The Epistle Galatians Ch 3 V.16
Brethren: to Abraham and his seed were the promises made. He saith not: and to seeds, as of many; but as of one: and to thy seed, which is Christ. And this I say: that the covenant that was confirmed before of God in Christ, the Law, which was four hundred and thirty years after, cannot disannul, that I should make the promise of none effect. For if inheritance be of the Law, it is no more of promise. But God gave it to Abraham by promise. Wherefore then serveth the Law? It was added because of transgressions, till the seed should come, to whom the promise was made, and it was ordained by Angels in the hand of a mediator of one: but God is one. Is the Law then against the promises of God? God forbid. For if there had been a law given, which could have given life, verily righteousness should have been by the Law. But the Scripture hath concluded all under sin, that the promise by faith of Jesus Christ might be given to them that believe.
Please bear with me as I brag a little bit; I have been a (mostly) faithful member of the Anglican Catholic Church for nearly 37 years; I was trained in “High Church” liturgics by an Anglo-Catholic Priest using the EIGTH EDITION of Ritual Notes! Indeed, at one time I had that book committed to memory.
Further I have served as Master of Ceremonies under the Most Reverend William O. Lewis, sometime Metropolitan Archbishop of the Original Province, in addition to a number of other Bishops, priests and Rectors, who often deferred to me in Liturgical matters (much as I rely on Ken, Nancy and Cathy here). Finally, in the course of my priesthood and prior to my incumbency at St. James, I served at three other parishes, where my “expertise” in Liturgics was sought out and used (hopefully) to some benefit.
Now the purpose of my bragging is not to bring glory upon myself; rather what I wish to convey is that I have been considered to be someone who knew “the letter of the law”, if you will, as it pertained to Liturgical matters. And when the aforementioned priests and bishops put me in charge of whatever service they had planned, they were confident that I would not deviate from that “law”; indeed, that I would insure adherence to the “law”.
In the Epistle lesson for today, St. Paul once again takes up what appears to be an “attack” upon the ancient Jewish Law. But here he does so in a very interesting way; here Paul’s “attack”, if it may be considered as such, is somewhat indirect. Rather than focus on the flaws involved with following the Law in the imperfect way of the Pharisees, St. Paul redirects our attention to the Covenant that God made with His Chosen people through Abraham; he calls to our attention the Promise of God.
St. Paul begins by paraphrasing Genesis Chapter 17, verse 7; (“And I will establish my Covenant between me and thee and thy SEED after thee in their generations for an everlasting covenant, to be a God unto thee, and to thy SEED after thee”). “Brethren: to Abraham and his SEED were the promises made. He saith not: and to SEEDS, as of many; but as of one“. In other words, God did not make His Promise with a great number of groups of people, but with one singular individual. And, St. Paul submits, this one individual is the person in whom the Covenant finds its consummation; Jesus Christ (Barclay; Galatians, Pg 28).
You see the Pharisees laid claim to being “of the SEED (or DESCENT) of Abraham, and were therefore heirs to the Covenant that God made with him. But they also claimed to sit “in Moses seat”; meaning that they took to themselves the authority to teach the Law and to hold others accountable for their obedience to the Law. Over time, the Pharisees came to believe and teach that it was only through strict obedience to the Law that the Covenant with God was fulfilled.
St. Paul points out the contradiction with their position; “to Abraham and his seed were the promises made“. This statement alone should have caused some consternation; for surely any Pharisee worth his salt would know the Scriptural support for it; the first of which I have already recited to you; Genesis 17, verse 7; “And I will establish my Covenant between me and thee and thy SEED after thee in their generations for an everlasting covenant, to be a God unto thee, and to thy SEED after thee”. Next we have Exodus 2:24 “And God heard their groaning, and God remembered his covenant with Abraham, with Isaac, and with Jacob.“; and finally there is Leviticus 26:42 “Then will I remember my covenant with Jacob, and also my covenant with Isaac, and also my covenant with Abraham will I remember; and I will remember the land“
The point that St. Paul is making is that the Covenant of God, the Promise of God, existed EVEN BEFORE THE LAW WAS EVER WRITTEN! Therefore, the Covenant of God was not fulfilled by the Law, nor by obedience to the Law; but by the Promise made through the SEED, the DESCENDANT of Abraham; the singular person in whom the culmination of God’s Covenant may be found; the singular person in whom Abraham himself placed all his Faith.
