Archive for Joy

“It’s the Talk of the Town” (March 19, 2017: The Third Sunday in Lent)

Posted in Sermons with tags , , , , , on March 27, 2017 by montgomerybrandt

This sermon was preached at the 8:30am, 11:00am, and 6:00pm Eucharists at the Episcopal Church of the Ascension in Lafayette, Louisiana on March 19, 2017, being the Third Sunday in Lent.

Readings: Exodus 17.1-7; Psalm 95; Romans 5.1-11; John 4.5-42

Collect: Almighty God, You know that we have no power in ourselves to help ourselves: Keep us both outwardly in our bodies and inwardly in our souls, that we may be defended from all adversities which may happen to the body, and from all evil thoughts which may assault and hurt the soul; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen. 

“We know that this is in truth the Savior of the world.”—John 4.42[1]

In the Name of God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Ghost. Amen.

There is an old song that was sung by the likes of Dean Martin, Bing Crosby, Julie London, and many other popular singers back in the day that starts out like this

I can’t show my face,

Can’t go anyplace,

People stop an’ stare,

It’s so hard to bear,

Everybody knows you left me,

It’s the talk of the town.[2]

The singer has been shamed. Their significant other has walked out on them, being fodder for neighborhood gossip. Because of this, for the singer, going out in public has become a personal burden. The staring, murmurs, and sneers from their friends has become too much. “How can [I] face them? What can [I] say?” they ask.[3]

+               +               +

It is under similar circumstances that we meet the woman at Jacob’s Well in the Samaritan town of Sychar. To the locals, she is “that woman.” She has no husband, is currently living with a man that is not her husband, and has been married five times before. She draws water from Jacob’s Well during the noonday hour, in the extreme heat of the day, instead of during the early morning or evening hours, all to avoid the staring and sneering from the other community women. She is an outcast in her own town. In many aspects, she is truly alone.

Jesus is passing through Sychar on His way to Galilee. Tired from the journey, he sits down by the well. Christ’s humanity is clearly communicated: “Give me a drink.” Jesus’ request shocks the woman, because, back then, Jews and Samaritans did not share anything with each other. Although similar in many ways to Jewish religion, Samaritan religion was deemed utterly repugnant by the Jews, viewing it as nothing more than defective Judaism mixed with heathen elements. So, in addition to her “complicated” background, the woman at the well has two more social strikes against her. One, to the Jews, she is an unclean Samaritan, a heathen half-breed Jew left over from the Assyrian conquest centuries before in Israel’s Northern Kingdom. And two, she is a woman, for whom a man to be seen talking with alone was unusual. Yet, despite all the ethnic, religious, gender, and ceremonial proscriptions, Jesus speaks with her and seeks her help. He meets her as a fellow sufferer.[4]

Despite His own suffering, Jesus’ attention is on this woman’s need.

If only you knew what God gives, and who it is that is asking you for a drink, you would have asked Him and He would have given you living water…Whoever drinks the water that I shall give…will never suffer thirst any more. That water that I shall give…will be an inner spring always welling up for eternal life.

“Sir, give me that water, and then I shall not be thirsty…,” replies the woman. Jesus draws this shunned woman out and awakens her faith. The living water He gives her will justify her “through faith…and peace…through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have been allowed to enter the sphere of God’s grace, where we now stand.”[5] Though she does not know that it is happening, the Holy Spirit is bringing this Samaritan woman closer to the Lord. Jesus, who knew everything about her, instead of judging her, draws her in to Himself. In this she hears and experiences the Good News that is Jesus Christ, the Messiah.

The woman runs into town, excitedly telling everybody

“Come and see a man who has told me everything I ever did. Could this be the Messiah?” Many Samaritans…became believers because of what they heard from [Jesus] lips. They told the woman, “We know that this is in truth the Savior of the world.”

Never will this woman’s life ever be the same. It is Jesus who is now the talk of the town!

+               +               +

Like the Samaritan woman at the well, we are all sinners. But as she helps remind us this morning

There’s a wideness in God’s mercy

Like the wideness of the sea;

There’s a kindness in His justice

Which is more than liberty.

