Exult, let them exult!

Exult, let them exult, the hosts of heaven,
exult, let Angel ministers of God exult,
let the trumpet of salvation
sound aloud our mighty King’s triumph!

With these words, which open the Exsultet, the Proclamation of Easter, according to the text in the Roman Catholic Church, I want to proclaim the resurrection of our Lord, Jesus Christ! For a sung version, see here:

In Christ, we find forgiveness, life, happiness, joy! And, as St. Paul reminds us, in 2 Timothy 1:8-10, we should not be ashamed of this:

Do not be ashamed, then, of the testimony about our Lord or of me his prisoner, but join with me in suffering for the gospel, relying on the power of God, who saved us and called us with a holy calling, not according to our works but according to his own purpose and grace. This grace was given to us in Christ Jesus before the ages began, but it has now been revealed through the appearing of our Saviour Christ Jesus, who abolished death and brought life and immortality to light through the gospel.

That is the Paschal Gospel, as formulated by St. Paul. But what does he mean when he says that Christ has “brought life and immortality to light through the gospel”?

For us the word ‘Gospel’ has become a Christian one, something only understood by those on the inside. But for the recipients of the letters of St. Paul, this was very real and very common. The word, which basically means ‘good news,’ was used by kings, princes, and emperors to mark important occasions and particularly their accession to the throne.[1] After the ‘chaos’ that followed the death of his predecessor, the new ruler would come and promise to introduce peace and stability. That, at least, was the rhetoric used. Life, however, remained the same for most people. And by the same, I mean equally bad. We have probably all heard the saying of Tacitus, describing the conquest of the Roman empire and the so-called pax Romana, ‘the Roman peace’: “To ravage, to slaughter, to usurp under false titles, they call empire; and where they make a desert, they call it peace.” But with Christ we see something different, something new. Like others before and after Him, He claimed to be Christ, the Messiah, the representative of Israel, but unlike those before and after Him, He did not claim to be a political figure, just another man to free us from physical captivity; from Romans, corrupt Jewish rulers, etc. To use a descriptor someone used of Neo from the Matrix series, he was not a Messiah with a machine gun. In the Passion narrative this Good Friday (John 18:1-19:42), Christ, being interrogated by Pontius Pilate, said, “My kingdom is not from this world. If my kingdom were from this world, my followers would be fighting to keep me from being handed over to the Jews. But as it is, my kingdom is not from here.” He claimed to be the Lord of lords, the King of kings, even God Himself. But His claim was very different from those of other pretenders before and after Him. But this claim did not make Him less of a threat, probably more. For the kingship of Christ relativises the rule of all earthy kings, princes, and emperors. So threatening was this that Herod the Great ordered the death of all male children in Bethlehem up to the age of two just so he might get rid of Christ.[2] And later his grandson, Herod Agrippa, had James killed and Peter imprisoned.[3] He attacked Christians because they proclaimed the Gospel of Jesus Christ, because they dared to say “Jesus is Lord.” By using this word, ‘Gospel,’ St. Paul, and all Christians, are saying that Jesus Christ is the true Lord and King, not Herod, Caesar, Augustus, Napoleon, Elizabeth, nor Harold. And He is not only the king of Israel, of Rome, France, the United Kingdom, or Norway. No, He is the Lord and King over the entire creation, over the entire universe (or multiverse if that exists). He is the King of kings, the Lord of lords. The Paschal Gospel is this; that this King of kings and the Lord of lords accepted death on our behalf to save us and that he rose again for our justification. The crucified and risen saviour is Lord and King.

But what does this mean for us here and now? To understand how fantastic the resurrection is, not only for Christ but for us, we also need to understand the seriousness of our own sin. Sin is more than just bad behaviour. Sin is to choose sides, against God. As humans we have a central purpose: to give thanks and praise to God for who He is and for what he has done for us and to love and serve our neighbour. But we have not lived up to this. I know I haven’t. What we need to hear now is that there is a deep connection between the Eucharistic celebration of Maundy Thursday, the darkness and despair of Good Friday, and the light of Easter Sunday, represented in many churches by the easter candle. What the disciples thought was the end was lifted up as a sacrifice to God.