The Covenant of God is fulfilled only by the Grace of God. The Covenant of God is fulfilled by the promise God made to Abraham; The Covenant of God is fulfilled in the Faith of Abraham: the Covenant of God is fulfilled through Faith in Jesus Christ.
You will have noticed that I have not alleged that the Covenant of God is fulfilled at all by the Law of Moses. In his letter to the Romans, St. Paul tells us, “Therefore it is of FAITH, that it might be by grace; to the end the promise might be sure to all the SEED; not to that only which is of the law, but to that also which is of the FAITH of Abraham; who is the father of us all“(Romans 4:16).
This is also not meant to say that the Law is without importance; but rather that the Law in and of itself can never supersede the Faith of the Patriarchs; “For if INHEIRITANCE be of the Law, it is no more of promise. But God gave it to Abraham by promise“.
You see, we have the Law to tell us how we should conduct our daily lives; how we should act, how we should speak, how we should treat others; and most importantly, how we should love and worship God. These are all very worthy things, and certainly they are given to us to be followed by the commandment of Our Lord. But the Law is not meant to be “ALL”.
“For if inheritance be of the Law, it is no more of promise. But God gave it to Abraham by promise“. Abraham had no Law to follow, but God gave to him His Promise nonetheless. And further, God also bestowed His Promise upon the seed of Abraham – Isaac and Jacob – even though they too had no written Law. And God’s Promise was bestowed for one simple reason; “Therefore it is of FAITH, that it might be by grace; to the end the promise might be sure to all the SEED; not to that only which is of the law, but to that also which is of the FAITH of Abraham; who is the father of us all“(Romans 4:16).
The point is that we are not made heirs to God’s Promise by strict adherence to the Law. Rather, we become heirs though our Faith; the same Faith that was held by Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob; the Faith that assures us that God will fulfil (and has fulfilled) His Covenant; the Faith that tells us that the culmination of God’s Promise lies not in our actions or in our adherence to the written Law, but in the Grace of God; the Faith that resides in our belief in Jesus Christ.
This is where I get back to my earlier “bragging” episode; and you will recall how I established my “bona fides” as an “expert in the law of liturgical practices”. As a result you might be correct to assume that I was attracted to St. James in part because of the Liturgical practices of this parish. But it is important that you know why this was so.
You see, I have been taught by all those Bishops and Priests that I mentioned earlier that “our liturgy expresses our Faith”. We do not perform the “Asperges me” because Fr. Peterson always did. The Order of Service is not conducted here so as to conform with the way that Fr. Irwin or Fr. Crume always had it done; and whatever changes I have made here over the past two years are not just a result of my personal preference or because of the way that Archbishop Lewis taught me; the Liturgy at St. James expresses the Faith of this parish.
To paraphrase; we are not made heirs to God’s Promise by the firm adherence to any liturgical law. We will not realize the fulfilment of God’s Covenant through strict obedience to whatever version of Ritual Notes; we are not made more “holy” or more “catholic” because we use incense more often than other churches. Our status in the Kingdom of God is not improved by our status as “High-Church Anglo-Catholics”.
You see, our ultimate goal is to play our part in the Covenant with God. Our Goal is to play our part in the Promise of God. We cannot claim our part in this relationship through our actions, our “works”, through our meticulous obedience to the letter of the “Law”; we can only claim our part in this relationship through the Faith that is expressed by these actions.
“And this I say: that the covenant that was confirmed before of God in Christ, the Law, which was four hundred and thirty years after, cannot disannul, that I should make the promise of none effect“. And so, as we continue today and in the future; as we revel in the glory of the organ music and the choir voices; as we join together in the true worship of God at the Mass; let us always remember that we do so not because “this is the way it’s always been done”.
Let us join together knowing that what we do here is an expression of our Faith; the Faith that existed before there was a Ritual Notes; a Faith that existed before there was an “Oxford Movement”, or a Church of England; a Faith that existed even before the 10 Commandments were written down. Let us join together in the Faith of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob; the Faith in the Promise of God; the Faith in the Grace of God; the Faith which has its ultimate fulfilment in Jesus Christ. Our Lord.