1 Peter 3:14-18
With Simon the Magician wandering about the marketplace (the Greek New Testament gives his name as Σιμων `ο Μαγυς), we might say that magic is in the air. The Greek word μαγεια (mageia) that would have referred to Simon was used as a derogatory term in the first century Roman Empire meaning "false religion." And in the verses following our Epistle reading this morning, we find St. Peter admonishing Simon because his heart is not right. But this is not to reject magic out of hand. After all, the term μαγυς, whose plural is Magi, also was used with reverence to denote certain learned men that included "Three Kings" who bowed down before the infant Jesus laying in a stable.
Battling a witch and laboring under a spell that causes an entire lifeworld to sink into spiritual deadness, C.S. Lewis' kings and queens of Narnia are plunged into a world of competing magics, both Good and Evil. And the the deepest, most ancient magic (to borrow C.S. Lewis' word) is practiced by the great Emperor-over-sea, Father God. This magic, going to the Emperor's very essence and nature, is called love, casting its spell even to the present day. This mysterious power defies the canons of science, for it is built on an immutable law, which science cannot explicate: "That a man lay down his life for his friends" as being the most powerful magic of all: no greater love hath anyone than this.
And the Emperor's Son, being sacrificed on a Holy Table, bequeathes unto the world the holiest incantation that it shall ever receive: "This is my Body. This is my Blood" .... followed by a divine command: "Do this!" No words are better attested in the Sacred Scripture than these, being found in all three Synoptic Gospels and in the Pauline Correspondence. All expressions of the Catholic Church include these words of power believing that the confected Sacrament cannot be valid without them. Magic is in the air.
"But this act cannot be!" science replies. For self-preservation and survival-of-the-fittest stand at the top of the laws that govern humankind. And if the willing death of our Lord Jesus Christ offends scientific sensibilities, then you may be sure that His mighty resurrection and glorious ascension are always rejected out of hand. Nonetheless, as the Catholic prince, Hamlet, tells his modern, up-to-date, and Protestant friend, Horatio in Shakespeare's play, "There are more things in heaven and earth than are dreamt of in your philosophy."
As we consider these themes, we revisit a great crossroads in Christian history, for the Protestant Reformation came about (among several other reasons) as a consequence of the empiricist (and later scientific) revolution that discarded the sacraments as being too magical for comfort. And Anglicans shall always remember the year 1552, when the so-called Black Rubric was placed in the Book of Common Prayer forbidding the faithful to countenance the Real Presence of Christ in the Holy Eucharist. (The Anglo-Catholic Queen Elizabeth I would remove this blot on our faith in 1559.)
I should add that the Roman Catholic bishops of the twentieth century persecuted Padre St. Pio, and many other saints, for precisely these reasons. And we recall that St. Margaret Mary Alacoque came under attack because she scandalized her Congregation by encountering the living Christ and His Sacred Heart during the height of the so-called "Enlightenment" or "Age of Reason."
This impulse — to be modern and up-to-date ... and therefore embarrassed by the Christian faith — would dominate certain leaders of the Anglican Church during the next two centuries, eventually bringing a third group to the fore, called Latitudinarians, reflecting their wide latitude and broadness of mind (eventually known as the Broad Church), rejecting the divinity of Jesus Christ and dismissing the sacraments as being "medieval superstitions." Needless to say, it would not take long for this group to reject the Sacred Scriptures, for they are full of magic. Elijah (1 Kings 17:17-24) and Elisha (2 Kings 4:35) both raise the dead. In 2 Kings 13, we find a corpse being buried that brushes against the bones of Elisha and revives (2 Kings 13:21). The Witch of Endor summons the prophet Samuel from the dead to consult with King Saul (1 Samuel 28:3-25). The Lord Jesus Christ raises Lazarus past the point when "he stinketh," as the Authorized Version puts it, leaving no doubt that Lazarus was good and dead. Finally, Ss. Peter and Paul also raise the dead: we recall Tabitha's revival in Acts 9 and Eutychus in Acts 20. No, the Sacred Scriptures were marked for the dust bin from the beginning of this modern age.
