April 15, 2017 A+D
In the Name of the Father and of the +Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
Meghan generously provided the art of the rooster in the graveyard for today’s bulletin cover. It is one of three original pieces. The others are of a family of goldfinches safely nested in a thorn bush which we used on Good Friday and a pelican piercing her breast to feed her chicks, which we used last night at the vigil. The originals will be displayed in the entry way to the undercroft.
I like them all, but my favorite is the goldfinches. They remind me, in their weakness and in their confidence, of the Coptic Christians who were martyred last Sunday.
At Saint George Church in Tanta, Egypt, one week ago today, the deacons were finishing the Palm Sunday Hosanna when ISIS exploded a bomb, killing 28 worshippers and wounding many more. Shortly afterwards, ISIS sent a suicide bomber to Saint Mark’s in Alexandria where the Coptic Pope was leading the liturgy. The bomber wasn’t able to enter the church but, besides himself, he killed 17 more Christians as they were leaving worship. Kyrie Eleison!
Palm Sunday for the Copts is much as it is for us. It is a joyful day. Children fold palm fronds into beautiful shapes as the people are readied for their holiest and most sober celebrations. This year, it was still that, but it was also a day of violence and sadness. Christians always live with a foot in heaven and a foot on earth.
Goldfinches are not impressive birds. I know of no sports team or school that has chosen goldfinches as their mascot. They survive by hiding in the thorns. In Meghan’s portrayal they seem rather oblivious to the danger that is around them. They are happily going about their business, trusting in the thorns to keep them safe.
Our brothers and sisters in Egypt, and also in Palestine and in all Muslim countries, are more obviously goldfinches, that is they are more obviously vulnerable to predators, than we are. But that is an illusion. The reality is we are all vulnerable. If the Lord continues to delay His return, one way or another, by bombs or cancer or heart attacks, we will all face both the death of our loved ones and our own deaths. Kyrie Eleison!
The impressive thing about the Copts is how, like the goldfinches, they have happily gone about the business of their vocations this past week. They’ve continued, albeit with an increased fervor, to pray for their enemies. They’ve chanted the Nicene Creed. They’ve kept their churches open. They aren’t in any way naive about the danger they are in. But despite the danger, they are confident that the thorns will protect them even if terrorists kill them. For them, “I know that my Redeemer lives” is more than a song for Easter. It is a creedal statement.
It is the same for us and I pray that their strong witness and their impressive courage and their unfaltering faith would help us to remember and embrace this. “I know that my Redeemer lives.” That is the heart and center of the faith and hope of goldfinches who cannot save themselves. We hide in the crown of thorns. We rest in the wounds of Christ. We do this because He is not dead. Jesus Christ was crowned with thorns in cruel mockery, was put to death for vengeance against imagined offenses by jealous and petty men; but He was more than the victim. He was also the Priest. He gave Himself as a ransom and atonement that bring us out of death. Satan and the mob, Pilate and Herod, meant it for evil; but God used it for good. He always does. By it, by His betrayal, sorrows, and death, He delivers us from Satan and his envoys. For in this holy sacrifice He has suffered our just punishment and became our scape goat so that we would go free and live. By His wounds, we are healed.
Even as He is more than the victim, so also He is more than simply an innocent Man who suffers unjustly. He is more than a martyr who leaves behind a grieving mother. He is true God, begotten of the Father from all eternity, and His Word is true. His Father has vindicated Him. He He has overcome and defeated death for us by submitting to it, making Himself a substitute for us, and though He died He is not dead. Jesus lives. Jesus wins. He is the Victor and we, along with our brothers and sisters in Christ from all over the world, are the beneficiaries. In His living He has ensured and delivered a future to and for us, to and for all His people.
That means that the 55 Copts who died in the faith last Sunday have already begun to enjoy their reward. “Out of Egypt,” says the Lord, “I have called My Son, and I have called His sons and daughters. Blessed be the Name of the Lord.”
That is what Meghan’s rooster is crowing this morning. He is crowing that it is possible to repent and return to Christ, that is not too late for those of us who failed to keep the fast, who missed services during Holy Week, or who thought little of our brothers and sisters suffering all over the world while we planned an Easter Feast of chocolate and roast lamb. The rooster called Peter back to the faith. There Peter found the Lord not only ready, but eager to receive and forgive him.
It is not too late for us. There is room in the thorns for us by Him for whom there was no room in the inn. We live in evil days and those who hate Jesus hate Him by hating us. There are more predators, more dangers around us, than we have realized. Let us return to Jesus and hide in His thorns as those too weak to look after themselves.
The rooster is crowing. Jesus is risen. He has died for our sins, but He is alive for our justification. He is eager to receive us. He will feed us today in this Passover Sacrament with His Body and Blood and therein He will make us safe from all that would harm us for even if they kill the body they cannot kill the soul, and even as we will one day follow Jesus out of the grave, so already now, in this Holy Communion, we are united to the Coptic martyrs who have shown us how to live and how to die.
The rooster is crowing. The Copts have not died in vain. The thorns did protect them. Satan cannot, does not, and never will have them. They belong to Jesus.
Let our hearts faint within us. For we know that our Redeemer lives, and that at the last He will stand upon the earth, and after our skin has been destroyed – by violence, by terrorists, by old age, it matters not – after our skin has been destroyed, yet in our flesh we shall see God, Our Redeemer, whom we shall see for ourselves, and our eyes shall behold.
Alleluia. Christ is risen!
He is risen indeed, Alleluia!
In +Jesus’ Name. Amen.