Glory to Jesus Christ! Glory forever!
In the Name of the Father, and of the + Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
Since the festivities of Great and Holy Pentecost, the pinnacle of our salvation, all of our days as Orthodox are now counted as those days “after Great and Holy Pentecost,” which is to say, we live and move and have our being now in the Holy Spirit bestowed on the great day of Holy Pentecost to the Church and received by us at our personal Pentecost, that is, when we were chrismated. As I noted, we live and move and have our being as Christians in the Holy Spirit . . . . . . in the power of the grace He Himself is as God. This life in Christ – life for Christ – is not possible apart from Him Who is deemed by our Lord as “’another Paraclete,’” Whom we confess to be “the Lord, the Giver of Life, Who proceeds from the Father; Who with the Father and the Son together is worshipped and glorified” (Nicene Creed). On the eve of His Crucifixion our Lord said to His Disciples, “’And I will pray the Father, and He will give you another [Paraclete], that He may abide with you forever – the Spirit of Truth Whom the world cannot receive, . . . .’” (Jn. 14:16-17). The Spirit to be bestowed and sent on the Day of Great and Holy Pentecost will be like unto the Son of God in that He, too, will be a Paraclete – Someone called alongside to give help and comfort and counsel and consolation. He will be another Advocate Who will make Jesus Christ to abide in the hearts of the baptized. He will guide into the Truth all those who seek for Him Who is “’the Way, the Truth, and the Life’” (Jn. 14:6). He will be the power of prayer at work in us, especially when we do not know how to pray (Rm. 8:26). It is this Holy Spirit, the Spirit of God, Who regenerates us who are dead in sin and renews us by causing us to be alive in the Son of God (Ts. 3:5-6). He makes us to partake of and to participate in the grace of the divine nature of the Blessed and Holy Trinity (WS 2:23; 2 Pe. 1:4).
Yes, you heard that rightly: the Life given to us in the Church through her Mysteries is nothing less than the life of the Holy Trinity: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Not only does our Lord promise that the Spirit given by the Father on behalf of the Son will be in us, but that He and the Father will likewise “’make Our home with him’” who loves God and keeps His Word (Jn. 14:17, 23). For the reality is this: wherever One of the Trinity is found, the other Two are always present and accounted for as well. It is the nature of the Blessed and Holy Trinity. So, the blessed Apostle can give the benediction: “The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God the Father, and the communion of the Holy Spirit be with you all” (2 Cr. 13:14).
We find in the Epistles of St. Paul the Presence and work of the Holy Trinity, just as we do in today’s lection. It may not always be as clear as the Trinitarian formula oftentimes heard and used: “In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit” or as found in the doxological praise, “Glory to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit, always, now and ever, and unto ages of ages.” And, yet, They are present and active in the Church on behalf of her people. We worship the Father through His Son in the power of the Holy Spirit: “the Trinity, one in essence, and undivided” (Anaphora). Or, to use some of St. Paul’s language from today’s pericope: we have been reconciled to the Father through Jesus Christ. And, all of this is made present to us by the Holy Spirit Who has been given to us – He pours out the Father’s love in our hearts and He makes available to us and effectual in us the grace of God in which we stand.
St. Paul situates our salvation clearly within the framework of the Trinity Who is at work for us and within us. The gist of our situation is this: we have been set at odds with God the Father. But, it is more than merely being at odds with God as though we’ve had a tiff and an argument of some sort. We are enemies of God in our sinfulness, our broken and fragmented lives. Sin is a demonic and spiritual force in this world. It is a rupture in the communion we once shared with God and manifests itself in our opposition to God and His ways and Word. Through sin death gained entrée into this world infecting all of us and it with its corruption, St. Paul will go on to say (Rm. 5:12-21). We stand opposed to the divine will until we are reconciled to God, that is, until we are made “at-one” [atonement] with Him and have peace with Him.
This opposition to God is inherited by us, passed along to us. We call it ancestral sin while the Western Church refers to it as original sin the difference between us being that we do not believe we inherit Adam’s guilt – we produce enough guilt on our own without shouldering his! We inherit, however, our first father’s proclivity to living a warped life in relationship to God, to see our broken communion with God as natural and normal. We are out of step with God so much so that we set ourselves up against and over against God. We are now born to suffer the corruption of death. Thus, St. Paul can say in his Epistle to the Ephesians, which expands on many of the Apostle’s concepts found in Romans, that we are “by [fallen] nature children of wrath” (Ep. 2:3).
But, because the Father’s love for His fractured and disrupted creature is infinite and unyielding, He takes action when we cannot. Generally, says the Apostle, we might be inclined to take action on behalf of others whom we think may deserve it, though he confides it’s a rarity. Yet, God’s love does what we rarely, if ever, choose to do or will do: He “demonstrates His own love towards us, in that while we were still sinners [and undeserving, without merit or grace], Christ [the Son of the Father] died for us,” which is to say, the Son of God reconciled us who are God’s enemies to His Father through His Death on our behalf, so that the Apostle assures us “we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ.” The Death of Jesus Christ, the Son of God, heals the deadly ancient breach caused by sin and restores us to communion with the Father in the power of the Holy Spirit. In his Epistle to the Colossians which resembles Ephesians in many aspects, St. Paul words it this way:
[G]iving thanks to the Father Who has qualified us to be partakers of the inheritance of the saints in the light. He has delivered us from the power of darkness and conveyed us into the Kingdom of the Son of His love, in Whom we have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of sins (Co. 1:12-14).
