Monday, November 28, 2011

Cyril on the Twofold Coming of Christ

A little something from Cyril of Jerusalem (313-386) for Advent:

We do not preach only one coming of Christ, but a second as well, much more glorious than the first. The first coming was marked by patience; the second will bring the crown of a divine kingdom.

In general, whatever relates to our Lord Jesus Christ has two aspects. There is a birth from God before the ages, and a birth from a virgin at the fullness of time. There is a hidden coming, like that of rain on fleece, and a coming before all eyes, still in the future.

At the first coming he was wrapped in swaddling clothes in a manger. At his second coming he will be clothed in light as in a garment. In the first coming he endured the cross, despising the shame; in the second coming he will be in glory, escorted by an army of angels.

We look then beyond the first coming and await the second. At the first coming we said: Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord. At the second we shall say it again; we shall go out with the angels to meet the Lord and cry out in adoration: Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord.

The Saviour will not come to be judged again, but to judge those by whom he was judged. At his own judgement he was silent; then he will address those who committed the outrages against him when they crucified him and will remind them: You did these things, and I was silent.

His first coming was to fulfil his plan of love, to teach men by gentle persuasion. This time, whether men like it or not, they will be subjects of his kingdom by necessity.

The prophet Malachi speaks of the two comings. And the Lord whom you seek will come suddenly to his temple: that is one coming.

Again he says of another coming: Look, the Lord almighty will come, and who will endure the day of his entry, or who will stand in his sight? Because he comes like a refiner’s fire, a fuller’s herb, and he will sit refining and cleansing.

These two comings are also referred to by Paul in writing to Titus: The grace of God the Saviour has appeared to all men, instructing us to put aside impiety and worldly desires and live temperately, uprightly, and religiously in this present age, waiting for the joyful hope, the appearance of the glory of our great God and Saviour, Jesus Christ. Notice how he speaks of a first coming for which he gives thanks, and a second, the one we still await.

That is why the faith we profess has been handed on to you in these words: He ascended into heaven, and is seated at the right hand of the Father, and he will come again in glory to judge the living and the dead, and his kingdom will have no end.

Our Lord Jesus Christ will therefore come from heaven. He will come at the end of the world, in glory, at the last day. For there will be an end to this world, and the created world will be made new.

-- Catechetical Lecture XV

Friday, November 18, 2011

Christ the King

It is good to remember with some regularity that when God contemplates the USA it is unlikely that the cockles of the divine heart are warmed any more than when contemplating, say, Latvia, Thailand, or Tunisia. And probably no less.

Christ the King Sunday is a good time for such a reminder

Radical Centrist Manifesto X
Centered in the Body of Christ,
Part 3: Faithfulness, Loyalty & Allegiance

[Some of what follows has appeared elsewhere on this blog, but I want to include it in this series on Radical Centrism]

This Sunday is the Feast of Christ the King. Claiming that Jesus Christ is King is pretty radical. And it is a claim that raises questions about where our true loyalties lie.

I once saw a woman wearing a t-shirt that I found disturbing and very telling. It was a white t-shirt that had JESUSAVES written across the front. I believe he does. But that was not the only message on the shirt. All the letters were blue except for those in the middle - USA - which were red. [A similar shirt is here] It was a telling icon of the confused syncretism of many Christians in America. Who saves? Jesus? The USA? Or, are the two so emotionally entwined in our imaginations that we can't tell the difference? It is an illustration of Stanley Hauerwas' assertion that for many Americans, the nation is their true church. For many Americans, America is the social body to which their ultimate allegiance is pledged regardless of what religious affiliation they formally claim.

Patriotism might not always be idolatry. A distinction must be made, however, between holding dear or celebrating the particular culture and history of a place/people and the sort of nationalistic exceptionalism that too often gets expressed. Even if patriotism is not always idolatrous, Christians should be wary of its appeal and suspicious of those who appeal to it to shepherd them in one direction or another. If Jesus Christ is the King, Christians need to beware of the temptation to confuse that King with other entities, including Uncle Sam, who would claim the kind of loyalty and emotional attachment that belongs to him alone. If Christ is King, do we have any business pledging allegiance to anything or anyone else?