For the love of God is broader

Than the measures of the mind;

And the heart of the Eternal

Is most wonderfully kind.[6]

Jesus knows everything there is to know about every single one of us. Yet, He still wishes to give us the Good News

“The time approaches, indeed it is already here, when those who are real worshippers will worship the Father in spirit and in truth. Such are the worshippers whom the Father wants. God is spirit, and those who worship Him must worship in spirit and in truth.”

“Sir, I can see that you are a prophet.” Yes, Jesus is a prophet, but He is also much more. Jesus is the Christ, the Son of the living God! He is the Messiah who thirsts for our faith. He wants to give us living water.

Though we do not know what exactly happens to the Samaritan woman in the days following today’s Gospel, I have a feeling that her life became much better than it previously was. But we do know what happens to Christ.  To His disciples, Jesus says

“I have food to eat of which you know nothing…It is meat and drink for me to do the will of Him who sent me until I have finished His work.”

This Jesus will die on the cross, rise from and defeat death, and ascend to the Father’s right hand, all for us sinners. He will not pass judgment, but offer grace and redemption. “We know that this is in truth the Savior of the world.”

 Not only is Jesus now the talk of the town, but of the whole world. Come to Jesus and drink from Him, the living Well of life.

In the Name of God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Ghost. Amen.

[1] All Scripture quotations contained herein are from the New English Bible, copyright © 1961, 1970 by the Delegates of the Oxford University Press and the Syndics of the Cambridge University Press.

[2] “It’s the Talk of the Town” (1933), music by Jerry Livingston, lyrics by Al J. Neiburg and Marty Symes.

[3] Ibid.

[4] “Living Water,” The Living Church (March 12, 2017), p. 35.

[5] Romans 5.2

[6] “There’s a Wideness in God’s Mercy,” written by F. W. Faber (1814-1863).

“What’s It Gonna Be?” (February 12, 2017: The Sixth Sunday after the Epiphany–Septuagesima)

Posted in Sermons with tags , , , , , , , , , , , on February 13, 2017 by montgomerybrandt

The following sermon was preached on February 12, 2017, being the Sixth Sunday after the Epiphany (Septuagesima), at the 10:30am principal Eucharist at Saint Andrew’s Episcopal Church in Montevallo, Alabama.

Collect: O God, the strength of all who put their trust in You: Mercifully accept our prayers; and because in our weakness we can do nothing good without You, give us the help of Your grace, that in keeping Your commandments we may please You both in will and deed; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

Readings: Deuteronomy 30.15-20; Psalm 119.1-8; 1 Corinthians 3.1-9; Matthew 5.21-37

“Let your word be ‘Yes, Yes’ or ‘No, No’; anything more than this comes from the evil one.”—Matthew 5.37[1]

In the Name of God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Ghost.  Amen.

 I would like to express my appreciation to your Priest-in-Charge for his invitation to preach the Gospel and concelebrate the Eucharist with him here at Saint Andrew’s this post—College Night Sunday.  While I always relish the opportunity to come back to Montevallo, this current visit has been particularly meaningful on two fronts.  First, this year’s Homecoming marked my 10th anniversary as a graduate of the University and brought back wonderful memories from when I myself had the honor of presiding over College Night as Student Government Association president.  It was also during my years at Montevallo that I attended Sunday services here at Saint Andrew’s and had the privilege of residing in the previous Canterbury House, which helped establish the bonds of affection that I share with many of you here.

Second, this visit has provided an opportunity for me to serve with your Priest-in-Charge—one of my first parishioners at Canterbury Chapel in Tuscaloosa when I was first ordained 4½ years ago—for the first time as an ordained colleague.  I have great respect for him and Colleen and pray that their ministry among you, to use the words of the University’s alma mater, will be “years…rich and fruitful.”[2]

This weekend has been a time during which many things have come “full circle.”  It has brought to mind the words of the Psalmist, “Ecce quam bonum et quam iucundum habitare fratres in unum” (“Behold how good and how pleasant it is for brethren to dwell in unity”).[3]

+               +               +

 “What’s it gonna be: life and good or death and evil?”: that is the question today’s lessons present us.  We are being entreated to

Obey the commandments of the LORD…by loving the LORD your God, walking in His ways, and observing His commandments, decrees, and ordinances…Choose life so that you and your descendants may live.[4]

We are urged to choose God because He Himself is life and good.  “Hope in the LORD,” says the Psalmist, “for with the LORD there is steadfast love, and with Him is great power to redeem.”[5] 

The law, which comes from God, reflects His goodness.

