Christ Our Redeemer Anglican Church

Anglican Thoughts

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Salvation History: The Unfolding Drama of God's Love for Us

This blog post is an adaptation of Dcn. Wesley's homily from the Easter Vigil. You can listen to the audio here or on your favorite podcast provider. 

This past weekend, the Church celebrated Christ's Resurrection. On Maundy Thursday, we washed each other's feet like Jesus did to the disciples before he instituted the Lord's Supper. On Good Friday, we walked with Christ to the Cross and solemnly remembered his death on our behalf. Saturday evening, we participated in the Great Easter Vigil where we relit the paschal candle and renewed our baptismal vows followed by a celebration of the resurrection on Sunday morning. 

Throughout our various services, fulfilled the words of Psalm 77:11-14 (RSV), "I will call to mind the deeds of the Lord; yea, I will remember thy wonders of old. I will meditate on all thy work, and muse on thy mighty deeds. Thy way, O God, is holy. What God is great like our God? Thou art the God who workers wonders, who hast manifested thy might among the peoples." Holy Week is a time for us to soak in the panorama of salvation history. It allows us to place ourselves in the unfolding drama of redemption that God has been working since the beginning that climaxed in the events we celebrate this Easter and will be finally accomplished when Christ returns to "judge the living and the dead." 

Let's look at the drama of salvation history and how we can be inserted into the story through Baptism. 

Scene I: Creation (Genesis 1:1-2:3)

At your command, all things came to be: the vast expanse of interstellar space, galaxies, suns, the planets in their courses, and this fragile earth, our island home.
          -Eucharistic Prayer C in the 1979 Book of Common Prayer

The creation story is the subject of controversy. Some people see it as a scientific description of origins. Others view it as merely a myth. Unfortunately, by hoisting modern debates onto the text, people lose the important principles contained in this beautiful story. 

First, God is outside of creation. He brought all things into being. The God in Genesis 1 isn't like the pagan gods of Israel's neighbors who were inside and a part of the created world. The God of the Israelites is very existence itself, the ground of all being. John 1:1-3 tells us that the Word, Jesus Christ, was the means of creation: "In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God; all things were made through him, and without him was not anything made that was made."

Because God is the creator and designer of all things, everything he made points back to him, as Romans 1:19-20 tells us, "For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them. Ever since the creation of the world his invisible nature, namely his eternal power and deity, has been clearly perceived in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse." 

Second, God's creation was good because he is good. Goodness is not a standard independent of God that he is trying to meet. Nor is goodness arbitrary. Goodness isn't just good because God says it is. God couldn't, for instance, make a world where adultery, lying, and violence are good and love, charity, and fidelity are vices. Good is a fundamental characteristic of who God is. He cannot be anything else. As such, all goodness, truth, and beauty that we encounter come from his nature and point us back to him. 

From the primal elements you brought forth the human race, and blessed us with memory, reason, and skill. You made us the rulers of creation. 
          -Eucharistic Prayer C in the 1979 Book of Common Prayer

Out of all things created by God, humanity was the pinnacle. God created us with free will because he wanted real relationship with us and free will is necessary for this to occur. He gave us a home: the Garden of Eden. It was the original Temple, a place where God could dwell with humanity. He gave us a covenant (all covenants are made up of obligations and promises). The obligation was: "You may freely eat of every tree of the garden; but of the tree of knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat it you shall die" (Gen 2:16-17). The promise was that humans could live with the Lord and occupy a special role as the vice-rulers of creation. As his Image-bearers, we mediated between God and the rest of his creation. 

Scene II: The Rebellion (Genesis 3)

We turned against you, and betrayed your trust; and we turned against one another.
          -Eucharistic Prayer C in the 1979 Book of Common Prayer

According to the Wisdom of Solomon 2:23-24, "for God created man for incorruption, and made him in the image of his own eternity, but through the devil's envy death entered the world, and those who belong to his party experience it." We commonly hear of this episode in salvation-history described as "the Fall" but it was more than that, it was an active revolt against the rule of God. 

