This Second Sunday in Lent finds your humble devotionalist rather under-weathered, and not capable of extended exegetical discourse.
For this Sunday, let me bring to your attention a fine resource for classical Anglicanism: Lectionary Central.
The restless confusion that is modern Anglicanism is in part the loss of the Anglican mind: that shaping of heart, soul, and mind found in the classic Scripture-shaped worship and reading-patterns of the Book of Common Prayer. The busybody liturgical elves have played merry old havoc with worship, hymns, and theology since the 1960s, and now most of us have been infected with the liturgical fidgets, and worship-tastes. Furthermore, it is easier to understand some of the rascals of the current scene, if you see what their modern worship is like: sin-lite, theology-shallow, creed-optional, heaven-on-earth by-and-by.
After all, the older lectionaries are those in part reaching back to Gregory the Great, and before, and known to Chrystostom and Augustine and onwards; this is the pattern that helped form Luther, Hooker, The Wesleys, C.S. Lewis, John Stott, Austin Farrer, J.I. Packer, and so many of the great Anglican preachers and thinkers including those of the past century.
Its more than ironic, then, that in all our calls for renewal and orthodoxy within self-described traditional Anglican circles, that the undermining of these proven foundations is too often taken for granted, and even forgotten. Our rot is in part spiritual, scriptural, and liturgical, and no dose of Primates or jurisdictions or church-shopping can make us truly whole. In particular the North American Prayer Book Societies have sought to help us restore the holy patterns, the theological and scriptural foundations of the Anglican Way, and remember what we are in danger of forgetting and not passing on to our Anglican descendants.
For the Second Sunday in Lent, please accept this offering of a sermon by the Revd Canon Dr. Robert Crouse, one of Canadian Anglicanisms finest preachers and theologians, and a teacher for many clergy and students down the years.
A Sermon for the Second
Sunday in Lent
(The text is the story of the Canaanite woman, the Gospel lesson for today.)
If you look through the Gospel lessons for the season of Lent, you will notice that they are much concerned with the casting out or devils, beginning with the story of Jesus own temptations in last Sundays Gospel. They are mostly stories of the miracles of Jesus-miracles of healing and miracles of nutriment; and looked at as a series, they present in an orderly and logical fashion, the message at Lent.
Briefly stated, that is a message of reformation - our reformation through the power and presence of God in Christ, triumphing over our perversities (that is to say, our devils), and giving us new life through the nutriment of his word. Consider how all that is shown in the Gospel lessons: first, we see Jesus in contest with the devil who presents all the forms of this worlds temptations. By divine power, by the sustenance of every word of God, he triumphs. Behold, angels came, and ministered unto him.
Today, we have the story of the Canaanite woman and the healing of her daughter. This story speaks of our own participation in Jesus triumph. Well look at some detail of the story in a moment; for now, just notice that she is a Canaanite. That is to say, she is a foreigner, alien from the commonwealth of God. She stands for us, in our perversity. But with humility and trust, she sees the grace of God in Christ, and comes to share the blessings of his kingdom.
Next Sundays Gospel speaks of devils cast out by the finger of God, and of the house of the soul, swept and garnished. The casting out of devils, it seems, is not enough. The unclean spirit taketh to him seven other spirits more wicked than himself, and they enter in and dwell there: the clean and empty house is not enough.
Therefore, the Fourth Sundays Gospel will tell us of the nutriment which fills our emptiness: it is the story of Jesus, feeding of the multitude in the wilderness. And then the lesson for the Fifth Sunday speaks of the nature of the new life, the new condition of soul to which Lents purification and nourishment should bring us: Ye know that the princes of the Gentiles exercise dominion over them, and they that are great exercise authority upon them. It shall not be so among you: but whosoever will be great among you, let him be your minister; and whosoever will be chief among you, let him be your servant: even as the Son of Man came not to be ministered unto, but to minister, and to give his life a ransom for many.
Thus, the purification and nutriment of Lent are to bring us to that life of charity which the lessons of Quinquagesima proclaimed; and thus we are prepared to look upon and celebrate the Passion and Resurrection of Our Lord.
That is the general pattern and logic of our Lenten Gospels. Within that pattern, todays story of the Canaanite woman has its place, and we should examine it more closely.
First of all, it is a miracle story. Weve often spoken of the meaning of Jesus miracles, and I wont say much about that point this morning: only to remind you, that the miracles are always signs, symbolic acts. They are rather like the parables, stories that have a hidden, symbolic meaning. Sometimes in the Gospels, Jesus explains a parable. With the parable of the Sower, for instance, he explains: the seed is the word of God. And sometimes he explains a miracle, as, for instance the Feeding of the
Multitude. It is a symbolic act; it means, he says, that he is the true bread, the word of God. The miracles are always signs, symbolic acts.
In todays story, the petitioner is a Canaanite woman. That detail is itself symbolic: it means to say that she is as far as possible from having any claim upon the childrens bread, any natural right in the nation of Israel, the commonwealth of God. But she comes in humility and trust: the little dogs , she says, those who have no rights eat of the crumbs which fall from their maters table. And the grace of God, altogether unmerited by any natural claim, is not withheld: O woman, great is thy
faith; be it unto thee as thou wilt. This Canaanite woman is the symbol of all of us, who have no natural claim upon Gods favour. Jesus gift to her stands for the free, unmerited grace of God.
Jesus gift is the gift of wholeness. This is a healing miracle, and the healing itself is richly symbolic. The healing miracles are, I think, most subject to literalistic misunderstanding. People sometimes think the meaning is that, if you have faith, you shouldnt get sick, or that faith should eliminate all worldly ills - heal the sick and raise the dead. But that is not the point at all. Certainly, God makes miracles, when he wills and as he wills; but we have no reason to suppose that God wills that we
should live forever in comfort and security in some kind of earthly paradise.
That is not the point. The miracles are symbolic acts; and the miracles of healing are signs of Gods power to make our spirits whole; Gods power to rebuke the demons of our perversities, and cast them out. The wholeness of the spirit is the wisdom to accept Gods will, and triumph over this worlds ills, even over death. The physical healings in the Gospel miracles are signs of that grace of God which makes us whole, which uplifts the spirit to see in both sorrow and joy, in both pain and pleasure;. in both death and life, in both Passion and Resurrection, the purposes of God.
Richard Baxter, a great 17th century Puritan divine, says it beautifully:
Lord, it belongs not to my care / whether I die or live
To love and serve thee is my share / And this thy grace must give
If life be long, O make me glad / The longer to obey:
If short, no labourer is sad / To end his toilsome day.
Christ leads me through no darker rooms / Than he went through before;
He that unto Gods kingdom comes / Must enter by that door.
God owes us no miracles, but he gives us the best of all miracles; the
miracle of himself: and so we come, in humility and trust, to our Masters