We Preach Christ Crucified – Good Friday Sermon

‘We preach Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and folly to Gentiles’. 1 Cor. 1.23

I think one can confidently say that the modern world is a world well familiar with the sight of Cross and Crucifixes. We see them in various sizes in our churches, as well as in many other places. And perhaps, because we have become too familiar with seeing cross and crucifixes, our senses have become numb, it has become dull – we fail to grasp its extreme nature. People of the ancient world, and those who were subjects of the Roman Empire, like us, were familiar with the sight of cross, but they were also familier with its ugly nature.

All who lived under the rule of the emperor knew that the Cross was the worst kind of death the empire had on offer. Oh, there were other types of cruel death, and those who represented the emperor had all kinds of executional means available to them: stoning, releasing prisoner to facing wild beasts, burning, and even boiling in oil. But the Cross, was a special type of death, it demonstrated the brutal glory of Rome. It sent a lingering message to the enemies of Cesare, informing them of the fate awaiting all who dared entertaining rebellious thought against the empire. As one historian points out, the Romans used the Cross as ‘an act of state terror’. The Cross, was important to the Romans, for it was visible. The empire subjected its enemies to a shameful, painful, slow death – a death void of dignity. Performed in public, where everyone was free to come and watch.

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Perhaps one way of understanding the Cross in the ancient world, is to ask, what a figure of a crucified person might have communicated to Jesus’ contemporaries?

Well, it communicated the following: first: the crucified person was not a Roman citizen. He/she was a second-class citizen. It meant that the person is accused of sedition, or rebellion. If you were a Jew, you would have thought that the crucified person was cursed by Yahweh. If you were a Roman or Greek, you would have believed that the crucified have been cast to the lowest and worst possible place by the gods. And you would have certainly belived, that the crucified is weak, lonely and soon to be among the forgotten.

 This being the case, the claim of St. Paul that ‘I boast in Christ crucified,’ (Gal 6.14)  and that the crucified man is actually God.  Plus, it is the way in which God has chosen to reveal himself, was perceived by the ancient to be pathetic and laughable, at best; and at worst, repulsive and blasphemes. For, how could a man pinned to a Cross, like a butterfly pinned to a collector’s board, be God?

People were convinced that any human with a bit of dignity did not end up on a cross, let alone a god. For the gods and goddesses of the ancient world, lived far above human kind. Though they appeared in many forms to people, they did not live among them. And when it came to torture and punishment, the gods inflected punishment on human beings. They, themselves were not subject to it. In fact, they enjoyed tormenting human beings, they caused war and famine for their own amusement. Hence, torture and death belonged to the sphere of the low and weak – it belonged to the realm of mortals.

Yet, it is precisely this shocking horror of Christ crucifies, identifying himself with the weak, the marginalised, the criminals, and outcast, with those who suffer, experience pain, and death makes the claim of ‘We preach Christ crucified,’ so revolutionary an idea. Ironically, it was the news of this cursed God that erupted like a wildfire claiming the hearts and minds of countless Roman subjects – salve and free, Greeks, Jews and Romans. Eventually, the empire itself, declared allegiance to the Christ they pinned to a cross.

This, of course, happened because unlike the Greek and Roman gods, this God identified with the weak and the marginalized. This God, did not look at humanity from the comfort of his heaven. He became one of us – experienced first-hand, loneliness, wound, suffering, and walked to face our worst enemy, death itself.

The modern theologian Edward Shillito captures the revolutionary God of the Cross beautifully when he writes, ‘The other gods were strong; but Thou wast weak; They rode, but Thou didst stumble to a throne; But to our wounds only God’s wounds can speak, And not a god has wounds but Thou alone.’ 

Throughout the centuries, individuals who have confronted the Crucified God with openness have been changed. In fact, their whole world has been turned upside down. Of course, St. Paul himself is a case in point. But I suspect some of you might have heard the story of a young polish boy whose life was turned upside-down by the Cross, in the aftermath of WWII.

The story was first told by Cardinal Jean-Marie Lustiger – Archbishop of Paris from 1981 to 2005.

