II Corinthians 3:4-9 & Mark 7:31-37
This great confidence in God is ours through Christ. It is not that we are entitled of ourselves to take credit for anything. Our sole credit is from God who has made us qualified ministers of a new covenant, a covenant not of a written law, but of spirit.
My friends, these words are from our first reading this morning, from Paul's Second Letter to the Corinthians. Paul is boasting, if you will, about the ministry that he has. Boasting not because of who he is, but because of who Christ is. When I come to the Liturgy this morning and stand before you to celebrate the Eucharist, I am quite aware of what Paul says, that I too am a minister of a new covenant. This is the work of a priest. In doing so, I have before me the Word of God. As you know, I am a stickler for preaching the Word of God from this pulpit. This is not a podium with a presidential or a vice-presidential or any other kind of seal upon it. This is a pulpit from which the Word of God is to be preached. And this is what you hear, pray God, Sunday after Sunday.
When we come to preaching the Word of God, we have to turn to the Scriptures because, after all, that is the Word of God written, as the Word of God was made flesh in the person of Jesus Christ. You heard a little miracle that Jesus worked in curing a man who was deaf and who had a speech impediment. That was in the seventh chapter of Mark's Gospel. In the eighth chapter of his Gospel, he has another little miracle. Probably not so little for the individual who received it, but there is a striking parallel to today's Gospel and what Jesus did in this second miracle. It was the healing of the blind man at Bethsaida.
When they arrived at Bethsaida, some people brought Him a blind man and begged Him to touch him.
Remember in today's Gospel that the people brought the man who was deaf to Jesus: Some people brought Him a deaf man who had a speech impediment and begged Him to lay His hand on him. In the healing of the blind man:
Jesus took him off by himself away from the crowd. Putting spittle on his eyes He laid His hands on him and asked, "Can you see anything?
He put His fingers into the man's ears (in today's Gospel) and spitting, touched his tongue. Then He looked up to heaven and emitted a groan. He said to him, "Ephphatha! That is, 'Be opened'!"
In the cure of the blind man:
The man opened his eyes and said, "I can see people, but they look like walking trees."
If you are myopic like I am and you do not have your glasses on, that's right on!
Then a second time Jesus laid hands on his eyes and he saw perfectly. His sight was restored and he could see everything clearly. Jesus sent him home with the admonition, "Don't even go into the village. In other words, "Don't tell anyone."
In today's Gospel, Mark continues:
Then He enjoined them strictly not to tell anyone, but the more He ordered them not to, the more they proclaimed it.
Two beautiful miracles! They bracket another miracle of Jesus, in which He feeds four thousand people in the wilderness. You are familiar, of course, with that story.
What is the point? The point is simply this. As Mark is writing his Gospel for the first century Church and subsequent centuries, and for the Church of our time, he is teaching us something very, very profound. Not that we would just sit in amazement at what Jesus could do to people who were deaf and dumb and blind, but Mark is revealing to us a fact that is simply this: Jesus is who He claims to be: the Messiah of God.
In the thirty-fifth chapter of the Book of Isaiah, the prophet writes: “Say to those whose hearts are frightened, ‘Be strong, fear not. Here is your God, he comes with vindication. With divine recompense, He comes to save you.’ Then the eyes of the blind will be opened, the ears of the deaf be cleared. Then will the lame leap like a stag and the tongue of the dumb will sing” (Is.35:4-6).
Mark saw these miracles in terms of "This is the Messiah of God." Jesus revealed Himself through the signs that He worked. Ultimately the sign of who He truly is will be His resurrection after His passion and death. But these miracles are signs that the new Messianic Age has begun in the person of Jesus Christ.
You and I can read this, think about it, wonder at it, and say, "If only we were there then. . . If only we could have lived back then and seen Jesus." Wouldn't it have been wonderful to live then and to just go up to Him and say, "What's on your mind?" Or receive a healing for whatever ails you and go on your way just knowing that you've been touched by the Messiah? Oh, it would have been so wonderful.
Who is this Jesus? He is the incarnate Son of God. Note the word — incarnate. He is the Son of God who took up this human nature of ours and lived among us for a period of time. The Son of God, God and man in the one person Jesus Christ, lived with us for thirty years and then He was gone? No! This is the point that Mark wants to make in this Gospel today. Jesus continues to be with us, fulfilling the promise that He made to the disciples that He would be with us "all days, even to the end of the world" (Matt. 28:20).
But how does He do this? The best way to understand it is with a very simple word called sacrament. Jesus is THE Sacrament; He is the Sacrament of the Father. A sacrament is a visible sign instituted of God to give us God's grace. What greater sign could there be than the person of Jesus Christ walking in our midst for those thirty-plus years. "He who sees me sees the Father also" (Jn. 14:9). Jesus is the Sacrament of the Father, but in order for us to encounter Him in the twenty-first century, in 2000, in order that He might fulfill that promise that He would be with us all days, even to the end of the world, He continues to be with us sacramentally, by way of the seven Sacraments.
What are we familiar with when we hear the word sacrament? - a sign, a visible sign instituted of God to give us grace. These are not nice little symbolic activities that we are involved with. They are at the very core of the incarnation of Christ in our midst now. The Church is Christ now. Isn't that correct? He is the Head and we are the members. This is Christ incarnate now. We are the Body of Christ.
