Sermon at the Grave
Beloved of God, now that we stand before the grave of our Lord Jesus Christ it is as though we have before us the culmination of all His earthly sufferings: His submission to our human condition, the persecutions, the agony in Gethsemane, the mockery, scourging, crucifixion and now burial. What is the sum of all these? Divine love, they are all tokens of His love. In his Gospel the Apostle John the Theologians writes:
“For God so loved the world that He gave His only-begotten Son so that whosoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life. For God sent His Son into the world not to condemn the world but so that the world might be saved through Him.” (John 3:16-7)
And in his first epistle he comments:
“In this the love of God was made manifest among us, that God sent his only Son into the world, so that we might live through him. In this is love, not that we have loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins.” (IJohn 4:9-10)
There is one word here that is of particular interest, that is, propitiation. The original Greek word is ilasmon. Although this term can be literally defined as propitiation, or an appeasing or—what is perhaps better—atonement; yet its etymology brings us to mercy. In using this word, St. John the Theologian, points us back to the mercy seat in the Old Testament tabernacle. This is because the word for mercy seat in the Greek is ilasterion. The mercy seat is the lid of the Ark of the Covenant whereupon the blood of the yearly atonement was sprinkled by the high priest.
The Apostle Paul writes of this in his letter to the Hebrews:
“The first covenant had regulations for worship and an earthly place of holiness. For a tent was prepared, the first section, in which were the lampstand and the table and the bread of the Presence. It is called the Holy Place. Behind the second curtain was a second section called the Most Holy Place, having the golden altar of incense and the ark of the covenant covered on all sides with gold, in which was a golden urn holding the manna, and Aaron’s staff that budded, and the tablets of the covenant. Above it were the cherubim of glory overshadowing the mercy seat. Of these things we cannot now speak in detail. These preparations having thus been made, the priests go regularly into the first section, performing their ritual duties, but into the second only the high priest goes, and he but once a year, and not without taking blood, which he offers for himself and for the unintentional sins of the people….But when Christ appeared as a high priest of the good things that have come, then through the greater and more perfect tent (not made with hands, that is, not of this creation) he entered once for all into the holy places, not by means of the blood of goats and calves but by means of his own blood, thus securing an eternal redemption. (9:1-7,11-12)
The old Testament sacrifices prefigured the sacrifice of our Lord Jesus Christ for us. The Apostle Paul calls Christ our Passover. In writing to the Corinthians he says, “Christ our Passover was sacrificed for us.” (ICor. 5:7) “For God so loved the world that he gave His only begotten Son” up to “our human condition, the persecutions, the agony in Gethsemane, the mockery, scourging, crucifixion and now burial.” His love for us is sacrificial, unconditional and infinite. How do we return this great love for us? Not by only venerated the grave with reverence but as our Lord said: “If ye love Me keep My commandments.” (John 14:15) To Him be glory, now and ever, and unto the ages of ages. Amen.