The story goes like this: Three boys decided to play a trick on a local priest, by going to the confessional to confess all kind of wiled, imaginary sins. The first two did it then run away laughing. When the third one, whom happened to be a Jewish boy, had his fun, the priest said he would give him a penance which he should do. Then the priest indicated the large statue of the crucified Jesus at the East-end of the church. The Priest said to the young boy, ‘I want you to go up to that statue, I want you to look at the figure in the face and say three times, ‘you did all that for me, but I do not care’. And so, the boy went along with the suggestion, as it was still part of the fun, and he said it once. Then he said it again, and then he found he could not say it the third time. He broke down, and left the church changed. And the reason I know that story to be true, concluded Archbishop Lustiger, is because I was that boy’.

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Beyond companionship – Participation in the divine life

Sermon for VII of Easter – John 14.15 – 21

    In our Gospel reading, Christ affirms his love for disciples. John tells us Jesus ‘loved his own who were in the world, he loved them to the end’. (Jn. 13.1) Notice the langue he is using, Jesus says he will go, but he will not leave them orphaned v.18. To be an orphan is to be deprived of parents, of father, or mother. It is to lack, father’s love, guidance, protection, and companionship. To be an orphan is to be defenceless left at the mercy of the world, with no father, or mother to care or to guide you through the maze of life.

   In our Gospel reading today, Christ is on his way to the Cross, he is leaving the disciples behind. Hence, time is coming when they will be confused, vulnerable, and if left by themselves they will be swallowed by the harsh realities of the world. He tells them ‘I am coming to you’. And by this, he is not merely speaking of his appearance after the resurrection, but of the sending of the Advocate, the Holy Spirit. In fact, he goes as far as saying, ‘it is to your advantage that I go away, for if I do not go away, the Advocate will not come to you.’ Jn. 16.7.

   The question we ask today: why does Christ say it is better that he goes so that the Spirit may come to us? How does Christ’s physical absence be better for the disciple and the Church? Remember that Christ has been with his disciples in the flesh for about three years. They have enjoyed his fellowship, his companionship. They have enjoyed togetherness, following him across the count, as his friends. However, he says it is to their advantage that he goes away so the Holy Spirit may come.

   So, let us ask the question again: How is Christ’s departure is advantageous for the disciples? Surely, it would have been better, if he resided in the flesh with them.

Incorporation – participation

The clue to is in the reading. Christ says, ‘On that day, you will know that I am in my Father, and you in me, and I in you’ v. 20

  Christ’s mission was not to be confined to living among us for a time on earth. And the aim of the Christian life is not limited to companionship with Christ. To be a Christian does not simply mean to walk with him side by side; the objective of the Christian life goes beyond togetherness with Jesus. Togetherness in the sense of, one individual walking beside another individual. Christ wants to take us beyond companionship to participation in his divine life. Let us listen carefully to the language he uses. ‘On that day, you will know that I am in my Father, and you in me, and I in you’ v. 20. Christ has come to unite us to himself; to incorporate us into his divine life. Soon after our reading, he speaks of himself as the true Vine and us as the branches (Jn. 15). He asks us to abide in him. Not to exist beside him, but to be grafted in him. ‘Abide in me’, he says. We are called to participate in a close union with Christ, to be incorporated into the life of God. Christ says, ‘because I live, you will also live’. Jesus being our head, and we his body, there is oneness, a union with him. We are given to dwell in him as he dwells in us. Without the indwelling of Christ, without our incorporation into his life, we are dead and have no life in ourselves.

 The Holy Spirit – the παρκλητος

   It is at this point we begin to grasp the person and work of the Holy Spirit, ‘the Father’, Jesus tells us, ‘will give you another Advocate’ v.16. Christ highlights the work of the Holy Spirit. The grafting into Christ is not possible without the Holy Spirit. It is the Spirit who dwells in the Church. Even when we say Christ dwell in the Church, we are saying that Christ by the Spirit dwells in the Church. Holy SpiritWithout the Holy Spirit, Christ’s person and work remain alien to us. Without the Holy Spirit, Christ is a mere historical event, with no everlasting impact on our lives. All the things we take for granted, our knowledge of Christ, our experience of his love, his forgiveness, our understanding of his death and resurrection are, all, made possible by the Holy Spirit.  St. Paul tells us, “Because you are sons, God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, crying, “Abba! Father!”. Gal. 4.6. The Spirit dwells in our hearts, and it is because of the Spirit that you can call upon God as our Father, and Christ as our brother.  The Holy Spirit makes Christ who resides in the heavenly temple present to us here on earth, in our daily lives. And he makes us present to him on the thorn of glory, where he resides as our High Priest, at the Right hand of God, the Father.

