On Our Passing from Death unto Life

Homily offered by Father Matthew C. Dallman, Obl.S.B., for the Parish of Tazewell County on the Fourth Sunday after Easter Day, 2021

All of Eastertide have we heard the teachings of Saint John, known in Tradition both as the Evangelist and also as the Theologian, because his writings are so deeply imbued in theological fragrance. Saint John is teaching us today how we know that we have passed from death unto life. In other words, the blessed Evangelist and Theologian is teaching us how we can realize the Apostle Paul’s teaching in Romans 6—that if we have been united together in the likeness of Christ’s death, certainly we also shall be in the likeness of His resurrection. John is talking about passing from death into life—that is, participating in the Resurrection of Christ in the here and now, imperfectly but truly, as well as in the life to come after we pass through our transitory life into the next phase in Paradise, where as we grow in our love of Christ our participation is perfected.

John the Theologian says: “We know that we have passed from death unto life, because we love the brethren.” It is through loving the brethren, the very fact of our loving them, that we can know that we have passed from death unto life—that is, that we are participating in Christ’s resurrected life. His phrase “loving the brethren” means our fellow brothers and sisters in Christ. We are, of course, to love all people as well; we are to know that God dwells in them and is fighting for their hearts as he is fighting for ours; and because of this knowledge, we are to seek and serve Christ in the hearts of all people. Yet firstly, as a matter constitutive of the Christian life, we are to love our Christian brothers and sisters, learning to love them as we love ourselves—indeed, because through baptism, they are ourselves, we are members one of another in Christ; all members of the one Body of which Jesus Christ is the head. A primary task of Christians is just this: learning how to love our fellow Christians as ourselves, and this is the parish reality, for a parish whose members do not love each other certainly will not be able to evangelize to their neighbors around town. Whereas a parish whose members are united together in mutual love of Christ in each other will achieve spiritual power that will overflow into the world and pervade the neighborhood. Indeed the more we practice our love for our fellow Christian, the easier it is to love the world ruled by the Prince of Darkness.

Our Lord Jesus Christ echoes all of this when He teaches us “Because I live, ye shall live also.” Because of His resurrection we have life. Now, we are all given life through our mother’s womb; but “life” in the Christian sense has a more specific meaning. Life in the Christian sense means the light of Christ, as John says in the prologue of his Gospel: “In Him was life, and the life was the light of men.” To be alive is to be lit up by Christ—lit up by His presence, lit up by His mercy, lit up by His nearness, lit up by the Mystery of the Cross, which is at the heart of it all. Because of Christ’s resurrection, our hearts can have the light of Christ, thanks be to God. And we allow this light to shine (not that we make it shine, but that we allow the heavenly light to shine) the more we keep Christ’s commandments, meaning, the more we pray with His words, treasure His words, and abide in and live in His words. The power of the Holy Spirit through His words lights us up, lights up our heart, lights up all our being. We receive Christ, the Crucified and Risen One, through the opening of the Scriptures and the breaking of bread, by inwardly digesting our daily bread of Scripture, to warm our hearts while we are on our life’s journey, as the two disciples were on their journey to Emmaus.

The key to it all, John tells us, is the commandment of Christ. He says, “We should believe on the Name of Jesus Christ, and love one another.” We have reflected already on the necessity of practicing love upon our fellow Christians (which is what “love the brethren” means). Here also we have also the teaching about the holy Name of Jesus. Again it is an emphasis on the power of the Name of Jesus Christ. The Name of Jesus Christ must be central and fundamental to our daily prayer life. And I mean this in the most practical sense: the Name of Jesus must be constantly on our lips, constantly in our mind, constantly in our hearts. We must say with the Tax Collector, with the blind men given sight by Jesus, with Peter, with Paul, and with the other apostles, we must (the Church teaches) say the holy Name of Jesus, the Name above all other names. The apostle Paul affirms this is the way to receive most directly and most simply the Holy Spirit—to say the holy Name Jesus Christ, for in Paul’s teaching, our praying of His Name only happens through the presence of the Holy Spirit. Praying the holy Name of Jesus is how we receive the Comforter, and how we use His presence to give glory of God. Brothers and sisters, let us continue to use the prayer the Church developed for this very purpose, the Jesus Prayer, the Prayer of the Heart: Lord Jesus Christ, O Son of God, have mercy upon us. It is through this prayer that we most practically and most simply participate in the glorious resurrection of Our Lord Jesus Christ.

