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From Ashes to Easter – Br. James Koester

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Br. James Koester

The Seventh Sunday after the Epiphany

Leviticus 19: 1 – 2, 9 – 18
Psalm 119: 33 – 40
1 Corinthians 3: 10 – 11, 16 – 23
Matthew 5: 38 – 48

It is hard to believe that our journey from the ashes of Ash Wednesday to the baptismal waters of the Easter Vigil begins in only ten days. It seems that just a few days ago we were gathered here, around the Christmas crèche, singing carols and celebrating the Feast of the Nativity. Already, the season of Epiphany is almost over and we stand at the threshold of Lent. Our Lenten journey will begin, as it does every year, with the mark of our mortality, which we will wear on our foreheads, until newly washed and smelling of the oil of chrism, we emerge dripping wet from the baptismal font. This journey which we take each Lent is not simply a liturgical or sacramental journey, it is a journey through life, when we face again the paradox of our humanity, which is that we are both fallen and redeemed. We are both sinners and saints. We live both in the wasteland outside the gates of Eden and in the garden outside the Empty tomb. We have something about us both of our First Parents, Adam and Eve, and the Second Adam, our Lord and Saviour.

We are reminded of the paradox of who we are in the Exhortation to a Holy Lent read at the Ash Wednesday liturgy. On that occasion we are told that Lent is a time when the whole congregation [is] put in mind of the message of pardon and absolution set forth in the Gospel of our Savior, and of the need which all Christians continually have to renew their repentance and faith. [And so we are invited], in the name of the Church, to the observance of a holy Lent, by self-examination and repentance; by prayer, fasting, and self-denial; and by reading and meditating on God’s holy Word.[1]

If this is what Lent is about, a time to renew our repentance and faith, then it is not a time to be miserable, to lose weight, to break old habits. Instead it is a time to discover who we truly are: a people worthy of pardon and absolution, a people worthy of the good news of the Gospel of Jesus Christ, a people worthy to stand in God’s presence,[2] as our Eucharistic Prayer reminds us. And that is who we are, a people worthy of God’s love. That is the purpose of Lent, to discover our worth, not to revel in our misery. And we are worthy for the simple reason that God is holy.

It is, I would hope, an undoubted article of our faith that God is holy. Perhaps there are those among you who would dispute this, but that in fact is what we say: that God is holy. But God’s holiness is not limited to God. God’s holiness does not exist only over there. God’s holiness dwells in you. Yes, it is true, God’s holiness dwells in you for the simple reason that you have been made in the image and likeness of God. As Genesis reminds us: Then God said, ‘Let us make humankind* in our image, according to our likeness….’ 27So God created humankind* in his image, in the image of God he created them; *male and female he created them.[3]

You, not just the person across from you, or the person next to you, but you are the very image of God because you have been made in God’s image and likeness. Think about that for a moment, you have been made in the very image and likeness of God. Our primary vocation then, our first calling, our core being is, not to be a priest, or a monk, or a gardener, of a teacher, or a whatever, but to be like God, to be holy. That is our vocation. That is who we were created to be: So God created humankind* in his image, in the image of God he created them; *male and female he created them. And what is more, God declared creation to be good. God saw everything that [God] had made, and indeed, it was very good. And there was evening and there was morning, the sixth day.[4] Imagine that! Not only are you made in the image and likeness of God. Not only is your primary vocation to be holy. But you are good. Period. Full stop. End of sentence. You are good. And if we are good, if we are made in the image and likeness of God, then we are holy.

You shall be holy, for I the Lord your God am holy,[5] the author of Leviticus reminds us. But wait, there’s more! DDo you not know that you are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit dwells in you?*… For God’s temple is holy, and you are that temple.[6] Not only are we holy. Not only are we good. But God dwells in us. We are God’s temple, God’s home. And God’s temple is holy. You are that holy temple.

Is it any wonder then that Jesus teaches us: ‘You have heard that it was said, “You shall love your neighbour and hate your enemy.” But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be children of your Father in heaven; for he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the righteous and on the unrighteous. For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax-collectors do the same? And if you greet only your brothers and sisters,* what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same? Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.[7]

Jesus teaches us this as a reminder that if we are holy, then so too is the other person. If we are made in the image of God, then so too is our enemy. If we are God’s temple, then so too is the one who perhaps doesn’t even know it.

