s155g01 Somerton Park 18/3/01 Lent 3
"I tell you, you will not see me until the time comes when you say, 'Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord.'" Luke 13:35.
It is, of course, this passage which provides the liturgical impetus for the words of the "Benedictus Qui Venit" sung after the "Sanctus" "Holy, holy, holy ..." predominantly in churches following the high church tradition like ourselves. It seems a useful affirmation to make before we understand that the Lord comes to us in the reception of the Blessed Sacrament. The words appeared in our fist Anglican Prayer Book in 1549 but were dropped in the 1552 Prayer Book and 1662. It becomes an optional extra in our modern service with brackets around it. Unfortunately it is included in a gender specific way - surely we should be welcoming the divine in persons of the female gender as well as the male.
The other optional addition is the "Agnus Dei" which has a curious history. Again it appears in the 1549 liturgy but omitted in 1552. Mostly it is found in an appendix to the communion service as an optional anthem during the communion. Again it is included in high church circles, and in 1888 a "ritual prosecution" was brought against the Bishop of London, Edward King for using this and other "high church" practices. The action was instigated by the "Church Association". I have not yet found a copy of the "Lincoln Judgement" (1890) but I understand that the use of the "Agnus Dei" was allowed as a devotion by the priest, provided it did not lengthen the service. So if you wonder why I personally have insisted that services be of an hour duration, it is not just that young families find this the limit of their "staying power", but there are lots of things to accomplish during a service, and one of the things is to give people time for their own thoughts and prayers. There is always next week. If we do it all today, why should people come next Sunday?
And the words: 'Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord.' are not just a useful affirmation, they are an expression that we welcome the presence of the Lord into our lives. It reminds us again, that it is not that God excludes anyone. The reality of life is that God is always with us and all people and it is us who welcome that presence or demur from it.
The words immediately prior to my text echo still today: "How often have I desired to gather your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you were not willing!" (Luke 13:34). It might be a comforting thought to be gathered under the wing of a hen, but it is not just me that is gathered, but a brood - all who similarly want to share this comfortable place.
And the beginning of our gospel snippet reminds us that it was the Pharisees, the religious authorities, who were not willing to receive Jesus. It does not take much imagination to realise that the Pharisees "helpful" warning about Herod intent to kill Jesus is quite likely to be untrue. We have in other places evidence that in fact Herod was desirous of meeting Jesus. Luke 23:8 tells us: "When Herod saw Jesus, he was very glad, for he had been wanting to see him for a long time, because he had heard about him and was hoping to see him perform some sign." When the time actually came and Herod did meet Jesus, he in fact took no decisive action against Jesus.
So, it is not difficult to imagine one of the easiest ways the religious authorities had at their disposal to rid themselves of Jesus was fear. Jesus was not likely to have the access to Herod that the religious authorities had, or were able to pretend that they had. By pretending that Herod was out to get Jesus, they hoped Jesus would slink away with his tail between his legs.
But Jesus does not respond to this threat. Jesus would continue his ministry until the time appointed by the Father had come. Jesus would indeed be disposed of by the religious authorities on the Cross, but it would be for all the world to see and the responsibility for it, not be hidden for all future generations.
Efforts to shift the blame to others, to Herod or to Pilate, to the less than religious, would be in vain.
Jesus calls himself simply a prophet, he claims nothing for himself beyond this. He is simply one who is sent by God, like countless others were and subsequently countless others have been. But like all those who come in the name of the Lord, it is those who take upon themselves to exercise authority in the name of the Lord who are most put out.
The good news is that all are welcomed, even the words of Isaiah make this plain: "Ho, everyone who thirsts, come to the waters; and you that have no money, come, buy and eat! Come, buy wine and milk without money and without price." (Isaiah 55:1).
For those who want to be with the Lord on their own, this is bad news, and the precise reason the lay authorities authority revile rather than welcome. The religious people were, and I suspect will always continue to be willing to "bear false witness" in order to get their way.
So I have no interest in making anyone "religious". The ministry of the Lord is not as I and others wear our liturgical garb during this service performing the sacred rituals, but how we see and acknowledge the Lord in other people outside our community of faith.
For we do not just have the Lord come to us in the sacrament of the Altar. If we have eyes to see, the Lord sends us lots of people from which to learn, from whom we will find healing and comfort.
The question is ever before us too. Do we welcome or do we demur?
So obviously these people will not all be wearing back to front collars. Every person who enters this place of worship is sent by God, and has something to contribute to our community if we are willing to take notice. Everyone else who comes into our lives has something to contribute to our lives if we have the willingness and the opportunity to notice.
Making this affirmation is important, because Jesus always comes with others "in tow". And if we are ready to welcome Jesus, we necessarily welcome others who have accepted the invitation to be with Jesus. We cannot have one without lots of others too.
But it is not that we have to become all "matey-matey", the ancient expression "bosom buddies" comes to mind - with other people. There are indeed people I personally will always keep at arms length, but I still recognise their right to exist, to hold the opinions they do and am quite prepared to allow that they will in all likelihood be in the company of the redeemed if they so choose to be.
The ultimate curse is "Your house is left to you". We all get what we choose. If we choose to be alone, God respects that choice. If we are prepared to be with others, God welcomes. The thing we cannot do is make God other than what scripture tells us, and that is someone who welcomes all.
It works on a parish level, on a diocesan level and on a denominational level. If continuance of what has gone on before is our major concern, then our house will be left to us. If we choose rather to want others, then necessarily "our" house will change - at the very least it will become "others" as well as "ours". Our denomination, our parish, our lives, all will be enlivened and enriched by the presence of others, as we recognise that others come in the name of the Lord, and we call them "Blessed". And in doing so we will indeed see the Lord as my text for today promises.
Links to other sites on the Web:
About the author and links.
To a Lectionary Index of Archived Sermons.
To a Scriptural Index of Archived Sermons.
Back to a sermon for next Sunday.