Who were the Latitudinarians? ... the Broad Church Anglicans? They were Thomas Jefferson, Benjamin Franklin, and other foremost intellectuals of the late American eighteenth century. They brought about the first American Book of Common Prayer and the Protestant Episcopal Church. It is a fact that the first draft of that Prayerbook is still used today ... in Boston's oldest Unitarian Church, King's Chapel. Rejecting the divinity of our Lord Jesus Christ, its editor/author, James Freeman, would become the first man in America to call himself a Unitarian. Mostly, Broad Churchmen were Deists who rejected a living God, Who could hear, even answer, our prayers. Their spiritual descendants lead the Anglican Communion of the Northern Hemisphere today, rooting their religion not in the divinity of Jesus nor in the Sacred Scriptures, but rather, to quote Abp. Justin Welby, "in relationships," which they take to be the ultimate authority in matters of faith and morals. Or, to state this in the language of of one of our oldest prayers, they are rooted in "the devices and desires of our own hearts."
These leaders reject a rule of life, preferring to follow one's feelings and emotions as being a dependable replacement for moral laws. As an editor of the once-respected journal Scientific American, has said, "Morality is the artifact of a superstitious age that has passed away." After all, she would ask of me, who am I to suggest that one mode of human conduct is better than another? And, if I had my wits about me, I might reply, Dear lady, do you not believe in magic? Can you not look out your window and see what black magic has produced in our world? And is your memory so dim that you cannot recall a world graced by white magic when good and right and self-sacrifice and decency ruled our lives? But if these things mean nothing to you, then I ask you to consider this: a nameless criminal and beggar hung on a Cross in an obscure backwater of the Roman Empire two thousand years ago. He left behind no writings or teachings, and His disciples had all abandoned and denied Him. He possessed neither the clothes on his back nor a grave in which to lay His battered body. And, listen, He is speaking with His last breath .... A Roman soldier asks a Jew standing nearby, "What is He saying?" The Jew listens for a few moments and then tells the soldier, "He is reciting a Jewish prayer, Psalm 22, which ends by predicting that every corner of the earth and a people yet to be born will worship Him." The soldier stands back and surveys this Cross, no different from the others next to it, taking stock of a dying beggar and seeing the invincible and universal Roman Empire fanning out in every direction. And he laughs. He laughs.
You may drive anywhere in this vast country and, coming into any town of any size, you will see spires and steeples dominating skyline of these places. You may go anywhere in the world, no matter how far, no matter how obscure, and you will find that the Gospel has been preached there. Indeed, we are the generation to see two remarkable events: the Jews returning to the Land of Promise after the destruction of their lifeworld in 70 A.D. and the fulfillment of the Great Commission.
Yes, I believe in magic. I believe in the One Holy Catholic and Apostolic Church, which the Lord Jesus founded upon His Disciples and their descendants, the Bishops. I believe that a priest, by the grace of God, can absolve a sinner. I believe that any baptized Christian through living water and the invocation of the Three-Person God can bring another soul into Heaven's embrace. I believe that a man and a woman through certain holy words and intentions of the heart can become one bone and one flesh in an imperishable bond which is the Lord Jesus Himself. And, yes, I believe in Holy Fire upon the Altar. Make no mistake about it, Christianity by its very nature is about Holy Fire, is about a Divine Word that created this universe, and our world, which continues to shimmer in that original, sacramental act of awesome beauty and power.
And the One Who made all,
as we read in our Gospel lesson this morning,
has called us to be His friends .... if we will do His commandments.
We must believe in His Holy Laws.
We must walk in His Holy Ways.
one more thing:
we must believe in His Ancient Magic.
In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Ghost. Amen.