Locust Street Letters
By Frank Lawrence Vernon
Philadelphia: St. Mark's Church, Locust Street.
ST. MARK'S, PHILADELPHIA.
THE FOURTH SUNDAY IN LENT, 1938.
MY DEAR PEOPLE:
This Fourth Sunday in Lent marks Mid-Lent. It is called Refreshment Sunday. The Gospel for the day records the miraculous feeding of the five thousand. This is the note of refreshment. The Epistle ends with, "So then brethren, we are not children of the bondwoman, but of the free." Here we have the note of freedom. The Collect is a prayer for comfort. These are the encouragements sent to us, to inspire us with perseverance. Refreshment, freedom, comfort are welcome words for meditation.
Refreshment. A great multitude had followed Our Lord up into a mountain. Our Lord had taken His disciples with Him, seeking retirement and rest. But the multitude had followed Him because they saw His miracles which He did on them that were diseased. "When Jesus then lifted up His eyes and saw a great company come unto Him, He saith unto Philip, whence shall we buy bread that they may eat? And this He said to prove him: for he himself knew what he would do." We know what He did. He fed them miraculously.
As we read the whole chapter, the Sixth of Saint John, we see that the miracle served as a preparation for the instruction on the living bread. "I am the living bread which came down from heaven: if any man eat of this bread, he shall live forever: and the bread that I will give is my flesh, which I will give for the life of the world."
Our minds turn from the scene on the mountain to the familiar scene of a modern church. We recall the picture of the Altar, and the people kneeling be-fore it. We have our place in this company. Like the ancient multitude we moderns have our longings. But we know what the ancients did not know. We know about the super-substantial bread, the spiritual food of the most precious Body and Blood of our Saviour Jesus Christ. We have found out for ourselves the miraculous refreshment which Our Lord gives in Holy Communion to all who travail and are heavy laden. As we remember the years since our first Communion, we may make a long list of refreshments for which we most heartily thank Our Lord.
Freedom. We know something about freedom also. We have fought our battles for freedom in many a fierce temptation. We have become well convinced that "we wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness in high places."
We have wondered often in a puzzled, confused, frightened state of mind, how and why the pressures brought upon us were so relentless. How much has been due to heredity? Is environment inescapable? Is temperament unconquerable? Must we really be bondservants? Is there anywhere an obtainable freedom, at some price, at any price? It may be that most of you, or many of you, have never been driven to this extremity. But believe me there are many, more perhaps that you know, who have been driven as far. To them, wherever they are, the Epistle for this day rings out the battle cry of freedom. "Brethren we are not the children of the bondwoman, but of the free." The glorious liberty of the children of God is ours. That liberty was bought upon a hill called Calvary.
Comfort. We have learned the meaning of this word. How long did it take to learn that comfort does not mean minimizing tribulations but the giving of strength to bear them? A long time perhaps. So long that we may say that it has taken a life time.
The tribulations referred to in the Collect are the tribulations of penitents. The penitent has begun to lament his sins worthily and to acknowledge his wretchedness, when he acknowledges that he deserves to be punished. He has begun to have the faith which is the complement of repentance, when he turns to God and prays for strength to make use of all tribulations as means of expiation and reparation.
It is at this point that he is mercifully relieved. With strength through grace he is enabled to suffer the loss of all things, that he may win Christ. He has become a joyful penitent. He has found refreshment, freedom and comfort.
Affectionately in Our Lord,