Benediction Online

Saturday, April 04, 2015

Taking on Godness

And so, on this holiest of nights, we complete the readings of our salvation history as we remember the creation, the passover of the Hebrews from the bondage of slavery in Egypt to the freedom of the Promise Land, and the promises of new life made to our forebears. Promises which we see fulfilled in the Passover of Jesus Christ from death to life and our own Passover from the clutches of the sin matrix into new life in Christ.

This ancient service comes to us from the second century. It is first described in the Apostolic Tradition of Hipplytus, a document which was probably written in Rome about 215CE. So Christians have been observing the first eucharist of Easter in this way for at least 1800 years. Some of the elements that we enjoy, such as the lighting of the new fire and the chanting of the Exsultet were added later, perhaps in the fifth century, with at least the new fire coming from the Celtic tradition.

On Good Friday we extinguish all candles and consume any reserved sacrament. So in this service we light the new fire of Christ’s love and then the Paschal Candle which is carried at the front of the procession representing the pillar of cloud by day and the pillar of fire by night which led the Hebrews during the Exodus. We also celebrate the first eucharist of the Resurrection together.

It is a time of new beginnings.

Because of that, it is the principle time of the year for baptisms. In ancient days candidates for baptism would be prepared for many weeks if not months, as much as two years before this service and would sit up all night hearing readings and being given instruction before being baptized at cockcrow.

I’m telling you all this because there is something about this service that bothers me. If I were constructing it from scratch I would do it differently. Because it seems that there is something missing.

We have heard the story of the people of God in the Old Testament, and in a few minutes we will hear the story of the resurrection. But we completely miss the incarnation. Nowhere in tonight’s liturgy of the word does God take flesh and come among us.

Instead, at the pivotal point of the service, just when you might expect John’s gospel, echoing the creation story to tell us “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God…” we move to baptism and the renewal of our baptismal covenant. We again make our commitments as the people of God, as the Body of Christ in the world.

So, instead of Jesus’ incarnation, we find an emphasis on our vocation to be God incarnate – God with flesh on. Instead of remembering God taking flesh, we celebrate our calling to take on Godness. Instead of remembering God taking flesh, we celebrate our calling to take on Godness.

The same Hippolytus who recorded the early Vigil services talks about baptism in this way:
Do you see, beloved… the purifying power of baptism? For he who comes down in faith to the laver of regeneration [that is to baptism] and renounces the devil, and joins himself to Christ; who denies the enemy, and makes the confession that Christ is God; who puts off the bondage, and puts on the adoption,— he comes up from the baptism brilliant as the sun, flashing forth the beams of righteousness, and, which is indeed the chief thing, he returns a son of God and joint-heir with Christ.[1]
That’s us. We came up from baptism “brilliant as the sun, flashing forth the beams of righteousness, and, which is the chief thing”…. Returning as sons and daughters of God and joint-heirs with God.
God’s incarnation in Jesus continues in us. We are the baptized, we are the resurrection people, we are the incarnation of God in Los Osos in the 21st century.

This is no small thing.

Just as God incarnated in Jesus, becoming one with humanity so through our baptism are we become one with God.

This does not mean, however much my ego wants to make it so, that I am God. That would be idolatry. I am not God but I am part of God while still very much human. And so are you. We are individually dwelling places of the Holy Spirit and how much more we are together the temple of the Holy Spirit, the mystical Body of Christ - which is why it is so important that I let go of my judgments and all the things in my mind that keep me separate from you. Only when we come to God together do we get to be that which we were created to be. As we heard Jesus say in the gospel on Thursday, “I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another."

Just as the Trinity is joined together by love and mutual service and surrender, so are we joined to one another and to the Godhead.

It is really quite astonishing -that we, the very fallible and idiosyncratic people that we are, are called to be a manifestation of God in our world. It is beyond our comprehension, and so we get to take it on faith. We are no longer just human – as the twice born, we participate in Christ’s death and resurrection. However messed up we may be, in a very real sense we are part of God through God’s gift – not as a result of anything we have done. But through God’s grace we get to participate in the creation of God’s reign. Now that we have been raised with Christ into the Godhead, we get to actively participate not only in our own sanctification but in the redemption of the whole planet.

And so it becomes clear.

The incarnation is not missing from the account of salvation history in this Great Vigil, but comes in a different form. It comes in you and in me. It comes in you and me and him and her.  Through our baptism we are the incarnation of God. In Christ we have passed over from the clutches of the matrix of sin into the reign of God, into new life as God’s adopted children, and joint heirs with Christ.

What a privilege. What a responsibility.

[1] Discourse on the Holy Theophany.


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