The law of the LORD is perfect, reviving the soul; the decrees of the LORD are sure, making wise the simple; the precepts of the LORD are right, rejoicing the heart; the commandment of the LORD is clear, enlightening the eyes…The ordinances of the LORD are true and righteous altogether.[6]

The law furthermore points us to Christ, God’s Word in the flesh.  “The law was our disciplinarian until Christ came, so that we might be justified by faith.”[7]  And Christ came “that they may have life, and have it abundantly.”[8]  Here, too, we see a full-circle effect: God’s law, Jesus Christ, and life and goodness bound together.  They are meant to make life rich, full, and productive—as God intended.[9]

Though the law is good because it comes from God, it is also hard because of the same reason.  Saint Paul, in his letter to the Romans, talks about the struggle

I find it to be a law that when I want to do what is good, evil lies close at hand.  For I delight in the law of God in my inmost self, but I see in my members another law at war with the law of my mind, making me captive to the law of sin that dwells in my members…So then, with my mind I am a slave to the law of God, but with my flesh I am a slave to the law of sin.[10]

And Jesus, in today’s Gospel, does not let up.  Instead of toning things down, He ratchets things up.  “You have heard in the past, ‘Do not commit murder.’  But now I tell you: do not be angry.  You have heard that it was said, ‘Do not commit adultery.’  But now I tell you: do not lust.  You have also heard in the past, ‘Do not break your promise.’  But now I tell you: do not swear at all.”  What we get today is Jesus not meek and mild, but heavy hitting.  “Do not think that I have come to abolish the law,” Jesus said.[11]  He was not kidding!

If Jesus’ words come across as extreme and severe, then you are right.  Today’s Gospel is a real pounding, Jesus bringing down the hammer again and again and again.  It’s as if Jesus is attacking us with merciless mandates.  It makes you think, “If this is the way it is going to be, then why am I still here? Why should I stick around?  Jesus, you are killing me here!  It is just too hard!”

But think about it, though.  Consider, again, what Jesus is saying.  “Do not be angry.  Do not lust.  Do not swear.”  If all of that were to actually be practiced, how lovely would it be?  How lovely would it be if communities like Montevallo, Alabama, Lafayette, Louisiana, and all others became places whose people were all seriously committed to reconciliation?  There would not be the need for “fronts”: “Let your word be ‘Yes, Yes’ or ‘No, No’; anything more than this comes from the evil one.”  “Thy kingdom come, thy will be done, on earth as it is in Heaven…Forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us,” we always pray.  How lovely would it be if it was more so?

Louis Armstrong, one of the most pivotal and influential figures of American jazz, in 1966, recorded the now universally known hit song “What a Wonderful World.”  While introducing the song at a concert in 1970, he said this

Some of you young folks been saying to me, “Hey Pops, what you mean, ‘What a wonderful world?’  How about all them wars all over the place?  You call them wonderful?  And how about hunger and pollution?  That ain’t so wonderful, either.”

Well, how about listening to old Pops for a minute.  Seems to me, it ain’t the world that’s so bad but what we’re doing to it.  And all I’m saying is, see, what a wonderful world it would be if only we’d give it a chance.  Love, baby, love.  That’s the secret, yeah.  If lots more of us loved each other, we’d solve lots more problems.  And then this world would be better.  That’s wha’ ol’ Pops keeps saying.

This is what Jesus is inviting us into.  With Jesus today imploring us to not be angry, lustful, and swear, we are being invited into life and good, not evil and certain death.  We “have been chosen and destined by God the Father and sanctified by the Spirit to be obedient to Jesus Christ and to be sprinkled with His blood.”[12]  That is the Good News we are today being given.

