The First Sunday
D. G. Phillips
West Dublin, Cherry Hill, Petite
Riviere – November 30, AD 2008
Romans 13:8-14 Matthew 21:1-13
Now it is high time
to awake out of sleep…
It is the new Christian
year beginning today. And our readings this morning come to us as a
kind of splash of cold water on the face. Advent is a smaller
lent, a time to prepare ourselves for the great feast of Christmas.
Our collect reminds us
that Jesus will come again in his glorious Majesty, to judge both
the quick and the dead. It is a teaching that we repeat Sunday
by Sunday (and day by day, if we say Morning and Evening Prayer)
when we recite the Creeds.
There is no escaping
the judgement that we will one day face for our every action and
inaction, for our every word, for our every thought. And this would
terrify us, but for our faith in Christ and our knowledge of the
just judge and His love for us, who, desireth not the death of a
sinner, but that me may turn from his wickedness and live..
As Christians we do not
live a life avoiding this fact of final judgement, but we face it
head on, not avoiding but contemplating our own death, reflecting on
our actions day by day and Sunday by Sunday as we prepare ourselves
for confession, so that we might not be walking around burdened with
guilt, but lightening our load, casting our cares, our every sin, on
our Lord, that His once for all sacrifice of Himself might relieve
us, might allow us to live anew.
We reflect on our
actions, but how do we know if they are right or wrong?
We know we can fool
ourselves into thinking we are acting in love. We test something out
that we were always told was wrong, often we don’t see any immediate
consequence – not realizing that God is patiently awaiting our
repentance. The continual repetition of the act can erase any sense
that we are violating what used to be a matter of our conscience.
Then we begin to justify ourselves, and then we must approve when
others do the same or even something similar or worse. Our moral
compass is blurred. We walk around in a daze, spiritually asleep.
We no longer draw near to Jesus in our prayer, he seems so distant
St. Paul recalls us to
the moral law, which is summarized in the great commandment to love
our neighbour as ourselves. OWE no man any thing, but to
love one another: for he that loveth another hath fulfilled the
law. For this, Thou shalt not commit adultery, Thou shalt not kill,
Thou shalt not steal, Thou shalt not bear false witness, Thou shalt
not covet; and if there be any other commandment, it is briefly
comprehended in this saying, namely, Thou shalt love thy neighbour
as thyself. Love worketh no ill to his neighbour; therefore love is
the fulfilling of the law.
We are called upon to
review our lives, judging ourselves, by looking at our outward
actions towards others, that is a start – am I murdering, committing
adultery, stealing, lying, coveting – notice these commandments
appear to move from outward actions – murder, adultery, stealing –
to words – lying – to thoughts – coveting. But Jesus reminds us
that the call not to murder or commit adultery is not just about
prohibiting the outward acts but also the thoughts of our hearts –
holding anger inwardly, lusting after another person in our hearts –
these are the committing of murder and adultery – and we will
face judgement for them, if we do not repent. These actions and
thoughts harden our hearts and worketh ill to our neighbours.
Jesus says elsewhere,
And as it was in the days of Noah, so shall it be also in the
days of the Son of man. They did eat, they drank, they married
wives, they were given in marriage, … and the flood came, and
destroyed them all.
Likewise also as it
was in the days of Lot; they did eat, they drank, they bought, they
sold, they planted, they builded; but… it rained fire…from heaven,
and destroyed them all.
Even thus shall it
be in the day when the Son of man is revealed.
What we want is not to
be asleep and distracted, but rather ready for judgement at any
moment that God may choose to take us from this world.
We can rest at peace
trusting continually in the mercy of Jesus Christ shown us on the
Cross. But we want something more. If we are only looking at our
outward actions and trying to restrain them, we find we are
continually stamping out fires. [Last Spring, I lit a fire to burn
some brush just a little too late in the season, and I found myself
running around putting out little fires from sparks in the grass – I
soon realized I needed to put out the fire from which it all
sprang.] What we want is to attend to our hearts, we want new
hearts, so that we stop hurting one another – now in the time of
this mortal life.
So we are called to
look at ourselves. And in this process of self reflection – we
discover that thoughts are continually arising within us – the
battle with sin is in our hearts. Not everything that we desire is
loving our neighbours as ourselves. Something is amiss in our
souls, in the soul of every human being. How will our hearts be
changed even now?
The Gospel today
reminds us of the judgement that happened when Jesus came into
Jerusalem all those years ago, riding humbly on an ass. As he
approached the Royal City, people spread their garments in the
way, others cut down branches and strawed them in the way. And the
multitudes that went before, and that followed, cried saying,
Hosanna to the Son of David, blessed is he that cometh in the Name
of the Lord; Hosanna in the highest. And all the city was moved…And
Jesus went into the temple of God, and cast out all them that sold
and bought in the temple; and overturned the tables of the
money-changers, and the seats of them that sold doves…and said unto
them, It is written, My house shall be called a house of prayer, but
ye have made it a den of thieves.
Jesus’ arrival in the
city brought judgement, and he went immediately to the heart of the
matter, to the temple, a symbol of the heart.
We can wait for the
final day of judgement, or we can bring this judgement upon
ourselves even now in the time of this mortal life. We do
this, not that we might be condemned but that we might be saved.
We bring judgement on
ourselves Sunday by Sunday in our worship. Today’s Gospel is a kind
of parable of what we do in our Communion service. We bring
ourselves here and offer hymns of praise – and as we do this, we
spread our garments, in Jesus way, that is, we bring before Him our
lives, what we have done outwardly – our garments that are
imperfect, spotted. And Jesus walks upon them and cleanses them,
restores them, He makes us white as snow – this is our confession
We cut down branches
and spread them before Him – that is, we offer back to God the
things He has given to us as an offering and he accepts them as we
acknowledge that all things come of thee O Lord, and of thine own
have we given thee – this is what we do in the offertory.
And our souls are moved
inwardly as we hear Jesus’ words read and preached and we continue
to sing – our faith is restored, our hopes are renewed, our love is
rekindled. We prepare ourselves for Holy Communion, we say the very
same words they did in our Gospel, Blessed is he who cometh in
the name of the Lord, Hosanna in the Highest! Our hearts are
made ready for union with God. Jesus draws near us through the
offering of Himself for us once for all on Calvary. And as he
enters our souls, he cleanses the thoughts of our hearts and renews
a right spirit within us. It is in this deep friendship with God
through Jesus Christ, that the judgement, the confrontation between
our earthly lusts and God’s heavenly love happens
within us, and His love overwhelms, His love perfects our loves, His
love triumphs – the light shineth in darkness; and the
darkness overcometh it not.
So today we ask God to
give us grace to restrain our outward actions and, even more
importantly, to make us pure within… knowing the time,
that now it is high time [for us] to awake out of sleep: for
now is our salvation nearer than when we believed. … let us
therefore cast off the works of darkness, and let us put on the
armour of light. Let us walk honestly, as in the day; not in
rioting and drunkenness, not in chambering and wantonness, not in
strife and envying. But [let us] put...on the Lord Jesus
Christ, and make not provision for the flesh, to fulfil the lusts