St. Paul goes onto to say that the Father has reconciled all things to Himself by the Son Who has made peace “through the blood of His Cross” (Co. 1:19-20).
When the Apostle says that “we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ,” we should not presume that it is God the Father Who needed reconciling with us sinners. The love of God the Father has been the one true and uninterrupted constant toward us. He has never stopped loving us prodigals that we are. It is we who have stopped loving Him. We have disrupted the communion of love that once existed between us, that defined and characterized Paradise. It is we who needed to be reconciled to God, but in our broken and fallen nature we could not heal the egregious breach of sin. So, God took it upon Himself to do so for us who were still bound by the fetters of sin’s power, shackled to the devil by the devil, weak and without strength to help ourselves let alone restore our right relationship to God. “[I]n due time [according to the Father] Christ died for the ungodly [and enemies of the Father]. “For God so loved the world that He gave His only-begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have Everlasting Life. For [contrary to prevailing opinion and the devil’s distorted take] God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world through Him might be saved” (Jn. 3:16-17).
God has always looked upon the world – and all those who dwell therein – with the most profound love, a love excelling all other loves! He does not desire the death of sinners, the Prophet assures us, but rather that all might come to repentance, that all might turn from opposition to Him to life (Ek. 18:23; 33:11). God our Saviour, says St. Paul elsewhere, desires all men to be saved and He has made the way through the one Mediator – His Son Jesus Christ – “Who gave Himself a ransom for all” (1 Tm. 2:3-6).
Unfortunately, the saving Death of our Lord has been turned into some sort of penalty owed to God by us as a way of satisfying God’s offended justice. God’s anger, it seems, needs our pacification. But, alas!, we could not do so, thus God took matters into His own hands by sacrificing His Son on our behalf.
Like many things there are bits and pieces of truth to be found in this image and sacrificial language, but we must turn to the Church and to how she has understood these things. The Death of our Lord God and Saviour Jesus Christ is not for the satisfaction of a penalty imposed on us by an angry God, but rather it His “going all the way,” that is, He voluntarily chose to share in and take on the length and breadth and height and depth of our human existence and experience. Death, beloved – our death – is the result of the rupture between us and God initiated by us. It is the fruit of our disobedience. He Who is without sin is without rupture, and so our sinless and deathless Jesus takes on our death anyway as the supreme act of love for the undeserving scoundrels we all are! He does so joyfully, not because His Father is angry and irrate (Hb. 12:2), but because of a love we cannot fathom and only receive by faith. Hence, we are “justified by faith” in what our Lord God and Saviour Jesus Christ has laid hold of for us.
This is language many of us are familiar with from our Protestant days. It was the slogan of the Reformation made popular by Martin Luther who added to the apostolic phrase the word “alone” – “justified by faith alone.” However, that it is not what the Sacred Scripture says. We are “justified by His blood,” St. Paul says in this same passage of Scripture from Romans. And, it is the Epistle of St. James – that fly in Luther’s ointment, the bee in Luther’s bonnet – that says in his analysis of faith and works, “You see then that a man is justified by works, and not by faith only” (Jm. 2:24). What Sacred Scripture does is it holds together faith and works and does not set them against the other as though they are rivals. Faith in Sacred Scripture is more verb than it is noun. Abraham, that icon of faith, trusts God which is an action based on belief. St. James notes that “Abraham our father [was] justified by works when he offered Isaac his son on the altar.” James then clarifies his point: “faith was working together with his works, and by works faith was made perfect [complete].” Thus, “’Abraham believed God, and it was accounted to him for righteousness’” (Jm. 2:21-23).
To be “justified by faith” has to look like something; it has to have substance. Faith looks like faithfulness, which is trust obeying God (Rm. 1:5; 16:26). “Trust in God and do good,” says the psalmist (Ps. 36 :3) who links faith and action together. In fact, it is related to hope – hoping in the Lord – a hope born of affliction suffered in faith and refined by Christian perseverance, a “hope that does not disappoint, because the love of God has been poured out in our hearts by the Holy Spirit Who was given to us.” The Holy Spirit is busily at work behind the scenes, if you will, making the love of God and for God active in our souls by making the Lord Jesus Christ truly present to us and in us. By faith, says the Apostle, “we have access into this [divine] grace in which we stand, and rejoice in hope of the glory of God.” Our destiny as the faithful of the Church is our glorification through Jesus Christ in the power of the Holy Spirit – the perfection of the love of God in us.
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!
Rm. 5:1-10 Mt. 6:22-33