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Archive for March, 2018

Easter Sunday


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CHRIST IS RISEN, ALLELUIA!

I hope that you have enjoyed the serialized version of my revision of Lent for Busy People.  It has been a joy to share it with you, and my hope is that it will be out in paperback well in time for Lent 2019.

For this Easter Sunday, I am reprinting a 1901 sermon by the late Bishop of New York,  the Right Reverend Henry Potter.

Blessings of this Feast of the Resurrection to you and yours!

Canon Charles Nalls

“Who shall roll us away the stone from the door of the Sepulchre?” St. Mark xvi:3.

What an unlooked for and triumphant answer did they get who uttered that perplexed demand! They come, three sorrow-stricken women, to anoint their Master for His burial with hope quite dead in their bosoms, yet their love longs to pour itself out even upon their Lord’s insensible remains, and with tenderest ministries to make His dead body ready for the grave. And so, very early in the morning, “at the rising of the sun” they turn their footsteps toward His Sepulchre. Their hands bear aloes and myrrh, and every costliest antiseptic that their deep devotion can command, and in their woman’s weakness, their only thought now is, who shall be strong enough to roll away the stone?

That sealed and close shut Tomb; who would unlock it for their entrance? Their hearts never lift themselves above that poor dilemma. If they ever understood their Master’s promised victory over the grave, events have quenched their confidence in it now. To their eyes, the world’s forces seem to have been too Strong even for the powers that were His. Their hopes have been baffled, their glad anticipations quenched in tears–their Lord is dead, and now as they bend their steps to that new tomb in which His pulseless form was yesterday laid to rest, neither their expectations nor their fears can reach beyond the plaintive question–” Who shall roll us away the stone?”

They come to find that tomb an empty casket–they come to find its door wide open, and its tenant gone. Nay, they come to learn that He who yesterday was sleeping there, has wakened out of his sleep, and waiting for no earthly hands to give Him liberty, has passed the guarded portal, and scorning every poor material impediment, has gone forth alive again and free! An angelic hand has indeed rolled away the stone, and one clad in white raiment bids them see the place where only a little while before, their Master lay. But we must not overlook the fact which the Gospels make so plain, that when the angel comes to roll away the stone, Christ is already gone. He has needed no outward interposition to set Him free. When angels come to lift away the granite door, the rocky tomb is empty, and they are sent only the more unequivocally to show forth that emptiness to others. Within that grave had lain a force which no stone, however huge, could prison, nor any seal, however princely, bind. That life which Christ brought with Him out of heaven was mightier than any grave, and strong enough to brush aside the most huge and massive rock which could be rolled before it.

Is not this, now, the especial emphasis of what we call our Easter-fact? That fact finds fittest utterance in our Easter legend “now is Christ risen.” Our Easter joy is not the outgrowth of a speculation. Our anthem peals are not the purified prettiness of empty sentiment. Today we stand upon a fact, a fact against which unbelief has hurled its hostile waves in vain. The Lord is risen indeed. If that be not a fact; if every soundest rule of evidence does not authenticate it to us as a fact, then there is nothing under heaven susceptible of proof. If anything in all the past is true, then this is true–that out of that tomb into which Christ was day before yesterday borne a corpse, He went forth on that first Easter day a living man. On that fact we rest–take it away, and I own, freely, that the superincumbent structure crumbles to nothingness. On this ground the Apostle plants himself without equivocation. “If Christ be not risen, then is our preaching vain, and your faith is also vain.” “But now is Christ risen from the dead.” That fact is our sheet anchor! But in what, I ask, resides its chiefest emphasis? What is it that Christ’s rising certifies to us? How is it that His victory intimates a victory for us? What is the law of which it is the high and bright disclosure?

It is because, by force of contrast, they throw out into such strong relief the heart-broken question of these tearful women for my text. For that question leads directly to radiant truth on which our Easter joy must rest. They thought Christ cold and stark and impotent. To approach Him and release His lifeless body, some power external to that body in its utter helplessness must be invoked to roll away the stone. But what a complete and radical mistake theirs was! Was Christ a prisoner there dependent on the chance ministries of some external hands to set Him free?

Ah, no! He waited for no angel, for, into that grave, when He descended to it, He carried a seed of life which of itself was strong enough to burst the seal and roll away the stone and give Him triumphant freedom!