Sin, which infected all of humanity through the actions of Adam and Eve defaces the innate Image we had been given by God. It prevents relationship with him, which is why Adam and Eve had to hide from God and were no longer allowed to occupy the Garden as priests in his Temple. Sin also destroys relationships with others, proven by the curses placed on Adam and Eve which ultimately lead to conflict. It leaves us less human and undoes God's initial act of creation. It also switched our allegiance from the Kingdom of God to the dominion of the devil. Irenaeus describes it this way:

Adam had become the devil’s possession, and the devil held him under his power, by having wrongfully practiced deceit upon him, and by the offer of immortality made him subject to death.
— Against Heresies III, 23, I

Humans then had become God's enemies by siding with the devil. The evil one obtained a legal title deed to humanity and they were subjected to sin and death. 

Scene III: A Divine Dilemma

Because of humanity's sin, God was in a "dilemma." Option A: God could forgive humanity without requiring death. But that would cause him to go back on his word and God cannot lie nor can he ignore injustice. Option B: he could allow us, his special creation to continue on a trajectory which would eventually take us into a state of non-existence (remember, one of the effects of sin is dehumanization). But God couldn't leave us helpless in our pitiable state because he is good and loving. 

Fortunately, God had a plan. He would win humanity back from the devil and enable his creation to enter relationship with himself again. This language of "dilemma" is an anthropomorphism. Never at any point was God wringing his hands, at a loss for what to do. Instead, he implemented a blueprint as a rescue mission which would take place in scene IV. 

Scene IV: A "Temporary Fix"--God's First Step Towards Redeeming the World

Again, and again, you called us to return. Through prophets and sages you revealed your righteous Law.
          -Eucharistic Prayer C in the 1979 Book of Common Prayer

The first stage in God's plan was to select a line of people to represent him to the world: the descendants of Abraham. He established a covenant with them so that they might bless the whole world by pointing them back to God. The obligation of this covenant was circumcision (the means by which one could enter into the family of God) and adherence to the Mosaic Law. The promise was land, blessing, and progeny. Once again, God took up residence among humanity, first in the Israelite Tabernacle and then in their Temple. 

But there were some roadblocks in the plan. First, Israel was just one ethnic group and God has always loved all people everywhere regardless of ethnicity. Second, the sign of entrance to the covenant, circumcision, was gender-exclusive, applying only to males. Third, Israel failed at keeping their covenantal obligations. Rather than being an example to other nations, showing them what it means to live a holy life according to God's law, they were dragged down by the pagan populations which surrounded them. Finally, the sacrificial system, while effectual, was imperfect, as we're told in Hebrews 10:14, "For it is impossible that the blood of bulls and goats should take away sins."

For all these reasons, during the Old Covenant days, there was a longing and anticipation for a more complete and final system. This emotion is palpable in Ezekiel 36:24-28

For I will take you from the nations, and gather you from all the countries, and bring you into your own land. I will sprinkle clean water upon you, and you shall be clean from all your uncleannesses, and from all your idols I will cleanse you. A new heart I will give you, and a new spirit I will put within you; and I will take out of your flesh the heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh. And I will put my spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my statutes and be careful to observe my ordinances. you shall dwell in the land which I gave to your fathers; and you shall be my people, and I will be your God.

This reading anticipates a day when "all countries" will make up God's elect, meaning God's family wouldn't be ethnocentric. This long awaited New Covenant would offer a total scrubbing of sin, a day when hearts of stone could become hearts of flesh. This would be a day when the Spirit of God dwells directly in his people. 

Scene V: The Finale

In the fullness of time you sent your only Son, born of a woman, to fulfill your Law, to open for us the way of freedom and peace.
          -Eucharistic Prayer C in the 1979 Book of Common Prayer

The shortest summary of this final stage in God's plan to rescue humanity can be found in John 1:14, "And the word became flesh and dwelt among us, full of grace and truth." The divine condescended to our level in Jesus Christ, "who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men" (Phil 2:6-7). Out of pity and love, he stoops to our level to stop Satan, sin, and death. He accomplishes the prophesy in Genesis 3:15: "[the seed] shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise his heel."

