jn. 8:12). And, yet again, “’I AM the Resurrection and the Life. He that believeth in Me, though he were dead, yet shall he live; and whosoever liveth and believeth in Me shall never die’” (Jn. 11:25).
“[W]e, who have fled for refuge, might have strong consolation to lay hold upon the hope set before us” by this God-in-the-flesh Whose promise is sure and Whose oath is absolute – our Emmanuel, the Ancient of Days. “This hope,” declares St. Paul, is “an anchor of the soul, both sure and steadfast,” because Jesus Christ our Forerunner has gone ahead of us and has entered behind the veil of the Holy of Holies. He stands in the very Presence of His Father as our Great High Priest and Intercessor forever! His Priesthood is eternal, immutable, unalterable precisely because He has been “made a High Priest forever, after the order of Melchizedek.”
Beloved, I had asked previously why the Apostle felt it necessary to remind us, even to the point of underscoring and highlighting the immutability of God’s Word. He is speaking to us, just as he was to our brethren who first heard him. Like them, we, too, are prone to drift away all too easily because of our brokenness as fallen men and women (Hb. 2:1; 10:39). In the first half of this chapter, St. Paul exerts considerable effort to exhort his people, his flock, to “attend” to the things of God, warning them of the dangers and pitfalls so easily fallen into, especially of falling away from the Faith. “For it is impossible,” he says,
for those who were once enlightened [in the Mystery of Baptism and Chrismation] and have tasted of the heavenly gift, and were made partakers of the Holy Ghost, and have tasted the good Word of God and the powers of the world to come [in the Mystery of the Eucharist], if they shall fall away, to renew them again unto repentance, seeing that they crucify to themselves the Son of God afresh and put Him to open shame (Hb. 6:4-8).
We live in the midst of a world unfriendly towards our Lord and His Church. We are in the heart of the Great Fast of Lent, especially if we have been conscientious about the Lenten disciplines of fasting, prayer, and almsgiving. It wears upon us, just as the world’s incessant droning erodes our faith, our hope, our love, our confidence in Jesus Christ and Him crucified. But, we who experience these temptations and testings are not without hope, not without confidence. Indeed, as the Apostle says, he knows there are better things for us, “things that accompany salvation,” because he knows the God Whose Word is trustworthy, Who desires that all men should “be saved and to come to the knowledge of the Truth” (1 Tm. 2:4; Hb. 6:9), the God Who is absolute goodness and the Lover of mankind. There are times we need to be reminded and encouraged – and sometimes chastised – that “we have an anchor that keeps the soul steadfast and sure while the billows roll; fastened to the Rock which cannot move, grounded firm and deep in the Saviour’s love!” (We Have an Anchor). And, because we have Jesus Christ Who is “the same yesterday, and today, and forever” (Hb. 13:8), we can have “the same diligence to the full assurance of hope unto the end, that ye be not slothful, but followers of those who through faith and patience inherit the promises” (Hb. 6:11-12).
Beloved, I leave you with one more thing: the Holy Eucharist. The Mystery of the Eucharist – the Body and Blood of the Lamb of God “slain from the foundation of the world” (1 Pe. 1:17-21; Rv. 13:8) – is the heavenly Mystery, the divine and sacred Sign of God’s immutable promise and oath. It is the New and everlasting Covenant renewed each and every time we gather around this Altar. We hear this especially in the Liturgy of St. Basil. After rehearsing in our ears and exercising our memories regarding the salvation history, we hear the priest say in Persona Christi, “’Take! Eat! This is My Body which is broken for you, for the remission of sins. . . . Drink of it, all of you! This is My Blood of the New Covenant [Testament], which is shed for you and for many, for the remission of sins.’” And, then, the priest remembers in the sacramental sense of that commemoration, “Do this in remembrance of Me. For as often as you eat this Bread and drink this Cup, you proclaim My Death, you confess My Resurrection!” (Anaphora). As often as we do this as the Body of Christ, God renews His immutable Covenant with us and we with Him. Our “faith and hope are in God” (1 Pe. 1:21) and in what God Himself has accomplished in His Son “on behalf of all and for all”: “His saving Passion and Life-giving Cross, His three-day Burial and Resurrection from the dead, His Ascension into Heaven and Sitting down at the right hand of Thee the God and Father, and His glorious and dread Second Coming.”
Here, then, beloved, before us on the Altar is the anchor of our hope and strong confidence, moored deep in the Kingdom of Heaven within the Holy of Holies in the very Person of our Great and eternal High Priest “after the order of Melchizedek,” unshakable and immovable (Hb. 12:28; 13:20-21). It is all dependent upon the truth uttered by our Western brethren, but no less ours as well: “Christ has died! Christ is risen! Christ will come again!” If this isn’t the case, then all this is is simply a meal (if we could even call it that) of a dead guy in whose memory we get together to lift a glass to and toast and then eat a little something. “If Christ is not risen, your faith is futile; . . . If in this life only we have hope in Christ, we are of all men the most pitiable. But now Christ is risen from the dead, and has become the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep” (1 Cr. 15:17-20). He has gone to prepare a place for us, as He Himself has promised, and because He has He will come again to receive His Church unto Himself; “’that where I am, there you may be also,’” is His promise (Jn. 14:2-3). Through Jesus Christ our Great High Priest, we have access to the Father and to “the grace in which we stand, and rejoice in hope of the glory of God” (Rm. 5:1-2).
“For when God made promise . . ., because He could swear by no greater, He swore by Himself, . . . .” Let us stay the course set before us, brethren, so that through our faith and patient endurance we, too, shall inherit the promises, just like those long before us (Hb. 6:12).
Through the prayers of our holy Fathers, O Lord Jesus Christ our God,
have mercy on us and save us. Amen.
Glory to Jesus Christ! Glory forever!
Hb. 6:13-20 // Ep. 5:9-19
Mk. 9:17-31 // Mt. 4:25-5:12