Thursday, March 10, 2016

Lent 5: do you submit to Christ as Lord?

May I speak in the name of Almighty God: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit: Amen

How swiftly time passes! Already we are come to the fifth in our series of Lenten reflections on our baptismal promises. And let us remind ourselves, at this point, why it is that we are looking at them during this time. The first is that because Lent had its origins as a time of special preparation for those who were about to be baptised into God's Church; and also, of course, because it is good to remind ourselves during this penitential season of the promises made at our baptism, and again not only at our confirmation but also every time we renew our baptismal promises, of these sacred vows we have made that we may see where it is that we fail to live them fully and rightly so that we may endeavour to do better into the future … not only for the sake of our own souls, but also so that we may set a better example of Christian living for those around us, our neighbours, our friends, and our family – those we are commanded by Christ himself to love as if they were ourselves and whose eternal salvation we should earnestly desire to bring about at all times.

And so to our fifth promise: do you submit to Christ as Lord? Let us think here what is meant by Lord. The word trips off our tongue easily enough in our prayers, and in our reading of the Sacred Scriptures; we hear it said many, many times in the Liturgy of the Church. But do we, people of this modern age, really understand what it means any more? We are all so used to thinking of ourselves as the equals of all others; so much so that we find it difficult to use titles of respect. To call another person Mr or Mrs or Miss is difficult; and even the youngest children believe it right that they should be on first-name terms with the most venerable adult. In some ways this may be a good thing; in others it is not, particularly in the way in which this modern informality may make it difficult to show respect to those who are deserving of respect. Can the one who is used to calling the university professor 'Bob' or the government minister 'Mary' really understand what it means when they call Jesus Lord? The title means that we see him as one who is far above us, that we are not equal to him in any way. But do we truly understand that in our hearts?

We must; for we must never forget that he is the Messiah, the Son of God, the second person of the Blessed Trinity, the one who is fully God and fully man, the one who died on the cross to save us from our sins because he was the only one who could redeem us from them so that we, poor, weak, frail, mortals, might enter into the eternal life we were created for. We must never lose sight for a moment of his divinity, his infinite superiority over us, his absolute worthiness not only to be addressed as Lord, but also by other titles royal and divine.
Keeping that to the forefront of our minds will help us to do what we promise in this baptismal vow, which is submit to him. 

That is because to submit to anyone requires a recognition that they stand above us. Sometimes that submission is undeserved: the threat of violence or the dictates of society demand that we treat someone who is unworthy as if they were our superior. But this submission is not forced; God grants us free will and therefore does not force anything upon us. Our submission in this case is something that we must freely choose; and to freely accept that another is superior to us in every way and totally deserving that we should humbly admit that to obey them in everything we think, or do, or say is not just a duty or a privilege is no easy thing. Particularly as this is no aspirational or theoretical promise of submission; it is very concrete, as God has given us very clear indications of what this submission entails.

We have this, first and foremost, in his Word given to us in Sacred Scripture. Then we also have the Word made Flesh, Jesus himself. And he has established his Body on Earth, his Church, to which he has given authority, and whose teachings and doctrines we must follow. The promptings of the Holy Spirit are also ways in which God guides us; but all inclinations of our heart are not to be treated as if they were the Spirit of God speaking to us. Such thoughts must be tested against what we read in Scripture and has been taught by the Church from the earliest times. God does not contradict himself; and what he condemns in what he has revealed to all his children he does not contradict by way of private revelation to one or a few. If it does, then it is much more likely to be the voice of the world, the flesh, or the devil creeping into our ears and tempting us to do evil even as it tries to persuade us we would be doing good by doing so.

The sacred ministers of God's Church, those he has called to be bishops, priests, and deacons can be of great assistance in helping one discern what is of God and what is not. The book of common prayer, after all, refers to them as 'discrete ministers of God's word' for a reason; and obedience to them in such matters can be of great spiritual benefit. As St Thomas a Kempis reminds us, he that endeavours to withdraw himself from obedience, withdraws himself from grace. And it is obedience to God that allows us to submit to him in the person of his Son, our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. I pray that you will daily grow in holiness, that you may with greater and greater humility bring yourself to submit to him more and more fully until at last you stand before our Lord in heaven to be greeted by him as his good and faithful servant. And I ask that you pray the same for me. Amen

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