Locust Street Letters
By Frank Lawrence Vernon
Philadelphia: St. Mark's Church, Locust Street.
ST. MARK'S, PHILADELPHIA.
MY DEAR PEOPLE:
Our Lord went into the desert for forty days as the preparation for his public ministry. They were days of solitude, fasting, prayer and temptation. Then came the public ministry. At the end of that came the going up to Jerusalem for the mocking and the scourging and the death. For the first four weeks in Lent we are thinking of the spiritual combat in the desert. The fifth week we are thinking of the Passion. In the last week we are thinking of the Crucifixion and Death.
On one of these last days, Maundy Thursday, the sun shines through the dark clouds; there appear white vesture and flowers and lights. It is a terrible day. All the outward signs of joy, but no joy. Just an ominous waiting for the something terrible to happen. When night falls, the Altars are stripped bare, black veils appear, for the betrayal is at hand. The morrow will be the day of our Atonement, and we shall be watching beside the Cross.
There are two lessons to learn again each Lent. We must not allow anything to distract our attention from them. Saint Paul teaches us the meaning of the Atonement. Christ was crucified for us. We are to be crucified with Christ. He was our substitute. But, says Saint Paul, if we suffer with Him, we shall reign with Him. This is our aspiration. We must never lose sight of it. We must spend our Lent and Passiontide and Holy Week with Our Lord, or without Him.
But what a difference it will make on Easter Day. To live with Our Lord. Or to live without Him. That is the question. Not for Lent only, but for life. Supposing that a person is attempting to live without Our Lord. Then what about a question like this? How is the problem of sin to be dealt with? "But I have no sin," is one answer sometimes given. "There is no such thing as sin," is the modern answer. A person who makes the first answer does not know himself. A person who makes the second does not know the world. Saint John's gentle comment is, that if we say such things, we deceive ourselves.
No, we cannot get rid of the problem so easily as that. Sin is a grim reality in ourselves and in the world. It will stand no nonsense. The day of reckoning comes. When it does come, and if it finds us attempting to meet it without Our Lord, there is only one thing—remorse. And remorse is the most terrible thing in life. It is sheer, helpless, hopeless misery. It sucks the soul into the black, swift, cruel current of despondency and drowns it in the depths of despair. No, that answer will never do.
Supposing a person faces the problem of sin with Our Lord. Then what happens? The first thing that happens is the discovery that there is no limit to the compassion of Our Lord. He is the only Person of whom this can be truthfully said. Human compassion, the compassion of the kindest and best of humans has a limit. There is no limit to Our Lord's compassion, because it is divine compassion.
"Whosoever cometh to me, I will in no wise cast him out." Whosoever—this one word opens the door of hope to the hopeless. It banishes remorse. It inspires repentance. It changes the outlook on past, present and future. The past may be redeemed. The present may be mended. The future may be attained. The lost thing can be found. The broken thing can be mended. The secret of the doing if the humanly impossible thing is God's. It is ours for the asking.
"There was no other good enough to pay the price of sin. He only could unlock the gate of heaven and let us in." The Son of Man has power to lay down His life for his friends. For us men He laid down his life. He suffered death upon the Cross. He made there (by his one oblation of Himself once offered) a full, perfect and sufficient sacrifice, oblation and satisfaction for the sins of the whole world. It is a vicarious sacrifice. It was made for us. We could make no such offering of ourselves, for ourselves.
"Ye are my friends, if ye do whatsoever I command you." What is the command? "Take up your cross and follow me." I will show you the way out. The Cross is at the penitent's feet, measured and weighed. It can be carried. The way is measured. It will not be too long. There will be suffering and crucifixion. But the sufferings are not to be compared with the glory that shall be revealed. The glory of a just man made perfect.
Affectionately in Our Lord,