The more time we spend with Jesus, the more we’ll view Him and His mandates not as harsh, extreme, or inconceivable, but beautiful, inviting, and life-giving.  The more we see Jesus’ mandates for what they truly are, the more our desire will be to strive to live them out.  In Jesus’ mandates is “the truth, and the truth will make you free.”[13]  In Jesus Christ is life and He Himself is the Light of all people.[14]  For me, I cannot have it any other way.  Give me Jesus!

“What if I fail?” you may ask.  I’ll let the Good News speak for itself.

Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest.[15]

For God so loved the world that He gave His only Son, so that everyone who believes in Him may not perish but may have eternal life.[16]

The saying is sure and worthy of full acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners.[17]

If anyone does sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous; and He is the atoning sacrifice for our sins, and not ours only but also for the sins of the whole world.[18]

Have no fear!  “With the LORD there is steadfast love, and with Him is great power to redeem.”[19]  That truly is good news!

So, what’s it gonna be: life and good or death and evil?  Choose life that you may live.  Choose Jesus!  That is the best victory anybody can ever receive.

In the Name of God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Ghost.  Amen.

[1] Unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations contained herein are from the New Revised Standard Version Bible, copyright © 1989 by the Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America.

[2] Virginia Powell Figh and Lucy Lynn Underwood, Alma Mater of the University of Montevallo (Montevallo, Alabama)

[3] Psalm 132.1 (133.1) (Latin Vulgate)

[4] Deuteronomy 30.16, 19

[5] Psalm 130.7

[6] Psalm 19.7-8, 9b

[7] Galatians 3.24

[8] John 10.10b

[9] Footnote on Deuteronomy 30.20, The NIV Study Bible (Zondervan, 2011), 299.

[10] Romans 7.21-23, 25b

[11] Matthew 5.17

[12] 1 Peter 1.2

[13] John 8.32

[14] John 1.4

[15] Matthew 11.28

[16] John 3.16

[17] 1 Timothy 1.15

[18] 1 John 2.1-2

[19] Psalm 130.7

“Jesus Christ: Died, Risen, Coming Again” (November 27, 2016: First Sunday of Advent–Year A)

Posted in Sermons with tags , , , , , , , on November 28, 2016 by montgomerybrandt

This sermon was preached at the 6:00pm Rite I Eucharist on November 27, 2016, being the First Sunday of Advent, and the fourth anniversary of my ordination as a Priest, at the Episcopal Church of the Ascension in Lafayette, Louisiana.

Collect: Almighty God, give us grace that we may cast away the works of darkness, and put upon us the armor of light, now in the time of this mortal life in which Thy Son Jesus Christ came to visit us in great humility; that in the last day, when He shall come again in His glorious majesty to judge both the quick and the dead, we may rise to the life immortal; through Him who liveth and reigneth with Thee and the Holy Ghost, one God, now and for ever. Amen.

Readings: Isaiah 2.1-5; Psalm 122; Romans 13.11-14; Matthew 24.36-44

“Therefore be ye also ready: for in such an hour as ye think not the Son of Man cometh.”—Matthew 24.44[1]

In the Name of God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Ghost.  Amen.

Happy New Year!  We have, once again, come to Advent, the first season of the Christian liturgical year.  The word “Advent” comes from the Latin adventus, meaning “arrival” or “approach.”  The Advent season has a twofold purpose: first, to be a time of preparation for the Solemnities of Christmas, in which the First Coming of Jesus Christ, the Son of God, to humanity is remembered,[2] and second, by remembrance of the first, to prepare us for His Second Coming, when “He shall come again, with glory, to judge both the quick and the dead; whose Kingdom shall have no end.”[3]  In Advent is first seen the Mystery of Faith: “Christ has died, Christ is risen, Christ will come again.”

