The Sixteenth Sunday after
D. G. Phillips
West LaHave, Crousetown, Broad Cove – September 7
Ephesians 3:13f St. Luke 7:11f
That ye might be filled with all the fullness
Last Sunday, we looked a little at the life of
St. Antony the Great. He was an Egyptian from the 3rd
century after Christ who left everything, his life of affluence in
the city, and went into the dessert following the call of Jesus –
when he heard the Gospel read one Sunday in Church.
He was a man who kept increasing his spiritual
disciplines, and we heard of how he was tempted by money on his way
to the outer mountain – that is, even after 15 years of ascetic
practices, he was still experiencing that tension in his soul
between trusting in himself and trusting in God to provide. His
experience of increasing discipline was a kind of dying.
After I preached, a summer parishioner, who’s now
returned to her parish in the States, told me that my sermons were
Lent – that she was used to hearing only Easter sermons at her
church. And she realized that she needed to hear both. Well her
comment is helpful – I’ll try to be sure that I’m preaching both
Lent and Easter in my sermons – both a dying and a rising to the new
life in Christ.
My point in speaking about Antony last Sunday,
was not that all of us should be extreme ascetics like St. Antony,
but that he was showing us in a kind of outward way, the path that
every one of us must follow in some way.
It is a path away from the world and from the
senses – not because St. Antony, or we, hate the world or the
senses, but that he knew himself to be so bound up by it – by
pleasure, by the love of the world, of power and money and ambition
– that he was not free to love God and neighbour. He was looking
for something more, and he knew from the Gospels, from the call of
Jesus, that he had to go through a kind of dying, not so that he
might remain dead, but that he might truly live.
In the Gospel this morning, a dead man, the only
son of his mother, is being carried out on a bier by others out of a
city called Nain – probably to be buried in a cemetery outside the
city. Nothing in these Gospel stories is insignificant – the word
Nain means "pleasant".
The death of this man in the city called
Pleasant, is the experience of all people who give themselves over
in varying degrees to the pleasures of this world, and forget that
those pleasures will destroy us if they are seen as an end in
themselves, that is, if they are not enjoyed in Christ.
This man being brought out dead, could also be a
description of the life of Antony, who goes through a kind of
deliberate dying to the life of pleasure. Remember, how he had
himself locked into a tomb?
In the Gospel, the mother weeps for this son who
has died – just as the Church, that is us, mourns for those in our
midst who find themselves getting lost in the pleasures of this
world – a spouse, a child, a grandchild, a friend. We often seem to
lose our young teens for many years. Or, it could refer to those in
the Church who are experiencing suffering as they seek to be
faithful in this call to die to the world, that they might rise to
the new life – look at how the Epistle starts today – St. Paul
speaking to the Church at Ephesus says, I desire that ye faint
not at my tribulations for you, which is your glory. He doesn’t
want the church there to be concerned for him, because he knows his
suffering is redemptive, for himself and for them.
In whatever way this death comes upon the members
of the Church, we are moved with compassion for one another – and
Jesus does not sit by idly while we weep.
He comes along side us, moved with compassion for
And when the Lord saw her, he had compassion
on her, and said unto her, Weep not. And he came and touched the
bier; and they that bare him stood still. And he said, Young man, I
say unto thee, Arise. And he that was dead sat up, and began to
speak. And he delivered him to his mother.
Jesus comes and touches the bier and speaks and
the son awakens from death.
Like St. Antony, who, in the tomb, saw the light
of God, and heard His voice which assured him and guided him to
leave the tomb; just so, the man in the Gospel came out of death to
the new life in Christ.
And what did this man in the Gospel story do? He
no doubt, went back into Nain, into Pleasantville or into the
pleasures of this life – but now, with a new appreciation of them,
careful not to fall into the same trap – seeing those pleasures, the
good things of this life, now not as final, but for what they are,
temporal gifts. He will enjoy them as a sign of the goodness of
God, he will enjoy them in Christ. [e.g. grace before meals]
But this man in the Gospel story also began to
know a new pleasure – the pleasure that comes from knowing more
fully God’s love – the pleasure that comes from a loving beholding
of God, that is, from contemplation. We can imagine him on the
funeral bier, looking upon God incarnate, Jesus Christ, before him,
and offering words of praise and thanksgiving (the Gospel says, he
began speaking), as well as simply beholding him with his eyes in
In today’s Epistle, St. Paul prays for the
Church, that everyone might rise to new life and come to know God…
For this cause I bow my knees unto the Father of our Lord Jesus
Christ… that he would grant you, according to the riches of his
glory, to be strengthened with might by his Spirit in the inner man;
that Christ may dwell in your hearts by faith…that we might…know
the love of Christ, which passeth knowledge, that we might be
filled with all the fulness of God. – imagine, filled with
all the fullness of God.
It is not that the Christian life is a denial of
pleasure, but that we might be taken up into new heights of true and
lasting pleasure – this is the Easter that follows Lent – the
resurrection life that begins even now in this world – if we die
with him, that we might live with him.
Listen to the ecstasy of another saint of the
Church – St. Theresa of Avila, from the 16th century –
who describes the pleasure she knew in the contemplation of God…
I saw an angel close by me, on my left
side in bodily form. …He was not large, but small of stature,
and most beautiful - his face burning, as if he were one of the
highest angels, who seem to be all of fire: they must be those
whom we call Cherubim…I saw in his hand a long spear of gold,
and at the iron's point there seemed to be a little fire. He
appeared to me to be thrusting it at times into my heart and to
pierce my very entrails; when he drew it out, he seemed to draw
them out also and to leave me all on fire with a great love of
God. The pain was so great that it made me moan; and yet so
surpassing was the sweetness of this excessive pain that I could
not wish to be rid of it. The soul is satisfied now with nothing
less than God. The pain is not bodily, but spiritual; though the
body has its share in it, even a large one. It is a caressing of
love so sweet which now takes place between the soul and God,
that I pray God of his goodness to make him experience it who
may think that I am lying.
Of course we don’t seek God that we might have
pleasure, but we are promised lasting pleasure when we seek God –
with all our heart and our soul and our mind and our strength. We
are taken up into the life of God in soul and body.
Wouldn’t it be wonderful if Jesus would do to us
as he did to the man in today’s Gospel. Wouldn’t it be wonderful if
Jesus would touch each one of our embodied souls inwardly and awaken
us out of death and into a deeper love of Him and of our neighbour
and a right love of the world in which we live?
This is exactly what he promises to each one of
us here this morning – to feast upon living bread, and to drink from
that life-giving stream – His Body and Blood given for us – for the
forgiveness of sin and to raise us up to the new life. Here, in the
Holy Communion, we are strengthened with might by his Spirit in
the inner man; here Christ… dwell[s] in [our]
hearts by faith; that [we], being rooted and grounded in
love, are made able to comprehend with all saints what is the
breadth, and length, and depth, and height; and to know the love of
Christ, which passeth knowledge, that [we] might be filled
with all the fulness of God.
O LORD, we beseech thee, let thy continual
pity cleanse and defend thy Church; and, because it cannot continue
in safety without thy succour, preserve it evermore by thy help and
goodness; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
[The Collect for Trinity 16]