The law of our life in Him is simply that His life passes over into us to be a quickening within us stronger than any grave. Does death steal suddenly on our households, taking away the forms our love has clung to? No matter! The life that has apprehended Him has in it that which is stronger than any grave. Or, do we feel in ourselves the growing sense of physical infirmities, and are we forced to own that the frail shrine through which our soul looks out on life is tottering to its fall? Still, what does it matter? Is it not true of every life that has fixed its grasp on Christ that just as with a beautiful and prophetic imagery the ancients buried their dead with seeds clasped in their hands, so our own hands have hold upon a principle of life potent enough to break through every bondage of the grave? We lay our dead to rest with no such dreary emblems as the pagan past discloses. Study the symbolism of the grave before Christ entered the world and see how hopeless it was. The broken column, the torch inverted in the chiseled stone, what did such signs as these proclaim but that in the eyes of those who used them, death had shattered the half-complete career, and left only ruin and darkness behind it?

Nay, we turn back to see the same hopelessness in those, whose rare endowments ought, we think, to have lifted their thought above the common gloom. Alas, they did not. We read the dialogues of Plato, and in them oftener than otherwise, there moans the sad undertone of blank uncertainty, we go to Cicero sitting grief-stricken in his Tuscan villa beside the dead body of his daughter, and as his eager thoughts run onward to her grave, what is his outcry, thinking of the gloom so soon to shut him out from her forever, but the dim echo of that question Who is there that can roll away the stone?   Ah, yes, through tear-dimmed centuries the question rang, and waited for an answer! In homes into whose glad serenity the shadow of the death-angel had forced its unsparing way, –from quivering lips left alone beside the graves that hid away out of their sight their loved and lost, wrung out of grief-burdened hearts that could not let their dear ones go, there came that cry, “Who is there brave enough and strong enough to roll away the stone?” And now we have their answer. Not as they looked for it, did it come, but by the clear disclosure of a truth how much more grand and gracious. Our sainted dead are not dependent on the help even of the angels, for they have taken the key that unlocks their prison door into the grave itself. The seeming victory of death is only seeming. Our Leader spoiled it when He died Himself. His burial was only one more step towards a fuller, freer life. And what was true of Him became thenceforward true of that humanity for which He died!

We may go back to nature now, and see how crowded full with these analogies it is. For nature is life. Anything in it that looks like death is but a token and certificate of life about to commence anew. Every end there is only a beginning–some lower form letting go its life and casting away its coarser self that it may re-appear again in forms more beautiful and pure. The mere leaves that seem to fade and rot, pass downward into the root life of some rarer plant more lovely than themselves, and when the sun and rains summon them anew come forth in forms more wonderful and hues rarer than ever they had known before. The creeping worm dies out of its meaner life into a winged form beauty which Egyptian art and Christian symbolism have alike borrowed to utter, the one its struggling hope–the other its clear undoubting faith. And this is at once the fitness and suggestiveness of our Easter blossoms. We miss the lessons of yonder flowers if we look on them as forms of mere adornment, or see in them only the hues and fragrance of a fleeting life. Beautiful as they are, like us, they will fade and fail. But their supreme appropriateness lies in this, that in all plant life under Heaven, death is the stepping stone to life more fair and rich, the law of which is held within themselves. The autumn winds strip the plant’s branches bare, and wither its blossoms and to outward semblance, quench the life of it wholly. But when the spring rains come again and the sun’s kindlier rays kiss the greenness back into the shriveled branches, there has been at work all the time an answering law of life within those branches, more powerful than all other powers besides. And thus, our vernal buds best symbolize our Easter fact.

How can our hearts then refuse to echo those notes of triumphant gladness with which this morning the Church’s services are ringing? How are our griefs transmuted, and our tears turned backward in their channels, as looking down into the empty sepulcher of Christ we find it a grave no longer, but transformed into the most glorious fabric and most solemn temple ever hewn by mortal hands–its open portal the firmest basis of the imperishable hopes of humanity and its ascended occupant the Everlasting pledge of what even death may be made to minister to us.

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stations-of-the-cross
Jesus was condemned by the Jewish council. He was and given up by Pilate first to be scourged, and then to be crucified. Today He hung upon the cross, His head crowned with thorns, His hands and feet nailed, His failing eyes dimmed with blood, His parching throat raging with thirst.

As yet He has not spoken, except one cry which, with eyes lifted up to heaven, He uttered when, with a harsh shock, the cross had been fixed in its place, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.”

His Mother and the disciple whom He loved stand below, together with St. Mary Magdalene, but at the word of Jesus that disciple took Mary unto his own home, returning, however, himself to Calvary. The elders around the cross are mocking and taunting Him: not sparing even His dying pains, and the thieves join with them therein. But the prayer and the patience of Jesus have their effect on one of them, and he is enraptured with the promise that that very day he shall be with his Saviour in the rest of Paradise.

