Set us free, loving Father, from the bondage of our sins, and in your goodness and mercy give us the liberty of that abundant life which you have made known to us in our Savior Jesus Christ; who lives and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.
Let me pose a philosophical question.
First, imagine this: You have joined a cult.
In this cult, you are told that your mind is linked through an invisible fabric to all other minds, living and dead. You did not previously know this because you believed that your fleeting thoughts were about the traffic light in front of you and the ground turkey you need to thaw for dinner and the attractive person waiting at the bus stop.
Oh no, you have been fooled. This is what they have been telling you. In fact—and your experience from this moment on will confirm this—these seemingly disconnected sensations are tying you to the world around you. You are in the minds of others, and the minds of people you have never met are in yours.
Start walking through your day. You will begin to sense it. And, once you let go of the limits of your own body, you will flow freely along the fabric of consciousness. You will be free.
And my question is this: How would you know that’s a real freedom?
Even if you wanted to stop believing it, how would you overcome the doubts?
After all, it does feel like other people’s minds are in my own. Indeed, how could I even evaluate these questions without their help? And so on.
When my own mind is compromised, where do I go for help?
Let’s leave the cult for a minute.
In Romans chapter seven, the apostle tells us:
I have the desire to do what is right, but not the ability to carry it out. For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I keep on doing. Now if I do what I do not want, it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells within me.
To feel like a prisoner in your own mind or body is something you may have experienced. Maybe you felt like you could never get out, and you could only feel with St. Paul: “Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death?”
Or maybe, you felt that you were set free, and you wonder, “How did I go on for so long, not even knowing how I was being kept down by myself and by the world?”
Prison and slavery are quite bad. Unimaginably bad. But there have always been some people who have said there might be a prison you don’t even know you’re in. Sometimes you feel it. Sometimes you don’t.
Karl Marx said religion or other bourgeois measures help us not to feel it. But whether we feel it or not, we’re not really free. Plato begged us to look beyond the shadows and step out into the real world.
And Christianity makes a similar claim. Sometimes you feel free. You do your own thing. You make your choices. But you’re not.
You feel the burden sometimes when you wish you could be a better person or make the world better, and you just can’t. You’re tied down. And the problem is so big that it is inescapably in you.
It is sin.
Like a weight upon the soul, we are dragged down, and even held in place by sin. It begins to feel like the normal weight of being a human. “No one’s perfect,” we say. “My pet affections and vain fancies are nothing compared to the monsters around me.”
But, Jesus says, you are enslaved to sin. And he has come to set you free.
How do we know he’s telling the truth?
Again today, I prayed the confession in my Book of Common Prayer. Is this really for me today? I feel okay. I do my thing. I make my choices. Is there a freedom on the other side of this prayer—a freedom that I don’t yet want, but which Jesus Christ promises is real?
There is one way we can try to know. For the most part, it is the best way we have. Whether in a cult, or Marxism, or philosophy, we are most convinced by someone who, it seems, really and truly is free.
What freedom looks like
When Jesus Christ was born of the Virgin Mary, it seemed like a prison. He was bound as a Jew to the Roman empire. He was bound, temporally, to a time period without access to modern medicine. By his class and family, he was bound into a profession and a certain life.
But this man was the freest man there ever was.
He was not shackled by the opinions of peers, or even family. He had the intellectual freedom to understand the Scriptures as never before, and the ethical freedom to live them out. He was free, in the end, to march willingly to a death.
And everyone around him knew it. The apostles knew it. The crowds knew it, and flocked. His enemies knew it, and hated him for the freedom that lit upon their darkness.
Ezra Pound imagines the disciples laughing in the spite of the slanderers of the true freedom:
If they think they ha’ snared our Goodly Fere (note: “fere” means “companion” or “friend”)
They are fools to the last degree.
“I’ll go to the feast,” quo’ our Goodly Fere,
“Though I go to the gallows tree.”
His freedom transcended (and challenged) Roman oppression. His freedom escaped time and travels to us today. His freedom dematerializes class and every barrier that binds. His freedom will make us free.
The collect for this week is a remarkable statement of this liberating truth. We ask for freedom (freedom from sin), “which you have made known to us in our Savior Jesus Christ.”
Do you want freedom from the sin that oppresses and entangles us? Even our very minds? This is jarring. How would I even know if I want to be free from my bondage-tied mind?
Well, perhaps I cannot persuade you with words. But God has shown us freedom: the man, Jesus Christ. He is truly human because he is truly free. And that liberty is offered to you, flowing out of his resurrection.
Open your eyes afresh today by turning from your sin. Seek again his clemency, knowing that in him is not only forgiveness but a new life beyond the shadows, beyond the bondage that we trivialize.
In him is abundant life.
Bryan Wandel is an Anglican priest, planting a new church in Buffalo, New York. Fr. Bryan returned his family back to Buffalo after a decade in Washington, DC, and they are spreading the gospel through liturgy and mission. He is also an accountant, and he organizes a public drinks & discussion series called The Nickel City Forum: Microbrews, Macroquestions.