Sunday after Ascension
The Gospel St. John 15.26
At that time: Jesus said unto his disciples: When the Comforter is come, whom I will send unto you from the Father, even the Spirit of truth, which proceedeth from the Father, he shall testify of me; and ye also shall bear witness, because ye have been with me from the beginning. These things have I spoken unto you, that ye should not be offended. They shall put you out of the synagogues; yea, the time cometh, that whosoever killeth you, will think that he doeth God service. And these things will they do unto you, because they have not known the Father, nor me. But these things have I told you, that, when they shall come, ye may remember that I told you of them.
Those of us who are “charter members”, of the Anglican Catholic Church may well be able to relate to today’s Gospel. Jesus is warning his disciples that their future path will not be a smooth one. Remember that at the time Our Lord spoke these words, the “Church” did not yet exist. “Christianity”, was a word unknown to these men. They were Jews, and somewhat faithful ones at that. They tried to follow the Law, and they dutifully attended whatever local synagogue in their home towns. Even after they decided to follow Jesus, the synagogue was still a focal point of their lives; Jesus himself often taught in these places in the various towns that he visited, at least before it became too dangerous to do so.
The synagogue was of additional significance because it was the only practical place for Jews to worship God. For most of them, Jerusalem was a good ways off and traveling to the Temple there required much planning and took a fair amount of time. So the synagogues were places of importance in the lives of most Jews, and the thought of being without them was a hard thing to contemplate.
And yet, this is exactly what Jesus is saying will happen to his disciples. These places of worship, which no doubt had the feeling of “home” to rural Jews, would become off-limits to them. They would no longer be welcomed; indeed, they would be barred even from entering. And the reason why they would suffer such persecution, Christ says, will be because his disciples know and hold to the Truth.
I have come to know somewhat of the history of St. James, and I know that this parish was founded by a faithful number who stood up and left the Episcopal Church, rather than be dragged down by heresy. But there were many other parishes who also attempted to leave their former church, and take their buildings and property with them. And after some protracted legal battles, nearly all of them lost, and they were put out of their churches. They were evicted simply because they knew and held to the Truth.
But before we get too glib or self-righteous about this; reveling, if you will, in the fact that we have been persecuted for our Faith, let us remember that, just like those Jewish leaders who “excommunicated” the early Christians, the people who remained with PECUSA thought that they too were doing God’s work.
The Jewish leaders thought that they had all the right motivation for their actions, even as they veered so dangerously from God’s path. This is perhaps understandable; after all, even St. Paul thought that he was doing God’s work prior to his conversion, when he had people arrested for following this new “way”. So to, did those people from our former church who brought legal action against us; and who continue to deride us and make fun of us even to this day.
And so it shall be, Christ says. Yes, the way will be hard. Yes, you will suffer persecution. Jesus is very up-front about this; there will be no “easy” path for those who know God and His Son. And he presents to us a challenge; are you all up to it?
I know I’ve said this before, (and I’ll likely say it again, so you might want to get used to it), but it’s not supposed to be easy to be a Christian. Or at least, not necessarily. To be a Christian takes a leap of faith; a faith in the Truth. A faith that holds to the most crucial and basic elements. A faith that is not afraid to proclaim that Christ was born, Christ died for our sins, and Christ has Risen from the dead. A faith that reveres the Sacraments as the Grace of God working for us and in us, for our benefit here on earth. A faith that believes completely in the nature of God as He Himself has chosen to reveal. A faith that is courageous enough to refuse to be swayed by the whims of the society of man.
And so, this is our challenge. We may not necessarily face persecution in the same way as those early Christians; and indeed, at least in this country, our mortal lives are likely not in any real danger. But make no mistake, we face persecution nonetheless. Or at least, the Holy Catholic Church does. Look at the evidence, and decide for yourselves how you would face these persecutions;
We have seen a number of cases where men and women who claim to be Catholic have openly supported the murder of unborn children. How have we expressed our Faith in the face of this? Christians living in Muslim countries are imprisoned, tortured, and even put to death for their faith; in countries with whom our own government does business! How have we expressed our Faith in the face of this? And finally, of course, there are many who are predicting the ultimate failure of this Church, the ACC, because we’re so “disconnected” from society, we’re just not “with it” enough. How have we expressed our Faith in the face of this?
THIS is the challenge that Christ lays down before us all. Again, Jesus is very up-front about it; “I have nothing else to offer you here on earth, you are going to suffer”. We hear an echo of these words in a speech given by the Italian General Giuseppe Garibaldi just prior to the siege of Rome in 1849; “I offer neither pay, nor quarters, nor provisions; I offer hunger, thirst, forced marches, battles and death. Let him who loves his country in his heart, and not with his lips only, follow me”.
THIS is the sort of commitment that Christ demands of us. A commitment that is focused not on the riches and rewards of this world, but on the glory guaranteed to us in the next. We will most assuredly suffer loss, heartache and pain in this life, this veil of tears. But if we suffer for the Faith, if we suffer for the name of Christ, then our reward in Heaven is likewise assured.
This was and is the path which all faithful Christians must follow, be they Anglican Catholic, Roman Catholic, Orthodox, or what have you. And that path requires us to hold to the Faith. In the first century, holding to the Faith got you kicked out of the synagogues, or perhaps even killed. Today, holding to the Faith means facing ridicule, derision, and even governmental regulation designed to repress the Truth. It truly is a battle; a battle for our souls.
But we are not without weapons to fight the battle; Christ has seen to that. Not only do we have the Catholic Faith and the Sacraments, but we also have the continuing presence of God Himself; to inspire, lead and guide us. This is, of course, His Holy Spirit.
Through His Holy Spirit, we will gain the courage and confidence necessary to endure whatever persecutions we may suffer. Through His Holy Spirit, we will be given the words we need to boldly proclaim the Faith in the face of all opposition. Through His Holy Spirit, we will be comforted in times of trouble and need. Through His Holy Spirit we receive God’s Grace to strengthen us and prepare us for what lies ahead.
This is the wonderful thing about Christ’s Ascension, and one of the reasons why his Apostles rejoiced and praised God after seeing Jesus taken up into the heavens. His Ascension meant that his Holy Spirit would be coming soon, as we will celebrate next week on Whitsunday. It meant that Christ’s Holy Church was about to be established here on earth. It meant that God is forever with us, everywhere and in all ways. It showed that regardless of the efforts of sinful man, God’s power and Glory will always be greater.
It is with this knowledge that we can joyfully proclaim the Truth of the Catholic Faith, regardless of society’s latest whim. It matters not what we may suffer, be it ridicule, “legal” retaliation, or even physical discomfort. We know all that is about to happen; indeed, in some cases, it has already happened; no surprise there; for Jesus told us it would.
But rather than let these incidents of persecution upset us, we should instead rejoice, for it means that we are doing something right. It means that we do know God, and His Son, Our Savior, Jesus Christ. It means that we know that we have heard and are following the true way of Our Lord because as he said; these things have I told you, that, when they shall come, ye may remember that I told you of them.