THE ATHANASIAN CREED
TRUE ORTHODOXY - RIGHT WORSHIP
Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father, and from our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. Amen.
Dear Beloved of the LORD:
TODAY'S divine service includes the confession of the Athanasian Creed which is liturgically connected with the feast of the Holy Trinity being celebrated this Sunday. From the opening of this creed we confess the following:
Whoever desires to be saved must, above all, hold the catholic faith. Whoever does not keep it whole and undefiled will without doubt perish eternally. And the catholic faith is this, that we worship one God in Trinity and Trinity in Unity, neither confusing the Persons nor dividing the substance.That's what this day (commemorating the Holy Trinity) and this creed (celebrating the Holy Trinity) are all about: worship. How appropriate that Isaiah 6 sets today's scene as the prophet is drawn by God to feel the majesty, smell the incense, hear the antiphonal "Holy, Holy Holy" of the seraphim, see the Lord lifted up high in the temple and receive the coal from the sacrifice that touched his lips so that his guilt be taken away and his sin atoned for. It is God's given pattern for worship.
That is what the church catholic -- meaning hte church of all times and all places -- has always been about: worship.
Christianity is not first and foremost about morality: following rules and living properly. It is not first and foremost about outreach: doing missions and evangelism. It is not first and foremost about having the right head knowledge about God, although from speaking this creed it may seem so. All those things are important, but they are not of first importance, for none of those things can come first. They must all follow and flow from something else. That something else is worship, and not just any worship, but as the creed said, that we worship the Holy Trinity. That is worship that is not about what we do, but about what God has done and continues to do to reveal Himself to us and about what God does for us. What God does for us, in a word, is life as He created it from the beginning in all its God-given fullness and abundance. Apart from Him we have no fullness and abundance of life, either physically or spiritually.
Therefore, whoever desires to be saved and not perish, must receive life; life from god, the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.
As the Holy Scriptures clearly teach, all three Persons of the Divine Godhead are continually present and active from the very beginning. In Genesis we begin at the beginning, and hear how wonderfully and carefully and exactly God made all things: nothing by chance or evolution, nothing left out, everything perfect and perfectly good; and why is that important? Because God did not just create everything -- He created you. As wonderfully and carefully and exactly as God made all things in the beginning, so He has made you and enlivened you. There may be things about you that you don't like, that you wish you could change, but in God's eyes you are who you are for a reason and a purpose. God made no mistake with you, but gave you life and rejoices in that life. He sustains your life. You are not your own, or on your own. If you were you would have perished long ago, but your Father is caring for you, providing for you and giving you all that you need for this body and life. Why? Because He loves you and will not stop loving you.
Today's Epistle reading suggests just how deep His will to love is. 33. Oh, the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are his judgments and how inscrutable His ways! 34. For who has known the mind of the Lord, or who has been His counselor? 35. Or who has given a gift to Him that He might be repaid?
36. For from Him and through Him and to Him are all things. To Him be glory forever. Amen (Romans 11:33-36)
His is a love that could not stop, even when it was not returned. When Adam and Eve decided to love not God, but themselves; when they decided not to receive from God, but grab what they could; when they decided God was not good and followed instead the word of Satan, God did not reject them. He did not kill them and start over. He did not withdraw and say "Fine! Do it yourself!" In His love He promised a Savior; a Savior to defeat the death they had now ushered into the world, and give them life again; life in a physical resurrection on the last day, and life in a spiritual resurrection now by faith. Peter on that Day of Pentecost, stood up and in short, told the people: What God had promised, God has done. (Acts 2) He sent His only begotten Son, His Son to be the death of death, and give us life again, the physical life we threw away, the spiritual life we threw away. All is restored in Him.
Why is that important? Because God did not just save the world - He saved you. Your death He defeated; your sin He paid for, each and every one; every sin of your thoughts, words, deeds, and desires. He knows them all -- which we think is not such a good thing! -- but if He knows them all, then you can be sure He died for them all, and so now gives you life from the dead in the forgiveness of all your sins. That is not just a better life, but the life that your Father always intended for you to have; eternal life with Him in joy and perfection, for the forgiveness of God is not a partial thing or an overlooking of sin, but a full remission of sin, thus a full restoration of your life with God, done completely, done in love; a love that gives and will not stop giving.
Following the detailed descriptions of the Persons: The Father, The Son and the Holy spirit and the unity and intercommunion in the Divine Godhead, The Athanasian Creed adds:
Therefore, whoever desires to be saved must think thus about the Trinity. But it is also necessary for everlasting salvation that one faithfully believe the incarnation of our Lord Jesus Christ.Which brings us to the Holy Gospel of St. John wherein we hear: in this way, God loved the world. And so God gave the Son -- the only one -- so that whoever believes in Him might not perish but rather have eternal life. for God did not send the Son into the world in order to condemn the world. Rather, (he sent the Son) so that the world might be saved through Him." (John 3:16-17)
How does God continue to give His life today? He sends His apostles out to give that life through teaching and baptizing: teaching and baptizing into His Name, the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Where His name is, there He is. Where He is, there is life; life through the Spirit of God, for the Father sent the Son, and the Son sends the Spirit, that the Spirit might lead us to the Son and the Son take us to the Father, so that the relationship we had with God in the beginning be restored through the love and forgiveness of God; and that receiving that love and forgiveness by grace through faith, we then confess the same, which is worship, which means to receive from God, and to confess Him as the Lord and Giver of life.
Part of that confession we spoke today -- all those things we read in the creed -- that God is triune, that He is infinite, incomprehensible, eternal, uncreated, almighty, give shape and substance to the church's worship, but not just those things, for then we could not know Him because those things are beyond our understanding. Yet God wants us to know Him and to return His love, so He has revealed Himself to us in His Son, Jesus of Nazareth, through whom:
the invisible one was made visible;
the incomprehensible one made Himself comprehensible;
the infinite one enters our finite universe;
the eternal one comes to die;
the almighty becomes a man.
In Jesus, God joins Himself to us, that we might know Him.
In Jesus, God joins Himself to us that all that is ours become His, and all that is His become ours.
In Jesus, God joins Himself to us that His life be our life.
The life we receive again today, as His forgiveness and life are proclaimed, and as His very life-giving body and blood are placed into our mouths to eat and to drink, that we live in Him and He in us -- which is worship -- the place where heaven and earth come together in Jesus Christ.
Then from this worship and life, yes, flow all other things -- the good works we will do, the outreach, the care and love for others, the increasing knowledge of His Word. From this worship and life flow the strength to resist the wiles and temptations of the devil, the world, and our own sinful flesh. From this worship and life flow the faith to face the trials and tribulations of this life with confidence and hope. From this worship and life flow our life.
The life that God gives is true life, which not even death can end, so let us receive that life, live that life, and confess that life, which is worship. It begins here with God and from here flows into all the world.
For this is the catholic faith - the faith that the church of all times and all places has believed:
that God gives and we receive;
that God speaks and we confess what He has told us;
that God gives life and we live His life.
That is true ortho-doxy -- right worship -- in, with, and under the name that is above all names: the name of the Father and of the (+) Son and of the Holy Spirit. AMEN.
~ Rev. George F. Fyler III, Em.