On Christ Destroying the Works of the Devil

Homily offered by Father Matthew C. Dallman, Obl.S.B., for the Parish of Tazewell County on the Third Sunday after Easter Day, 2021

Hope, real hope, is woven into the Easter greeting we so joyously use in this season; the greeting: “Christ is risen. He is risen indeed!” Jesus became man in order to give us this hope, this real hope—as opposed to the false hopes that so often are tempted to cling to, as the children of Israel, even as Moses was on top of the holy mountain communing on their behalf with God and receiving the Ten Commandments gave into their temptation toward false hope and fashioned an idol, the molten calf, around which they danced and sang; the people of God are ever tempted to do this very thing, to turn false hope into an idol. The real hope of Jesus Christ is ever-lasting communion with the triune God—that is, communion within the eternal community of Father, Son, and Spirit. Beholding God face to face, in the words of the Apostle Paul; and seeing Him as He is, because we have become like Him, in the teaching of S. John heard today.

The hope of Easter—the hope given only through the Resurrection of Jesus Christ, Who in dying on the Cross for our sake trampled down death by death—the hope of Easter demands our personal transformation. This is what S. John tells us today: “every person that hath this hope in Jesus purifies himself, even as He (Jesus) is pure.” In Jesus, John also adds, is no sin; yet in us is sin: and if we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us, John so memorably teaches. This is why the hope of Easter demands our personal transformation.

And this is why Jesus did what He did in becoming Man. For this purpose, John teaches, the Son of God was manifested: that He might destroy the works of the devil. And as the works of the devil are destroyed in our hearts, we are transformed more and more into the likeness of Christ. The two tests of growth in the spiritual life are a greater desire and capacity to pray, and, even more practically speaking, committing fewer sins. We commit fewer sins (and, of course, our desire and capacity for prayer increases) as the works of the devil are destroyed in our heart. The human heart is God’s chosen battleground to fight the devil, who is the prince of this world. When we commit sin, John reminds us, we are of the devil—dancing with the devil around the molten calf. But for this purpose the Son of God was manifested—for this purpose He showed forth Himself within the economy of God: His incarnation not only in human flesh, but His incarnation in the consecrated bread and wine, His Precious Body and Blood carry on His incarnation as well—that through His death He might destroy the works of the devil, all of which lead to death (whether physical, intellectual, or spiritual): all this is so His incarnation can reach fruition and completion: in our hearts.

And note how directly Saint John ties together destroying the works of the devil with Christ’s incarnation: again the verse: “For this purpose the Son of God was manifested, that He might destroy the works of the devil.” For this purpose (destroying the works of the devil) and not others, at least not primarily. The primary or main purpose of the Incarnation, John is teaching, is to engage the battle happening in our hearts: for God’s chosen battleground to fight the works of the devil is the human heart. It is not that the Son of God was manifested, that people can live in comfort; it is not that the Son of God was manifested, that people can read and write theology; it is not even, primarily, about being good people. Now, all of these might result. But these are by-products, of Christ’s chosen battle (against the works of the devil) in His chosen battleground (the human heart).

My dear brothers and sisters, our primary concern must be allowing Christ to accomplish His mission in our hearts, and asking daily, hourly, even moment to moment, for His mercy upon us. He is the good Shepherd, we are His sheep, and it is for this very reason that He laid down His life for us: that He might destroy the works of the devil in our heart, and thereby in the choices we make, and thereby in all our  lives. With God nothing is impossible, for the power of His Name makes the Devil quiver in fear.

On Our Hope in Christ’s Resurrection

Homily offered by Father Matthew C. Dallman, Obl.S.B., for the Parish of Tazewell County on Easter Day, 2021

A blessed and glorious Easter to you all. And our Easter together is blessed and glorious because as was said at the beginning of Mass in the Introit: I am risen and am present with thee, Our Lord Jesus says to us, and says to His holy Church. He is risen and present: risen, of course because He is always risen, He is the Eternal Word of God, He through Whom all things are made—yes, He is risen; but He is risen and present with us. He is not risen and gone far away; He is risen and is present to us, present with us. He is with us as we carry our cross and follow Him; He is present with us as we stumble and fall. Through His guiding Hand we are able to stand up and carry on in the struggle, and do so with joy: often quiet joy, through the chances and changes of this life, but joy nonetheless. His very Name means “God with us”: Emmanuel. And He spoke to Moses at the Burning Bush and revealed His Name: “I am,” so did Jesus say to Mary Magdalene at the tomb; so did Jesus say to the disciples along the way to Emmaus: He said to them and to us: “I am.” He says this so we can say with Job: “I know that my Redeemer liveth.”

