SERMON PREACHED BY FR. TONY NOBLE ON September 26th, 2010
1 Timothy 6:15 “The King of kings and Lord of lords, who alone has immortality and dwells in unapproachable light.”
This Friday is the seventh anniversary of my becoming Rector of All Saints’. As I reflect on these last seven years, there is one disappointment that flows through them……….Will the Padres ever make the World Series? Or will they, yet again, fall over in the playoffs? And for that matter, will the Chargers ever make the Super Bowl? Disappointment for seven years.
Some of you may remember happier days, and it certainly would be an occasion of great joy if the Chargers and the Padres could do this during my time as Rector. I’d settle for just one! the Padres this year…..please. J But can you imagine the joy throughout San Diego if the Padres did clench the World Series and win the Title? Some people would say that they are truly in heaven. I’m sure there are plenty of Padre Fans who would say, “Now I can die happy.”
Happiness is what we associate with heaven. It is not too far fetched (at least to me) to say that heaven is like the euphoria we’d feel if our team won the Title. To be at the game when it finishes would be heavenly indeed.
Heaven is indeed the theme of today’s Mass. The Collect asks that we may be made partakers of thy heavenly treasure. The gospel indicates what heavenly treasure is like. In the parable of the poor man, Lazarus, and the rich man, their fortunes and states in this life were reversed when they died. The rich man was in purgatory and Lazarus was in heaven. Lazarus had nothing in this life to speak of, but now he has everything he ever wanted. The rich man had everything taken away from him.
“Is this image of heaven helpful,” we might ask? Is heaven really that direct and that confronting?
How do we imagine heaven? It is almost impossible to imagine, although scripture gives us some pictures in Revelation, and Jesus teaches that heaven is like a great feast.
I Timothy 6:15 gives another image. From the text, we see that heaven is like unapproachable light. It is interesting the people who have had near-death experiences talk about seeing an amazing light, which beckons them onward toward God. Then, of course, the traditional prayer for those who have died is: “Rest eternal, grant unto them O Lord; and let light perpetual shine upon them.” So the church’s prayer refers to perpetual light. It is also traditional to make the sign of the cross, because it is only through the cross of Jesus that we may hope to gain this eternal light.
I don’t know about all this resting in heaven. For me, I want the euphoria of my team winning the title! Light, that’s different. I like the idea of having further enlightenment, of being able to see things clearly, and seeing beauty in everything.
Today’s hymns focus on those heavenly messengers, the holy angels and archangels. Again, our thoughts turn to heaven through what we sing. That is because Wednesday is the feast of St. Michael and all Angels, commonly called Michaelmass. This is the day in the Church Calendar when we give thanks for the angels – those spiritual beings who surround us with their protection. And, in the context of the readings, they remind us of our heavenly homeland.
The 4 Archangels brought important messages from God at various stages in the history of salvation. At the birth of Jesus, angelic hosts praised God. Even though we are familiar with the role of angels, they are hard to imagine, like heaven. As spiritual beings, they come and go at God’s command from heaven to earth and back again. Traditionally, to teach us this, they are depicted with wings. I’m not sure if wings are a helpful image. For many people, angels with wings are from the realm of fairy tales. People dismiss the angels as something out of fantasy land, and not to be taken seriously.
For Christians, angels are a reminder to us that life is more than what we can see and touch. There is a heavenly dimension, not only in this world, but in the world to come.
At the center of the Eucharist, the Celebrant says, “Therefore with angels and archangels, and all the company of heaven.” We then sing the angels song, the Sanctus: “Holy, holy, holy, Lord God of Hosts.” At this point in the Eucharist we are about to enter heaven, and so we sing the angel’s song.
We arre not literally going to enter heaven, of course, because we remain here. But certainly we enter a heavenly dimension. It is as if we are there at the gate of heaven, peering in. And we are. For what follows the Sanctus is the Prayer of Consecration, when bread and wine, in a marvelous mystery, become the body and blood of Christ.
Christ is not only received in the Sacrament of Holy Communion, but he is truly present on the altar from the moment of consecration. That is why the Sanctus Bells are rung and incense is offered – to tell us that we are approaching the very gate of heaven. Jesus is present!
And if Jesus is present, then we are in heaven. For Jesus dwells in heaven. And because Jesus dwells in heaven, his presence can be wherever he deigns to come.
He is with us supremely in the Sacrament. It is only because He is in heaven that he can come and be with us personally in the Sacrament.
That is why the Eucharist is called a foretaste of Heaven. Because here we have a foretaste of heaven. Indeed, the sacrament is a taste of heaven, because it is Christ himself.
Today’s gospel may not be a portrait of what heaven is really like – but it does present to us a fact about heaven. The rich man had everything he needed. He feasted every day. But he was self-centered and lacked compassion, particularly for Lazarus. In the end, he was held accountable for his self-centered living and the gate of heaven was not open to him.
Lazarus, on the other hand, never received much in his life. He had precious little. But we don’t see him angry, complaining, bitter, or even vindictive. He also was accountable for the way he lived. And he received a heavenly reward.
When the rich man realized what had happened, he begged Abraham to send Lazarus back from the dead, to warn his five brothers. He thought this would shock them into changing their ways. Abraham’s reply is definite and instructive. “Neither would they be convinced,” he says, “if someone should rise from the dead.”
Someone did raise from the dead, of course – our Lord Jesus Christ. And still people are not convinced!