Epiklesis – Invocation

   And of course, it is here, during the Liturgy that we experience the richness of Holy Spirit’s work. It is here that Christ becomes present to us in a spatial sense, and we present to him in the heavenly places. The Greek word Christ uses when promising the coming of the Spirit is παράκλητος paraklētos. This is a rich word, and hard to capture in English. In our Bibles, we usually read Christ saying, ‘I will send you another Advocate, Helper, or Comforter’. While this is true, there is another nuance that these words do not convey. paraklētos also mean I will send you the one, who is invoked – invoked in prayer – or called upon in prayer.

 In the Old Testament Temple, the Levites invoked God, by their prayer, their praise and worship, and God responded by his presence, residing in the temple among them. (cf. 1 Chron. 16.4). In our Eucharistic celebration, there is a moment we called Epiklesis, that is Greek for Invocation. It is the part where the Priest, on behave of the people, prayerfully invokes the Holy Spirit to come upon the Bread and Wine and to make them become Christ’s Body and Blood. This is where the priest prays, ‘Lord…grant that by the power of your Holy Spirit, and according to your holy will, these gifts of bread and wine may become to us the body and blood of Jesus Christ’. (Cf. St. Basil the Great, On the Spirit VIII).

Conclusion

   I said earlier that Christ in our reading was forewarning his disciples about his departure, preparing them for the fact that he will no longer be resending with them in the flesh. But here, through the work of the invoked Holy Spirit, Christ becomes present to us in body and blood. For it is at the Altar that we know we are not left orphaned. At the Altar, we are aware that he is among us, bestowing his love, and grace on us. Hence, as we receive him, and in obedience to his command, we take him, take his love, and his grace to our local community, to the lives of those whom God has entrusted to us. To the broken world, to our neighbours, the vulnerable, and the broken hearted.

    Moreover, here at the Altar, and as we consume his body and blood, we are incorporated into Christ’s life, we experience the meaning of we in him and him in us. It is in the mystery of the Mass we experience his words ‘because I live, you will also live’. We who are dead by nature, who have corruptible, decaying bodies, feed on the living one, and because we are feeding on him, our bodies receive the hope of resurrection.

Let me end by a quote from the Second Century Church Father, St Irenaeus of Lyons, who writs,

‘For as the earthly bread once it has received the invocation of God upon it, is no longer ordinary bread, but the Eucharist, and is made up of two elements, heavenly and earthly, so too our bodies, once they have received the Eucharist, are no longer corruptible, but contain within themselves the hope of resurrection’. In Against Heresies, IV. 20. Amen.

 

On the feast of St. Athanasius of Alexandria – An extract on the Fatherhood of God

The Church celebrates many saints, but there are few as great as St. Athanasius, who died on 2nd May 373 A.D. Above all else Athanasius is known for his brave stand in defence of orthodoxy in the face of Arianism.

In this extract, we get a flavour of the richness of Athanasius theology. Athanasius takes it upon himself to defend the Fatherhood of God against the Arian notion of ‘God as Unoriginate’. The Arian Controversy was concerned with the very nature of God – God, in and of himself. Both sides wanted to clarify the nature of God the Bible reveals, and the Church proclaims. The Arians claimed that God first and foremost is Unoriginate. God existed in eternity by himself, transcendent above all, self-absorbed, simple, singular monad. The Unoriginate definition excluded the Son from the life of God. Athanasius of AlexandriaThe Son, to the Arians, was Originate, a lower level of divinity who had a beginning. In fact, they used Unoriginate as a way of excluding the Son from God being, consequentially, making the term Father a secondary and unnecessary title.

To Athanasius on the other hand, the notion of fatherhood was foundational to God’s being. God, first and foremost, is Father. As Father he eternally co-exists with the Son – that is who God is – in and of himself – all else follows from this basic foundation. The following extract is a small sample of Athanasius’ sweet theology. It cuts through to the heart of the controversy, showing us why the fatherhood of God matters.

“….it is more pious and more accurate to signify God from the Son and call Him Father, than to name Him from His works only and call Him Unoriginate. For the latter title… does nothing more than signify all the works, individually and collectively, which have come to be at the will of God through the Word; but the title Father has its significance and its bearing only from the Son. And, whereas the Word surpasses things originated, by so much and more doth calling God Father surpass calling Him Unoriginate. For the latter is unscriptural and suspicious, because it has various senses; so that, when a man is asked concerning it, his mind is carried about to many ideas; but the word Father is simple and scriptural, and more accurate, and only implies the Son. ‘Unoriginate’ is a word of the Greeks, who know not the Son; but ‘Father’ has been acknowledged and vouchsafed by our Lord. For He, knowing Himself whose Son He was, said, ‘I am in the Father, and the Father is in Me;’ and, ‘He that hath seen Me, hath seen the Father,’ and ‘I and the Father are One;’ but nowhere is He found to call the Father Unoriginate.

