Guarding and proclaiming the unchanging truth in a changing world

Friday after Ascension Sunday

21st May 2021

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Today we conclude our walk with Cranmer through Ascensiontide with the last two verses from the Comfortable Words. Having laid out the two sides - the longing of humanity for relief and the longing of God to rescue - Cranmer’s third Comfortable Word circles back like a hawk to the human condition, but now at a higher level.   

Hear also what Saint Paul says. This is a true saying, and worthy of all men to be received, that Jesus Christ came into the world to save sinners. 

On the one hand, humanity’s situation is no longer described in subjective terms of felt needs but rather as the objective consequences of violating divine law.  Humanity suffers from spiritual fatigue because that is merely the most readily apparent fruit of human sinfulness.  As rebels against divine order, they are cut off from God’s peace now and stand under the threat of the divine wrath to come. Humanity’s refreshment can only come by addressing humanity’s sin.  On the other hand, to do so is also clearly beyond human beings. That’s why Christ came into this world, namely, to do for us what we cannot do for ourselves. 
Only upon realizing this truth did Cranmer believe the English people could find refreshment from their spiritual fatigue.

Hear also what Saint John says. If any man sin, we have an advocate with the father, Jesus Christ the righteous, and he is the propitiation for our sins.

With the fourth Comfortable Word we have come full circle.   In I Tim 1:15, the Gospel truth about the human condition was seen from the human point of view, i.e., ‘How can I be saved?’. Now we turn to the Gospel truth about the human condition from God’s perspective, i.e., ‘How can God be true to both his righteous nature and his enduring love for an unrighteous humanity?’. I John 2:1-2 concisely states that problem from heaven’s point-of-view.  God’s justice requires ‘propitiation’, i.e., the fulfilling of his determination to destroy sin because of all the hurt and harm it causes.  Of course, Cranmer’s confession for Communion explicitly acknowledged the need for such propitiation, saying that the congregation had sinned ‘by thought, word, and deed, against thy divine majesty, provoking most justly thy wrath and indignation against us’ (*).   That’s why the only answer to human misery was utter divine graciousness, God’s taking humanity’s sin upon himself, so he can destroy sin on the cross without having to destroy humanity as well. 

Cranmer’s Eucharistic prayer clearly affirmed the complete effectiveness of Christ’s death to take away God’s wrath.  The cross was ‘a full, perfect and sufficient sacrifice, oblation and satisfaction, for the sins of the whole world’(**).  As a result, according to the ‘Homily on Salvation’, ‘the justice of God and his mercy did embrace together, and fulfilled the mystery of our redemption’(***).  What good news! As I John 2:1-2 reminds us, because Christ has made the sacrifice which has removed God’s wrath from us, he now is our advocate. Jesus himself is the one who stands by our side. He is the one who answers for us when we are accused of being sinners! Here is the heart of the revolution in understanding of Jesus that the English Reformers wanted to proclaim.  For believers, Jesus is not our judge.  He is our defense lawyer.  

As heirs to this teaching from the Protestant Reformation, Anglicans believe that we can have an on-going relationship with God, even though we are not totally freed from sin and selfishness in this life.  When we trust Jesus to win divine forgiveness for us, he acts as our advocate.  He presents the cross as the answer to the charges that we are not good enough for God.  Then God the Father, as judge, will accept Jesus’ righteousness as the best possible and indeed the only possible defense on our behalf. We don’t need to punish ourselves.  Jesus has already taken upon himself our punishment. As Cranmer’s confession for Holy Communion expressed it: ‘for thy Son our Lord Jesus Christ’s sake, forgive us all that is past(****).’  Because of Jesus, God the Father declares us ‘not guilty’ of any sin which would separate us from him. Thus, Cranmer concluded his four promises of the Gospel as he had begun, with our utter reliance on Christ’s saving activity both to meet human needs and fulfill divine desires.  

Scripture clearly teaches us that Jesus is our true comfort, now and forever.  That’s why Cranmer put these four verses at the very heart of the Communion service, immediately before the minister says, “Lift up your hearts.  For only when our hearts have been comforted and strengthened by Jesus’s loving actions for us and in us, only then do we find the power and confidence to raise our hearts and minds to his presence at the right hand of God.

 (*) Ibid., p. 6.
 (**) Ibid., p. 88.
 (***) Cox, Cranmer’s Miscellaneous Writings, p. 129.
 (****) Ketley, Liturgies of Edward VI, p. 91.


Therefore, let us renew our comfort and hope to dwell, now and forever, with Christ in heavenly places by praying Cranmer’s Collect for the Sunday after Ascension:

O God, the king of glory, which hast exalted thine only son Jesus Christ, with great triumph unto thy kingdom in heaven; we beseech thee, leave us not comfortless; but send to us thine holy ghost to comfort us, and exalt us unto the same place whither our savior Christ is gone before; who liveth and reigneth with thee, and the holy Ghost, one God world without end. Amen.

Pray with us today's prayer request:

Suffering Church. Last year we prayed for Mary Mohammadi, sentenced in Iran to three months in prison and ten lashes. Her sentence was due to begin on April 21, 2021. Pray for her and other Christians in prison in Iran. 'Heavenly Father, please give strength, courage and assurance of your presence to Mary and all those suffering for Christ in Iran. In Jesus' name. Amen.'

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