Locust Street Letters
By Frank Lawrence Vernon
Philadelphia: St. Mark's Church, Locust Street.
ST. MARK'S, PHILADELPHIA.
THE FOURTH SUNDAY AFTER EASTER, 1935.
MY DEAR PEOPLE:
The Gospel for today recalls words spoken by Our Lord to the disciples before He entered into His Passion. They were words of preparation. In the next Chapter of Saint John, the seventeenth, we have Our Lord's prayer for His disciples. The Chapter heading reads, "Christ prayeth to His Father to glorify Him, to preserve His apostles, in unity, and truth, to glorify them, and all other believers with Him in heaven."
In His words of preparation Our Lord said unto His disciples, "Now I go my way to Him that sent me. It is expedient for you that I go away: for if I go not away, the Comforter will not come unto you; but if I depart, I will send Him unto you. I have yet many things to say unto you, but ye cannot bear them now. Howbeit when he, the Spirit of truth is come, he will guide you unto all truth. He will show you things to come."
It helps very much to have this instruction on this fourth Sunday in Eastertide. Our minds are filled with thoughts of the Appearances. Sometimes we cannot help envying the disciples. Their first Easter was so easy. Yet after all, their Easters after the Ascension and Pentecost were like ours. They had the Holy Ghost to guide them. They had the Holy Communion to refresh them. They had much harder lives to live than we have. Yet their hearts rejoiced, and no man took their joy from them. This is the thing that we must all remember today. We must. keep our Easter joy. We must never allow any man to take it from us.
It was a Christian thing to offer repentance for our sins in Lent. We must keep our penitence. But we must never forget that our penitence is for forgiven sins. We cannot be Christians if we are not steadfast in our belief in the forgiveness of our sins. We cannot be Christians if we do not leave unreservedly the old life to Our Lord. We cannot be Christians if we do not offer to God our unswerving faith in the new life. We must not walk back over the old life. We must walk, not stand still, walk in the new life. We cannot be Christians unless we believe in newness of life. Forgiveness of sins and newness of life are the Easter facts upon which Easter joy rests. When once the soul is flooded, and the consciousness penetrated, with the sense of forgiveness and the sense of newness, the joy is overwhelming. After this walking is too slow. We feel like running, as Saint Paul did.
Is this an experience only given to a few? Of course not. It is the normal experience of the normal Christian. How does it come? By the operation of the Holy Ghost, effecting an awakening. In the cases of persons Baptized, Confirmed and receiving Communion, the awakening will be gentle and gradual as a rule. In some cases the awakening may be marked and associated with a particular occasion, for example, in connection with a Sacrament, or a prayer time, or some deep life experience. Whenever or however it comes, it will be a work of the Holy Ghost.
In cases of persons who have not known about the Sacraments, it is apt to come by what is described as a conversation, leading first to experiences in prayer, and leading gradually to the awakening of Sacramental susceptibility, and finally to the Sacraments themselves. The occasion of the conversion may be a sense of sin; it usually is. It may be sickness, or some sorrow. It may be anything which impresses the soul with either the need, or the sense, of the Presence of God. Whenever and however it comes, it will be the work of the Holy Ghost.
It will always remain the greatest and happiest mystery of life. “The wind bloweth where it listeth, and thou hearest the sound thereof, but canst not tell whence it cometh, or whither it goeth; so is every one that is born of the spirit.”
This was the religion by which the Apostles and first Christians lived. This is the religion which they have handed on to us. Its dominant note has always been joy. No man has ever been able to take it away; though many have tried for upwards of two thousand years. Christians are as joyful in Eastertide in nineteen hundred and thirty-five, as they were in the first Eastertide. And for the same reasons.
Affectionately in Our Lord,