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Lindemann on Quinquagesima

by revalkorn ~ February 28th, 2011

QUINQUAGESIMA

This is the last of the three pre-Lenten Sundays, exactly the fiftieth day before Easter. It is also called Esto mihi, from the opening words of the Latin Introit: Esto mihi in Deum protectorem, etc. The teaching of the day is love, love in all its glory and wonder, the love of God to man, the love of man to God, and in Him to his fellow men, his brethren. The Church has provided a set of Propers that cannot be equaled. The use of the Epistle and the Holy Gospel is very ancient as may be seen from the fact that St. Augustine harmonized them in a sermon preached at the beginning of Lent. The assembled faithful begin their final preparation for Lent by praying in the Introit: “Be Thou my strong Rock, for an house of defense to save me,” or “Be Thou a Rock of refuge for me, a strong Fortress to save me.” One cannot resist emphasizing the “for me.” The longing needy heart pleads that God will show a gracious disposition. The words “for me” imply the idea of substitution, taking one’s place, assuming one’s burden or need. Here is the cry of the man beset by sin, driven by his enemies, for refuge, for the strong Rock, for the House of Defense, for the Fortress, “to save me.” This cry for salvation comes from the very soul of the worshiper as he begins his journey into Lent, to the Cross and to the Resurrection morning. The past Sun-days have taught their lessons, self-examination has revealed to the worshiper just where he stands, what he is, what true values are. Be Thou for me Salvation! Our Lord Himself announces His journey to the Cross in the Holy Gospel. He leads us on the journey; we begin our Lent in His fellowship, following Him. Here is love! We need only to read the Epistle in the light of our Lord’s announcement. “Give away all I have, deliver my body, is patient and kind, does not insist on its own way, is not resentful, bears, endures all things, never ends.” If fellowship with Christ is to be real and the journey to be of eternal blessing, the first step must lead up to Jericho, and we must see ourselves in the blind man sitting by the wayside begging. We must beg: “Be Thou for me, to save me. Jesus, Thou Son of David, have mercy on me. For Thy name’s sake lead me and guide me. In Thee, O Lord, do I put my trust; let me never be ashamed; deliver me in Thy righteousness.” It is not a mystical interpretation of the story when we see in the blind man ourselves at the gateway to the Passion. If the love of God will not give us sight, all that happens in Jerusalem will be in vain. But our Lord opened the blind man’s eyes because he begged. Ministering love that enables me to see–let it be for me! Lead, guide, defend, protect, befriend me!

The Introit. “Be Thou my strong Rock, for an house of defense to save me. Thou art my Rock and my Fortress; therefore for Thy name’s sake lead me and guide me. In Thee, O Lord, do I put my trust; let me never be ashamed. Deliver me in Thy righteousness.”

The Liturgy for this Sunday reaches the highest progression of Pre-Lent. We come to the house of God seeking help for the great time of renewing. But our lamentations are no longer so bitter. They take the form of confident petitions. Psalm 31, from which both Antiphon and Psalm are taken, leads us through the depths of the Passion to the heights of the transfiguration at Easter. “Be Thou my strong Rock, for an house of defense to save me,” this day and through the forty days of Lent.

The Collect. “O Lord, we beseech Thee mercifully to hear our prayers; and having set us free from the bonds of sin, defend us from all evil; through Jesus Christ, Thy Son, our Lord.”

The purpose of Lent is renewal of the life of grace. At Easter time the mystical body of Christ, the Church and her members, are to stand before God reborn in the splendor of the life of grace. In olden times the Church had in mind three groups of persons. At Easter the catechumens were to receive the grace of Baptism, and during Lent they prepared themselves. The public penitents, who had suffered injury to the life of grace, were to be reconciled to God on Maundy Thursday, and Lent was the time for healing their spiritual sight. The faithful members were to cleanse themselves from the ordinary failings of daily life, so that at Easter they would appear before God purified and sanctified. All three groups joined in the pre-Lenten prayer: “Set us free from the bonds of sin, defend us from all evil.” May our Lent be more than a temporary refraining from worldly pleasures, a little fasting, meditating to some extent on our Lord’s suffering. Free us permanently from the bonds of sin.

