A Sermon by Fr. John Tauler at Church of St. Sebastian of Brideshead to the Sodomites on the subject of a Holy Death
Today I preach to you a Holy Death. Not the death of Satan, the death that we have inherited from Adam, a veil and a shadow cast upon us, an iron wall descending upon our world that separates sons from fathers and daughters from mothers, widows from their husbands and orphans from parents, friends from themselves and the living, as we say, from the dead. No, I speak not of a death that creates heartache and despair, but a holy death, a death reserved for us from the creation of the world, from the very moment that God first made a seed of Eden sprout in a world destined to be replaced by a world to come. I speak of the death by which a man advances from sin to life and from one degree of holiness to another. I speak of the bitter death desired by the three kings upon seeing the birth of our Lord, of the death desired so eagerly by Paul that would finally separate him from this body of sin, of the death, finally, that is not the legacy of the first Adam and the first Eve but of the second Adam and the second Eve, second only in time, but not in the intent of the creator who intended them and their gift of death even prior to the creation for He intended them together with the world to come.
Indeed, a liberating death, a death that will free us not only from sin, but also from creation, a creation that we long to be set free from all the more because since Adam’s sin we have been transported into the world of Adam. The skies have been sewn shut and the firmament now obstructs our view: this is the world that we must flee from, the principality of the Prince of this world, the Adversary of Man and God, of God through man, for he may not affect God, but he may affect His vulnerable image and the object of his jealousy, Adam, the fallible and the fallen. Save us, oh Lord, from our adversary, save us from the body of sin by whose weight he would drag us down, save us, oh Lord, from the world he would tangle us in, a world not of substance but of lies and shadows, yet that we sinners feel far more substantial than any stone crying out by the power of the Lord.
Brethren! We shall all die! The Lord has given us a message, a gospel even, in the frailty of our bodies. He tells us that He will liberate us, He will bring us to His presence, He will call us to judgment. He will not leave us forever in this trap. It is up to us to pray and study and beg His grace that we might understand how we might already die now and participate in Christ’s death, the holy death of the Cross through our baptism. But even if this grace has not been given us, let us hold fast to the gospel of our tombs: we shall not always live this life. Let us be called again and again to hope and thereby to repentance, that we might believe in the Lord’s plan of transformation. A great transformation not only for ourselves, but for the whole world, when the trumpet shall sound and we shall be changed!
Let us leave today and wash ourselves clean and paint ourselves white. Start with a sensible sign if it leads you to a spiritual reality! Let the fire of your imagination burn, if it burn spiritual incense. Wash yourselves with water that you might be more thirsty for forgiveness, paint your body white that your souls might take on the pallor of the Cross, cry out your tears that you might feel the hand of the Lord wiping them away. Our Lord is a Lord of death and death is ultimately His instrument and not the devils. It is in His hands and serves His purposes. The angel of death is His servant and distributes His gifts. No man has seen the Lord and lived, for at the very least the sight of the Lord kills the first Adam, guts him with the flaming sword of paradise.
Do not push away death, do not forget your mortality and do not forget the lethality of our Lord. Do not forget that the mercy of God is a terrible thing, do not make for yourselves an idol that calls you to exactly the life you are already living and demands nothing from you. God demands our lives: He has paid for them and He holds our hearts in truth with Him in heaven. You think you have your heart, but you are deceived: the devil has implanted a stone in your breast that you take for your heart. Our hearts are with the King of Hearts and they beat aching to be rejoined to their bodies. Throw out these tombstones that clot your veins and freeze your blood. Let the Lord rip them out and let him come and change you. I speak in extreme images for who can know how God will come and save him? Who can know the saving grace that will repair his life? God acts through things small and large, guly and beautiful, yes, even evil, even the darkest sin of the adversary is at the service of the Lord for the salvation of His chosen ones. Our Lord is Lord of death and will not leave us in the perverted life, the living death that we have inherited from our Adam through the evil one.
The Gnostics twisted Christian truth and taught that the world was created by a dumb and blind demigod. Yet Christian Truth is more encompassing than its perversion: indeed, we have inherited a dominion and a world of lies from Adam and Eve, who through a single awful fault erected a second world that ensnares and engulfs so many of us, a terrible decision that they committed, yes, in weakness and ignorance. And yet we believe in the salvation of the first Adam by the Second One and also in the defeat of his deceiver. The enemy shall fall, has fallen, nay, is falling for perpetuity, but the Lord’s chosen pierce the veil and escape his horrendous gravity. God is calling us as He is pulling at us. Even when the very ground beneath our feet is falling (for no Atlas holds a world condemned), His saints fly and ascend by the strings and hooks of the fisherman. We are coming, oh Lord, as fast as You pull us. Do not stop, do not leave us to fall with the dark angels, but let us come to You, oh Lord, send us Your holy death, a death that we shall love forever, the death that ministers our wedding to the Lamb. It cannot come soon enough.
Brethren, join me in this prayer to the Lord God of Death.
Header image credit: The Body of the Dead Christ in the Tomb, Hans Holbein the younger, 1520-1522