Moreover, when He teaches us to pray, He says not, ‘When ye pray, say, O God Unoriginate,’ but rather, ‘When ye pray, say, Our Father, which art in heaven.’ And it was His will that the Summary of our faith should have the same bearing, in bidding us be baptized, not into the name of Unoriginate and originate, nor into the name of Creator and creature, but into the Name of Father, Son, and Holy Ghost. For with such an initiation we too, being numbered among works, are made sons, and using the name of the Father, acknowledge from that name the Word also in the Father Himself. A vain thing then is their argument about the term ‘Unoriginate,’ as is now proved, and nothing more than a fantasy.” Against the Arians I. 34

The Collect for the feast of St. Athanasius

“Ever-living God, whose servant Athanasius testified to the mystery of the Word made flesh for our salvation: help us, with all your saints, to contend for the truth and to grow into the likeness of your Son, Jesus Christ our Lord.” Amen

Sermon on The Road to Emmaus

Jesus asked the disciples on the Road to Emmaus, ‘Was it not necessary that the Messiah should suffer these things and then enter into his glory?’ Luke 24.26

The inability to perceive

The story of the Road to Emmaus is a fascinating and multi-dimensional tale. Today we want to consider the inability of the disciples to recognise Jesus. We simply ask: Why the two disciples on the road to Emmaus were unable to recognise Jesus?

Jesus, whom they have been with only a few days ago; Jesus, whom they have known and followed as their teacher for few years, is now walking by their said speaking and listening to them, standing in flesh and blood before their very eyes, yet they fail to recognise him. In fact, rather than recognition, Jesus is treated as a mere stranger. The disciples are in despair, they are on a journey home, leaving Jerusalem and the aftermath of the crucifixion behind. The event of Jesus’ death has left them confused, disappointed, and filled with sadness. Notice, that failing to recognise their teaEmmauscher, and treating him as ‘the only stranger in Jerusalem who does not know the things concerning Jesus of Nazareth’, the disciples take it upon themselves to instruct their teacher – They instruct the Messiah, about the Messiah. Sadly, the truth is that they do not know the Messiah. It is they who fail to see the Messiah as more than a good teacher and a prophet.; it is they who fail to recognise the Messiah as the Lord of life and death.

Let us ask the question again: why couldn’t the disciples recognise Jesus; why were they so blind?

The answer to this question lies beyond natural causes. It was not a matter of merely mistaking Jesus for someone else. The answer lies beyond, ‘Oh… they did not look close enough or did not pay proper attention’. The lack of recognition on the part of the disciples is caused by something greater than natural causes. It is caused by the incompatibility between the ‘already glorified’ state of the risen Messiah, and the ‘not yet’ glorified state of the two disciples. The disciples are encountering the Messiah in his Glory. The one who stands with them is the crucified one, the one who has gone through the grave and is now alive! They are standing before the Messiah in his Glory. Let us consider the words of Jesus gain:

Was it not necessary that the Messiah should suffer… and then enter into his glory?

Jesus stands before them as the resurrected one, the one who is already in the state of Glory, a state that lies beyond our ordinary comprehension. Here we have two different types of existence encountering each other. The Rein Christ, the new Man, the New Adam – and the not yet glorified state of the two disciples.
Our eyes are not capable of apprehending the vision of the heavenly. Once upon a time we humans lost the sight to perceive divine reality; once upon a time, our eyes were opened to sin and consequently became blind to the vision of God and his glory. Remember that in Scripture the notion of human eyes being opened to something unnatural is not new. We can recall the story of Adam and Eve (Gen.3) when their eyes were opened to sin, an openness that blinded then to the vision of God and resulted in the loss of access to the Garden and the Tree of Life.
That being the case, the eyes of the disciples are not capable of seeing the heavenly in the natural world. Their hearts have grown dull – it is hardened – and their eyes – while they look, they cannot see.