The Epistle (1 Cor. 13:1-13). We are led to the highest step of Lent, love, or if we would give it another name, grace. St. Paul sings the loftiest hymn of love. Love is the greatest thing in the Kingdom of God, self-forgetting, all-enduring, never vanishing away, the unmistakable proof of grace.

The Gradual. “Thou art the God that doest wonders; Thou hast declared Thy strength among the peoples. Thou hast with Thine arm redeemed Thy people, the sons of Jacob and Joseph.”

The Tract. “Make a joyful noise unto the Lord, all ye lands. Serve the Lord with gladness” (Ps. 100:2b-3 may be added).

The Epistle’s hymn of love draws out the song of thanksgiving for salvation. Through the sorrows of Lent we see the dawn of Easter and break forth in a psalm of the Resurrection.

The Proper Sentence. “Christ hath humbled Himself and become obedient unto death, even the death of the cross.”

The Gospel (St. Luke 18:31-43). With our eyes opened in answer to our prayer for enlightenment, we see the Savior on His way of sorrows but also in His resurrection glory. Holy Week and Easter stand before our astonished eyes. Having received our sight, we follow the Savior, glorifying God. When all the people see what grace and love have done for us, they will give praise to God.

The Proper Preface. “Who on the tree of the cross didst give salvation unto mankind that, whence death arose, thence life also might rise again; and that he who by a tree once overcame likewise by a tree be overcome, through Christ, our Lord; through whom with angels,” etc.

OUTLINE FOR SERMON ON THE EPISTLE

On the third and last Sunday of Lenten preparation we are taught that a spirit of Christian love is the true spirit in which to spend this holy season. Only then will Lent be marked by all needful self-denials, an increase of devotion, and new activities of Christian usefulness. Only then will Lenten discipline be preserved from the dangers of self-seeking and self-complacency.

We are apt to think of Lent as cold, unattractive, to enter upon it without any special object, and to mark it only by increased formalities. The Liturgy teaches that it should be rather a season into which love is the entrance, the spirit, and increase of love our great object. If we act successfully on the teachings of the Liturgy, the season will be a time of happiness for us and through us for others. Our acts of self-denial will be willing offerings. Our devotion will lead to increased joy. Our more intense activity will not be discontinued with the end of Lent, but will become permanent in a life of increased usefulness. So will the season be one which God shall most certainly bless, being Himself the God of love, for the object of Lent is the object of life, so to possess and be possessed by love as to be fitted for a share in the glorification of love when God shall be All in all.

A Psalm of Love

St. Paul never approached more nearly to “the tongues of angels” than in the psalm of love, and it might well seem that he had found the doors of heaven’s temple left open and listened to the new song, as he describes:

A. The Necessity of Love. Love, or the desire to bless others, is so necessary that the very highest gifts are nothing without it. Eloquence is mere display, knowledge is buried treasure, if there be not the desire to bless others by what we say or know. The faith that can remove mountains is nothing unless directed to remove the mountains of evil that crush our brethren. Not all liberality is love, for the gift to others may in reality be given only to self. Not all martyrdom is love, for it is the will that sanctifies the cross, and there is a zeal not according to love.

B. The Picture of Love. In Lent we consider our faults. These are many, but each is a symptom of the lack of love, and the wise physician will go to the root of the disease. Our sins have many heads, but one neck; let us strike at that. We may also gain all virtues by obtaining one. By love we obtain the following graces: the power to bear and still be kind and full of good will as before; freedom from jealousy when others are more noticed and favored than we ourselves; the absence of any large opinion of our own merits and of all annoying harshness or want of tact in our dealings with others. By love we learn forgetfulness of self, to be slow to anger, to be unsuspicious, not imputing ill intention to others, but rather to be glad at hearing good and to be sorry at hearing ill of them. With respect to the ill doings of others, the man who loves in the Christian manner (1) throws a veil over them, hides them (verse 7, “beareth,” the ASV translates in the margin “covereth”; (2) believes them not, believing rather in the truth of their opposites; (3) hopes the best of them, making all allowance and feeling confident that the worst has been made of them; (4) if they are against himself, quietly bears and endures them, knowing that he has sinned against God more than any man can sin against his own self and person.

