THE TRUE PURPOSE OF LENT
BY THE BISHOP
delivered in the
CATHEDRAL OF ST. JOHN THE DIVINE
Transcribed by Wayne Kempton
Archivist and Historiographer of the Diocese of New York, 2014
Once again we are called to keep the great season of Lent, which leads up to Good Friday and Easter with their stupendous and Divine Message. And I give you this morning as a text some words of St. Peter in his Second Epistle which express exactly the true purpose of Lent. These are St. Peter's words to us as we begin our Lent--"But grow in grace, and in the knowledge of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. To Him be glory both now and forever."
Lent calls us to greater faithfulness in our lives in the Church, to greater sincerity in prayer and worship, to the renewal and strengthening of our faith in Christ, to greater reality in our lives as Christians. To sum it up in a sentence, the purpose of Lent is to make the Lord Jesus Christ, where He now is at the Right Hand of God, more real to us. St. Peter tells us that we are to "grow in grace and in the knowledge of Our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ," and to give glory to Him both now and forever.
There are some who seem, strangely, to think that the Mission of the Christian Church is to discuss and debate whether the Incarnation is a reality, whether the Gospel of the New Testament is true, and whether the Lord Jesus ever really Rose from the dead and Ascended into Heaven. That attitude toward the Gospel has never converted a single soul to Christ and it has weakened the faith of a great many. The Mission of the Christian Church--the work that the Christian Church is commanded and commissioned to do--is to preach the Divine Gospel of Christ, the Gospel as it is in the New Testament, the Gospel of Christ Who is now the Head of His Church, with the same faith, [3/4] the same realization of its tremendous truth, the same boldness and conviction as that with which St. Paul and the whole New Testament preach it. And what faith and devotion and sincerity this calls for in those of us who are Ministers of the Church.
As Bishop of this Diocese, I ask you who are here in the Cathedral, and all our clergy and people to keep in mind this Lent two vital and essential facts.
First. The Christian Religion is not philosophy. The Christian Religion brings us the noblest and most convincing truth about human life that the mind and soul of man can conceive, but it is far greater than a mere human philosophy. And the Christian Religion is not Economics or Politics. It has its relation to these things and to everything in human life, but it is far greater than these things. The Christian Religion--here is the first and supreme fact always to be kept in view--the Christian Religion is personal faith in the Lord Jesus--a personal, conscious, relationship with Christ which is to guide, and inspire, and control, all our thoughts and acts and all our relationships with our fellow men. Lent is to bring us face to face with our Risen and Ascended Lord in all the wonder of His true Godhead and His true manhood. The question which Lent brings to all of us who call ourselves Christians is this--Is the Lord Jesus Christ at the Right Hand of God a reality to us? And are our prayers to Him a reality?
And the second great essential fact which I ask you and all our clergy and people to keep in mind this Lent is this--It is the Church which brings us into this personal relationship with the Lord Jesus, and it is the Church which, [4/5] if we are faithful to her teachings, keeps us in conscious relationship with Him. This is what the Church is for. This is what Our Lord founded and commissioned the Church for--to be the pledge, and the means, and the visible assurance, of His Own continuing presence and work among us. This is what our Baptism means, living relationship with the Lord Jesus. This is what our Confirmation means, strengthened relationship with the Lord Jesus. This is what the Holy Communion means, personal communion with the Lord Jesus. This is what the Holy Catholic Church and everything in it means, and has meant, through all its life and history from the time of Our Lord and His Apostles. Through prayer, and worship, and sacrament, the Church, if we are faithful and sincere in using the Divinely-given means of grace which she offers, keeps us in conscious relation with the Lord Jesus at the Right Hand of God.
But if we are to believe in the Divine Message of the Gospel and in the Divine Mission of the Church we must believe fully in Him Who is the Living Head of the Church, the Lord Jesus Himself where He lives and reigns with the Father and the Holy Ghost, One God, now and forever.
And so with these two great facts in mind I ask all of you this Lent to give thought and study to two books especially--your New Testament, and your Prayer Book. You will see in your New Testament what Our Lord Himself says, and does, about His Church and the Great Commission which He gives to the Church to preach and baptize and bring people in all the world into fellowship with Him. You will see how St. Paul [5/6] almost exhausts language as he strives to make us see the wonder and the meaning of the Church. The New Testament tells us that it is Christ Himself--the Ascended and Glorified Christ--Who ministers to us and through His Church. You will see, if you take in the meaning of the New Testament teaching, that the Gospel includes the Church and that the Church is an integral and essential part of the Gospel. Without the Church, the Gospel would be inoperative and incomplete. It is to the Church that Our Lord gives His command and His commission to carry His Gospel into effect, to carry Him and His power and Love to all men everywhere.
And as you study your Prayer Book you will see, if you take in the meaning of its words, that the Prayer Book teaches and proclaims from cover to cover, not only in the Ordination Offices but in all its worship and in all its teaching, this tremendous truth of the Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic Church, the Church which Christ Himself founded and commissioned, the Church of which He spoke when He said "Upon this rock I will build my Church," the Church to which He said "Go ye therefore and teach all nations baptizing them in the Name of the Father and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost . . . and, lo, I am with you alway, even unto the end of the world."
It is this belief in the Church which we declare every time we stand before God's Altar and say in the Apostles Creed "I believe in the Holy Catholic Church." This is the reason that, as a Church, we must stand faithfully and unwaveringly for the Apostolic Faith, the Apostolic Sacraments, and the Apostolic Ministry, not merely because these things are ancient, [6/7] or venerable,--that would not be sufficient reason--but because they belong to the life of the Divinely Constituted and Commissioned Church and are the Divinely appointed means to bring us and all men to Christ. And it is the simple fact--we cannot but recognize it--that where men lose their hold on the great Truth of the Divinely Commissioned Church and the Divinely appointed Ministry and Sacraments, they tend, only too often, towards loss of faith in Christ as God and in His Gospel as a Divine Revelation. Great numbers of people to-day are feeling the need of more definite help and of greater reality in their religious lives. This help is given to us in the clear Scriptural teaching of the Prayer Book. It is by standing faithful and true, by bearing our steadfast witness for the Scriptural and Historic Truth of the Holy Catholic Church so nobly declared and expressed in our Prayer Book, that, as a Church, we shall do our part for Christ our Lord, for the coming of a true Church Unity, and for the whole cause of Christ's Religion in this world. And so I beg all of you, this Lent, to study earnestly your New Testament and your Prayer Book. If you will do this you will see that the true purpose of Lent, and the one great purpose of the Church is to bring men and women, to bring all of us, nearer to the Lord Jesus Himself, to strengthen our faith in Him, to deepen our love for Him, to bring us nearer to Him in thought, in prayer, and in daily life.
May these tremendous days in which we are living rouse all of us to renewed and strengthened belief in the Divine Message of the Gospel and in the Divine Mission of the Church.