The medicine for all the wounds of the soul, and the one propitiation for all the offenses of men, is to believe on Christ; nor can anyone be cleansed at all, whether from original sin which he derived from Adam, in whom all men have sinned…or from the sins which they have themselves added, not resisting the concupiscence of the flesh…unless by faith they are united and compacted into His Body, who was conceived without any enticement of the flesh and deadly pleasure, and whom His Mother nourished in her womb without sin, and ‘Who did no sin, neither was deceit found in His Mouth.’ St. Augustine of Hippo: Sermon 93
Eastertide is all about becoming members of the Resurrected Body of Christ. But such membership is of a kind that comes to us in an ordered way as we progressively discover the means that incorporate us into the true nature of Christ’s Resurrection. So in Eastertide we are called to learn about how to be made fuller and more complete members of the Christ’s Body. And to do so we must turn to the Church’s ancient lectionary. For in the ordered readings appointed for each Sunday in Easter we begin to understand the spiritual practices that ensure participation in the Body of the Risen Christ.
In today’s Gospel Jesus foretells of the three spiritual modes that are necessary to this process. The lection is taken from St. John’s Last Supper Discourses in which our Lord teaches about the future life of His disciples when He shall have ascended back to the Father. As we said last week, it was only when Christ had left the disciples, that He would He begin to expand, broaden, and enlarge His Body from Heaven back into the earth. Incorporation into His Risen Body –the Church, in time and space is essential to salvation. But salvation is not the reward of mere external and visible membership in just another human institution. The proof of salvation is found when a man surrenders his understanding and desire to Christ the Word through the Holy Spirit.
So today Jesus tells the disciples of all ages what the Holy Spirit will do to make them members of His Mystical and Risen Body. First He tells them that He must leave them. Yet not one of them asks Him where He is going. (St. John xvi. 5) Instead of enquiring after that which would comfort [them], as Matthew Henry says, [they] pore upon that which is melancholy. (Comm. St. John XVI) Like the men of all ages, they are consumed with their own immanent human loss and not with their ultimate heavenly gain. Jesus rebukes them. Nevertheless I tell you the truth; It is expedient for you that I go away: for if I go not away, the Comforter will not come unto you; but if I depart, I will send him unto you. (Ibid,7) The unruly wills and affections of sinful men must be ordered and governed always by God’s Holy Spirit. Christ will not have men to be first and foremost attached to this world. Earthly affection is mostly unstable, unspiritual, and unsteady. Sorrow over earthly things betrays too much love for this world. Christ insists that the true gift of His Incarnation will be realized only when the Holy Spirit comes and begins to do in others what God has done in Him. Christ in the flesh could only be in one place and at one time; Christ in the Spirit can be in all places and at all times. (M. Henry. Idem.) I am come that they might have life, and have it more abundantly. (St. John x. 10)
So to come into possession of the Risen Life through which Christ intends to make His Disciples, men must first become conscious of their sin. Christ tells us that the Holy Ghost, the Comforter…when He is come…will reprove the world of sin. (Ibid, 7,8) To be convicted of sin is the first stage towards sanctification. St. Thomas says that we must be convicted of sin because we ought not to commit it. It brings many miseries…it deprives man of everlasting glory…and leads to eternal punishment. (T.A., Easter Homily: X) Jesus died for the sins of the whole world. Sin kills God’s Word in the flesh, first in the historical death of the Word made flesh, then, as always, in the hearts and souls of those who kill it in themselves and others. Sin kills God’s Word, Wisdom, Meaning, and Purpose in human life. And thus if it is not amputated and annihilated by the Holy Spirit, man cannot hope to be risen with Christ. The Spirit convinces [us] of the fact of sin, the fault of sin, the folly of sin, the fault of sin…and the fruit of sin in [eternal] death [and punishment].(M.H., Idem) So, for starters, to become members of the Risen Body of Christ, we must confess our sins and God will be faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. (1 John i. 19)