Christ had to be like us so he could die as a substitution for us, the perfect and complete sacrifice which can put an end to our corruption and restore the divine Image within us. Hebrews 2:14-15 exhibits this: "Since therefore the children share in flesh and blood, he himself likewise partook of the same nature, that through death he might destroy him who has the power of death, that is, the devil, and deliver all those who through fear of death were subject to lifelong bondage." 

On the cross, two important things happened. First, God's own wrath was satisfied giving us access to him directly, something Hebrews 10:14, 19 affirms, "For by a single offering he has perfected for all time those who are sanctified. Therefore, brethren, since we have confidence to enter the sanctuary by the blood of Jesus."

The second thing accomplished on the cross is that Satan, sin, and death were defeated, "He disarmed the principalities and powers and made a public example of them, triumphing over them in him" (Col 2:15). Luther compared God to a fisherman who attaches a worm to the en of his line and casts it into the water. The fish, Satan, sees the worm, but not the hook. He bites, thinking he has caught dinner. But the hook gets stuck in his gill and he is caught. 

The resurrection and the crucifixion are, therefore, intricately intertwined. The devil, like the whale in Jonah, can't keep Christ down. He chokes on him and is forced to spew him back out. Another picture might be what would happen to a medieval era tax collector who threw the son of a King in prison over a debt. Not only would the tax collector be stripped of his position, he may even be put to death for his presumptuous actions! So it is with Satan and death: "Death is swallowed up in victory. O death, where is thy victory? O death, where is thy sting?" (1 Cor 15:54-55). The resurrection is the ultimate vindication, the sign that Christ has already won! He is the fulfillment of God's plan. 

Finding Our Place in the Story: The Sacrament of Baptism (Romans 6:3-11)

So God's purposes have been fulfilled in Christ. But how do we jump into the story? The answer, according to Paul in Romans 6:3-11, is the sacrament of Baptism. According to Thomas Aquinas, a sacrament is, "a sign which is both a reminder of the past, that is, of the passion of Christ, and an indication of what is effected in us by Christ's passion, and a foretelling and pledge of future glory." The Anglican Church in North America Catechism explains how Baptism specifically meets Aquinas' definition: "The inward and spiritual grace set forth is a death to sin and a new birth to righteousness, through union with Christ in his death and resurrection. I am born a sinner by nature, separated from God, but in Baptism, rightly received, I am made God's child by grace through faith in Christ." 

Baptism doesn't just change our allegiance from the dominion of the devil to the Kingdom of Christ but it's also a transplant of identity by which our stone heart is transformed into a heart of flesh. This process is initiated by Christ and accomplished through our identification with his death and resurrection. 

As we place ourselves in God's story, it is important for us to remember that Baptism is a new beginning, "For he who has died is freed from sin. But if we have died with Christ, we believe that we shall also live with him. For we know that Christ being raised from the dead will never die again; death no longer has dominion over him. The death he died he died to sin, once for all, but the life he lives he lives to God. So you also must consider yourselves dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus" (Romans 6:7-11; emphasis added).

When we renew our baptismal vows every year at the Easter Vigil, we should leave as changed people. Karl Barth notes the impact Baptism has on us: "The man who emerges from the water is not the same man who entered it. One man dies and another s born. The baptized person is no longer to be identified with the man who died. Baptism bears witness to us of the death of Christ. Where the radical and inexorable claim of God upon men triumphed. He that is baptized is drawn into the sphere of this event." 

Through our Baptism, we should live in such solidarity with Christ's death and resurrection that people see him through us. 

To close with the admonition from Josemaria Escriva, "May we never die through sin; may our spiritual resurrection be eternal.