Twenty-First Sunday after Trinity 2010

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

In the Epistle reading for this day, we hear one of the most memorable passages from the letters of Saint Paul. He speaks passionately of the Christian, clothed in the armor of God, and wielding the sword of the Holy Spirit, as if a man embarked for battle. The consuming air of the moment is danger: the enemy to be confronted, after all, is more grand in scope and power than any army of men. One would be reminded of the scouts who were sent by Joshua to report on the nature of the enemies just beyond the Jordan River. They came back with news of giants – abnormally large and ferocious predators, the likes of which Israel had never encountered in her forty years of travel through the desert wilderness – a cause to fear, no doubt, but also a reminder that the triumph promised to them indeed would be theirs only if they fought under the banner of the one, true God. The Christian too knows, if he keeps his heart open to the faith nourished in him by the Holy Spirit, that as the giants of old fell to the invading armies of Israel, so will the devils of his own time fall harmlessly by the wayside. The danger is there; but, even more so, the victory is at hand, because the Christian marches where Christ Jesus already has conquered. The Kingdom is at hand. The Christian needs only to cross the Jordan once and for all time, taking his rightful residence at the foot of the Cross, and leaving the desert wilderness forever and always in his past.

Consider the Army of the Potomac marching in parade down Pennsylvania Avenue. It is a beautifully brisk Saturday in the early months of 1861. Thousands cheer along the narrow sidewalks, as drummer boys keep time astride the colors of their company. From nowhere in particular, the glorious tidings rise in unison: “Mine eyes have seen the glory of the coming of the Lord; He is trampling out the vintage where the grapes of wrath are stored; He hath loosed the fateful lightning of His terrible swift sword; His truth is marching on.” Christ Jesus had said very straightforwardly that He came not to bring peace, but rather to bring a sword, to separate the wheat from the chaff, to free what is good from the snares of what is evil, to allow for an overflowing abundance of life, by stamping out our own enslavement to death. The boys marching forward in their crisp, blue uniforms do so in the conviction that, in stamping out secession, they cannot but know the taste of final victory in no more than a fortnight. Indeed, as repeated often in the patriotic speeches and newspaper articles of the time, the conventional wisdom is that this will be a small affair – perchance a few skirmishes, before the Rebels come to their senses and return to the fold. As far as most everyone is concerned, if a man has the sheer temerity to suggest that this will be a long, protracted, bloody cauldron, he may as well be denying that theirs is the one, true God. Of course, the war proves to be much more enduring than a novel sideshow. The skeptic turns out to be right after all; and, in looking over the long and sordid history of men, we cannot but see that that voice almost always prevails, like an annoying brother who claims “I told you so,” after another hope has been dashed. We are told that, by living out our lives in faith, we may take that triumph which Christ Jesus has earned for us. We may march forward, boldly and joyously. And yet, every time, we stumble; and even when we win in some struggle or another, the victory turns out to be much less than imagined, or short lived. We can love, but surely and painfully we are going to lose that love at some point. We can search for some ecstatic moment, perhaps a brief rapture of light and sound at the top of a glorious mountain, or a perfect pitch of wind against the sails of a boat prancing across the blue waves, but surely something tawdry will sour the experience, or at the very least some measure of its beauty will be forgotten over time. We can live, even with a grand joie de vie, but surely we must give up the ghost. As Christians, our lot in this lifetime is first to know Christ Jesus, and then to be reminded at all moments that He has ascended but we are still here. This is what is meant when it is said that we Christians are not of this world, even as we must persist in this world. We march forward in certain triumph, but cannot escape the pain and sorrow of the Cross awaiting us.

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

Published by Michael Sean Erickson

I write, act, and produce films in Los Angeles. Everything else is conjecture.

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