My point is not that America is bad – at least no more than most other powers of this world. Stanley Kubrick once said, "The great nations have always acted like gangsters, and the small nations like prostitutes." One can find examples of America falling in there somewhere. As one can with every nation. On the other hand, anti-Americanism can also become an idol.

There are plenty of reasons for someone living in America to be grateful. And America has also done quite a bit of good in the world. But there are reasons for people in just about every country of the world to be grateful for their land, history and culture. And every nation, tribe, and people, also has things in its history and character of which to repent. There is something distinctive about every country, but none is “exceptional” in the sense of being beyond the normal ambiguities of this world.

Being centered in Jesus Christ and claiming him as King and Lord means pledging our allegiance to “another country”. We are citizens of heaven and of the kingdom of God (Philippians 3:20, Ephesians 2:9). Where our true citizenship lies is a question both the religious right and the religious left in America tend to get wrong. Baptism is our naturalization into a nationality other than that into which we are born (1 Peter 2:9). The creed is our pledge of allegiance. And Eucharist is the characteristic privilege and responsibility of citizenship that shapes us as a people and calls us to live as members of the body of Christ with each other and in the world. As William Cavanaugh writes in Torture and Eucharist: Theology, Politics, and the Body of Christ:

In the Eucharist one is fellow citizen not of other present “Chileans” [or Americans] but of other members of the body of Christ, past, present and future. The Christian wanders among the earthly nations on the way to her eternal patria, the Kingdom of God. The Eucharist makes clear, however, that this Kingdom does not simply stand outside of history, nor is heaven simply a goal for the individual to achieve at death. Under the sign of the Eucharist the Kingdom becomes present in history through Christ the heavenly High Priest. In the Eucharist the heavens are opened, and the church of all times and places is gathered around the altar. p. 224

The Church is a body of people who are citizens of another country centered in Jesus Christ and his kingdom. That Christians all too often subsume Christianity under other loyalties does not negate the responsibility to seek to get our loyalty (that to which we are faithful) straight. What Christians can do about that is remember that Christ is King of kings and Lord of lords and be free of undue concern with the principalities and powers knowing that Christ has triumphed over them (Colossians 2:15). Christians have another King and should beware of giving their heart and loyalty to any other principality, power, or nation.

Friday, November 11, 2011

Austin Farrer, Radical Centrist

Austin Farrer (1904–1968) was one of the most brilliant and original British theologians of the previous century. Rowan Williams, the current Archbishop of Canterbury, has described Farrer as “possibly the greatest Anglican mind of the twentieth century.” He was a friend of J.R.R. Tolkien, Dorothy Sayers, and C. S. Lewis. Farrer took the last sacraments to Lewis before his death and preached at his funeral. He wrote scholarly books on theology, but also more popular and devotional books. His collections of sermons are edifying. He should be more widely read than he is. He is another theologian who cannot be easily identified as either "conservative" or "liberal" but undeniably centered in Jesus Christ.

The following is from a wonderful little book of reflection on the Apostles' Creed, Lord I Believe: Suggestions for Turning the Creed into Prayer:

Though God be in me, yet without the creed to guide me, I should know neither how to call upon God, nor on what God to call. God may be the very sap of my growth and substance of my action; but the tree has grown so crooked and is so deformed and cankered in its parts, that I should be at a loss to distinguish the divine power among the misuse of power given. Were I to worship God as the principle of my life, I should merely worship myself under another name with all my good and evil. Lord I Believe, p. 14

Friday, November 4, 2011

Thomas Merton, Radical Centrist

Here is the meaning of faith in the New Testament, and in the early history of the Church: the willingness to sacrifice every other value other than the basic value of truth and life in Christ. Christian faith in the full sense of the word, is not just the acceptance of “truths about” Christ. It is not just acquiescence in the story of Christ with its moral and spiritual implications. It is not merely the decision to put into practice, to some extent at least, the teachings of Christ. All these forms of acceptance are compatible with an acquiescence in what is “not Christ.” It is quite possible to “believe in Christ,” in the sense of mentally accepting the truth that he lived on earth, died, and rose from the dead, and yet still live “in the flesh,” according to the standards of a greedy, violent, unjust and corrupt society, without noticing any real contradiction in one’s life.

But the real meaning of faith is the rejection of everything that is not Christ in order that all life, all truth, all hope, all reality may be sought and found “in Christ.”
- Thomas Merton, Life and Holiness, p. 99-100