And so it is because He is risen, and it is because He is present with us, that we on the Easter Day, the Sunday of the Resurrection, are given access to hope. Through Christ and His glorious Resurrection, true Christian hope is attainable: for Christian hope is to live with confidence in newness and fullness of life, awaiting day by the day the coming of Christ in glory and the completion of God’s purpose in the world. This Christian understanding of hope is the Easter message, as it flows directly from Our Lord’s Resurrection, from Our Lord’s passage through death, going before us—even trampling down death by death; with His death destroying death itself, destroying its power over us, and taking away any need to fear death: for by His rising to life again in our hearts He has won for us everlasting life, and what can give more hope than that?

Christians, from the first, are a practical people. The Easter message is hope given through Christ’s Resurrection, yet the practical question remains: Yes, but how? And the how of Easter hope is shown in the accounts of the Gospel by the holy evangelists, and from their accounts the question “how?” is seen to have three practical answers: the first is Faith, the second is Scripture, and the third is Sacraments. It is through Faith, Scripture, and the Sacraments that the promise of hope through the Resurrection of Jesus is realized.

Faith we see in the early morning of the first Easter, in the example of Saint Mary Magdalene. It is her faith that brings her to the tomb in the first place—faith in the honor and reverence due to the Body of Jesus, which she thinks is still laying the tomb. And because of her faith, she sees the stone rolled away from the tomb: rolled away not so Jesus can escape, but so that we (with Mary Magdalene) might enter in to the Mystery of Jesus. And in her discovery of the empty tomb, and her hearing angels speak of Christ’s Resurrection, and then meeting the Gardener who after speaking Mary’s name is revealed as Jesus Himself, we see Mary’s faith rewarded with the saving presence of Jesus which transforms Mary’s heart and empowers her apostleship. Faith always comes first.

What feeds our faith is exactly what fed the two disciples on the road to Emmaus. We see faith in them—imperfect faith that was clouded with misunderstanding of Jesus, but still an active relationship with Jesus and a desire for Him. To remedy their imperfect faith, Christ fed them Himself through the Scriptures, expounding unto them in all the scriptures the things concerning Himself. It is the Scripture that feeds us, feeds our faith, and corrects our faith—and this is done through the Liturgy day by day in the Office, Sunday by Sunday and Holy Day by Holy Day in the Mass, and then through our personal devotion to Scripture, carrying into our study of Scripture the Holy Name of Our Lord Jesus Christ, Son of the Living God.

And, likewise, what feeds our scriptural faith are the Sacraments—specifically Baptism and Eucharist. Baptism—as in the words of Archbishop of Canterbury Michael Ramsey: the life of a Christian is a continual reflection upon the fact of our Baptism; and Eucharist, because Our Lord became Flesh, became the heavenly bread, that in our receiving of Him in Holy Communion, He might dwell among us, dwelling in our heart, and feeding our heart’s transformation.

Brothers and sisters: the Easter message is Hope, only through Christ’s Resurrection: and this message let us receive through our Faith, which yearns and desires deeper relationship with Jesus; and through the opening of Scripture and breaking of bread, which reveals Him as the Crucified and Risen One, the very Jesus Who draws our hearts to Him, that He might burn within our heart. 