We see the Mystery of Faith first illustrated in Scripture, particularly in the 20th chapter of Saint John’s Gospel.  “Doubting” Saint Thomas, the one absent from Jesus’ first post-resurrection appearance to His Apostles, says, “Except I shall see in His hands the print of the nails, and put my finger into the print of the nails, and thrust my hand into His side, I will not believe.”   A week passes and Jesus appears again to His Apostles, including Thomas: “Peace be unto you.”  Thomas sees the risen Christ and no longer doubts: “My Lord and my God!”  Jesus says to Thomas, “Because thou hast seen me, thou hast believed: blessed are they that have not seen, and yet have believed.”[4]

What Jesus says, Saint Thomas helps Him illustrate and confirm: The Son of Man IS coming again in power and kingly glory.  In one sense, we see this already having been fulfilled, for Jesus, by revealing Himself to Thomas, showed Himself as having died, risen in fullness of Body and Divinity, and come back.  But, in another sense, there is still waiting, for the Good News of Christ “shall be preached in all the world for a witness unto all nations.”[5]  For all of us here on Earth still waiting, Saint John gives this assurance, “Beloved, now are we the sons of God, and it doth not yet appear what we shall be: but we know that, when He shall appear, we shall be like Him; for we shall see Him as He is.  And every man that hath this hope in him purifieth himself, even as He is pure.”[6]

“Watch therefore: for ye know not what hour your Lord doth come.”  As my mentor Priest, Father Andrew Mead, said in a recent email, “Time is short and eternity is long, pressing in upon us at any moment.  Today could be my last day on this earth, so I both need and want to hear the Good News of salvation in Jesus Christ.”[7]  The Good News that we are today being given is that Jesus, Earth’s Redeemer, is near.  “For He cometh, for He cometh to judge the earth: He shall judge the world with righteousness, and the people with His truth.”[8]  Jesus, our King and Savior, is drawing nigh!

Father Mead is right: today could be anyone’s last day on Earth.  Death can strike at any moment.  “Then two shall be in the field; the one shall be taken, and the other left.  Two women shall be grinding at the mill; the one shall be taken, and the other left.”  But even for them, those whom Death has already taken, will Jesus come.  “For if we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so them also which sleep in Jesus will God bring with Him.  For this we say unto you by the word of the Lord, that we which are alive and remain unto the coming of the Lord shall not prevent them which are asleep.”[9] 

But what about the meantime?  Exactly how are we supposed to “keep awake”?  By doing the things that Jesus commands.  “Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind…And…thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself.”[10]  How do we do that?  “Let us walk honestly, as in the day,” Saint Paul says, “not in rioting and drunkenness, not in chambering and wantonness, not in strife and envying.  But put ye on the Lord Jesus Christ.”[11]   

And why should we follow Jesus?  Because of what He did on the cross: He died for our sins!  Jesus, for every single one of us, died the most horrific death imaginable in order that we may be freed from sin.  And He took up His life again, triumphantly rising from the grave on the third day, so that through Him we may experience the joys of eternal life.  Therefore, we owe Jesus both our allegiance and obedience, for to put on Christ is to be able to withstand Satan’s wiles.[12]   

To be saved by Jesus is to be changed in the most positive of ways.  Our hearts become drawn to Him, our minds guided by Him, and our wills controlled by Him, all towards good things.  Because of Jesus, our new self yearns to be His vessel for the purpose of His greater glory, that we may show forth God’s love to our neighbor.  “If ye keep my commandments, ye shall abide in my love; even as I have kept my Father’s commandments, and abide in His love.  These things I have spoken unto you, that my joy might remain in you, and that your joy might be full.”[13] 

That is the mercy we have been granted in this meantime.  In being told to “keep awake,” not only does Jesus tell us that He will soon come again, but that He has also granted us the mercy of time.  We have been given the chance to conform our lives to God’s will, to love others as Christ loves us, and to do the things He would have us do.  As we live into and do those things, our salvation in Christ becomes even more meaningful.  Christian discipleship becomes a part of the very air we breathe.  And at the end, when Christ comes again, eternity in the Kingdom of God will be our reward.  “And God shall wipe away all tears from their eyes; and there shall be no more death, neither sorrow, nor crying, neither shall there be any more pain: for the former things are passed away.”[14] 

“Watch therefore: for ye know not what hour your Lord doth come.  Therefore be ye…ready, for in such an hour as ye think not the Son of Man cometh.”  Both a warning and a sign of God’s love and mercy for us all.  May we all be ready for that Great Day when Jesus comes again.  “Amen.  Come, Lord Jesus!”[15]

Our King and Savior draweth nigh: O come, let us adore Him!  Amen.

