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A Sermon on the Fourth Sunday in Lent

by Wayne J. Hankey

from COMMON PRAYER, Volume Six: Parochial Homilies for the Eucharist 

Based on the Lectionary of the Book of Common Prayer, 1962, Canada. 

St. Peter Publications Inc. Charlottetown, PEI, Canada. 

Reprinted with permission of the publisher.



"Jerusalem which is above is free, which is the mother of us all."

Galatians 4:26


We are in the midst of a journey.  It is our Christian pilgrimage upon which Christ himself set us.  We started out at his command; we go up to Jerusalem.  Long journeys are hard work and this is no short trip.  Jerusalem is the place of Easter's resurrection and it is the heavenly city of all the saints.  Travelling to Jerusalem is nothing less than the whole motion of the lives of each one of us, and the entirety of man's history as well.  Travellers on such a lengthy journey are certain to grow hungry, weary and discouraged, distracted and even lost.  So now, in the midst of Lent's journey, itself the symbol of man's travelling to Jerusalem, his true homeland, we hear an encouraging cry.  Jerusalem which is above, the city you are seeking, is free; she is the mother of us all.  Rejoice, we are the children of the free.  And thus, in our mind's eye, we begin to make out the character and lineaments of the city towards which we are moving.  We get our directions again and our compasses are fixed.


But more is given.  The Church not only announces our free citizenship in the heavenly Jerusalem and urges us homeward to our native land, but here, on the dusty road, she provides us with miraculous food to sustain us on our way:


And Jesus took the loaves, and when he had given thanks, he distributed to the disciples, and the disciples to them that were set down; and likewise of the fishes, as much as they would.


The food for our journey to Jerusalem is the bread that will be broken here this morning in this eucharist.  It is food for citizens of the free city Jerusalem who seek their way back home; it is the food of our nourishing mother, our alma mater.


But isn't it strange that we represent our life's work in this image of the pilgrimage to a city.  For at the beginning of Lent, the Church taught us about how the first city was founded.  The first city, Enoch, was set up by Cain after he murdered his brother Abel.  Cain's envy and resentment has a paradoxical result.  First it leads to murder and the denial of community.  With Abel dead in the field, his blood cries up to God and God asks Cain, "Where is your brother?"  Cain returns a question: "Am I my brother's keeper?" (Genesis 4.9)  But second, this selfish envy, resentment, and fear lead to the founding of the first city:


And Cain knew his wife and she conceived and bare Enoch: and he builded a city and called the name of the city after his son Enoch.


The city comes into being after the family bond is broken by the spilling of the fraternal blood.  The city is like a band of robbers or a gang of murderers huddled together against the fear of each other and of the outside world.  Men need to be under rule, under government because of the wickedness of their hearts.


After the fall, God sets Adam to rule over Eve, and Cain over Abel.  To Eve he says: "Thy desire shall be to thy husband, and he shall rule over thee." To Cain the Lord says, "And unto thee shall be his desire and thou shalt rule over him." This is where we start: in a city established because of man's selfish, murderous will.  But hope has entered: "Behold, we go up to Jerusalem." Lent, in our lives both individually and collectively, is a race and journey by which we travel from the city we have founded to the city whose maker and defender is God.  We travel from Cain's city, which we have created, to the paradisal city in which and for which God created us.  This is the better country, our true mother and native land, Jerusalem above and free.  We are journeying from the city founded on the love of self even to the point of destruction of others, to the city founded on the love of God even to the point of denial of self.


But why is our goal a city?  Why do we not rather represent our odyssey and journey to God as did the pagan philosopher Plotinus "the flight of the alone to the Alone?" Brotherly love is the foundation of our eternal life:


For this is the message ye have heard from the beginning that ye should love one another…We know that we have passed from death to life because we love the brethren.  No murderer has eternal life dwelling in him.  (1 John 3.11-15)


Whoever has the hope of seeing God must be purified to be like him.  We are all being changed and purified in the course of our journey.  We are having our murderous selfish loves changed into the generous life-giving will of God.  To be like God and to see him face to face we must learn a love that creates, embraces, and sustains.  We must learn to love our brothers.


And by the miraculous power which turns death into life, it is in the city that murder founded where we learn the love that gives life.  We know "we have passed from death to life because we love the brethren," brethren meaning our fellow citizens.  The power that transforms the city is the cross.  "Who loves his life shall lose it, who loses his life shall gain it eternally." (John 12.25)


The means of learning this godly love is the life of the city: our life together in our families, in our church, in our communities, in the state.


Baptism is admission to a community.  Christ's Church is the door entering into the heavenly Jerusalem.  Unless we really enter the Church and learn the disciplines of its communal life, baptism is only vain superstition, an empty ceremony.


Use all diligence to see that these children be virtuously brought up to lead a godly and a Christian life; and to that end you should teach them to pray, and bring them to take part in public worship…for baptism represents unto us our profession…to follow our Saviour Christ and to be made like unto him. 

(Book of Common Prayer: Holy Baptism p.  530)


It is by the discipline of life together, day by day, week by week, year by year in family, church and state that we learn to take account of our brother's good, of our neighbour's need.  We learn a love of our own kin, our neighbours and our country.  By the disciplines of life together we are able to make love more than passing sentiment and feeling.  We make it the real substance of life.  The ways of Jerusalem, the ways of eternal life, begin to grow strong in us.  Jerusalem is the city of the free, the city of those who have as their heart's desire the homeland of eternal life.  Jerusalem is free of the love of self with its torment and guilt, with its suspicion, envy, resentment, hatred, and murderous fear.  It is free because it is a true community.  It is the love of God and brother.  The disciplines of our earthly cities are the training for the freedom of the heavenly Jerusalem, because there the saints live in communion with one another.  "We know that we have passed from death to life because we love the brethren."


But how hard it is for us to see this.  God knows how bleary-eyed and confused we are.  He knows how hard it is for us in the midst of this long journey to see where we are going and to keep on the road.  In the midst of our Lenten journey comes the cry: "Jerusalem, the city you are seeking, the city above, it is your nourishing mother and true native land: you were born there and your true nature seeks it: this better country is free and you are its free children." And in this sacrament God lifts the veil and shows us heavenly things under our earthly fare.  In the bread broken he shows us eternal life, and in the cup shared everlasting salvation, that we might know what we are gaining in our earthly labours.  Sustained by his love may we all be gathered into the new Jerusalem, and restored to our alma mater.  May we with all the saints praise, laud and magnify the Father, Son and Holy Spirit, to whom be all might, majesty, dominion, and power, henceforth and world without end.  Amen.