Christ the healer

It is when Jesus heals their hearts and opens their eyes that they finally come to see the Risen Messiah in his glory. He begins by opening the Scriptures, ‘Then beginning with Moses and all the prophets, he interpreted to them the things about himself in all the Scriptures’. This opening of Scripture is not to be taken casually, Jesus opens their minds to understand the Scriptures (Luke 24.45). Hearing him reveal himself heals their hearts. Remember that the disciple’s hearts are dull and hard. Later when they reflect back, they are astonished, asking themselves, ‘were not our hearts burning within us while he was talking on the road to us?’ (v.32) Their dull – hard – hearts have been melted by Jesus when he opened the Scriptures for them. Moreover, the resin and glorified Messiah heals their eyes at the breaking of the bread. And this is certainly a reference to the Eucharistic, where their sight is restored. And once again, all be it for a short time, they are made compatible with the vision of God. They are healed from Adam’s blindness and granted access to partake of the bread of life. ‘Then their eyes were opened, and they recognised Jesus; and he vanished from their sight’. (v. 31). They see Christ in his Glory!

The encounter with the Risen and Glorified Messiah results in a complete reverse of course of the disciples’ journey – A total turn around. Having travelled from Jerusalem they return to it, to tell the others about the resin Lord. And you can see the paradox beautifully played in the story:

The two disciples are moved from arrogance to humility, from instructing their master to being instructed by Him. They are moved from Sadness and despair to unspeakable joy, from blindness to vision, and for hosting a stranger to becoming guests at the Messiah’s table.

The same is true of us, we are on the same journey. The Crucified, Resin and Glorified Messiah is with us. We come to church with dimmed visions of Jesus, and at times with hard hearts. Battered by the events of everyday life, we wonder if the risen Messiah is truly with us. And of course, it is here that the resin Messiah reassures us. It is here that he meets us afresh. It is here in the context of the liturgy that we open the Scriptures, and on its pages, we meet the Messiah. It is here, that Jesus invites us to gather around his table. The risen Lord, himself hosts us. Welcoming us, not simply as guests, but as his brother and sister, feed by his body and nourished by his blood. It is here in the rituals of the Eucharistic liturgy that we get a glimpse of his glory, our sight is restored, our hreats are filled with him.

It is in the Eucharist that we who are yet to be glorified meet the One who is already glorified.

Every time we meet him, he sends us with the vision of his glory back to the world – the world he loved and came to restore. Having freed our hands, he sends us back to serve, and to point to him. Amen

‘Lord, I am ready to go with you both to prison and to death’

Sermon for Maundy Thursday

Jesus told Peter, ‘the rooster will not crow this day until you deny me three times.’ Luke 22.34

   During Holy Week two significant changes took place in the life of Christ’s disciples: first, the events of the Passion changed their perception of their Lord. Second, (which is the focus of this talk) the Passion changed their perception of themselves. In short, the disciples’ eyes were opened. They came to know Christ for who he is. They also came to see themselves for who they are – met face to face with their sinfulness.

I will follow you

   The disciples’ encounter with their sinfulness emerges during the dispute concerning who is worthy to be the greatest among them. Their view of the Kingdom up to this point is a worldly view. They are striving to ensure their place on Christ’s right and left-hand side; they want to be in places of prominence in the heavenly Kingdom. You would recall the two sons of Zebedee coming with their mother to ask Jesus for the possibility of reserving the two most senior sets for themselves in his Kingdom. In return, Jesus asked them, are you able to drink the cup that I am about to drink, or be baptised with the baptism with which I will be baptised?‘ (Matt. 20.22) Yes, they confidently reply. In Luke’s account of the Last Supper, the argument as to who is the greatest amongst them takes place just after they have shared the Cup of the Lord and the Blessed Bread. As far as the Twelve were concerned, they have done their bit for Jesus and the time is ripe for their loyalty to be rewarded by him.  For after all, unlike many others, the Twelve sincerely loved and believed their Lord (except for Judas). You would recall, that they were the ones who when called to follow Jesus, did not hesitate in doing so. They left everything behind: their fathers, mothers, businesses, and their community for the sake of Jesus. Peter spoke for all of them when he said, Lord ‘See, we have left everything and followed you‘ (Matt.19: 27). And of course, he was right. Jesus acknowledges their loyalty, ‘You are those who have stayed with me in my trials’ Luke 22:28. They were the ones who did not look back, who bound their destiny with that of Jesus. All this, as far as they are concerned makes them worthy to be partakers of the Blessed Cup. However, tonight while Christ shares his last meal with them, they will be confronted with the ugliness of their human nature; they will realise that their self-confidence and self-promotion have no place in the Kingdom. Tonight, before heading to the Cross, Jesus at the sacred meal where they finally get to drink from his Cup, is resolved to help them come face to face with the ugliness of their sinful nature. He is determined to show them that they are like everyone else – that they can never follow him in their human strength.