In 2003, while he was still Cardinal Ratzinger, pope (em.) Benedict wrote masterfully about how Christ, through the institution of the Eucharist, offered Himself to God and thereby transformed what was about to happen. He does not say that the offering was to appease an angry God out for his pound of flesh but that Christ offered what we could not and would not. Through a life of obedience and love He gave Himself fully to God, in thanksgiving, in praise, in adoration. He gave the perfect sacrifice: a life of love, service, and praise.

Through the prayers and actions of the Last Supper, particularly through the institution of the Eucharist, Christ ‘interpreted’ His death and gave it meaning. “This is my body” not meaninglessly thrown away but “given for you”! To quote Ratzinger, “in these words [Christ] undergoes a spiritual death, or, to put it more accurately, in these words Jesus transforms death into the spiritual act of affirmation, into the act of self-sharing love; into the act of adoration, which is offered to God, then from God is made available to men.”[4] What was the biggest sin of history, the murder of God Himself, became “a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God” (Ephesians 5:2). We need both the Upper Room and the Cross, as Ratzinger reminds us:[5]

Both are essentially interdependent: the words at the Last Supper without the death would be, so to speak, an issue of unsecured currency; and again, the death without these words would be a mere execution without any discernible point to it. Yet the two together constitute this new event, in which the senselessness of death is given meaning; in which what is irrational is transformed and made rational and articulate; in which the destruction of love, which is what death means in itself, becomes in fact the means of verifying and establishing it, of its enduring constancy.

Christ gave Himself for us. A mortal sin became a loving act of adoration. And this act was perfect and complete. This act was strong enough to atone for all of our sins. The sacrifice of Christ is not about an angry God that needs appeasement but about how Christ lives the perfect life of love, on our behalf. And this way he abolished the sin of Adam. Where Adam was disobedient, Christ was obedient. He “became obedient to the point of death,” writes St. Paul, “even death on a cross.” And God answered Him by raising Him from death to life: “Therefore God also highly exalted him and gave him the name that is above every name.”[6]

We can also have a share in this if we are joined to Christ. We need, as St. Paul says, to be ‘in Christ.’ For, he says, there is “no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.”[7] Through Christ we may be renewed and restored. Through Him we are enabled to stand before God in thanks and praise. We have died with Christ in Baptism, we have had our sins washed away and we have been risen from baptism to new life.[8]

This is the night that Christ offered humanity back to God and gave us new life. In the words of the Exsultet:

This is the night,
when Christ broke the prison-bars of death
and rose victorious from the underworld.

Our thanksgiving and praise will never be enough to express the magnitude of this act but we will still continue, hoping that death is not the end and that if we remain ‘in Christ’ we will one day rise up to a new heaven and a new earth.

Christ is risen! He is Risen Indeed!

In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

Notes:

[1] Read this interview with N.T. Wright and watch this video where Wright elaborates on the word ‘Gospel.’

[2] Matthew 2:1-18.

[3] Cf. Acts 12.

[4] Joseph Ratzinger, Theology of the Liturgy: The Sacramental Foundation of Christian Existence (Collected Works, vol. XI. San Francisco, CA: Ignatius, 2014), 251-252.

[5] Ratzinger, Theology of the Liturgy, 252.

[6] Philippians 2:8-9 (cf. Romans 5).

[7] Romans 8:1, cf. 3:24; 6:11; 6:23; 8:1; 12:5; 1 Corinthians 1:2; 1:4; 2 Corinthians 5:17; Galatians 2:17-20; 3:26-28; Ephesians 1:3; 2:6-7, etc.

[8] Cf. Romans 6:1-11.

Maundy Thursday

Tonight marks the beginning of the Paschal Triduum, with the Maundy Thursday or Holy Thursday Mass.[1] Like last year, many churches across the globe are closed, including the churches of the Church of Norway. Here in Britain some remain open. But since many churches remain closed, I choose to do a revised version of my reflections from last year, on what the Eucharist means for us, also when we are in the middle of a pandemic, as many places will, again, only be able to offer streamed or pre-recorded celebrations.

First, I want to quote the Psalm for tonight’s celebration, 116:1-2, 12-19 (according to the Revised Common Lectionary), before I reflect on how ‘online celebrations’ of Mass actually have value for those who watch them:

I love the Lord,
because he has heard my voice and my supplications.
Because he inclined his ear to me,
therefore I will call on him as long as I live.