[1] Unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations contained herein are from the Authorized (King James) Version.

[2] Pope Paul VI, “Approval of the Universal Norms on the Liturgical Year and the New General Roman Calendar (February 14, 1969), ¶39.

[3] Nicene Creed.

[4] John 20.24-29

[5] Matthew 24.14

[6] I John 3.2-3

[7] Andrew C. Mead, email message to friends, family members, and clergy associates, November 11, 2016.

[8] Psalm 96.13

[9] I Thessalonians 4.14-15

[10] Matthew 22.37, 39

[11] Romans 13.13-14

[12] Ephesians 6.11

[13] John 15.10-11

[14] Revelation 21.4

[15] Revelation 22.20 (New Revised Standard Version)

“Death and Conception As One” (March 25, 2016: Good Friday)

Posted in Sermons with tags , , , , , , , , , , on March 25, 2016 by montgomerybrandt

The following sermon was preached during the Good Friday Liturgy on March 25, 2016 at the Episcopal Church of the Ascension in Lafayette, Louisiana.

Collect: Almighty God, we pray you graciously to behold this your family, for whom our Lord Jesus Christ was willing to be betrayed, and given into the hands of sinners, and to suffer death upon the cross; who now lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever.  Amen.

Readings: Isaiah 52.13-53.12; Psalm 22; Hebrews 10.16-25; John 18.1-19.42

In the Name of God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Ghost. Amen.

Today is March 25, another regular day in the quickly passing civil year. Yet liturgically, it is a day on which something rare and very special occurs, having happened only five times in the last 106 years and not to occur again for another 141. What I am specifically referring to is the fact that although today’s primary purpose is to commemorate our Lord’s crucifixion and death at Calvary—known as Good Friday—this major holy day this year occurs on what normally would be the Solemnity of the Annunciation, the commemoration of the archangel Gabriel’s announcement to the Blessed Virgin Mary that “you will conceive in your womb and bear a son,” Jesus Christ, God’s Incarnate Word.[1] So what we see liturgically conveyed through the occurrence of Good Friday on Annunciation Day[2] is the full circle of Christ’s appointed purpose: to be, for a time, “made lower than the angels…crowned with glory and honor because of the suffering of death, so that by the grace of God he might taste death for everyone.”[3] To put it more simply, through this liturgical rarity, we see through Christ’s death the purpose for His life.

John Donne, the most preeminent figure of English metaphysical poetry, wrote of this rare occurrence’s significance upon its happening 408 years ago:

This Church, by letting these days join, hath shown

Death and conception in mankind is one:

Or ‘twas in Him the same humility

That He would be a man and leave to be:

Or as creation He had made, as God,

With the last judgment but one period,

His imitating Spouse would join in one

Manhood’s extremes: He shall come, He is gone:

Or as though the last of His pains, deeds, or words,

Would busy a life, she all this day affords;

This treasure then, in gross, my soul uplay,

And in my life retail it every day.[4]

Expressed through Donne’s poetry is a real conflict of emotions. The death of Christ reflects the purpose of His conception and His conception that of His death. In this there is joy, but also grief. The grief over our Lord’s death is inflamed by the joy of His coming, with that joy, in turn, foreshadowing the grief that is to come. But not only do we see this emotional conflict in the words of Donne, but also in those of Sacred Scripture. From Sacred Scripture, we come to understand this conflict as being very much necessary, for without the joy of the Annunciation we could not face the grief of Good Friday and without recognizing our grief that Jesus is (for the moment) dead, we cannot fully appreciate the archangel’s message of God’s gifting of Himself in the Person of Jesus. In order that we may fully appreciate the salvation that is offered to us this day by God through Christ, we need to recognize and accept the necessity of this conflict.

