The Fourth Sunday in Lent (sermon)
Galatians 4:26-5:1 St John 6:5-14
The Jerusalem which is above is free,
which is the mother of us all.
Some might say that Lent is a season to be sorrowful for our sins, a time of mourning, and certainly there are times within Lent where that might be a greater emphasis – especially Holy Week, leading to Good Friday. But my Christian teachers have stressed that Lent is a time of the lightening of burdens as we cast off sin, about the recovery of joy, about the breaking in of new life, new love, as we take time to refocus on what is most essential in life – our personal and corporate relationship with Jesus Christ and the love of our neighbour.
Just to remind us of Jesus’ teaching…
When you fast, don’t have a sad countenance, but anoint your head and wash your face, so that it may not appear that you are fasting, and your Father who sees in secret will reward you openly.
I hope you are seeing new buds appearing in your soul. May joy be the consequence of our Lenten disciplines.
We are midway through Lent and this is a moment to rejoice, and be refreshed and recall our hope.
This past week in our daily readings, we have read in Exodus of Israel’s journey out of bondage in Egypt. We began with the institution of the Passover celebration on the eve of their departure; then Pharaoh hardens his heart and pursues Israel to the Red Sea; they cross over the sea and their enemy is swallowed up by the waters and Israel celebrates [Ex 15:1-21]. But what happens to Israel within three Bible verses of having obtained their freedom? They murmur against Moses! [Ex 15:24] The waters were bitter, what shall we drink? Then they began to hunger, what shall we eat? [16:4] Then they are confronted by a hostile nation, the Amalekites who attempt to kill them all. [17:8f] Then Moses is overwhelmed by the number of disputes between the people and his father-in-law suggests dividing up the task with others. [18:13f] Then God gives them the gift of the Law on Mount Sinai.
Freedom…is not so easy.
It is as Jesus taught us last week –
“When the unclean spirit is gone out of a man, he walks through dry places, seeking rest: and finding none, he says, I will return to my house whence I came out; and when he comes, he finds it swept and garnished: then he goes and takes to him seven other spirits more wicked than himself, and they enter in and dwell there, and the last state of that man is worse than the first.” [St Luke 11:24-26]
This is the Exodus story in concise terms when looked at in the individual. In our Lenten journey, and our larger spiritual pilgrimage in life, when we give up some sin, and are free from it, we are in no way now finished with the battles from without and within. The soul is in a perilous state. We are called to a state of vigilance, and to draw close to the graces offered to us by our Lord, to the “spiritual nutriment, the filling of our souls with the truth and grace of God.” As one writer [Fr Crouse] has put it,
the homeward journey of our souls is sustained and nourished by the Word of God in Christ, by that Providence which keeps alive within us the vision of Jerusalem, the City of our freedom, our native land of pure and perfect good.
This Sunday has been called Mothering Sunday in the Church of England from the line in today’s Epistle reading – “the Jerusalem which is above is free, and she is our mother.” It is where “Mother’s Day” comes from, prior to its secular form today.
The Jerusalem which is above, the heavenly Jerusalem is the Church, of all times and in all places, a mystical body, in heaven and on earth, not exactly the same as the visible Church, but formed by Christ, and being adorned and beautified by Christ over time. The visible Church errs, as we easily see, but not the heavenly Jerusalem.
Our earthly mother gave us life from her own body, fed us from her body, held us close, sang to us, taught us to speak, shared her wisdom with us as we grew, called us to account, taught us what love is and what it is not.
Even so, the heavenly Jerusalem, the Church, is like this for us, she is our mother. Through baptism in the Church, we are brought to a spiritual birth – given the Holy Spirit, to dwell in us, giving us the capacity to grow in love and wisdom. The Church becomes our teacher more and more in the spiritual life, she shares her wisdom with us, the Word of God as understood not just from this age, but the wisdom gathered up through the ages. She sometimes calls us to account if we are unfaithful. We learn most tangibly, in the Church, by examples in our midst, from fellow Christians, what love is and what it is not.
Through the Church we are also fed and nurtured on the Bread of heaven, the mystical body of Christ.
God knows that in our wilderness wandering towards the Jerusalem which is above, we need some kind of consolation, some kind of heavenly food that will strengthen our weak souls, some kind of miracle to sustain and grow our faith until we can see and participate in that heavenly city in all its glory.
In John’s Gospel there is no account of the institution of the Lord’s supper on his last night – even though John is quite aware of Holy Communion. Instead of that account, he elaborates in his Gospel on two miracles which both point to Holy Communion – the Marriage at Cana, where he changed water into the best wine, and the miracle of the loaves and fishes – where he recounts when Jesus spoke so fully about the bread of heaven and of our need to be fed from above to have life – he says, Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood has life in him.
And the Passover, the feast of the Jews, was at hand. [Just as Easter is getting near for us.] Lifting up his eyes, then, and seeing that a large crowd was coming toward him …Jesus said…, Where are we to buy bread, so that these people may eat?...(He said this to test Philip, for he himself knew what he would do. [Jesus knows the murmurings in their hearts and in each of our hearts this morning, our need for something tangible, something that will turn our hearts to the divine consolations, something that will strengthen our spiritual weakness, something that will make us know the life of heaven.] There is a boy here, who has five-barley loaves, and two fish: but what are they for so many? Jesus said, Make the people sit down. … Jesus then took the loaves, and when he had given thanks, he distributed them to the disciples, and the disciples to those who were seated; So also the fish, as much as they wanted. And they ate until they were full.
This morning an even greater miracle is happening than happened on that day 2000 years ago. Jesus had not yet gone to the Cross, so the bread he made that day, is not the bread he will consecrate for us now. Today, around the world, 100s of millions of people are coming forward to receive Christ – in the greatest cathedral to the lowliest chapel people come forward to receive the self-same Jesus Christ. And it is only in being joined with Jesus through His Word and Sacraments that we know perfect freedom – turning less and less to worldly consolations which do not ultimately satisfy. Here we taste purity of heart, here we know friendship with God, here we catch a glimpse of the Jerusalem which is above which is free.
Let us prepare ourselves now, through repentance and faith, for this greatest of gifts.
Worship Address: Adventist Church, Boomberglaan 6, Hilversum
Mailing Address: Overmeerseweg 120, 1394 BJ Nederhorst den Berg
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Except the Lord build the house, they labour in vain that build it: except the Lord keep the city, the watchman waketh but in vain. Psalm 127:1,2