What shall I return to the Lord
for all his bounty to me?
I will lift up the cup of salvation
and call on the name of the Lord,
I will pay my vows to the Lord
in the presence of all his people.
Precious in the sight of the Lord
is the death of his faithful ones.
O Lord, I am your servant;
I am your servant,
the child of your serving-maid.
You have loosed my bonds.
I will offer to you a thanksgiving sacrifice
and call on the name of the Lord.
I will pay my vows to the Lord
in the presence of all his people,
in the courts of the house of the Lord,
in your midst, O Jerusalem.
Praise the Lord!

This Psalm is part of the Hallel (Psalms 113-118) which is sung during the Passover Seder or Passover Meal. And this Psalm is sung specifically in conjunction with the blessing for the fourth cup. But how can ‘online celebrations’ have any effect on us? In her seminal work on the liturgy, After Writing: On the Liturgical Consummation of Philosophy, Catherine Pickstock notes that the Eucharistic celebration is not for the individual alone but is a communal celebration. She cites a rhetorical question supposedly posed by Martin Luther (but actually from British cleric and Protestant reformer Thomas Becon): “Can my eating slake your hunger?”[2] The claim made by Becon is that your eating of the sacrament cannot do me any good. But this is a very individualistic understanding of liturgy. To me it seems obvious that if you are blessed, so will I, in some sense. We are members of the same body of Christ, as St. Paul reminds us (Romans 12:1-8; 1 Corinthians 12:12-31). And, as he states: “If one member suffers, all suffer together with it; if one member is honoured, all rejoice together with it” (1 Corinthians 12:26). The mere fact that liturgy is being celebrated on our behalf – even if we cannot be there physically – is beneficial. Yes, many cannot partake fully at the moment, and that is a loss, but we can still remain assured that priests all over the globe are celebrating on our behalf and that Christ’s sacrifice is lifted up for the world to see.[3] Therefore, if you cannot go to a physical celebration tonight, tune in – on Facebook, YouTube, or wherever. Let us pray together with those who celebrate on our behalf. For some good reflections on this, see and listen to Fr. Thomas Plant’s reflections on this; “Church buildings, Eucharistic participation and pastoral care.”

And as you tune in to one (or more) of the many celebrations, you can pray this simple prayer of spiritual communion from the Confraternity of the Blessed Sacrament (found at this resource for praying at home, p.8, produced by the Anglo-Catholic Church Union and the Society under the patronage of S. Wilfrid and S. Hilda):

My Jesus, I believe that you are in the Blessed Sacrament. I love you above all things, and I long for you in my soul. Since I cannot now receive you sacramentally, come at least spiritually into my heart. As though you have already come, I embrace you and unite myself entirely to you; never permit me to be separated from you. Amen.

Notes:

[1] ‘Maundy’ refers to the foot washing and Christ’s command to do the same. It comes from the Latin mandatum, ‘command’ in Vulgate version of John 1:34. In Norwegian we call it ‘skjærtorsdag.’ Skjær means ‘clean,’ coming from the Norse word skíra.

[2] Pickstock (After Writing, 155-156, n.122) cites an article by John Bossy, “The Mass as a Social Institution 1200-1700” (Past & Present, No. 100, 1983, 29-61, here: 44). He cites Martin Luther: Selections from His Writings, ed. John Dillenberger (Garden City, NY: Doubleday, 1961), 283. The quotation, however, is not found there but is found in Thomas Becon’s “The Displaying of the Popish Mass,” 280, found in Prayers and Other Pieces of Thomas Becon, S.T.P., ed., Rev. John Ayre, M.A. (Cambridge: The Parker Society / Cambridge University Press, 1844), 253-286. Also see Seymour Baker, “Becon, Thomas” (in Oxford Dictionary of National Biography).

[3] For a Lutheran argument for a sacrificial understanding of the Eucharist, see my article.

Olsok

image
Heilag-Olavs død. Altartavle frå Trøndelag. Truleg måla i Trondheim i fyrste halvdel av 1300-talet. Sjå http://goo.gl/PUamm9.