The Cup

    On this sacred night, all the disciples finally get to drink of the Cup. However, rather than bringing them comfort, it becomes a cause for a great disturbance. When Christ distributes the Cup, which he identifies with his blood, what follows from the partaking of the cup is not a distribution of posts in his Kingdom. No, what follows is a disturbing announcement – he announces an imminent act of betrayal is about to take place. ‘…one of you will soon betray me’, and the one who is to betray Jesus is from among the Twelve, eating of the blessed Bread and drinking of the Lord’s Cup. It is at tPeterhis point we see Peter (the chief of Apostles), once again, so sure of himself rushes to say ‘Lord, I am ready to go with you both to prison and to death.’ (Luke 22.33). This mome
nt of self-confidence gives way to self-confrontation, and self-discovery. Jesus told Peter, ‘the rooster will not crow this day until you deny me three times.‘ Luke 22.34. And as we all know, Peter did exactly that – denied Jesus three times.

   Upon reading the story of Peter’s denial of Jesus we are tempted to think that Peter was weak. That he was a coward, he was not able to fallow through with his promise. Some may even want to go as far as questioning the genuineness of his affections, his love for Jesus. But the Gospel narratives make it clear that Jesus, apart for Judas, does not call into question any the disciples’ loyalty. It is not their loyalty, but their self-confidence, their blind faith in their human ability, that he want to question.  And it is with Jesus’ direct questioning of Peter’s rush and proud promise to follow his Lord, that we find him confronted, like never before, with his human nature – a nature that is weak and sinful to its core. It is when Peter loses faith in his own ability, he starts to put faith in his Lord’s strength. And when he does put his faith in his Lord, he is truly able to follow Jesus to the end, to the Cross and the Kingdom.

   Tonight, we too join Christ’s first disciple. We who during Lent have witnessed Christ’s trials, followed him through fasting and prayer, through the study of Scripture and contemplation of his journey to the Cross. We, like the disciples, have been preparing for this evening, we were determined to be here, to stay by his side and to drink from his Cup. Let us come to the Cup with open eyes, acknowledging our true nature:  miserable offenders (As BCP puts it). Though we may desire him, we are unable to follow him by ourselves; we fail to follow him in our natural strength. Hence, as we approach the Holy Altar let us remember his words, ‘You did not choose Me, but I chose you and appointed you that you should go and bear fruit… without Me, you can do nothing.’ (John 15:16).

SERMON FOR PALM SUNDAY

‘Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord;

we blessed you from the house of the Lord’. Psalms 118:26

Today is a blessed day; it is t
he day of Christ’s final entry to Jerusalem. He PALM icon
intentionally approaches the city knowing that the events following from his entry will change the course of human history.

Three reasons make this journey remarkable:

First, the crowd acknowledge Jesus for who he is. Christ is, ‘the King who comes in the Name of the Lord’, the crowd, all be it for a short time, recognise his true identity.

Second, Christ as well as receiving glory, he is actively provoking it. We usually hear of Christ being a person who prefers to work quietly. when sought by crowds, he chooses to slip through them, in order to spend time in solitary. But here, it is almost certain that he organised his final entry to Jerusalem.

Third reason, on which we spend the rest of our time today, is that Christ self-consciously promotes himself as the fulfilment of the Holy Scriptures.

Christ the true King – the Glory of the Lord

His acceptance of glory comes as a result of identifying himself as the fulfilment of the rich, multi-layered prophecies, concepts, imagery and symbolism of the Old Testament. Here comes, shouts the crowd, Jesus who was foreshadowed by Solomon the King.

In the book of Kings, we read of Solomon who when anointed as King mounted on the mule of his father, king David. With his companions, ‘he road from (Gihon) to Jerusalem where the people of Israel rejoiced and their rejoicing caused a great uproar.’ (1 Kings. 1:44-45). The scene is re-enacted by Jesus today: here comes, says the crowd greeting Christ, the one who is greater than Solomon: Jesus, the mighty Saviour; born of the house of David, whose Kingdom shall have no end.

