Easter: A Revolutionary Cry

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[Excerpt from David Bentley Hart's The Doors of the Sea, 80-81):

The cross is not an act of divine impotence but of divine power. The cross is not a vehicle whereby God reconciles either himself or us to death. Rather, he subverts death, and makes a way through it to a new life. . . . Easter utterly confounds the “rulers of this age” (1 Cor. 2:8), and in fact reverses the verdict they have pronounced upon Christ, thereby revealing that the cosmic, sacred, political, and civic powers of all who condemn Christ have become tyranny, falsehood, and injustice.

Easter is an act of ‘rebellion’ . . . . It liberates us from servitude to and terror before the ‘elements.’ It emancipates us from fate. It overcomes the ‘world.’

Easter should make rebels of us all.

Hauerwas & Jenson: “Why Did Jesus Have to Die?”

“Why did Jesus have to die? Christians have developed explanations for why Jesus had to die called atonement theories. For example, some suggest that Jesus had to die as a satisfaction for our sin, to serve as a moral exemplar for us, or to defeat the devil and the powers that have revolted against their creator. There is scriptural warrant for each of these accounts of Jesus’ death, but these theories risk isolating Jesus’ crucifixion from his life.

His death cannot be isolated from his life, because his death is the result of his life. He died because he had challenged the elites of Israel who used the law to protect themselves from the demands of God; he died because he challenged the pretentious power of Rom; and he died at the hands of the democratic will of the mob. He died because he at once challenged and offered an alternative to all forms of human polity based on the violence made inevitable by the denial of God. Robert Jenson, therefore, rightly observes that the Gospels:

“tell a powerful and biblically integrated story of the Crucifixion; this story is just so the story of God’s act to bring us back to himself at his own cost, and of our being brought back. There is no other story behind or beyond it that is the real story of what God does to reconcile us, no story of mythic battles or of a deal between God and his Son or of our being moved to live reconciled lives. The Gospel’s passion narrative is the authentic and entire account of God’s reconciling action and our reconciliation, as evens in his life and ours. Therefore, what is first and principally required as the Crucifixion’s right interpretation is for us to tell this story to one another and to God as a story about him and ourselves.” (Jenson, 1997, 189.)

- Hauerwas, Commentary on Matthew, 238 [italics are mine].

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A Very Patristic Maundy Thursday (Cyril of Alexandria)

I grew up in a church setting in which “communion” was not observed regularly. The few times that it was practiced, we utilized a “fast-food” strategy – efficiently passing out individually packaged cups and crackers. For us, communion was one of many possible ways that we remembered the individual forgiveness which we received because of Jesus’ death.

I’ve since learned that communion is not simply one of many ways to worship Jesus but is instead a central way that believers encounter the transforming presence of Christ. One of my teachers regarding the Eucharist was the church father Cyril of Alexandra. Here are a few excerpts from Cyril’s commentary on Luke 22:17-22:

“Christ dwells in us, first, by the Holy Spirit, and we are His abode, according to that which was said of old by one of the holy prophets. ‘For I will dwell in them and lead them, and I will be to them a God, and they shall be to Me a people.’. . . . 
But He is also within us in another way by means of our partaking in the oblation of bloodless offerings, which we celebrate in the churches, having received from Him the saving pattern of the rite, as the blessed Evangelist plainly shows us in the passage which has just been read. . . . 
Was it right that one who was created for life and immortality should be made mortal, and condemned to death without power of escape? Must the envy of the devil be more unassailable and enduring than the will of God? Not so: for it has been brought to nought; and the clemency of the Creator has transcended the evil effects of his malignity. He has given aid to those upon earth. . . .
In what manner therefore can man upon earth, clothed as he is with mortality, return to incorruption? I answer, that this dying flesh must be made partaker of the life-giving power which comes from God. But the life-giving power of God the Father is the Only-begotten Word, and Him He sent to us as a Savior and Deliverer. . . .
By being born in the flesh of a woman, and tying to Himself that body which He received from her he has implanted Himself in us by an inseparable union so that He might raise us above the power both of death and corruption. . . .
For He was made in our likeness, and clothed Himself in our flesh, that by raising it from the dead He might prepare a way henceforth, by which the flesh which had been humbled to death might return anew to incorruption. For we are united to Him just as also we were united to Adam, when he brought upon himself the penalty of death. And Paul testifies thereunto, thus writing on one occasion, “For because by man is death, by man is also the resurrection of the dead:” and again upon another, “For as in Adam all die, even so in Christ shall all live.” The Word therefore, by having united to Himself that flesh which was subject to death, as being God and Life drove away from it corruption, and made it also to be the source of life: for such must the body of Life be.”