We encounter this emotional conflict in the words of the prophet Isaiah: “Yet it was the will of the LORD to crush him…” This, in turn, harkens back to God’s judgment upon the serpent in Genesis: “I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and her offspring; he shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise his heel.”[5] From both Isaiah and God Himself we see the conflict between the joy of Christ’s conception and the grief of His death. There is joy in the fact that despite our sin and us grieving the heart of God, God still loves and wills to save us. Salvation is coming and God, out of His great mercy, will not leave His people helpless.

The grief we face, though, is that to the One through whom our salvation will come and reconciliation with God made complete will come a violent, barbaric, and torturous death. He, Jesus, will be pierced for our transgressions, crushed for our iniquities; upon Him will be the chastisement that will bring us peace, and with His wounds we will be healed.[6] From Isaiah we hear the grim truth that in order for God’s creation to be redeemed and once again have life in Him, Jesus, whom He will send as the Redeemer, must be crushed. Through the crushing of Jesus, because He will both be from God and will be God, the atonement for sin will be made satisfactory. Through the grief of Christ’s death on the cross will come the joy of redemption and everlasting life.

It is this very emotional conflict that forms the foundation for the Annunciation. From the archangel’s message comes great joy that foreshadows the grief that we today confront. “Behold,” Gabriel says to Mary,

You will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus. He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. And the Lord God will give to him the throne of his father David, and he will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end.”[7]

The Blessed Virgin accepts the role of theotokos, “God-bearer,” out of the joy she feels that the One who will be her restoration and that of all the peoples of the earth back to God the Father is finally coming. She remembered the prophet’s words: “Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel.”[8] “Let it be”[9] her obedience leads her to say. The fact that God willed her to be the bearer of the world’s Salvation makes her heart leap for joy

My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior, for he has looked on the humble estate of his servant. For behold, from now on all generations will call me blessed; for he who is mighty has done great things for me, and holy is his name.[10]

Not only for Mary but also for us, the Annunciation reconfirms the truth of God’s love; that He will seek after us at all costs. “Praise we the Lord this day, this day so long foretold, whose promise shone with cheering ray on waiting saints of old.”[11]

The Annunciation’s hidden sadness is, perhaps, best expressed through a late 19th century William Holman Hunt painting titled “The Shadow of Death.” In this painting, Jesus, not yet having commenced His public ministry, has just finished cutting wood in a carpentry shop and is taking a stretch break. The shadow of the young Christ’s outstretched arms fall on a wooden tool spar behind Him, creating a “shadow of death,” foreshadowing His future crucifixion. Gazing up at the shadow is Mary, shielding her eyes from the image with her right arm with the Magi’s gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh in a box beside her.

Although joy is the dominant expression in the Annunciation story, surely, in the back of Mary’s mind, there was grief over what was to come to Her son. Salvation will come through no one else apart from her Son; there will be no other name under heaven given among men by which salvation will be granted.[12] But it will come at such a high cost, one that can never be repaid. Mary’s Son Jesus will be despised, rejected, acquainted with grief, and given no esteem.[13] He will be mocked, shamefully treated, and spit upon. He will be flogged; He will be killed.[14] The Virgin Mother will feel the emotional horror that any loving parent would feel in seeing their child abused to no end, yet will not be able to do anything to stop it. How strong and courageous blessed Mary is, for by joyfully accepting the vocation of being the Mother of God’s Incarnate Word, she also willingly takes on the grief that will come in seeing her Son rebuked, afflicted, and killed.

And here we are—on a day where Christ’s death and conception meet, one feast literally pointing to the other. A mother, from whom, the archangel proclaimed, would come into the world its Light and Salvation, weeps in agony over her Son’s death. Jesus, the Savior of the world, hanging dead on the cross, has done that which the archangel proclaimed to a young Jewish virgin woman three decades earlier. There is grief in this day, but there is also joy. There is grief in that our Lord is dead. Savagely He has been taken from us. The powers of darkness have crushed Him. He was despised, mocked, rejected, flogged, and killed when He did not deserve to be. For and because of us, Jesus, our Friend, our Mentor, and our Lord is gone.