Homily: “On Christ Ascended to the Father”

Offered by Father Matthew Dallman, Obl.S.B., for the Parish of Tazewell County on the Sunday after the Ascension, 2019

Our focus throughout the season of Easter has been upon our participation in the resurrection of Christ. We have sought to reflect upon the words of our liturgy—“that He may dwell in us, and we in Him”—so that these words become meaningful words. After all, Saint Paul teaches that we are to understand our selves—our deepest identities, our most real identities—as united with Him in a death like His, that likewise we are united with Him in a resurrection like His. Our identity is a “resurrection identity.” The resurrected and glorious Body of Jesus dwells in us, and we dwell in His Body resurrected and ascended to the Right Hand of the Father. And because we dwell in Christ, and He is with the Father—we dwell in this very moment with the Father Almighty, the maker of all things, seen and unseen, and have since our baptism. This is the message of our gospel today: “Thou, Father, art in me, and I in thee, that they also may be in us.” The power that made all of creation not only made us, but indeed works through us.

In the New Testament, the Greek word for “body” is “soma.” And “soma” in the New Testament, including in the letters of Saint Paul, primarily means “a way of being,” or “a way of existing.” In order to teach the Church—the Church of the men and women apostles as well as the Church of today—about our participation in His Body, Our Lord Jesus progressively revealed the nature of His resurrected Body—that is, the nature of His resurrected “way of being”—over the course of the forty days after Saint Mary Magdalene first recognized Him on Easter morning. Jesus in His resurrected and glorious Body is first unrecognizable as compared with his mortal body. His voice is unrecognizable until He speaks our name; His face unseen until He breaks open bread to the two disciples in Emmaus; His abundance is not received until our own efforts to help ourselves are spent. He is not perceived without burning inward desire to see Him, a true need to have Him, and He will not be recognized unless one yearns for peace that passes all understanding.

Over the course of the forty days, He revealed Himself in His resurrected Body—His resurrected “way of being”—quite intentionally and perfectly. Why? It was so that in recognizing His “way of being,” He could be imitated, and being imitated by the Church, He—His Body of love, peace, and redemption—then could be shared with the world. “Blessed are those who have not seen, and yet believed” He spoke to Saint Thomas after showing him His wounds. Through our prayer and obedience, Jesus forms us to be able to be His Face in the world—that when the world sees our faces, they see Jesus; all so that the Love Jesus shows us, we then show to others.

Homily: “On Receiving Christ Resurrected”

Offered by Father Matthew Dallman, Obl.S.B., for the Parish of Tazewell County on the Sixth Sunday of Easter, 2019

I have had one occasion when a teacher of mine has become a true friend. In all such occasions, the relationship (if we had much of one at all, and of course sometimes we do not, and that is perfectly fine) never moved beyond teacher and student. With many teachers I have had a cordiality, a certain friendliness. But we, with one exception, did not become true friends. And by “true friend,” I mean that in the traditional sense: friendship not of utility (what you do when you both happen to be in the same place for a stretch of time), not of pleasure (based on shared emotions that come but pass away), but of friendship based on deep love for each other, each seeking to bring out the best in the other. This is a selfless kind of friendship, and yet it is also the kind of friendship where you may go long stretches of time between conversations, years even, and yet the moment you both talk again, the bond between the two immediately returns, along with the selflessness.

The what is called the “farewell discourse” of Jesus captured by Saint John in chapters fourteen through seventeen of his Gospel, from which our gospel passage today is extracted, Jesus says, “No longer do I call you servants, for the servant does not know what his master is doing; but I have called you friends, for all that I have heard from my Father I have made known to you.” This is not friendship of utility or pleasure. His friendship to us is of the most profound kind, so profound as to pass our understanding and exceed our desire. He always has our best in mind, He always sees us for our best selves. He sees us even for our heavenly selves; for although we have not yet passed through our chronological existence of time and space, Jesus sees us beyond our time and space selves. And like a true friend would do and give anything to help his or her true friend in time of need, Jesus would do anything to help us toward salvation—and indeed He has, by taking our flesh and giving of Himself on the Cross, to redeem humanity and justify us to be able to receive forgiveness as much as our repentant selves might need to be forgiven.

The recognition of the presence of Jesus in His resurrected and glorified Body was a progressive recognition. Although Jesus is always presence, and we can go nowhere to escape the presence and eyes of God, the purpose of His life and death was not to make Himself present (which He always was, is, and will be) but available—that is, able to be recognized. And being recognized, thereby received. An analogy with the natural world might be helpful: trees and plants need nitrogen in the soil. But pouring liquid nitrogen near a bush will do nothing for its growth, despite the necessity of nitrogen. Nitrogen given to the bush, if it is going to be helpful, is presented in a way that it can be received, through the fertilizer formula. God’s presence is everywhere and in all places, but like a bush, to receive His presence through recognizing it demands careful preparation on the part of the Gardener.