I dag, 29. juli, er det Olsok – minnedag for Olav Haraldsson eller Heilag-Olav, Noregs skytshelgen og Rex Perpetuus Norvegiae, Noregs ævelege konge. Han er den som har fått ‘æra’ for at Noreg vart verkeleg kristna. Vi kan seie at han fullførte det verk som Olav Tryggvason byrja, då han gjekk i land på Moster i 995.

Olav er ein kontroversiell figur i Noregs historie, og i kyrkjehistoria. På den eine sida er han for mange vorte bilete på den valdelege misjonæren, som kristna Noreg med sverd. Og dette er tildels riktig. Men ein stor grunn til at folk gjekk over til kristendommen var jo også at åsatrua hadde mindre og mindre ‘makt.’ Ein kan jo også spørja seg: Dersom Noreg var så ‘heidensk’ og kristendommen var så ‘ukjent’; kvifor vart då Håkon I (kjent som Håkon den gode) sendt til England for å oppfostrast hjå kong Adelstein? (Han fekk jo også tilnamnet Adelsteinfostre.) På den tida, rundt år 928, var England eit kristent land, og det var jo ikkje akkurat hemmeleg. Men vi feirar uansett ikkje Olsok fordi Heilag-Olav var perfekt.

Dei som søkjer etter den perfekte Olav i den jordlege kongen vil leita forgjeves. Heilag-Olav er helgen, men det var ikkje fordi han var perfekt. Olav-øksa, som vi finn i Den norske kyrkja sitt våpenskjold, er ikkje det Olav brukte for å drepe motstandarane sine, før vart drepen i slaget på Stiklestad.

Som vi ser av (stort sett?) alle bileta som framstiller Heilag-Olavs død,[1] slik som biletet på venstre sida, var primærvåpenet hans eit sverd. Dette sverdet, som skal ha vore eit gamalt vikingsverd, kasta han frå seg på slagmarka, for å kutte alle band til heidendomen, og gje seg sjølv over til Gud, til Kristus. Han vart sjølv vert drepen av (mellom anna) ei øks. Det vi kan lære av dette, er at det ikkje er Heilag-Olav sitt aktive, jordlege kristningsverk som er viktig i hans helgenkult, men hans martyrium, hans død.

Olav vart mykje viktigare for Noreg, og for kristninga, i sin død enn i sitt liv. Han vart drepen, men i sin død vart han mykje sterkare, ikkje fordi han var ein Jedi-riddar ved namn Obi-Wan, men fordi det er sant det Paulus skriv i 2Kor 12:9-10:

Men Herren sa til meg: “Min nåde er nok for deg, for krafta blir fullenda i veikskap.” Difor vil eg helst vera stolt av veikskapen min, så Kristi kraft kan bu i meg. Og difor er eg, for Kristi skuld, glad når eg er veik, når eg blir mishandla, når eg er i naud, i forfølging og i angst. For når eg er veik, då er eg sterk.

La oss syngje Olavs-hymnen, ikkje, som presten Per Erik Karlsson Brodal seier, den ‘puritaniserte’ utåva i Norsk salmebok (2013, nr. 249), men den opphavlege (kopiert herifrå):

Olav konge vil vi ære,
Herrens vitne utan svik,
krossens merke vil han bere,
med ei von som aldri vik.
Til Guds heider får han vere
sjølv i døden sigerrik.

Livsens ljos til oss han leier,
pløyer djupt i hjartegrunn;
livsens sædekorn han spreier,
som ber frukt i Herrens stund.
Når den nye von seg breier,
tagnar kvar ein heidnings munn.

Mørker kverv i nye tider
bort frå landet vårt i nord;
harde hjarto vert omsider
mildna ved det sæle ord.
Folket mellom fjell og lier
lovar Herren, trifelt stor.

Døypte lyfter sine hender,
lovar Krist i dåpens bad;
trua som Guds Ande tenner,
bryt no fram på kvar ein stad.
For den trøyst som tyngsla vender,
takkar folket med sitt kvad.

Fast i vona du oss halde,
om ei stødig ånd vi bed,
som kan bere martyrkallet
med den tôl du kjennest ved,
for den gleda du oss alle
vil med dine englar gje.

Deg, Gud Fader, vere ære,
deg, Guds Son, som har oss løyst,
Heilagande, som vil vere
oss til helging og til trøyst!
For Guds vitne vil vi bere
fram vår takk med fagnadrøyst.
Amen.