Darkness has been gathering around, startling the watchers and the crowd, and now from the midst of that darkness bursts suddenly forth a great and exceeding bitter cry, “My God, My God, why hast Thou forsaken Me?” Peace, however, to some degree returns, and He asks for water. Then comes the first cry of victory achieved, “It is finished.” Then comes the exclamation of perfect peace, “Father, into Thy hands I commend My spirit.”

He bowed His head, and gave up the ghost.+

A soldier pierced His side, and the fountain was opened for sin and for uncleanness.

Prayer

Wash me, O my Savior, in Thine own blood, and as Thou didst lay down Thy life to redeem me from all iniquity, help me now to crucify the flesh with the affections and lusts, that, overcoming by Thy grace all temptations. I may follow Thee in Thy path of obedience; so that my life may be blessed, and my death may be peaceful, and I may hereafter reign with Theo in the glory to which Thou art now restored, who with the Father and the Holy Ghost, art blessed and glorified, one God, world without end Amen.

From Lent for Busy People © 2017 Fr. Charles H. Nalls

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Communion Cup
When the day opened the Lord Jesus was still in retirement, probably at Bethany, with His disciples. but soon St. Peter and St. John were sent to make ready in the borrowed guest-chamber for Him and them against His coming in the evening. This upper room became the holiest place in the holy city.

In the evening He there washed His disciples’ feet, assuring St. Peter that to be washed by Him was necessary for them. Then followed the institution of the Holy Communion, “Take, eat, this is My Body; Drink ye all of this, for this is My Blood of the New Testament, which is shed for you and for many of the remission of sins.” To them the promise was fulfilled, “He that eateth My Flesh, and drinketh My Blood, dwelleth in Me and I in him.” He spoke to them also words of most affectionate consolation, and gave the promise of the Comforter; and then followed the Hymn, the Intercession, the going forth over the brook Kedron.

Beyond this brook was the Garden of Gethsemane, and toward that place, as often before, He now journeyed. Taking the chosen three, He left them within the Garden, and passed on about a stone’s throw alone. His soul, He had told them, was exceeding sorrowful, even unto death; and He begged them to watch with Him.

The prince of this world was coming, and it was the hour of the power of darkness. The struggle with the natural, and therefore innocent, weakness of the flesh, and with Satan, who made use of it to turn Him from His purpose, then began but while He could add to His prayer, “Nevertheless, not My will, but Thine be done,” He was unconquered, and was still true to Himself, and obedient to the Father’s purpose and will.

Again and again He returned to His friends to seek sympathy from them, but they were sleeping for sorrow. At length the weary struggle was over, the offering of Himself in will had been made, and He was ready for the cross with all its injustice, cruelty, and shame.

Prayer

O Lord Jesus Christ, help me like Thyself to choose always the path of duty and of right, however bard it may be, that I may glorify Thy Name. Amen.

From Lent for Busy People © 2017 Fr. Charles H. Nalls

 

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Tenebrae

Tonight we start the Triduum here at St. Alban’s with Tenebrae at 6:30 p.m. This is a wonderful opportunity to step out of the world, put aside noise and enter into the quiet that is essential to Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, and the Great Vigil of Easter.

Please leave your cell phones and other electronic devices outside the church at this and all Easter services unless you are a law enforcement or medical professional with an absolute need to be on call.  If this is the case, please set your device to vibrate.

With thanks and blessings,

Fr. C.

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wednesday
At length the Lord’s ministry of teaching and healing is over, and that He may prepare Himself and His disciples for the last conflict which He is to maintain, and they are in part to witness, He and they spent this day in quiet retirement. But one of them was absent. Judas Iscariot had gone to the chief priests to inquire, “What will ye give me, and I will betray Him unto you?”

They gladly made an arrangement with him, and he readily, nay greedily, accepted their offer, and agreed to betray his Master who bad chosen him, had admitted him to His friendship, had trusted to him so as to give him the office of providing for the wants of the little company, and had lived His life of gentle innocence for the last three years in his presence. The reward they offered was small; so small indeed that the offer of it by them and the acceptance of it by him was in itself an insult to Him for whose life they were bargaining, but the covetous disciple grasped at it eagerly. It was but the fixed value of a Hebrew slave.

