On Passion Sunday

Homily offered by Father Matthew C. Dallman, Obl.S.B., for the Parish of Tazewell County on the Fifth Sunday in Lent, 2021

We have come in the cycle of the Liturgy to the penultimate week before Great Easter, and the week prior to Holy Week, both of which encapsulate and make possible our participation in the most central realities of Christian identity. Here I refer to what the Church anciently has called the “Paschal Mystery”—Our Lord Jesus’s Passover from death to life: His Passion, Crucifixion, Death, Entombment, Resurrection, and Ascension. Enfolded into the Paschal Mystery is the Last Supper in the Upper Room and Our Lord’s institution of two Sacraments—the Eucharist and Holy Orders.

But today we are in the penultimate week, which since 1979 and the introduction of the new Prayer Book has called “the Fifth Sunday in Lent,” but which traditionally is called (and in many quarters of the western Church still is) “Passion Sunday.” The traditional Lenten pattern is four Sundays (which culminates in Mothering Sunday, the Sunday of rejoicing) then the fifth (today) which is Passion Sunday, and then Holy Week—that’s Lent, which culminates itself with Easter which begins on Saturday in the Great Vigil and continues both into the Sunday as well as the next forty days until the Ascension, which reaches its culmination at the Coming of the Holy Ghost in Pentecost. Passion Sunday itself serves as a pivot point where our focus turns from our identity as a sinner (that is, our identity as people who are always in need of a savior) which is the first Lenten emphasis, to the second Lenten focus which is Our Lord and specifically His Passion.

To say all of this and to think on it all rather takes one’s breath away. These next weeks present to us one profound mystery after another—mystery upon mystery, mystery within mystery. It is in these next weeks that so many of the events, episodes, actions, and teachings of Jesus are encountered that truly help us to understand Paul’s emphasis that God also hath highly exalted Jesus, and given Him a name which is above every name—the holy Name Jesus, a name that means “saviour.”

Preparing us for the coming whirlwind of revelation is the purpose of Passion Sunday, and we see that even in our Collect: that through it all, we ask God that our hearts may surely be fixed where true joys are to be found. And where must this be but upon Jesus, His Passion, His Cross? Everything of reality and the proper understanding of reality hinges upon our understanding, our interpretation, of Jesus, His Passion, and His Cross. So much so that Our Lord taught that unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit. It is so marvelous that Our Lord had such compassion upon us that He would present so profound a mystery in such an ordinary and accessible metaphor: for grains of wheat must die before these can be ground into flour to able to become the heavenly bread of the Eucharist. Our Lord constantly taught His disciples that in order for Him to enter into His glory he must first die: but here He shows us that the glory that comes after His death is a glory we receive in our bodies in the Eucharist, a glory that feeds us, emboldens us, and transforms us.

It was for this purpose that He came to the hour of His Passion—that His Name, the holy and unfathomable Name of Jesus would be glorified as the Name above all names. It was for this purpose that He took upon Him our vesture, our flesh—that His Name would be glorified. It was for this purpose that He gave His life and He would be lifted up from the earth on the Cross—that His Name would be glorified among those drawn to Him, that His glory would be made known each and every time His Holy Name is uttered, spoken, and prayed. And it was for this purpose that He suffered—to show the purpose of suffering to His people, the purpose of which is learning obedience: which means for us, learning how to listen to God in times of suffering, learning how to trust God in times of suffering, and learning how to praise God in times of suffering—and learning through our suffering how Jesus Christ is the source of eternal salvation to all who obey Him.

Homily: “On the Baptism of Our Lord Jesus Christ”

Offered by Father Matthew Dallman for the Parish of Tazewell County on the Solemnity of the Baptism of Our Lord Jesus Christ 2017, Year A.

Brothers and sisters, we have seen a great light, and on us and the whole Church has a great light shined. For to us a Child is born, to us a Son of God is given. He has been given for the salvation of all men, He has poured Himself out richly upon us. Think of what has been revealed to us through the Liturgy and the biblical revelation over the last two months: babes leapt in wombs, the mute and dumb sang joyously, souls have proclaimed the greatness of the Lord. Angels we have heard on high, shepherds and wise men have come to see the Child, and been shown the Child by His Mother, indeed the Mother of God, who bore God in her heart before she bore Him in her womb, a Mother of God who has felt and seen glory inexpressible. And the Holy Name of this Child has been revealed—Jesus, He who saves, He who loves, He who forgives, He around whom the stars and planets and moons arrange, He by whom lives are changed, journeys reordered, hearts opened. All that has been revealed to us is wonder and awe. All that has been revealed cannot but soften the hardest of hearts, cannot but loosen the tightest of fears, cannot but open closed doors. And through these glorious seasons of Advent, Christmastide, and now into the season of Epiphany, what have we done but sing? What have we done but pray together in joy and hope? What have we done but reminisce of the Spirit’s presence in our lives, in our families, in our homes? What have we done but savor the holy? Read more “Homily: “On the Baptism of Our Lord Jesus Christ””

Homily: “On the Holy Name, the Mother of God, and the Circumcision”

Offered by Father Matthew Dallman for the Parish of Tazewell County on the Solemnity of the Holy Name of Our Lord Jesus Christ, 2017.

