Friday, March 28, 2008

Easter Week

Holy Week and the Triduum was a marvelous experience for our Saint Patrick's community. I was unable to make it to Maundy Thursday observances because of a work commitment, but we shared that liturgy with Apostles' Church at their meetingplace. On Friday we had a joint Tenebrae service with South Elkhorn Christian Church. The liturgy was well done, and SECC has some friendly folks.

I was very pleased with our Easter Vigil; I'd spent a great deal of time practicing to chant the Exultet, and by the time I finished it, I thought I was going to pass out by the end of it, but happily I remembered to bend my knees a bit halfway through the 6 minute song. Here's an excerpt:
This is the night
when Jesus Christ broke the chains of death
and rose triumphant from the grave.

What good would life have been to us,
had Christ not come as our Redeemer?
Father, how wonderful your care for us!
How boundless your merciful love!
To ransom a slave you gave away your Son.

O happy fault,
O necessary sin of Adam,
which gained for us so great a Redeemer!

Most blessed of all nights,
chosen by God to see Christ rising from the dead!
I was honored and even humbled to lead our people into the Easter Vigil and celebration in this way. I spent part of Holy Week listening to Kallistos Ware's lectures on the meaning of the cross (scroll down the page for links), and one of hte things that occurred to me as I practiced is that many protestant Christians are - how can I put this - inappropriately sorry for the death of Christ. I've read some devotions regarding the execution of the Lord that speak as if it were entirely a terrible, terrible things, and really it would have been better if the whole thing could have been avoided. This is not true, of course, for the death of Christ was an extravagant act of love by God. We thank the God who so wonderously created, and more wonderously redeemed>!

This is a Western hymn, so I do find some of the theology a bit problematic. The song reads, "
For Christ has ransomed us with his blood,
and paid for us the price of Adam's sin to our eternal Father!"

As Bishop Kallistos puts it, it is biblical to say that Christ paid the ransom, but we must remember that this is a concept that only goes so far. We can not take it so far as to say what the Scripture does not, i.e. that Christ paid the ransom to the devil, or that Christ paid the ransom to God, because neither was really "holding us for ransom." Rather, the emphasis is on the healing and freeing work of Christ: it is as if we were slaves, and Christ laid down payment to purchase us for himself.

To say that Christ paid the ransom to the devil brings us a place of theologizing about "the devil's rights" over humanity before God. That is deeply, deeply problematic, and it is an error made by some patristic writers (apparently) and many Pentecostals (obviously). To say that God was enslaving us and that he needed a ransom paid to himself does two problematic things: 1) it presents God as capricious and evil, because in such a conception it becomes God who keeps us enslaved to sin and death. 2) It places a wedge between Christ and the Father, and the redemptive work of Christ is depicted as something that he performs over against the Father. That's a problem. This is a mistake that some patristic writers made (apparently) and many Baptists make (obviously).

Is that enough for today? I think it is.


JHearne said...

The "ransom paid to God" could be a misunderstanding or misapplication of Anselm's Cur Deus Homo.

Let's not forget, either, that there are three dominant streams within our orthodox and catholic soteriology. It's not a simple matter, obviously.

I wish we could have been there to worship with y'all. But, trusting in the oneness of the Church, we worshipped with you from a distance.


Anonymous said...


Just curious...

Did you share the Tenebrae service in addition to the Proper Liturgy for Good Friday?

I've been pleasantly surprised that, having laid the foundation as best as I was able during Lent (and the rest of the year, really) my tiny congregation (worships about 40-45 on Sunday) has, for both years I've celebrated Easter with them, responded very well to the Triduum--averaging around 30-35 each of the three days (and then kicking up near 100 on the Sunday of the Resurrection).

I spent a lot of time teaching about how it's really not three "special services", but one three day long liturgy--hence no blessing or procession out on Thursday, no entrance rite in, nor blessing or procession out on Friday, and a procession (but not really an entrance procession with cross and candles) on Saturday night.

I also spent a lot of time teaching that in these rites (and hopefully if they get this here, they'll get it at every liturgy) we don't gaze on a performance as if at a spectacle, but are drawn into them, having our identities fused with Christ's... being invited at each turn to be (the Body of) Christ in these liturgies... washing feet, offering intercession on behalf of the world, kissing the cross and making it ours, dying and being raised at the font and celebrating the Eucharist...

They seemed to get it for the most part.

We spend a lot of time talking about Eucharistic Ecclesiology or Baptismal Ecclesiology, but in these rites we see these combined and suggesting something more... a Paschal Ecclesiology--where we grow more and more in Christ... becoming more and more what he did for us... for the life of the world...

It's certainly what orients my ministry as one of the baptized and as priest.

Blessed and Glorious Easter,

Father Rhodes

Kyle said...

That may well be, Josh. I'm not very much a fan of Anselm's contributions as I understand them. Maybe I'll sort it out a bit more some day. Blessed Eastertide!

Father Rhodes, I think that's very well said, and I appreciate the reminder. We're finishing up our Anglican Catechesis course this time around, and we have a liturgy professor teach the session on worship and sacraments. He always emphasizes the role of the Letter to the Hebrews in our thinking about the liturgy - that we worship in and with Christ, the true "worship leader."

The Tenebrae service didn't have any part of BCP liturgy; it was planned entirely by South Elkhorn, with our own priest assisting in black cassock. Choir dress, you migh say, as there was no celebration of Holy Communion. Indeed there could not have been because of our theology of ministry and the strictures of canon law.

byron smith said...

C. S. Lewis got a little too excited about the ransom metaphor too. It structures (and distorts, unfortunately) the chapters about deep and deeper magic in LLW.

+ simonas said...

Like a lot of Franciscans, I find this Dominican (?) idea about the "happy fault“ (felix culpa) a little disturbing to say the least. It seems that sin was a necessary cause for our communion with God. Adam did have full communion with his Creator. It is his sin that made it necessary for redemption, i.e. a way to regain that communion. Some faulty logic in causality, in my opinion.

Happy Easter nevertheless. Thanks for the links to Kallistos. I listened to him as well.