Saturday, April 7, 2012

Sermon For Holy Saturday

As I was sitting in the Episcopalian Church shortly after leaving the Seventh-day Adventist church, the priest started his homily by telling us that ancient legend has it that this was the Apostle Peter's sermon on Holy Saturday. We of course cannot be certain of this, but it is indeed a very ancient sermon. 

The Lord's descent into hell

"What is happening? Today there is a great silence over the earth, a great silence, and stillness, a great silence because the King sleeps; the earth was in terror and was still, because God slept in the flesh and raised up those who were sleeping from the ages. God has died in the flesh, and the underworld has trembled.

Truly he goes to seek out our first parent like a lost sheep; he wishes to visit those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death. He goes to free the prisoner Adam and his fellow-prisoner Eve from their pains, he who is God, and Adam's son.

The Lord goes in to them holding his victorious weapon, his cross. When Adam, the first created man, sees him, he strikes his breast in terror and calls out to all: 'My Lord be with you all.' And Christ in reply says to Adam: ‘And with your spirit.’ And grasping his hand he raises him up, saying: ‘Awake, O sleeper, and arise from the dead, and Christ shall give you light.

‘I am your God, who for your sake became your son, who for you and your descendants now speak and command with authority those in prison: Come forth, and those in darkness: Have light, and those who sleep: Rise.

‘I command you: Awake, sleeper, I have not made you to be held a prisoner in the underworld. Arise from the dead; I am the life of the dead. Arise, O man, work of my hands, arise, you who were fashioned in my image. Rise, let us go hence; for you in me and I in you, together we are one undivided person.

‘For you, I your God became your son; for you, I the Master took on your form; that of slave; for you, I who am above the heavens came on earth and under the earth; for you, man, I became as a man without help, free among the dead; for you, who left a garden, I was handed over to Jews from a garden and crucified in a garden.

‘Look at the spittle on my face, which I received because of you, in order to restore you to that first divine inbreathing at creation. See the blows on my cheeks, which I accepted in order to refashion your distorted form to my own image.

'See the scourging of my back, which I accepted in order to disperse the load of your sins which was laid upon your back. See my hands nailed to the tree for a good purpose, for you, who stretched out your hand to the tree for an evil one.

`I slept on the cross and a sword pierced my side, for you, who slept in paradise and brought forth Eve from your side. My side healed the pain of your side; my sleep will release you from your sleep in Hades; my sword has checked the sword which was turned against you.

‘But arise, let us go hence. The enemy brought you out of the land of paradise; I will reinstate you, no longer in paradise, but on the throne of heaven. I denied you the tree of life, which was a figure, but now I myself am united to you, I who am life. I posted the cherubim to guard you as they would slaves; now I make the cherubim worship you as they would God.

"The cherubim throne has been prepared, the bearers are ready and waiting, the bridal chamber is in order, the food is provided, the everlasting houses and rooms are in readiness; the treasures of good things have been opened; the kingdom of heaven has been prepared before the ages."

A reading from an ancient homily for Holy Saturday

Thursday, April 5, 2012

Eighth Day Dawning

St. Paul Center For Biblical Theology

Jesus Resurrection

Eighth Day Dawning

April began with Palm Sunday this year, and Easter Sunday falls on the eighth day. In so many ways, this brings us Christians back to our roots.
The early Church Fathers marked every Sunday as the “eighth day.” Creation was complete in six days, and God rested on the Sabbath—but at the Resurrection He began something new
The first-century Epistle of Barnabas presents the matter in a prophetic oracle. With the Sabbath — with Saturday — the epistle tells us, God “set all things at rest.” With the new dawn, however, he will “usher in the Eighth Day, the beginning of a new world.”
So here we are, at the “beginning of a new world.”
On Easter, God did not merely resuscitate a corpse. That would have been merely miraculous. Nor did he merely vindicate His Son. That would have been merely triumphant.
No, on Easter Sunday we mark the moment when he who sat upon the throne said, “Behold, I make all things new” (Revelation 21:5).
We are living in that moment. We are already living in a day when heaven and earth are full of His glory. Christ is risen. He has been vindicated. He reigns triumphant. But the Good News is even better than all of that. Through his rising he has glorified our poor flesh and taken it to heaven. Through our share in his death and resurrection, we have become “partakers of the divine nature” (2 Peter 1:4). Through the sacraments he empowers us to live that life, not just when we go to heaven, but even now.
Those early Fathers loved the Easter season because it was the time the Church admitted new members through the sacraments of initiation. Easter was the season of a special preaching the Church calls mystagogy: the explication of the mysteries.
Through the grace of the sacraments, Christians receive eyes to see the “new heaven and new earth” (Revelation 21:3). A new Christian, newly healed and unaccustomed to such vision, might look out and say, “I see men; but they look like trees, walking” (see Mark 8:24).
But the mystagogical teaching of the Fathers leads us to see the world aright, as God has created it to be, and as He has redeemed it—as He is redeeming it even today. Mystagogy leads us to see God’s new world awash in the “river of the water of life, bright as crystal, flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb” (Revelation 22:1). Mystagogy reveals the “hidden manna” of the Holy Eucharist.
By the light of the Easter Candle we can see so much we could not otherwise apprehend, because we are looking now with eyes of faith.
Let’s live this season as our most ancient ancestors did. Let’s make it a moment of celebration of the mysteries — the sacraments Christ instituted for us and entrusted to the Church. Let’s live Easter in prayerful study of the Scriptures, in the company of the Fathers. Let us come to see this “new world”—the Church and her sacraments—for all that God has made it to be.
The ardor of Easter is different from the rigors of Lent. It is pure joy, pure praise, a pure stream of Alleluia and Gloria flowing at last in a life we had laid waste.
You are good to share this moment of joy with me and my colleagues at the St. Paul Center. I promise you our prayers, on the Eighth Day and beyond.  For our mission is mystagogy—or, as I put it in the title of a book for the Easter season, Living the Mysteries.