Locust Street Letters
By Frank Lawrence Vernon
Philadelphia: St. Mark's Church, Locust Street.
ST. MARK'S, PHILADELPHIA.
THE FOURTH SUNDAY IN LENT, 1934.
MY DEAR PEOPLE:
Today is Mid-Lent Sunday, Refreshment Sunday. The refreshment is the message of freedom in the Epistle, and strength in the Gospel. The free life and the strong life is the joyous life. Freedom, strength, joy are the rewards set before us. These are the sure rewards for interior and exterior mortifications. These are the certain and happy results of Christian penitence. No other philosophy of life, no other moral code, except the Christian philosophy and the Christian code, can promise these rewards and fulfil the promise. Every substitute has failed. The promised freedom has proved to be not quite free. The promised strength has proved to be not quite test-proof. The promised joy has proved to be not quite satisfying. The ancient substitutes fail and are forgotten. They are revived, exploited as modern, fail again, and are again forgotten.
Experience has demonstrated the validity of the claim of Christians to be the children of the free. Christ the King is the only Person whose claim has been permanently established to be the prophet that should come into the world. This reminder is the refreshment given us at Mid-Lent for our encouragement to persevere in the practise of penitence.
Penitence is the path of freedom. Penitence leads to the release which brings freedom to go and sin no more. Forgiveness is not a mere legal acquittal, nor a parole on lingering suspicion. It is more than the gift of pardon. It is the gift of release. Absolution means loosening. Loosening from the bands of those sins, which by our frailty we have committed. The loosening from fetters which have fast bound the soul in misery and iron is the one concern of the true penitent. The longing to be free to go and sin no more is the ruling passion. God redeems in order that He may restore. He forgives in order that He may release for the service which is perfect freedom. That freedom may and will bring with it the pains of purification. But the pains will be purificative and not punitive. There will be no condemnation in the pains. They will not arouse dismay in the penitent nor desire to evade. They will be trustfully welcomed as remedial. They will be forgotten in the freedom to go and sin no more. This freedom means life and liberty. That is enough. The Epistle for today brings proclamation of deliverance to the captives.
The Gospel tells us of Our Lord's compassionate and miraculous feeding of the great multitude who had followed Him. Like all of our Lord's miracles for the bodies of men, this one was a sign pointing to the yet greater miracle of the compassionate and miraculous feeding of the souls of men, held in reserve for the multitudes who should follow in the ages to come. To them it would be given to eat of the Bread that cometh down from heaven, that a man may eat thereof and not die.
The pilgrims of penitence require food for the way. For them His Flesh is meat indeed, and His Blood is drink indeed. This is the miraculous Food given to sustain penitents, to transform sinners, to make saints. The feeding of the multitudes is the miracle of the Altars of Christendom. There, day after day, the weary and the heavy laden are refreshed.
So we pause today in the midst of Lent to remember, and to give thanks for, the refreshment which makes perseverance possible and effective. We do not need to be reminded of our difficulties. We do need to be reminded that difficulties which cannot be removed can be surmounted. Experience has taught us that to run away from a difficulty is to carry our weakness with us in our flight. That to surmount a difficulty is to acquire new strength and fresh confidence. That the surmounting of difficulties is the business and the zest of life. That the power to do this is the gift of Him who said, "In the world ye shall have tribulation; but be of good cheer; I have overcome the world."
Affectionately in Our Lord,