L. R. TarsitanoóSaint Andrew's Church, Savannah
"Hear the word of the LORD, ye rulers of Sodom; give ear
unto the law of our God, ye people of Gomorrah. To what purpose is the
multitude of your sacrifices unto me? saith the LORD: I am full of the
burnt offerings of rams, and the fat of fed beasts; and I delight not in
the blood of bullocks, or of lambs, or of he goats" (Isaiah 1:10-11).
Today, on Passion Sunday, we enter the final two weeks of Lent, which
the Church has named "Passiontide," or "The Season of the Passion." During
these two weeks, the Churchís ancient Lenten course reaches its climax
as we contemplate our Lord and Savior Jesus Christís dying for us on the
cross. As much as it is humanly possible, and with the supernatural help
of Godís grace, we are meant to let nothing in this world divert our attention
from our Saviorís Passion and death.
Just as his death on the cross was the door through which Jesus Christ
had to walk in order to come to his glorious resurrection from the dead,
we must pass through Christís passion and walk the way of the cross with
him to enter into Easter, not just as a day of celebration, but as a complete
way of life. This necessity explains the dual nature of todayís lesson,
constituted by the collect, Epistle, Gospel, and lessons. We must recount
the historical events of Christís Passion and then apply them to our own
In the Gospel, when our Lord says, "Before Abraham was, I am" (John
8:58), he claims for himself the "I AM" of the God of Abraham, Isaac, and
Jacob. He declares that he is the God of the burning bush and of the commandments
made man. Because Jesus of Nazareth is God, the Eternal Son of the Father
in heaven, and because he is the Christ, the promised Messiah come to save
the world, he must die. But he will not die by accident or by natural causes.
He will die because he is rejected and despised by those who are the slaves
of this fallen world, who will kill him so that he can offer his innocent
Blood for the sins of the whole world.
On the day that our Lord declared himself as the God of Abraham, his
enemies sought to kill him by stoning, declaring his Truth a blasphemy.
But this was not the time and that was not the manner of the death he had
accepted as our Savior, according to the prophecies that had revealed his
death in the Scriptures. He hid himself from his enemies that day, which
we remember by covering the crosses in our churches from now until Easter.
But that covering also recalls for us the death sentence under which he
lived until it was executed upon him so terribly at Calvary.
Todayís Epistle leaves no doubt about the significance of that death
at Calvary. All of the sacrifices for sin in the Old Testament had a single
purpose: to point to Jesus Christ on the cross, whose one sacrifice of
himself, once offered, he took into the holiest place of allóthe presence
of his Father in heaven. Jesus Christ on the cross is not only a sacrificial
victim, he is the one and only High Priest who, raised from the dead, was
able to offer the sacrifice of his own Body and Blood for our redemption.
Jesus Christís one sacrifice of himself, offered for the remission of
the sins of the whole world, means that there is no more need for sin offerings.
The sacrificial ordinances of the Old Testament regarding animal sacrifices
for sin are done away because their purpose is accomplished. The one, true,
all-sufficient sacrifice has been offered forever, and so the author of
Hebrews can ask:
For if the blood of bulls and of goats, and the ashes of an heifer sprinkling
the unclean, sanctifieth to the purifying of the flesh: How much more shall
the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered himself without
spot to God, purge your conscience from dead works to serve the living
God? (Hebrews 9:13-14).
The answer, of course, is that the Blood of Christ can do (and for the
faithful has done) what no animal sacrifice could doócleanse us forever
from our sins and give us a new and eternal life in Godís fellowship and
service. This question and answer, moreover, are absolutely necessary,
if we are going to understand todayís Old and New Testament Lessons, and
to learn from them how we should live a new life in Jesus Christ.