So, Judas, instead of resisting the temptation, gave place to the devil, and the devil entered into him. He yielded: Satan triumphed. The two were working together; and so, when the work was done, Judas hurried himself into the presence of his Judge, and went to his own place. How dangerous is a grasping, greedy, covetous spirit! What will not men sometimes do to gain money, rank, power, popularity!

The Lord Jesus Christ has been betrayed again and again since that time by those who, preferring such things before Him, have practically renounced Him that they may gain them. But sin pays very poorly. The reward of Judas was very small, and caused him no satisfaction, but the bitterest remorse, when he had received it. So it must always be. Let me watch and pray against temptation, lest perchance, like Judas, I should choose something else rather than Jesus, my Lord, and be led into sin against Him that I may gain it.

Prayer

Save me, Blessed Saviour, from the bitter remorse of an awakened conscience by helping me to choose Thee before all things, and to be faithful to Thee in all things, I humbly beseech Thee. Amen.

From Lent for Busy People © 2017 Fr. Charles H. Nalls

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Tuesday in Holy Week

A leave-taking has generally something of sadness about it; but more so if anyone has from pure love and affectionate interest been striving for the good of others. However, if they have persistently rejected his endeavors and scornfully refused his aid, the sorrow with which he parts from them in their misguided blindness, will be great indeed. Such was the sorrow which the Lord Jesus felt. We hear that “He departed and did hide Himself from them.”

First, however, He spoke to them solemnly and plainly of their hypocrisy, hardness of heart, selfishness, and spiritual pride. He pronounced woe again and again upon the scribes and Pharisees on account of these faults.

His burning words passed at length into tones of the most tender compassion. “O Jerusalem, Jerusalem,” He exclaimed, “how often would I have gathered thy children together, and ye would not.” He would have gathered them, and they would not be gathered. Even now He pursues with tender entreaties and solemn warnings: “Ye shall not see Me henceforth, till ye shall say, Blessed is He that cometh in the name of the Lord.” Then, He turned sadly away and departed. He had still much teaching for His disciples, but as regards the people His ministry of teaching was now over. He would have gathered them, but they would not be gathered.

A day will come when, if I have never sought Him, He will thus turn away from me also. I may be as they were, moral, respectable, and outwardly religious. Yet, He turned away from them, and He may turn away from me. He turned away from them because their religion did not consist in the love of God and of man. He turned away because they were incapable of faith and moral earnestness. Finally, He turned away because they had the form of godliness only, and while they cared much for the praise of men they thought little of the glory of God.

Prayer

Draw me, O Lord Jesu Christ, that I may seek Thee with my whole heart, and fill me with truth and love, I beseech Thee. Amen.

From Lent for Busy People © 2017 Fr. Charles H. Nalls

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MondayThe barren fig-tree on which our Lord passed sentence to-day was typical of the Jewish people, and, besides them, on the many who profess themselves His disciples now. True, the time was not the season of the year in which figs might most naturally be expected to be on a fig-tree. But this being so, why did it have leaves?

The leaves were enough to create an expectation that at least some of the winter figs might be still hanging upon the tree. The tree, however, produced nothing but leaves, plenty of them, but no fruit. No fruit, therefore, was it permitted to yield henceforth and for evermore.

Now, the fig-tree did no harm, but then, again, it did no good. It did not produce any fruit, either hurtful or useful. It was perhaps, to some slight extent, an ornament to the landscape, but it was of no practical use. The hungry looked to it in vain.

How is it with us? We have some means, time, abilities-what fruit are they bearing? Any or none? Are there any who are made happier or better by our respective endeavors? Let each of us think, am I like the barren fig-tree?

Among the parables which our Lord spoke on this day in the temple, the first is of husbandmen to whom had been committed a vineyard, but who used all the fruits of it for themselves. The vineyard of the Lord of Hosts is the house of Israel. If that is the case, the individuals of that house were such also, or at least part of the one vineyard.

Again we each face pointed questions. What am I doing with my little part of the vineyard, that is, myself? Am I bringing forth fruit unto God? What is such fruit? The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, long-suffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, meekness, and temperance. Are these the fruits of my life? Am I like these husband-men, ready to cast the only Son out of His own vineyard, that is, out of my heart, that I may keep all for myself, my own indulgence and gratification? It is written of those husbandmen, “He will miserably destroy those wicked men,” and the sentence was executed on Israel. Let each of us keep that firmly in mind.

Prayer

O God the Holy Ghost, be Thou my guide and helper, I beseech Thee, that through Thy grace I may bring forth good fruit abundantly, and so glorify Thy Name. Amen.

From Lent for Busy People © 2017 Fr. Charles H. Nalls

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