WHO LIVES AND REIGNS
Almighty and everlasting God, mercifully look upon our infirmities and stretch forth the hand of your majesty to heal and defend us; through Jesus Christ, your Son our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. (collect)
THE longer we liturgize the Holy Trinity in His holy house, the more we grow and discover new things, the more our eyes are opened, our hearts enlarged, our lives made noble, our courage increased, and our fears diminished until one day we close our eyes for the final time in this old world and open them in the Kingdom of Heaven, only to find ourselves reclining at the heavenly table with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, with those who have gone before you in Christ who will greet you with tears of joy with all the heavenly host of saints and angels, but above all with the Lamb who loves us and gave Himself for us, who sits upon His gracious throne, from where He mercifully reigns over all things.
Note that well, dear Christians! It is not fate or chance, or the plans of the wicked, or even your own "infirmities" that order the course of your lives, but the man Christ Jesus who left the womb of earth (Psalm 110) on Easter morning, who now reigns over all things, and whose prevailing majesty heals and defends us so that even our worst setbacks, gravest errors, and most regrettable sins are reversed by the cross; not only reversed, but will, and by God's decree, must finally turn around and work for our good! That is the power of the Gospel, of the One who stretched out His arms in death for us, but who now lives and reigns unopposed with the Father and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever.
In today's Collect the church prays that our Lord who cleansed the lepers and restored the Centurion's servant will mercifully look upon our infirmities; and what a beautiful prayer that is because we have so many of them.
Our sins, however, are not merely "infirmities" or "mental illness" as the prophets of the culture are quick to prophecy whenever a mass murder takes place. That explanation may suffice for those who can reach no higher, but by the light of Holy Scripture we can, and it is on those bright pages that we learn the truth: that such actions are not the result of mental illness, but of dysfunctional intellects and the twisted desires resulting from the sin we inherited from our First Parents when they decided to dance with the devil.
Neither can such losses be stopped by legislation or by keeping guns out of the hands of the "mentally ill." Talk about insane! If the cars have no brakes, it doesn't matter how many stop signs you erect, and that is the gloomy condition of our sad race; a condition calmed by strong religious teaching and exacerbated by any society that rejects the Greatest Teacher and only Savior of all!
Therefore the church prays today: mercifully look upon our infirmities and stretch forth the hand of your majesty to heal and defend us. It is the same prayer offered by the leper in today's gospel lesson who said to Jesus, "Lord, if you are willing, you can make me clean." Jesus reached out to him, touched him with His redeeming hand, and said, "I am willing, be clean!" Immediately, reports St. Matthew, he was cleansed and made whole, for you see, O Baptized, our Lord and God will never leave a prayer such as this unanswered.
Yet where do we find such power today, such answer to prayer and outpouring of mercy for all our infirmities? For that we need only open our eyes and look straight ahead to what lies before you:
First we see the Baptismal Font all wonderfully restored and placed front and center to serve as a constant reminder of our baptism, of the Red Sea a through which we pass that heals our infirmities, delivers us from evil, and gives access to the altar, to the Right Hand of God, the fullness of joy, and to pleasures forevermore. (Ps. 16)
Next we have the altar, the place from which all blessings flow and are freely distributed to all who ask, for our Lord says, "Ask and it will be given you, seek and you will find, knock and the door will be opened."
In case you did not know it or have forgotten it, the power behind the font, the altar, and all the holy furnishings you see before you today is the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, the place where a divine and mysterious transaction occurred; where a new and eternal covenant was made; where the Son of God absorbed our infirmities, sorrows, failures and terminal futures and gave us a share of His majesty instead! "He who knew no sin, became sin for us, so that we might become the righteousness of God in Him," (2 Cor. 5) "He who was rich became poor, so that by His poverty we might become rich," (2 Cor. 8) and so we are; wealthy with grace, rich with mercy, and ever devoted to our reigning Lord, but not in theory only, not in words only, not in thoughts only, but in fact! As He was baptized into the bloody baptism of the cross; even so we too "die daily," As Naaman the Syrian general came up out of the water exchanging his leprous flesh for that of a newborn baby, even so we put to death the deeds of the old flesh and live fresh lives. Neither need we look far to learn the shape of the baptized life. We hear it plainly taught in today's epistle lesson where St. Paul writes:
Live in harmony with one another. Do not be haughty, but associate with the lowly. Never be wise in your own sight. Repay no one evil for evil, but give thought to do what is honorable in the sight of all. If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all. Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave it to the wrath of God, for it is written, "Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord." To the contrary, "If your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink; for by so doing you will heap burning coals on his head." Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.
This is your life dear Christians, the life of the baptized, the life of those who commune at this holy altar, so come! Let us eat, drink and be merry! Amen.
~ Rev. Dean Kavouras