The Church exists in order to bring the message of salvation through time and space; to our own time and to this place. Christ exists in order to do this. And Christ does this by becoming incarnate in our midst now. The incarnation, my friends, did not happen nineteen hundred years ago with Christ and that was all. The mystery of the incarnation continues to our present day, to you and to me. In sign, in sacrament, Christ becomes present. What we do together celebrating the sacraments is to transcend time and space. We're on God's time in an Everlasting NOW! We recognize the fact that the Church exists to celebrate its life in Christ in the sacraments. Can you imagine the Church without the sacraments? Never! The Church without the sacraments would be some nice ethical club trying to do good things. But that would be all. The very life of God is what this is all about.
In curing these individuals in Mark's Gospel Jesus used ordinary natural things. He used words. He used gestures. He used a little spit. He stuck His fingers into the ears of the man who couldn't hear. He didn't have to do that. He could have just said with a word, "You're cured." And the same with the man who was blind. He didn't have to lay His hands on his eyes and rub spittle in them. He could have just said, "See!"
Mark sees these miracles as pointing to the way Christ works in the world now. After His resurrection, thought ordinary signs and symbols, Christ is present. His priest takes water and pours it on a child and says, "I baptize thee in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Ghost." Ordinary water. A gesture. A gesture made in love by Christ to this individual. And this individual is filled with God's life.
In St. Paul's first letter to the Corinthians in the 11th chapter, he gives the Corinthians an instruction about the Eucharist. This is what He says to them: Every time, then, you eat this bread and drink this cup, you proclaim the death of the Lord until He comes.
Every time you eat this bread and drink this cup - present tense. Today. Every time you eat this bread and drink this cup, you proclaim the death of the Lord. - Past. . . . Until He comes. - Future. In celebrating the Eucharist, there is past and present and future. In celebrating each of the sacraments, there is past, present and future. They are all one because this is the Everlasting NOW. This is God's time. "Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today, and forever" (Heb.13:8). This is the mystery of the sacraments: “I baptize thee in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Ghost:
The individual is immersed now in the passion and death of Christ that happened once in order that he might live for eternity. Future. All are involved, past, present and future. The incarnation of Christ our Lord continues. Mark saw that. The Church sees that.
When we celebrate any of the sacraments, the core of them is embellished. What is the core of the Eucharist, for example? When the priest takes the bread and wine and says what Christ said at the Last Supper: "This is My Body. This is my Blood. Do this in remembrance of Me."
And then He feeds the multitude. That's what we do every time that we come to the Holy Eucharist. And yet, when we come to the Holy Eucharist, sometimes we forget that this is Christ incarnate. This is the incarnation that we are celebrating. Christ exists now in a community of believers. Ordinary things. Bread and wine. Words are said. Something marvelous happens on this altar. Something marvelous happens to each and every one of us as we receive Holy Communion. Christ our Lord is once again with us in our midst in a very special sacramental way.
Each of the sacraments involves a loving gesture by Christ our Lord. A loving gesture whereby He reaches out and gives us rebirth in baptism; brings us to maturity in confirmation; nourishes us in the Eucharist; forgives our sins in Penance; heals us in Holy Unction; and also ensures that the Church will continue into the next generation by the twin sacraments of vocation: Matrimony and Orders. All of them involve ordinary every-day items. Bread. Wine. Water. Oil. Words. Gestures. And yet seeing beyond them, we see this is Christ incarnate. Indeed, He is with us all days even to the end of the world.
No wonder St. Paul would be so happy that he would boast in that first reading, “Our sole credit is from God who has made us qualified ministers of a new covenant, a covenant not of written law, but of spirit”. We are involved in a great mystery, my friends. If we look at these sacramental gestures of the Lord and we say, "Oh, yes, Jesus did this at the Last Supper. But how about all the rest of this? I mean, now we have ritualized it and there are many prayers surrounding it. We sing hymns and we kneel and we stand and we kneel some more. What is this?" It is as though Christ our Lord in this sacrament has given us a beautiful jewel and the Church has placed that jewel in a setting that would enhance even the beauty of what Christ has given us. That's what our ritual, our liturgy, is all about. That's what we are doing today.
Sometimes it is good for us to stop and ask some of the basic questions. Who are we? We're Christ now incarnate in His Body. What are we about? We are celebrating the mystery of our redemption. We are celebrating Jesus Christ's passion, death and resurrection and ascension. We are celebrating the fact that Christ our Lord has poured out His Spirit on His Church. And we are the beneficiaries thereof.
What we are celebrating is not only for ourselves. You and I must share this. Christ came into the world a long time ago, became incarnate in His human nature, in His flesh, in order to bring redemption to the world. Christ is incarnate in the world now in His Church. Why? To bring redemption to the world. It's the same work. You and I are called upon to do it. Understanding something of the mystery of the sacraments is to understand the very life of God Himself. It is to understand who and what we are. This is not a happiness and holiness club that we have been called to. Like St. Paul, we have been called to share a mission: to bring Christ incarnate to this world, to this time, to this place. That is our work as ministers. All of us.
Father Ed Bakker
Anglican Catholic Church / Original Province
Mission of Saint Aidan of Lindisfarne