But there is more. Christ desires that His Disciples who are dying to sin through His Holy Spirit should begin then to come alive in His Risen Body with the birth pangs that the same Spirit alone affords. So the Holy Spirit must continue to urge and inspire the hearts of the faithful. The Spirit will come, and when the Spirit is come, he will reprove the world of righteousness. (John xvi. 10) The Spirit will reveal that God’s righteousness is found in Christ alone and that new life in His Risen Body must be moved and defined by His Word. St. Thomas says that righteousness brings true joy. ‘The judgments of the Lord are true and righteous altogether (Ps. xix. 8) Righteousness delivers a man from the perpetual death of sin. ‘He that followeth after righteousness and mercy findeth life. (Prov. xxi. 25) And righteousness leads to eternal joy. The Spirit will come, and in Christ’s Risen Body men will submit to the righteous One, Jesus the all holy and innocent, who has returned to the Father, and is the author and finisher of their faith. The Spirit will bring alive the righteousness of Jesus Christ in the hearts of all those who will become His Disciples. And so having confessed their sins and discovered their own inability to generate that virtue that leads to God’s Kingdom, they shall open their souls to the indwelling growth of Christ’s righteousness, which alone makes men right with God. I will greatly rejoice in the Lord, my soul shall be joyful in my God; for He hath clothed me with the garments of salvation, He hath covered me with the robe of righteousness. (Isaiah lxi. 10)
In addition, when the Holy Spirit comes… He will reprove the world of judgment. (John xvi. 11) The Spirit will come, and in Christ’s new Body will reveal that the prince of this world, the devil, is judged. The devil is the root cause of man’s alienation from God and he will be rewarded with his deepest desire –a cold and lonely existence alienated from God and all others. St. Thomas says that that judgment must come because we all ought to fear it. ‘God is a righteous judge….’ (Ps. vii. 11) The judgment will be severe. The sentence will be final. (Idem) The Holy Spirit will teach Christ’s Disciples to fear God’s judgment since they must remember that if their thoughts, words, and deeds were under the sway and rule of the devil, they must join him forever. God is fair. He will not force men to endure His loving salvation eternally if they have not desired it. So they shall be rewarded with what they have wanted most… for eternity. This is God’s severe mercy. God’s judgment is feared in the healthy soul who spends all of his days surrendering to His Word. God’s judgment is fair, and thus if men desire to please God in all of their lives, God will reward them with His reciprocal love. God’s judgment is final. If men desire and pursue their salvation faithfully, God will match their love for Him in the embrace of unceasing eternal joy. Christ is stronger than Satan and if men submit to His Holy Spirit now their salvation shall be secure.
This morning, St. James tells us that every good endowment and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights with whom is no variableness, neither shadow of turning. (St. James i. 17) Christ desires to breathe the Word of truth into His Church that all believers might become a kind of first fruits of His creatures. (Ibid, 18) With all of His power and might Christ longs to convert our spiritual death into Resurrected life. With His wisdom and truth He longs to convert our ignorance into understanding. With His unending love and passion He yearns to convert our lesser loves into love for Him and His Father’s desire.
Today St. James tells us also that if God’s life, light, and love are to convert and save us we must be swift to hear, slow to speak, and slow to wrath. (James i.3) In being swift to hear and slow to speak, we remember, again with St. Thomas, that we have two ears and one mouth for a reason. (T.A. E.H. IX) We are made to hear twice and to speak once. We are made to hear more and to talk less, that we may love the thing which [God] commandest, and desire that which [He] dost promise. (Collect) His Word is His Wisdom. His Wisdom is truth. He desires to speak His truth into our lives to convert, sanctify, and save us. The Holy Spirit longs to speak Christ the Word into our lives in order that we might rise through Him. Our words then should rise up only to praise, adore, love, worship, and honor God. Our words must rise up to edify and strengthen our brethren. If we will be still and patiently endure what God’s Word desires to speak into our lives, our hearts [shall] surely there be fixed where true joys are to be found. For then the Word of God’s Love, whom Christ always is, will have been engrafted into our hearts as what alone is able to save our souls. (St. James i. 21)
And let us never forget, with Cardinal Newman that, Christ’s Divine Spirit is more than flesh and blood; inasmuch as the risen and glorified Saviour is more powerful than when He was in the form of a servant; inasmuch as the Eternal Word, spiritualizing His own manhood, has more of virtue…and life for us, than when concealed in it…. (J.H.N. Christ Manifested in Remembrance) Christ has purchased new life for us, and He longs to lift us up into the glory of Heaven’s embrace through that virtue that He will muliply in the hearts of all men. From there He desires always to come into every time and space to find new members for His Body and new instruments of His Grace. Amen.