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.

Baptismal Living, part 3: Living Selflessly

Homily offered by Father Matthew C. Dallman, Obl.S.B., for the Parish of Tazewell County on the Third Sunday after Trinity (Proper 8), 2020.

“The life of a Christian is a continual response to the fact of his Baptism.” This teaching from Archbishop of Canterbury Michael Ramsey, who in the eyes of many is the most important person to hold that office in the modern era (my eyes being included in that sizeable group), I have included in my sermons the last three Sundays. The reason I have done so is that Archbishop Ramsey’s teaching points us toward the central mystery of our lives as Christians—the mystery of Christ Who is in us, because through baptism, we are in Him. We are given the gift of being able to live in His freedom, to live in His love—the gift of receiving Christ by means of the Holy Spirit, and in receiving Christ, receiving Him Who sent Christ, that is, receiving the Father, the maker of all things visible and invisible. The fact of our baptism begins with the fact that God, having begun the project of making us into the image of His Eternal Word, thereby makes His dwelling in us.

This wondrous gift is a fact of our baptism, and Archbishop Ramsey, along with all the Apostles and Saints, would have us understand the gift as something we are to be continually responding to. And the way that the Church has always responded to mysteries that originate in heaven is by asking the simple questions—what does this mean? and what, as a result, shall we do? These are the two questions, and the only two, asked to the 120 apostles represented by the Apostle Saint Peter on the day of the Coming of the Holy Ghost, and from these two questions the Church grew exponentially in all directions of the known world.

But it is not the case that we no longer need to ask them in the Church today. We do need to ask them, for in asking what an aspect of the faith which was once delivered unto the saints means, and then what as a result we ought do, we are embodying Archbishop Ramsey’s teaching about mature Christian life— that the life of a Christian is a continual response to the fact of his Baptism. And it is in this sense—of an ongoing inquiry into our real participation in Christ’s heavenly Body—that so much of Saint Paul’s teaching finds its basis.

“Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into His death?” the Apostles asks—not that in asking it we today no longer have to, but that we today will continually reflect on our baptism, seeking new meanings of it and at the same time seek new ways of ordering our lives to fully live by it. “We were buried therefore with by baptism into death,” Paul teaches us, “so that as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life.” The desire to be shown by God deeper aspects of the meaning of our baptism issues forth by God’s grace the invitation to walk in newness of life—to be, as Paul teaches elsewhere, a new creation.

And this is the meaning of Our Lord’s teaching that he who loses his life for His sake will find it. Being a Christian means growing in our ability to live selflessly for others, as Christ Himself lives in perfect selflessness for us. Living in perfect selflessness is eternal life, and baptism is God’s seal upon us which begins with our cooperation the process of sanctification—of the purging of our sinful ways, which gives way to being illuminated more and more by God’s presence, and in the next life, continual growth in Christ’s love towards unity with God—united with God in a resurrection like His.

Brothers and sisters, considering ourselves (in the words of Paul) dead to sin means we seek and strive to live our lives selflessly for God and for others. The gift of Baptism is being able to walk in the light of God’s presence, knowing that death no longer has dominion over us, so we need not fear physical death—because that the Holy One of Israel is our King, and His love is established for ever.

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.

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 Desolating Sacrilege”

Offered by Father Matthew Dallman, Obl.S.B., for the Parish of Tazewell County on the Twenty-fifth Sunday after Trinity (Twenty-sixth Sunday after Pentecost), 2018.

There are times in parish life when our sense of living it is fairly simple and straightforward: love God, love neighbor through the threefold pattern of daily Offices, Masses on Sundays and holy days, and devotion to the Sacred Humanity flowing from our Baptism. This is Saint Luke’s account, stemming from the Upper Room, a kind of proto-parish. Yet there are times as well in parish life when our sense of living it is the opposite of all that: complicated, confusing and full of uncertainty—often through divisions within a parish, factions, in-fighting, and the like. This is Saint Paul’s account of the church at Corinth, which we can see also as a proto-parish. Parish life is both simple and complicated. Read more “Homily: “On the Desolating Sacrilege””

Homily: “On Healing the Needy”

Offered by Father Matthew Dallman, Obl.S.B., for the Parish of Tazewell County on the Fifth Sunday after Trinity (Sixth Sunday after Pentecost), 2018.

Attention to language is often something that people gently ridicule in others. When a person is regarded as paying too close attention to words and their meaning, they are said to be “splitting hairs.” Or such examination is dismissed with “oh, that’s just being semantic,” meaning, it is not necessary to pay such close attention to words: the meaning is about the same either way. Six, or one half dozen of the other, is an axiom we often hear. A person claiming “I did not yell at you, instead I spoke firmly with my voice raised,” might be demonstrating this. To which the other person might respond: yes, and that’s splitting hairs, because you should not have done that. So sometimes, we use a strategy of being very attentive to language, perhaps overly so, as a way to protect or defend ourselves against the accusations of others, or to hide from our behavior we know was inappropriate.

Attention to language with respect to the Sacred Scriptures, on the other hand, is constantly demanded. This is why the Collect for the Sunday before Christ the King Sunday at the end of each liturgical year has taken a special place in Anglican spirituality: “Grant us so to hear the Sacred Scriptures, read, mark, learn, and inwardly digest them.” To read and to mark, to learn and inwardly digest, means to be attentive to the words of a passage, even just one word—attentive through prayer, through silence that allows us to hear how the words echo in our mind, echo in our memories, echo in our soul. Read more “Homily: “On Healing the Needy””

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 the Resurrection of Our Lord Jesus Christ”

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

We have asked in our Collect today of our glorious and loving Lord Jesus that by His resurrection, we may die daily to sin and evermore live with him in joy. There are few times of the time more joyful that Easter. The church takes on a new hum; there is a spirit of collaboration and sacrifice shared by the members of congregation between one another; our liturgical space, even in our shared relationship between our two churches, has seen more than normal amount of action, and today looks beautiful, smells beautiful, and sounds beautiful with the songs of Easter we all know so well. Our service to the Lord through the Mass is a multi-sensory experience of smell, touch, taste, hear, and sight. Read more “Homily: “On the Resurrection of Our Lord Jesus Christ””