But there is actual joy that can be found in this. How is that even remotely possible? Let us, again, remember the words of the archangel Gabriel: “He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. And the Lord God will give to him the throne of his father David, and he will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end.” Again: “He will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end.”   How can there be no end to Jesus’ kingdom if He is dead? Is there something else to come? Yes, there is! God said that Jesus’ kingdom would never end; it will be forever. We can take heart in this because God, time and time again, has proven Himself true and to be truthful. So with God being the crucial factor in all of this, there must be something else coming that will, in some way, keep Christ’s kingdom going. Let us then rejoice and be glad, for through Christ’s death on the cross, reconciliation with God has come.[15] Jesus’ death has ransomed, healed, restored, and forgiven us back to His Father and our Father. Christ has died, but it is not the end.

For my final point, I would like to honor the Rector’s request to specifically address our young confirmands as they prepare to make their public profession of faith during our Bishop’s upcoming visit on the Third Sunday after Pentecost. My young friends, despite the fact that our Lord Jesus has just died, Christians refer to this day as good. Jesus has just experienced the most graphic form of violence, degradation, suffering, and humiliation, but it all was also good. It is good in that though it appears that the forces of darkness have won, it is actually Jesus who has won. By dying, Jesus has forever destroyed death. Death has not stopped Him, for as Saint Paul proclaims

I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures, and that he appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve. Then he appeared to more than five hundred brothers at one time…Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles. Last of all, as to one untimely born, he appeared also to me.[16]

So I repeat to you my earlier statement—Christ has died, but it is not the end. He will rise in triumph and death’s power will forever be defeated. That is why it is Good Friday. By His death Jesus has destroyed death and through His rising to life again will win for us everlasting life.[17]

Anglican theologian Paul Zahl once said that you cannot get to the resurrection without first experiencing the darkness. This is what Jesus shows us through His Passion. By willingly confronting the darkness, Jesus rose victorious against it. Jesus, the Light, “shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.”[18] Good Friday reminds us to hold fast to Jesus in faith. No matter what darkness we may be going or will go through in this life, Jesus can and will help us through it because He Himself felt and overcame it. If Jesus can go through what He went through and come out as good as He did in the end, surely, through His mercy and help, we can confront our own darkness and get to the light. So, as the old hymn says, when the storms of life are raging, stand by Jesus. He will know your experience and walk with you as He is walking with you now in your journey of faith.

On today, March 25, 2016, we hear of glad tidings of great joy, seeing it fulfilled in a barbaric, yet majestic sight. We hear of Christ coming and see Him hanging dead. “He shall come, He is gone.”[19] The Christ who came to die will rise and never die again. Grief and death are here for the moment; weeping will only endure for the night. But joy and everlasting life are hastily approaching!

The Lord is full of compassion and mercy: Come let us adore Him. Amen.

[1] Luke 1.31

[2] According to rules stipulated in the current edition of The Episcopal Church’s Book of Common Prayer, because the Solemnity of the Annunciation, a major feast of our Lord, is on a fixed day that this year occurs during Holy Week, it is to be transferred to the week following the Second Sunday of Easter. Therefore, for 2016, the Solemnity of the Annunciation will be commemorated on Monday, April 4.

[3] Hebrews 2.10

[4] John Donne, “Upon the Annunciation and the Passion Falling Upon One Day” (1608).

[5] Genesis 3.15

[6] Isaiah 53.5

[7] Luke 1.31-33

[8] Isaiah 7.14

[9] Luke 1.38

[10] Luke 1.46-48

[11] Anonymous, Hymns for the Festival and Saints’ Days of the Church of England (1846).

[12] Acts 4.12

[13] Isaiah 53.3

[14] Luke 18.32-33

[15] Romans 5.11

[16] I Corinthians 15.3-8

[17] Eucharistic Proper Preface for Easter, The Book of Common Prayer (1979).

[18] John 1.8

[19] Donne, “Upon the Annunciation and the Passion Falling Upon One Day.”