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The Twenty First Sunday after Trinity
by D. P. Curry
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.
“Put on the whole armour of God.” (Ephesians 6.10) 

“Put on the whole armour of God,” exhorts St. Paul, and what is that armour except the total saving work of Jesus Christ? To put on that whole armour of God is to put on Jesus Christ, our Lord and Saviour. We put on Christ by habitual reflection upon his saving work as presented in Holy Scripture and in the ordered life of the Church. As the Elizabethan theologian, Richard Hooker, suggests, Scripture is “in the nature of a doctrinal instrument,” an instrument of salvation, for it presents everything that pertains to the attainment of man’s ultimate end and final felicity. “The end of the word of God is to save, and therefore we term it the Word of life.” (Laws of Ecclesiastical Polity V, xxi, 3) In order that the Word of life may live in us, the Church provides an order of Scripture readings according to the order of salvation, and for the application of saving doctrine to individuals. 

The eighteenth century English theologian, Charles Wheatley, notes that “the whole year is distinguished into two parts: the design of the first being to commemorate Christ’s living amongst us”; and the other “to instruct us to live after his example.” He adds, “For having in the first part of the year learned the mysteries of our religion, we are in the second to practice what is agreeable to the same.” (A Rational Illustration of the Book of Common Prayer, p. 198) The whole of the Trinity season concerns our putting on those spiritual mysteries of the gospel, (Ephesians.6) bringing the saving doctrine of Christ to bear upon our lives “that we may evermore dwell in him, and he in us.”  (BCP, p. 184) 

The season of Trinity focuses our attention on the spiritual relation of man and God in Christ Jesus. We seek to deepen and nurture our spiritual life. We endeavour to realize Christ within us. For no longer do we see him with the eyes of the flesh; no longer do we hear his voice; no longer do we feel his touch; no longer do we know him outwardly, after the manner of the flesh. Rather, we must know him inwardly, after the manner of the spirit. Christ must be known as he truly is: “God, of God; Light, of Light; very God, of very God; being of one substance with the Father,” and the Holy Spirit. 

Thus, the miracle stories of the Trinity season must be seen in the light of our growth in the Spirit. The events recorded in the various Gospels of the Sundays after Trinity are rightly out of sequence, for the moment of eternity is ever upon us. We no longer trace the progress of Christ in the world; rather, we nurture the progress of Christ within, and we seek that we may be Christ in the world, to others and for others. Our spiritual life is our participation in God’s own life; it is an activity in which we seek to beat one with him who is the principle of all activity. It is prayer that most properly expresses the activity by which we seek the unity of our wills with God’s will. The miracle story in today’s Gospel concerns one of the kinds of prayer: the prayer or act of intercession. The Gospel story is about a miracle granted to the prayer of a father. 

Two things are at work here: first, the faith of the father; and second, the father’s love. Christ responds to both. The father’s faith has prompted the request that Christ come down to Capernaum and heal the son. However, that faith seems somehow incomplete, for the request draws a reproof from Jesus: “Except ye see signs and wonders, ye will not believe.” It is lacking in the perception of the object of faith; it lacks a true knowledge of God in Christ. “Come down,” he keeps insisting “come down, ere my son die.” The problem is not that Jesus is reluctant to make house calls! Rather, our Lord sees the faith of the father — a faith based simply on what others had told him about Jesus’ signs and wonders — and he seeks to increase that faith, to raise it to a higher and more perfect spiritual knowledge. 

In insisting that Jesus physically “come down,” the father has neglected the omnipresent reality of the God whom Christ has come to make known. Jesus in his reproof is really encouraging the recognition of the true character of divinity, that it is a spiritual power not limited to time and space. Jesus does not have to be along side of the son in order to heal him. He seems to be asking: Why do you cling to the passing, to the perspective of the worldly rather than to the eternal, ever present, invisible and spiritual reality of God? Why have you not prayed to the Father? The Son does nothing but what the Father does. 

This reminder of the omnipresence of God is of the most fundamental importance. God is Spirit whom we must know spiritually, just as we must come to know the eternal Word made flesh as he is present in the divine reality. Christ can heal from afar because he has access to the omnipresent reality of God who is the principle of his life, even as it is his life. He would have us share in that divine life. He comes to bring us into that spiritual bond between Father, Son, and Holy Ghost. 

But it is also the father’s love for his ailing son that occasions Christ’s healing power. This love has a divine quality to it that reflects on earth a heavenly truth. As George MacDonald, a Scottish mystic, puts it: “the Fatherhood of God created the fatherhood in man: God’s love, man’s love.” Love is the consistent reality, whether in the mode of eternity or in the mode of time. The earthly father has brought his need, his love and concern for his son, into the presence of the God that is dimly yet powerfully recognized in Jesus. 

All that is what the intercessory prayer of our communion service is about. It isn’t something we do before going on to the eucharistic sacrifice. Rather, we bring all our prayers right into the Eucharist. We unite our prayers to the passion and sacrifice of Christ, “he who when he dies has the whole of mankind in his heart,” Austin Farrer has said. We seek to be one with the totality of his free-willing sacrifice. We participate in his eternal intercession when in prayer we take our friends, our enemies, our families, and the whole world into the presence of God. We become, as it were, “redistributors of divine blessings” (George MacDonald), not because we exercise our own will, but because we put ourselves in the place of another by seeking to love as God loves. This activity of intercession must not confine itself to our formal prayers, but must express itself in our lives as we seek to be Christ in the world. To do this is to know him within us as the indwelling presence of God. In the name of the Holy Trinity, may we be sent on our way, the eternal Son alive in us and we in him.