Notice that for Cyril, the Eucharist is not primarily indicative of death but of life. Not first a means of forgiveness but of immortality. Cyril interprets the passage in the theological context of the Incarnation and the Adam-Christ Typology. Humanity has inherited the death-infested flesh of Adam. It is this same humanity that the Son has united himself with in the Incarnation, driving out all corruption and becoming a source of life. Thus, the body of Christ is, in a sense, the location of salvation for fallen humanity. We come to the table in order to break our bond with Adam and to share in Christ’s life-giving flesh. The Eucharist is thus a sort of resurrection meal, one that is offered to us every time we approach the table.

Today, have yourself a very patristic Maundy Thursday.

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Reading Lamentations: A Missional Mourning

Today I will finish a five-week series at my church [Fc3] preaching through the book of Lamentations for the season of Lent. It has stretched and challenged both myself and our congregation, but it has been a very worshipful season.

My main take-away: Christians should not ignore the book of Lamentations.

“Lamentations can be read from inside-out as worshippers are asked to identify with Zion in her grief. It can also read from outside-in as worshippers are asked to identify with the narrator observing Zion, or those on the road passing by, or even as the oppressing nations who cause the pain. As such it has the potential to teach us to express our praise before God, to call us to comfort others (Rom. 12:15; 1 Cor 1), or as a sharp expose of our communal sin by causing affliction to others, bringing conviction of sin and offering a call to confession and repentance. Using this book well in worship is not about becoming self-obsessed, miserable people but about becoming people who can respond to the pain of others in more appropriate ways (an outward-looking and mission practice if ever there was one) and who can respond to our own pain (either individual or communal) more honestly and faithfully.” [Robin Parry: Wrestling with Lamentations in Christian Worship]

If you are interested, you can listen to the sermons here:
Lamentations 1 – A Topography of Pain
Lamentations 2 – Moved to Tears
Lamentations 3 – Can’t Shake It
Lamentations 4 – Broken But Beating
Lamentations 5 - Your Move, God

Richard Hays: Historical Study and Theological Exegesis

One of the questions I am trying to answer for my thesis is how historical-critical methods and historical-grammatical methods might interact with theological exegesis. Today I was rereading an article by Hays–on how we need to read with eyes of faith–and the question is briefly addressed in his description of the practice of theological exegesis (point 3 of 12):

…historical study is internal to the practice of theological exegesis. The reasons why this is so are themselves fundamentally theological: God has created the material world, and God has acted for the redemption of that world through the incarnation of the Son in the historical person Jesus of Nazareth. History therefore cannot be either inimical or irrelevant to theology’s affirmations of truth. The more accurately we understand the historical setting of 1st-century Palestine, the more precise and faithful will be our understanding of what the incarnate Word taught, did, and suffered. The more we know about the Mediterranean world of Greco-Roman antiquity, the more nuanced will be our understanding of the ways in which the NT’s epistles summoned their readers to a conversion of the imagination.”

- Richard B. Hays, “Reading the Bible with Eyes of Faith” in Journal of Theological Interpretation I.I (2007), p.12

This is one of my favorite articles by Hays–I think it should be required reading for any class on the Bible or theology. You can read a slightly different version here.