Locust Street Letters
By Frank Lawrence Vernon
Philadelphia: St. Mark's Church, Locust Street.
ST. MARK'S, PHILADELPHIA.
THE FOURTH SUNDAY IN LENT, 1936.
MY DEAR PEOPLE:
I am inclined to recommend for your attention the last verse of the Epistle for today. “So then, brethren, we are not children of the bondwoman, but of the free.” The Christian Religion is the religion of liberation for the sons of men. Saint Paul, in his Epistle to the Romans, describes, in terms that cannot be successfully disputed, the condition of mankind alienated from God. Individual men may not recognize it, but the fact remains. “For we know that the whole creation groaneth and travaileth in pain together until now. And not only they, but ourselves also, which have the firstfruits of the spirit, even we ourselves groan within ourselves, waiting for the adoption, to wit, the redemption of our body.”
The longing for this redemption of our body keeps alive the hope by which man is saved from despair. “For the earnest expectation of the creature waiteth for the manifestation of the sons of God.” In this earnest expectation we are encouraged by the promise, “the creature itself also shall be delivered from the bondage of corruption into the glorious liberty of the children of God.” This is “the liberty wherewith Christ hath made us free.”
Note that the body is the medium through which this liberty is bestowed and received. The body is the outward and visible sign of the inward and spiritual reality, which is the soul. All our life is sacramental. All the outward and visible signs of truth and goodness and beauty are communicated through the body, translated by the mind and assimilated by the soul. The perception of truth, goodness and beauty is conditioned by the freedom of soul, mind and body. There must be no bondage. And this freedom, like every other good gift, comes to us through the body. The free body is to be the instrument of the free mind, and both together are to be the instruments of the free soul.
So the foundation of the Christian Religion, which is the religion of liberty, is the Incarnation. “The Word, (the Second Person of the Holy Trinity) was made Flesh.”
Our Lord Jesus Christ is the giver of this glorious liberty which makes us the free sons of God. The gift of this sonship He bestows sacramentally in Baptism and renews, refreshes and nourishes in Holy Communion. This gift he imparts by the Gift of His own Life to live in us. “A higher gift than grace, cloth flesh and blood refine, God’s Presence and His very Self, and Essence all Divine.” Our Lord Christ lives in the Christian. “So now also Christ shall be magnified in my body, whether it be by life or by death,” wrote Saint Paul. Christ magnified in the body carries it triumphantly through its two wars for freedom. Christ Crucified carries it through the first. Christ Risen carries it through the second.
In the first the objective is to bring every instinct, appetite, desire, inclination and impulse into working obedience to the law of God. The body dies to sin to become alive to God. So Christ is magnified in the body in life.
In the second the Christ-controlled body meets and passes triumphantly through death to rise with Christ to everlasting life. So Christ is magnified in the body in death.
The death of the body to sin is a matter of daily dying. Every time that we mortify the desires of the body we advance the body one stage nearer to the freedom which only the body that has become dead to sin can sense and enjoy.
When the time comes to face the last enemy the body schooled by life-long discipline will meet death unafraid. The virtue of the indwelling Christ-life will carry the body through to a joyful resurrection.
Affectionately in Our Lord,