Lat oss be.

Allmektige Gud, vi takkar for dine bod til vårt folk, dei som sådde ordet, reiste krossmerket og skipa kyrkja i fedrelandet vårt. Lat kyrkja di her hjå oss halda kallet levande, så vi med truskap og kraft forkynner evangeliet klårt og reint. Lær oss å byggja landet med lov, til di ære og til signing for folket. Ved Son din, Jesus Kristus, våre Herre, som med deg og Den Heilage Ande lever og råder, éin sann Gud, frå æve og til æve. Amen.[2]

Heilag-Olav, be for oss!

Noter:

[1] Sjå her, her, og her.

[2] Kollektbøn for Olsok, Dnk.

«Han skal veksa, eg skal minka»

I dag feirar vi Jonsok eller St. Hans, som etter tradisjonen er minnedagen for Johannes døyparen sin fødsel. Den er lagt til 24. juni (sjølv om ein kanskje trur det er 23. juni, som er jonsoksaftan, kvelden før). Dette har også vore knytt til sommarsolkverv, som i år er 21. juni, og til vintersolkverv, eit halvt år seinare, i år den 22. desember. Dette har ein også, symbolsk sett, knytt til Kristi fødsel, og her trur eg det passar fint med nokre ord frå Johannes døyparen sjølv, det eg kallar hans program: «Han skal veksa, eg skal minka.» (Joh 3,30) Sola minkar nemleg eigentleg etter sommarsolkverv, og minkar fram mot vintersolkverv. Som ei sol set Johannes lys på Kristus for oss. Han vil ikkje at vi skal fokusere på han. Men kvifor gjer vi det, då?

Vel, ofte er det slik at dei som ikkje set seg sjølv høgast er dei vi burde sete høgast. Dei som ikkje hevdar seg sjølv, men audmjukt peiker på andre, og som peiker på Kristus. Dei er gode førebilete. Dei er ikkje idol, dei vil ikkje at dei skal ha hovudfokuset. Sjølv synst eg det er interessant at vi i det heile teke har (eller kanskje hadde) eit program som Idol. Ordet er eigentleg gresk, og vert i Det nye testamentet brukt om avgudar. Ein avgud treng ikkje vere Tor, Odin, Zevs eller Jupiter. Alt eller alle som ein set høgare enn Gud vert ein avgud, eit idol. Det vi må gjere er å ha døyparen Johannes som førebilete. Det betyr ikkje at vi skal fokusere på han, men det motsette, at vi må gjere som han. Vi må, som det står i Hebrearbrevet, ha «blikket fest på Jesus, trua sin opphavsmann og fullendar» (Hebr 12,2). Dette inneber fyrst og framst at vi innser at dette ikkje er noko vi skapar av eiga kraft. Jesus er både opphavsmann og fullendar. Det er han som er verksam. Han er som surdeigen, som skal få prege oss meir og meir. Han skal veksa, vi skal minka.

Vi må fokusere på Jesus i alt vi gjer. For når vi praktiserer eller gjer kristne aktivitetar, kva er det som gjer desse til kristne aktivitetar? Alle kan dele eit måltid saman, alle kan be ei bøn. Kva er det med ein praksis som gjer den kristen? Jo, det er Jesu nærver i praksisen, og i den praktiserande, og Heilagandens virke. Kristus virkar i oss, i og ved Den Heilage Ande.

Vi har mykje å lære av døyparen. Han var ein profet som peika på Jesus og som, lik sola, gradvis minka for å gje plass til Jesus. Lat oss be om at vi også gradvis kan få større og større fellesskap med Jesus, del i det store mysteriet at vi får lov til å ha fellesskap med Gud.

Lat oss be:[*]

Allmektige Gud, lat borna dine vandra på vegen som fører til frelse: Hjelp oss å ta imot det som forløparen, den sæle Johannes, forkynte, så vi kan nå fram til han som Johannes bana veg for, vår Herre Jesus Kristus, som med deg og Den Heilage Ande lever og råder, éin sann Gud frå æve og til æve. Amen.

[*] Dels basert på kyrkjebøna på minnedagen for døyparen Johannes i den romersk-katolske messeliturgien.