But we forget. Indeed we have forgotten. We are a people in a constant state of amnesia, forgetting who and what we are. And so we come here Sunday by Sunday, and day by day, to be reminded and to remember: you are God’s temple, you are God’s image and likeness, you are holy for God is holy.

It is easy to forget this when so many in the world have either forgotten or never known it, either about themselves or about others. It is easy to forget when the example set by so many tells us, not that we are holy, not that we are made in God’s image, not that we are God’s temple, but that we are liars, that we are crooked, that we are deceitful. It is easy to forget this when the public discourse is to bully and mock and ridicule, not to honour and encourage and build up.

But as baptized Christians, this is not who we are. This is not who we should be. This is not who we want to be. Our vocation is to be holy, for God is holy and to see the holiness in those around us. At the Easter Vigil we will renew our Baptismal Covenant and we will be asked again: Will you proclaim by word and example the Good News of God in Christ? Will you seek and serve Christ in all persons, loving your neighbor as yourself? Will you strive for justice and peace among all people, and respect the dignity of every human being?[8]

We cannot proclaim by word and example the Good News of God in Christ if we constantly bully people. We cannot seek and serve Christ in all persons loving our neighbours as ourselves, if we constantly mock them. We cannot strive for justice and peace among all people or respect the dignity of every human being if we constantly ridicule them.

We have been made in the image and likeness of God and our faith demands that we recognize this in ourselves and in those around us, even in those who say otherwise. We are holy, because God is holy, and our faith demands that we recognize this in ourselves and in those around us, even in those who say otherwise. We are temples of God and God dwells in us and our faith demands that we recognize this in ourselves and in those around us, even in those who say otherwise.

As Christians our vocation is to be temples of God, and to recognize all people as such. As Christians our vocation is to be holy, and to recognize all people as such. As Christians our vocation is to know that we are made in the image and likeness of God, and to recognize all people as such. We cannot live our vocation as the People of God when we bully, mock and ridicule others. Nor can we live our vocation as the People of God when we forget that others are worthy of dignity because they too are temples where God’s glory abides, because they too are holy, because God is holy, because they too are good because they too have been created in the image and likeness of God.

We live in a world which tells us every day that it is okay to bully others. But we must resist the urge to do so. We live in a world which tells us every day that it is okay to mock others. But we must resist the urge to do so. We live in a world which tells us every day that it is okay to ridicule others. But we must resist the urge to do so.

Instead we must look in the mirror, and in the face of the person across from us here in this chapel or on the T and see the image and likeness of God and know that we and they are good, because God has declared us so. Instead we must look in the mirror, and in the face of the person across from us here in this chapel or on the T and see someone who is holy because God is holy. Instead we must look in the mirror, and in the face of the person across from us here in this chapel or on the T and see the one who is a temple of God, because God’s Spirit has chosen to dwell therein.

It is easy in our world today to forget that we have been made in the image and likeness of God, and so we come here to remember. It is easy in our world today to forget that we are holy because God is holy, and so we come here to remember. It is easy in our world today to forget that we are temples of God’s Spirit and that God dwells within us, and so we come here to remember. And in remembering who and what we are, and what our vocation to be is, we discover who and what others are: good and holy and temples of God. And knowing that how can we not bow before them in humility, wonder and awe.

Will you strive for justice and peace among all people, and respect the dignity of every human being? I will, with God’s help.[9]

[1]Book of Common Prayer, 1979, page 265

[2]Book of Common Prayer, 1979, page 368,Eucharistic Prayer B: In him, you have delivered us from evil, and made us worthy to stand before you.

[3] Genesis 1: 26, 27

[4]Genesis 1: 31

[5] Leviticus 19: 2b

[6] 1 Corinthians 3: 16, 17

[7] Matthew 5: 43 – 49

[8]Book of Common Prayer, 1979, The Baptismal Covenant, page 293, 294

[9]Book of Common Prayer, 1979, The Baptismal Covenant, page 293, 294

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