Hold me worthy , O Lord, to behold your mercy in my soul before I depart from this world; may I be aware in myself at that hour of your comfort, along with those who have gone forth from this world in good hope. Open my heart, O my God, by your grace and purify me from any association with sin. Tread out in my heart the path of repentance, my God and my Lord, my hope and my boast, my strong refuge, by whom may my eyes be illumined, and may I have understanding of your truth, Lord. Hold me worthy, Lord, to taste the joy of the gift of repentance, by which the soul is separated from co-operating with sin and the will of flesh and blood. Hold me worthy, O Lord, to taste this state, wherein lies the gift of pure prayer. O my Saviour, may I attain to this wondrous transition at which the soul abandons this visible world, and at which new stirrings arise on our entering into the spiritual world and the experience of new perceptions.
St Isaac of Nineveh
The Apostle Peter is writing to a church which is undergoing persecution on account of their faith in Our Lord and Saviour, Jesus Christ. While you could argue that this is not happening to us here, now, openly, it does nonetheless happen to our brothers and sisters in Christ around the world who are called to bear witness to Christ regardless of the cost. If anything the persecution in this country is more to do with apathy, ignorance, and our dismissal from public discourse unless we are in agreement with popular whim or sentiment: such is the tyranny of secularism, which we must, as Christians resist, as we are called to conform the world to the will of God.
We are called to be a holy nation and a chosen race, not in exclusive ethnic terms, like the people of Israel, but rather because we are one in Christ, through our common baptism, having passed through that water greater than the Red Sea, which gives freedom to all the world: we can look beyond the simplistic divisions of the world to something greater, and far more wonderful, and while we are certainly not there yet, we are all nonetheless travelling on a journey towards unity, because it is the will of Our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ, and his prayer to the Father in the garden of Gethsemane before his arrest in John 17.
Our highest allegiance then is not to the powers of this world, for we recognise a higher power, the King of Heaven and Earth, which is Christ. He makes us royal, he gives us entry into that greatest of palaces, that is heaven, through His Precious Blood which was shed to heal us and restore us, there is as the hymn puts it power, power, wonder-working power in the precious blood of the Lamb. It is through Christ’s priesthood, a priesthood of the new covenant in His Blood, after the order of Melchisedech, that the church continues a cultic priesthood to offer continually that one perfect and sufficient sacrifice for the sins of the whole world, so that the people of God may be made holy, by being fed with His Body and Blood so that our human nature may be transformed into his divine nature: Αὐτὸς γὰρ ἐνηνθρώπησεν, ἵνα ἡμεῖς θεοποιηθῶμεν· ‘He became human so that we might become divine’ Athanasius De Incarnatione Dei Verbi 54.3.
We are holy, set apart for God’s service and the proclamation of His Kingdom , proclaiming the saving acts of God in Christ, and calling the world to repent, to turn away from the ways of sin and self, and to believe and trust in a God who loves us and saves us. Christ calls us out of the darkness of sin, of the world into the glorious light of His Kingdom. This is the fulfilment of the prophesy of Hosea 1:6 and 1:9 Once we were no people, now we are God’s people (cf. Hosea 1:9 Call his name lo-ammi [not my people] 1:6 Call her name lo-ruhamah [who has not received mercy]) We are God’s people, God claims us for His own, through His Son, who shows us in His life, Death, and Resurrection exactly what mercy is: A God who suffers and dies for love of us, poor sinful humanity, that we might become something better, something greater. God sees that human sinfulness is such a problem that only an outpouring of Divine Love in the sacrifice of His Son can save us.
And having received mercy, love and forgiveness in Christ, we show it in our lives so that ours is a proclamation not only of words but of deeds, so that we play an active part in the reconciliation of the world to God in Christ. Mercy, with joy and peace are the fruit of charity: our love of God and our neighbour, we love because God loved us first, and as we show mercy, we shall receive mercy, we harvest what we sow.
As St Isaac says ‘Do not hate the sinner. Become a proclaimer of God’s grace, seeing that God provides for you even though you are unworthy. Although your debt to him is very great, there is no evidence of him exacting any payment from you, whereas in return for the small ways you do manifest good intention he rewards you abundantly. Do not speak of God as ‘just’, for his justice is not in evidence in his actions towards you. How can you call God just when you read the gospel lesson concerning the hiring of the workmen in the vineyard? How can someone call God just when he comes across the story of the prodigal son who frittered away all his belongings in riotous living — yet merely in response to his contrition his father ran and fell upon his neck, and gave authority over all his possession? In these passages it is not someone else speaking about God; had this been the case, we might have had doubts about God’s goodness. No it is God’s own Son who testifies about him in this way. Where then is this ‘justice’ in God, seeing that, although we were sinners, Christ died for us? If he is so compassionate in this, we have faith that he will not change.’
We show this love first in obedience, like Our Lord’s Mother, the Blessed Virgin Mary, as we heard in this morning’s Gospel in her words to the servants ‘Do whatever he tells you’ If we are obedient, like Mary, then model disciple and mother of the Church, the first and greatest Christian, then we can truly be salt and light to the world, proclaiming the Good News of the Kingdom.
The Good News is the announcement of God’s mercy, shown to us in Christ, in Him we see what God is really like, in Him we experience love, healing, forgiveness, reconciliation. Through Him we are healed and restored, we become God’s people, and proclaim God’s Kingdom, so that humanity may come to experience God’s love and mercy, and believe and give Glory to God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit, to whom be ascribed as is most right and just, all might, majesty, glory, dominion, and power, now and unto the ages of ages.