Here comes, tells us the Gospel writers, the fulfilment of the words of Zechariah the prophet, who wrote: ‘Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Zion! Proclaim it aloud, O daughter of Jerusalem! Behold, your King comes to you; He is righteous and saving; He is gentle and mounted upon a donkey, even a young foal’. (Zechariah 9:9). Zechariah says the King will come from the East; he writes, ‘the Feet of the Lord who becomes King stands on Mount Olives facing Jerusalem from the East.’ Some Jews of the Old Testament had a habit of standing at the gate of the Temple looking eastward awaiting the coming of the King. They carrying Palm branches gazing upon Sun raise, which symbolised the coming of the Lord to his Temple.

The One coming from East, we are told, is the Glory of the Lord; the Daystar, he is the dawn breaking from on high, ‘to shine on those who dwell in darkness and the shadow of death’. His coming will result in a yearly feast, taking place at Tabernacle, and causing people from every tribe and nation, (just like it is the case with us today), to come to worship the King who has come in the Name of the Lord.

This is made more vivid by the crowd who, while holding Palm branches, are greeting Jesus with a verse from Psalm 118 ‘Blessed is the King who comes in the name of the Lord’. This Psalm (118) was a Halel Psalm (a praise Psalm); it was recited joyfully, at Tabernacle and other feasts, as part of the procession to the Holy City.

The Pharisees

The Pharisees are attentive to the crowds claim about Jesus. But the claim causes them discomfort, ‘Teacher’ they say, ‘rebuke your disciples.’ But Jesus’ reply shows that he is pleased with the crowd. ‘I tell you’, says Jesus, ‘if these were silent, the very stones would cry out.’ Jesus response draws attention to the second part of the verse quoted by the crowd, ‘Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord; we blessed you from the house of the Lord’. Jesus hints at the fact that the event of his entrance to Jerusalem is much greater than Solomon’s coronation, as such it naturally provokes a great response – not just the people, but Jerusalem and the Temple should imitate the crowds welcome of – the one who has come in the name of the Lord.

Rejecting Jesus

However, as the events of Holy Week makes it clear, nor the Temple, or Jerusalem were ready to receive their King and Lord. The religious leaders were the builders who rejected Christ the Cornerstone. But worse was yet to come: even those who waved Palm branches – those who shouted Hosanna at the beginning of the week – came to shout ‘crucify Him’ by the end of the week.

To start with, the crowd were convinced that Jesus by all accounts must have been the Christ; it was easy and safe to place their trust in him. For after all, he was a righteous teacher, one who opened the eyes of the blind, made the lame walk, fed the five thousand and raised the dead. His works are good works, works that contribute to our wellbeing. But Christ’s sight was fixed on the Cross, something the crowd could not comprehend. The Cross contradicted the image of the Messiah they have come to appreciate.  Their image of the Messiah did not include a Roman cross.

Christ’s sight was not set on their goals – on their personal ambitions. Rather it was fixed on a Cross – A Cross he walked to alone. There, on that ugly Tree, he was hanged like a criminal – his form lacked in honour, with no majesty or beauty for us to admire. And it is there, on the Cross of Calvary that we witness his Coronation as the King, the one who has come in the Name of the LORD.

Christ on Palm Sunday

Today, we too join the crowd receiving Jesus with Palms. And it is all too easy to exchange the real Christ with a false Christ. A Christ who is simply here to agree with whatever we think is right and proper for my good and the good of humanity. However, we are not only carrying palm branches –we are carrying Palm Crosses. Which indicates our awareness of the sort of King we worship – the King, who laid down his life for his subjects.   It shows, we hope and pray, that here in this Temple, St. Richard of Chichester, the stones, people, priest, and Altar exist to worship Christ the King, we are here to identify with the Man of Sorrows.

This being the case, I invite you to pay attention to the events of Holy Week, with its Maundy Thursday, Good Friday and Easter Vigil. Come with open hearts. Come, not simply to revisit a story of distant past, but to re-live the passion afresh. Come and allow the events of the week to shade light on both, Christ’s identity, and our identity as his servants.

 

Celebrating Cur Deus Homo – Part III: Anselm’s Trinitarian foundation

   As well aic-sd275-icon-holy-trinity-holy-alexander-svirsks Chalcedonion Christology (cf. Part II), the Trinity plays a central role in Anselm’s exposition of the Atonement. In fact without the Trinity Anselm’s understanding of the Atonement will be rendered invalid. Anselm is a passionate advocated of the Triune God, be it his understanding of soteriology, creation or anthropology, they are all governed by his appreciation of the Trinity.