Jesus is our Gardener, as He was to Mary Magdalene, and His life and death on the Cross is the preparation for His friends to be able to receive Him after His death. For three years, He taught them so that they could recognize the invisible: recognize His words; recognize His gestures; recognize the marks of His presence and the great works of His holy Being. The prophet Joel speaks of recognizing God through the wilderness being green, the tree bearing fruit, the fig tree and vine giving full yield—through the early and late rain, and through receiving back what is lost. Our first hymn today, a favorite of many of us, especially us of British descent, speaks of recognizing Him through the little flower that opens, each little bird that sings. He gave us eyes to see them for the greatness of God’s actions through their very being, their existence.

This is the sacramental principle of creation. The lush wilderness, the yielding trees, the rains, the flowers and birds, and all the rest of God’s creatures—because He made them and all things are His creatures. They are visible signs of grace perceived inwardly and spiritually—that is to say, received inwardly and spiritually. And the same holds for the voice that calls our name, the stranger who meets us to discuss God, the woundedness people allow us to see, and the miraculous abundance, whether 153 fish or the birth of a child, we enjoy not of ourselves but from a mysterious source, which of course is God.

The recognition of the early Church in the days after the mighty Resurrection but before the glorious Ascension were days when the Church was gaining new eyes—the eyes of faith—eyes that allowed them to perceive Jesus in His resurrected and glorious Body, and begin to be able to see Him—that is perceive Him with the eyes of faith—everywhere and in all places. That fact came firmly with the Ascension—the purpose of the Ascension is to teach His presence is no longer strictly local, but in some sense both local and universal at the same time. But let us see that for Him to dwell in us, and we in Him takes eyes of faith, and a heart that keeps the words of Christ, pondering them like Mary pondered. Let us see that to become not present—because He is always present—but recognizable was the task Jesus had in the days after His resurrection. And let us see as well that Our Lord accomplished His task, because the early Church, first confused and perplexed, because full of joy, became full of grace, because like Mary always was, and did so only through the grace of her Son, our Lord, Jesus Christ.

On the Resurrection of Our Lord Jesus Christ

Offered by Father Matthew Dallman, Obl.S.B., for the Parish of Tazewell County on Easter Day, 2019

It was the women who had come with Jesus from Galilee who went into the tomb. The stone was rolled away, but they did not find the body. What they found was new and utterly unfamiliar. And they were perplexed. And why wouldn’t they be? The mystery of their Master, their and our loving Lord Jesus Christ, took yet another turn. Jesus had lived and taught in such mystery—always confronting His followers with their own shadows, yet confronting always with love and presence that to not follow Him felt empty and wrong. It was the women who treasured and kept and abided in the words of Jesus—the women before the men for the most part.

They had been taught, it seems, by Our Lord’s most blessed and chaste Mother: Mary, who was named by the angel full of grace. She too was perplexed when she was confronted by God’s truth: that He had made her the fullness of grace, and that she, who had known no man, would conceive in her womb and bear a son, and would call His name Jesus—He who would reign over the house of Jacob for ever, and of Whose kingdom there shall be no end—that she would be the Mother of Son of God. At hearing this she was greatly troubled, we are told by Saint Luke. She too had entered into the new and utterly unfamiliar, a mystery of the same order as the cave on Easter Sunday morning.

Since then the Church has been imprinted with this pattern which we have learned from God: when we are confronted by His presence, He very well might manifest Himself in the new and utterly unfamiliar. In some sense, this should be how we expect God to come to us—expecting, it seems, the unexpected, but also expecting to be perplexed, even troubled, and to have to grapple with something we feel ill-equipped to handle.

What we should never be is scared; because we are always in God’s hand, and He is ever-watching over His flock like the Good Shepherd. Our job is to be faithful as God works the newness of His creation through His Son and through us. Our job is to be faithful: faithful in prayer and worship, in giving of ourselves to God and His Church, in giving of ourselves to others, for God lives in all those who are made in His image—and all people are made in His image, and so we are to give ourselves to whomever God calls us to serve, and do so with the joyful action of love.