C. The Permanence of Love. All the highest gifts are passing, whether prophecy, tongues, or knowledge. All are to be superseded and lost in some-thing higher, as the remarks, conceptions, reasonings of childhood are superseded by the deeper knowledge of manhood. Gifts pass, grace remains. There are three graces, one for each relation of life. Toward God there is faith; toward self, hope; toward others, love. Of these graces love is the greatest; for while faith and hope appropriate, love diffuses; and the grace that gives is more blessed than those that receive. We are prepared for heaven in the same degree in which we are perfect in love. We are advanced Christians only so far as we are advanced in kindness and tenderness of heart.

OUTLINE FOR SERMON ON THE HOLY GOSPEL

“The love of Christ controls us” (2 Cor. 5:14). It is our motive. “We love, because He first loved us” (1 John 4:19). We love others because we love Him.

An Example of Love

A. A Journey of Love. This was the motive of our Lord’s last journey to Jerusalem, the city of the Cross. How infinite is the difference this journey has made in our journey of life, for it has opened to us the pathway to the Jerusalem that is above!

To this He now leads His disciples, going before them in the way as surely and faithfully as He led His faithful followers. He who flinched not on His way to the Cross will never fail us. He will bring us safe and by the right way to the city of our inheritance.

B. A Sacrifice of Love. Christ went not in ignorance, but with perfect knowledge of every particular. He had the foreknowledge and even the forefeeling of all the shame and suffering, He went in the calm determination of love, not counting the bitter cost of sacrifice but looking forward to the joy set before Him, the joy of throwing open the Kingdom of God to men. Here is both our inconceivable motive and our perfect example. In times of dangerous weakness, of alluring temptation, when the dread of self-denial and craving for self-indulgence breaks down our feeble wills, may Christ’s example teach us courage. So will love make us strong for Lenten duty.

C. A Miracle of Love. In love Christ went on, but in love He paused. Intent on the end of His way, He did not forget the wayside. Great purposes of love must not lead us to forget everyday duties of love to our homes and friends, to the homeless and friendless. The blind man shows our need and how we may obtain. He was blind and poor, poor because he was blind. Spiritual blindness is spiritual poverty; but to the man who sees spiritually, all that he sees is his. Spiritual sight is wealth. Salvation is mine in proportion as I see it. We are blind indeed when blind to our blindness. The blind man shows how to obtain. He obtained by faith, seeing in the Man of Nazareth the Son of David, by prayer made the more earnest by the shortness of his opportunity, by perseverance in spite of all hindrances. Receiving his petition, he followed Christ in the way.

THE HOLY COMMUNION

In the Lord’s Supper we are blind beggars sitting by the wayside as Love is passing by. We cry: “Have mercy on me.” What do we want our Lord to do for us? “Let me receive my sight.” We are prepared to follow Him to Jerusalem in the coming weeks, to company with Him all the way, and to rise with Him to a new life at Easter. But to follow Him as He bears His Cross will require much love for Him. For to follow Him means more than sympathy with Him in His suffering and a passive acceptance of its blessed fruits. He declared: “If any man would come after Me, let Him deny himself and take up his cross and follow Me” (Matt. 16:24). Again: “Whoever does not bear his own cross and come after Me cannot be My disciple” (Luke 14:27). To follow Him means to share His cross, to be crucified with Him. We must carry our own cross after Him. This cross is self-denial. To follow Him through Lent means to practice self-denial, to strive for greater efficiency in the denial of self, so that at the end of Lent we may rise with Christ to a renewed life. “He died for all that those who live might live no longer for themselves but for Him who for their sake died and was raised” (2 Cor. 5:15). To follow Christ in Lent is to become more proficient in cross-bearing.

A Lent that prepares for a life of self-denial after Easter requires that we follow Christ with seeing eyes. We beggars by the wayside cry as we enter into Lent: “Let me receive my sight. Let me see Thy great love. Help me to see the enormity of the love that compelled Thee to bear Thy Cross for me. Teach me to love Thee more and more, so that I may willingly bear my cross after Thee.” So we come to the Lord’s Table, where the Lord comes to us and gives us the very Body He gave for us on the Cross, the very Blood shed for us, to eat and to drink together with the Bread and Wine. We do this in remembrance of Him and His great love; and as we are so reminded to remember His love for us, our love for Him becomes stronger and more compelling. With seeing eyes we follow Him to Jerusalem, glorifying God by a life of self-denial, living no longer for ourselves but for Him who for our sake died and was raised.

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