A sermon by the Rt. Rev. Albert Rhett Stuart, Bishop of Georgia
In the beginning God in love created the world and man. It is His initiative. Man rejects the love of God and separates himself from God. God takes the initiative and seeks to restore man to the purpose of His creation. This is the long story of Moses and the prophets. Finally, God still with the initiative “Made Himself of no reputation and took upon Him the form of a servant and was made in the likeness of man: and being found in fashion as a man, he humbled Himself and became obedient unto death, even the death of the Cross.”
The work of our redemption which the Lord Christ accomplished on the Cross this week is made available to us through His church. He established the Church for this purpose. It is a divine organism established by His love directed toward us for our salvation.
It is from God to us. We seem to get confused about this and think of the Church as our creation directed toward God. We are so accustomed to forming clubs and societies that we confuse the Church with this sort of thing. When we do, we are really saying that we can save ourselves. We think and act toward the Church just as we do toward any human club that we contract to organize. We are prior to it, create it, control it just as we do a garden club or service club. We can then determine its standards and decide who can belong to it. The sacraments become customs and sentimental traditions. Baptism is a pretty service where we dedicate our children to Christian ideals, which seems desirable but not really essential. Communion is a memorial or reminder of the historic event of the Crucifixion and, like Memorial Day when we annually remember those who died for their country, it is proper and fitting to do this once a year.
The Church is the Body of Christ into which we are incorporated by Baptism—it is an organism like the family which is prior to us. We are born into it by Baptism in which we are given new life in Christ. It is a means for present identification of our lives with Jesus Christ and His Victory over sin.
Ever since man has been conscious of God, he has longed to identify himself with God, but he has also been conscious of his sinfulness and unworthiness which has separated him from God. He has tried every conceivable kind of gift and sacrifice, including the willingness to sacrifice his own life, to bridge the gap. But always he has realized that nothing he could give could ever really be acceptable because his gift was spoiled by the very sin for which he was trying to atone. A sinful creature could never hope to give a perfect sacrifice for sin. For countless ages man has known this. When Jesus, the perfect man, died on the Cross, the perfect sacrifice was offered. At last, the way was open for man to offer the perfect sacrifice. In the Holy Communion we participate in the perfect sacrifice and the way of atonement with God is open to us. We join our imperfect offerings to Christ’s perfect offering and ours are acceptable and sufficient because of His.
“There was no other good enough
To pay the price of sin.
He only could unlock the gate
Of Heaven to let us in.”
In our meditation on the sacrifice of Christ on our behalf we have noted that the essence of the sacrifice was the devotion of His will to God the Father manifested in the obedience of His life and the suffering of His death. From His first recorded words—“Wist ye not that I must be about my Father’s business?” to the high water mark on the Cross—“Father unto Thy hands I commend my spirit”—there was complete and perfect obedience of life to the will of God. If we are to participate in that victory, this sacrifice of obedience has to be reproduced in our lives. The task of the Christian is to learn to live in the service and love of God as Christ did.
The Christian life is a life of sacrifice or self-giving to God and of obedience to His will. This has been made possible by our incorporation in the body of Christ, the Church, and by the operation of His grace through the sacraments of the Church. The Holy Communion is an act of obedience. We offer to God ourselves—“Here we offer and present unto Thee, O Lord, ourselves, our souls, and bodies to be a reasonable, holy, and living sacrifice.” Humbly we lay down beside Christ’s perfect offering our own poor imperfect offering, ourselves, that it may be accepted in Him and made sufficient by His offering. Then we receive from Him the power of His resurrection that it may be possible for us in our own lives to fulfill the meaning and promise of our offering.
Here is the link between the Christian’s worship and the Christian’s life. Our worship and our life are not two different things—they are one and the same viewed from different aspects. A Christian life is a God-ward life. It is a life of faith in God and of self-offering to God. Our worship expresses the inward principle of our life. That which is expressed in our Eucharist, the attitude of prayer and faith, and self-oblation—that is to be the attitude of our life in the world. The meaning of the Eucharist is worked out in our daily life and the meaning of our daily life is focused and expressed in the Eucharist—it is all an offering to God. We lift up before God the one, true, pure sacrifice—the life and death of Jesus Christ, perfect obedience in the service of God and man. We lay down beside this spotless offering, the stained and impure offering of ourselves that it may be accepted in Him and then we go forth and spend our lives in the service of God and man.