The prophecy that lies at the heart of every blood sacrifice is thisósin
is death, and the only thing that can take sin away is life. Think of the
first three sins recorded in the Bible. The sin of Adam and Eve brought
death into the world for the whole human race. Their son Cain offered a
false sacrifice that did not appeal to God in heaven for a new life out
of death but attempted to tip God with his produce, as if God were a beggar,
dependent on mankind to be fed. When God refused Cainís false sacrifice,
but accepted his brother Abelís humble sacrifice of the blood of his lambs,
Cain killed Abel, just as the Cains of another generation would crucify
the holy Lamb of God who offered his life for the life of the world.
God does not need sacrifices, but the fallen human race needs life.
The only true sacrifices are those that cry out for mercy, that declare
that a life squandered in sin can only be replaced by another life that
only God can give. The righteous ancient sacrifices said, "I am as dead
as this animal without you, O Lord. I owe you a debt of life which I cannot
repay on my own." The sacrifice of Jesus Christ perfected these sacrifices
by saying, "O Father, I offer my life for the redemption of the world,
paying with my own Blood the price that the blood of animals or of sinful
men could never pay to you. I offer my life to replace the life that mankind
has lost in sin, so that those who live in me will live forever, together
with you and the Holy Ghost."
And while we do not offer sacrifice for sin today, our Lord having covered
all our sins with his own Blood, we do offer what we call in our Prayer
Book "sacrifices of praise and thanksgiving" (see Heb. 13:15 and Romans
12:1). By these sacrifices we say, "We thank you, Father, for giving us
a Savior and a new life that we did not deserve and could not obtain on
our own. We offer our own lives, then, the new lives that you have given
us, not as a sacrifice for sin, but out of gratitude for our salvation
in our Lord Jesus Christ, and to submit ourselves to you as your loving
children by adoption and grace."
This is the righteous sacrifice of the New Testament, but whether we
are speaking of the New Testament or the Old, the alternative to sacrifices
of repentance, obedience, and love are almost too awful to ponder. We heard
God, through the Prophet Isaiah, call the Israelites who only went through
the motions of religion and who thought of their sacrifices as bribes to
God "the rulers of Sodom" and the "people of Gomorrah." Thus, any sin unrepented,
any part of our life, work, or worship that we will not allow to be washed
with the Blood of the Lamb of God, anything that we do not offer to God
in praise and thanksgiving makes us just as worthy of destruction and just
as repulsive to a Holy God as the sins of Sodom and Gomorrah.
But now that Jesus Christ had died for our sins, such degradation and
destruction are never necessary. We can turn to our Lord Jesus Christ at
any time for forgiveness, as long as we are willing to accept with that
forgiveness the grace to become the children of God that we ought to be.
And if we do belong to Christ, and we are the children of God, we should
expect the same hatred from this world that Jesus Christ and all the righteous
have experienced since the Fall itself. St. Peter calls this hatred in
todayís New Testament Lesson a "fiery trial," which we can only sustain
if we remain under Christís protection. In fact, we are to rejoice if we
suffer for belonging to Christ: "If ye be reproached for the name of Christ,
happy are ye; for the spirit of glory and of God resteth upon you" (1 Peter
Isaiah wrote, on behalf of God, "Wash you, make you clean; put away
the evil of your doings from before mine eyes; cease to do evil" (1:16).
Thus, every consideration of our living a good life in this world, and
an eternal life in the world to come, must lead us back to Jesus Christ
on the cross. We are washed in his Blood, and we are washed in the water
of Baptism that represents our entry into his death and our promise of
sharing his resurrection. It is only this washing that allows us to cease
to do evil and to live as we should.
Therefore, when we contemplate the death of Jesus Christ in this Passiontide,
we are also contemplating our life. The more of Christís Passion that we
share with him, the more life that will be in us. And the best possible
use of the next two weeks is that we should become so full of the death
of Jesus Christ that each of us will also find ourselves overflowing with
the new life that he gives by this one perfect sacrifice of himself.
Please note: These sermons are offered for your meditation.
If you wish to use them for some other purpose or republish them, please
credit St. Andrewís Church and Dr. Tarsitano.