God so loved the world that He gave His only-begotten Son—that in giving Him to us on the Cross, we might be taught what true humility looks like: for our loving Lord Jesus is for all times the sacrament of humility, even so in the way we receive Him today in the most ordinary form of bread and wine: ordinary, simple, accessible: so humble as to be vulnerable, for we so easily forget that He is always with us in the Tabernacle. He became so vulnerable in His humility that He allows Himself to be forgotten in the Tabernacle, where He rests all but two days of the year.

Brothers and sisters, let us continue to remember Him as He rests in perfect peace in our Tabernacle, consecrating this space as sacred, heavenly—everywhere there is a Tabernacle with the Blessed Sacrament, there is the holy land, there is the new Jerusalem. Remembering our Lord allows us to be formed by Him. This was the first teaching given to the women early on that first Easter Sunday morning: remember. Remember the words of Jesus, remember what He told you, remember—in other words, keep all the words of Our Lord in our heart, treasuring them, pondering them, like  Blessed Mary taught the early Church to do.

Brothers and sisters, it is a blessed Easter! Our Lord—truth Himself, truth incarnate—has overcome the sharpness of death, and has did open the kingdom of heaven to all believers. He opened the tomb not so that He could get out, but so that we might enter in: entering in by faith in Him, abiding in His words, that we might dwell in Him, and He in us. And abiding in us, fill us with hope, with peace, and with direction. He told the women to proclaim the Resurrection to the men. Let us be so emboldened to proclaim the Resurrection of Jesus Christ in our loving actions of accompanying the lonely—that the joy of Christ may be in their hearts. Amen.

Homily: “On the Good Shepherd”

Offered by Father Matthew Dallman, Obl.S.B., for the Parish of Tazewell County on the Fourth Sunday of Easter, 2018.

There have been not a few Sundays when in commenting about the Collect of the Day, I pointed out how old and ancient the Collect was. We have Collects in our Anglican tradition as old and venerable as any of the historic Christian traditions. It is not uncommon for us to be able to say that such and such Collect is, say, one thousand four hundred years old. So because I have in the pointed out such facts in the past, I feel a bit of responsibility to report that our Collect for this week is not one of those. It is all of about thirty nine years old, because it came with the new revision of the Book of Common Prayer in 1979. My gosh, it is younger than I am.

Nonetheless, despite its brevity, it is a Collect soaked in the Sacred Scriptures. Read more “Homily: “On the Good Shepherd””

Homily: “On Micah’s Prophecy of Peace”

Offered by Father Matthew Dallman, Obl.S.B., for the Parish of Tazewell County on the Third Sunday of Easter, 2018.

In beginning our third week of living into the one day of Easter Sunday—living into its transcendent mystery—we continue to survey how the early Church began to see Jesus Christ in His glorified Body. We do that so that we can participate in the wonder and awe of Our Lord’s resurrection. The consequences of the Passover of Jesus from death to life are nothing short of outrageous. It is like a whole mountain range dropped into the ocean—waves and ripples everywhere in all directions of reality. The resurrection of Jesus washes the whole world with grace—nothing is left out, everything changes. But it is not a change in physical appearance. Rather it is a change in meaning, with new depths of meaning revealed and broken open for the People of God. The Resurrection of Jesus is first and foremost a religious event—and being a religious event, it is experienced through prayer and with the eyes of faith: eyes that see into the depths because God has opened them to us. Read more “Homily: “On Micah’s Prophecy of Peace””

Homily: “On Firm and Certain Faith”

Offered by Father Matthew Dallman, Obl.S.B., for the Parish of Tazewell County on the Second Sunday of Easter, 2018.

It is not the easiest passage in the Sacred Scriptures to contemplate, but the passage from the Book of Isaiah is a very important one, which is why it is provided for our prayer today. “Open the gates,” Isaiah begins. He is dreaming about the future: a future kept by God, a future where peace is the way of life—a future built on confident trust in the Lord God as an everlasting rock. In the words of one Old Testament scholar, this passage is called Isaiah’s “song of the redeemed.” The vision celebrated in this song foresees a future in which the fortunes of the present will be reversed: the mighty will be brought low. It will celebrate Jerusalem, the strong city of God that has withstood the enemy and encloses the faithful. Read more “Homily: “On Firm and Certain Faith””