The Father of all of creation, of all that is, seen and unseen, has given His only begotten Son, the Second Person of the Holy Trinity, the holy Name of Jesus. This holy Name is for us the sign of our salvation. And what a wondrous Name Jesus is! Look at all that it includes: Jesus means Lord, both merciful and gracious; a Lord slow to anger, abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness; Jesus means forgiveness and yet firm in right and wrong; Jesus means holiness, yet a Name that demands obedience—that is, demands our deepest listening; it is a Name that means wonderful counselor, Prince of Peace, Mighty God, Everlasting Father. It is a Name that echoes in all the joyful noises made by infants and children. It is a Name that means oil poured out.

The Holy Name of Jesus includes all this, and more, and yet it also transcends our ability to define this Name. When anything is praised, the most truest and profound sense of that praise is the Name Jesus. Jesus is a mystical Name—a Name that changes our wills, a Name that does not destroy who we are, but perfects who we are. This is a Name that works wonders, in whose light we see Light—a Name that counsels us to repentance and the ordering of our lives. This Name, this Jesus! He fought and won against all the forces of evil. This Name, this Jesus! He is the Father and Mother of the world to come, and this world to come will live in endless peace through His Name. A mystical Name above all names.

Each of the major Catholic traditions of the holy Church today give this Holy Day, the first day of the new calendar year, a distinct emphasis. The Church of Canterbury, that is to say, Anglicans, today emphasizes the holy naming of Jesus. The Church of Rome today emphasizes the revealing of Blessed Mary as the Mother of God. Mary had already known intuitively through the angelic Annunciation of Gabriel that his Babe in swaddling clothes is the Son of the Most High, and she knew His Name was to be Jesus; Joseph also knew through an angelic greeting in a dream this Babe’s Name. That lowly shepherds flocked to them in haste and told them they heard the same thing, also from angels, must have thrown both Mary and Joseph into a deep contemplation, indeed that they were a Holy Family; and Luke tells us Mary kept all these things, pondering them in her heart. To the shepherds, Mary is thereby revealed as the Mother of God. Hence the devout emphasis given by our sister Church of Rome.

The oldest tradition, which used to be the universal pattern for all Catholic traditions, is to celebrate today the Circumcision of Jesus, a moment we hear in our Gospel in these words—“At the end of eight days, when he was circumcised, he was called Jesus, the name given by the angel before he we conceived in the womb.” Today, the Church of Constantinople—the Eastern Orthodox traditions, also our sisters—continue to celebrate the Circumcision. Why was Jesus circumcised? It was not because he needed to be purified or to prevent Him from sin, for He was the Son of God. He chose to be circumcised to establish solidarity with God’s covenant with Abraham and with his posterity. He chose to faithfully fulfill and conform to divine ordinance, “conform in all respects to the rites and ceremonies of Judaism, to everything hitherto accounted sacred and binding.” (source.) His circumcision proves for us that Jesus is not illusion, no apparition. He is a real person, then a small baby of flesh and blood.

And in this circumcision began His passion, His suffering for our transgressions, for which He lived His whole life. In His circumcision is the first shedding of Precious Blood, the first overshadowing of the Cross. Christ was circumcised to that His Previous Blood would begin to flow to soften the hardest hearts of sinners. We too are circumcised, with a circumcision made without hands, by putting off the body of flesh in the circumcision of Christ, being buried with Him in baptism. May we continually receive our circumcision, which by baptism is of the whole human person and hence a more mature circumcision, and may we receive it through our disciplined prayer life. By grace may we experience the daily circumcision of our hearts.

Indeed this Name is a sign of our salvation—for through it, behold what is revealed: a real person in Jesus who bleeds preciously, yet He is divine; a real Mother in Mary, who gave birth yet remains ever a Virgin; a real man in Joseph, not a father yet a genuine protector. Mysteries abound on this day! Heavenly God, let all them that put their trust in You rejoice; they shall ever be giving of thanks, because You defend them; they that love your Name shall be joyful in You. Amen.

The cover image “The circumcision of Christ, Preobrazhenski monastry, Bulgaria” by Preslav is licensed under CC BY 2.0 / Cropped from original.