   In Cur Deus Homo, Anselm reiterates the classic view that the work of one of the divine  persons belongs to the three Trinitarian persons.[1] Due to the Turin nature of God, through the Incarnation, the divine Son, being different from the Father, offers himself to the self-same divinity of the Father and the Holy Spirit, hence the offering he makes is an offering made to his own honour – the three persons.[2] In fact, with out plurality in oneness Anselm’s soteriology will simply collapse. A singular monad, precisely because it/he is singular, cannot offer to it/himself the necessary offering discussed in Part I. However, since God is Trinity, plurality of persons in unity and oneness of nature, the Son can make an offering to the Father. The one divine nature that the Son shares with the Father and the Spirit is the factor value of the ransom required by God; hence the divinity of the Son is the perfect match for the magnitude of the recompose required by God of humankind. [3]

     To Anselm the particularity of the Son determines the unique nature and character of   the content of salvation. Anselm pays a particular attention to the particularity of the Son as the fitting person who should assume human nature; the Incarnation was uniquely suited to be the mission of the Son, rather than the Father or the Spirit. For if the Spirit was to be incarnate, Anselm argues, then there were going to be two sons, one human the other divine. Likewise, if the Father was to be incarnate, as well as two sons, there were going to be two grandsons. I.e. the Father would have been the grandson of the parents of Mary, and the Word would become the grandson of Mary, for he will be the son of here son.[4]This argument may seem strange to 21st century ears, but as bizarre as it is, it does reveals two important features of the importance of the Trinity in Anselm’s soteriological thought:

   Firstly, it emphasises the importance of the concept of union. I.e. in salvation, through Christ, humanity is brought into union with God, to share in the divine life, which consequently re-establishes human life. At times, Anselm is criticised for not taking into account the key patristic notion of theosis. [5] The criticism to a certain extent is justified, for Anselm is very much at home with the Augustinian concept of Original Sin resulting from the Fall, hence his soteriology is more of a looking back with a focus on reparation of the human condition and restoration to per-fall condition. However, because of the Incarnation, as well as mainly looking back, Anselm is also looking forward. For, due to the Son’s assumption of human nature, the man Jesus has a permanent place in the life of the Trinity. The existence of the new man on the heavenly throne secures a future for humanity, as Deme argues, for Anselm, ‘The incarnation is the proof of the existence of redeemed humanity, and therefore the proof of man’s existence’.[6]As Anselm, when considering the Cross, puts it ‘in the Incarnation of God…no humiliation of God came about: rather…the human nature was exulted.’[7] Here, though resurrection and theosis is not explicitly mentioned, nevertheless, implicitly, Anselm’s belief amounts to similar outcome.

   Secondly, and this is important for modern Trinitarian discussions, Anselm takes the Trinitarian titles, Father, Son and Spirit, with utmost seriousness. The names, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are not mere empty symbolic titles, a simple means of communication  with no real substance to them. To Anselm, the names are what they suggest, the persons are  truly and eternally Father, Son and Spirit. Anselm is not threaten by a God who is Father, Son and Spirit; the concrete identity of the Turin persons does not pose andy threat to the value and identity of human beings. As we saw above, when thinking of the Incarnation, it is precisely the Son’s Son-ness that renders him suitable to assume human nature. It is because he is the Son of God by nature he can give us to be sons/children by adoption. this means that the content of salvation entails more than forgiveness, to include the gift of being indwelled by the Son’s Spirit and to be given the privilege of calling his Abba our Abba. This being the case, we can conclude that without God’s Truin identity Anselm’s soteriology falls apart. To be continued…

[1] As early as second century it was understood that the Father works through the Son by the Spirit, cf. St. Irenaeus of Lyons, On Apostolic Preaching, I. 5, the same is argues by Augustine in fifth century cf. Augustine, On the Trinity, XIII 4.

[2] Cf. CDH. II. 18.

[3] Cf. Deme Daniel, The Christology of Anselm of Canterbury, pp.104-105.

[4] Cf. CDH. II. 9.

[5] Cf. O’Collins, SJ Gerald, Jesus our Redeemer: A Christian approach to Salvation, p.134-140.

[6] Cf. Deme, ibid, p.182.

[7] CDH. II. 7.