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.

Christ is risen!

This is a slightly edited translated version of a sermon I held at the Paschal Vigil in 2014.

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 in 2 Timothy 1:8-10. But what does he mean when he says that Christ has “brought life and immortality to light through the gospel”? What does that mean for us here and now? What, exactly, is the Gospel?

For us the word 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: “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.

He made the claim to be Christ, the Messiah, the representative of Israel. But he did not claim to be one of many ‘messiahs’ – just another 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.

No, he made the claim to be the Lord of lords, the King of kings. He claimed to be God Himself. And that made Him, and his followers, a dangerous threat. 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 the true Lord, the true King, is Christ. It is not Herod, not Caesar, not Augustus, not Napoleon, not Elizabeth, not 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, againt 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 tonight 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.

Christ ‘interpreted’ His death through the prayers and actions of the Last Supper, particularly through the institution of the Eucharist. 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. 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.

Kristus er oppstaden!

Ja, han er sanneleg oppstaden!

Oppdatering: Eg har oppdatert youtube-videoen nedanfor til den nye engelske omsetjinga av messeliturgien.

God påske! Tekstane for påskenatt (Dnk) er 1Mos 1:1-5.26-31; 2:1-2; 2Mos 14:1-22; Rom 6:3-11 og Mark 16:1-8.[1]

Eg har no kome heim frå påskenattsmesse i Sandvikskyrkja i Bergen. Dette er natta då vi skal takka og prisa Herren. Vi prisar Herren får den han er, og vi takkar han for det han har gjort. Som det heiter i Exultet – påskelovsongen, etter den forma vi brukte i Sandvikskyrkja:[2]

Fryd deg du himmelens engleskare. Bryt ut i jubel, alle Guds mysterium, og lat frelsesbasunen kunngjere den store kongens siger! Gled deg, du jord, i stråleglansen frå den evige kongens herlegdom, og veit, all verda, at mørkret har fare bort. Ver glad, du Guds kyrkje, vår Mor, smykka av ljoset sine strålar, så også dette hus kan gjenlyda av folka sin mektige lovsong. (…) Ja, dette er påskefesten, då det sanne Lammet vart slakta, og med blod åt Lammet vert dei truande sine dørstolpar helga. Dette er den natta då du førde våre fedrar, Israels born, ut av Egypt og lét dei gå tørrskodde igjennom Det røde havet. (…) Å, kor underfull er den venleiken du ærar oss med. Å, kor grenselaus er di kjærlege miskunn, du som for å kjøpa trælen fri overgav Sonen. Å, sæle natt, som åleine var verdig til å kjenna timen og stunda då Kristus stod opp frå dei døde. Dette er natta som det står skrive om: “Natta skal lysa som dagen, ja, mørkret skal vera som ljoset.”

Og innimellom dette syng vi:

Dette er natta då Kristus braut dødens lekkjer og sigrande stod opp frå dødsriket.

Høyr exultet (katolsk versjon) her:

Ja, dette er natta då Kristus, Guds Ord, fullenda nyskapinga vår, og gav oss pantet på frelsa. La meg sitere eit par vers frå ein av lesetekstane i Dkk (Jes 55:10-11):

Liksom regnet og snøen fell ifrå himmelen og ikkje fer opp att dit, før dei har vatna jorda og gjeve henne grorkraft og grøde, ja, gjeve såkorn til den som skal så, og brød til den som skal eta, så er det òg med mitt ord, det som går ut or min munn. Det vender ikkje tomt tilbake til meg, men gjer det eg vil, og fullfører det eg sender det til.

Gud sende Ordet sitt då Maria gav livet og lekamen sin i teneste for Gud. “Eg er Herrens tenestkvinne. Lat det gå meg som du har sagt.” (Luk 1:38) Då vart Ordet menneske (Joh 1:14) — Ordet som var frå opphavet av (Joh 1:1), han som “har sitt opphav i gamal tid, han er frå eldgamle dagar,” som det heiter i ein av lesetekstane for julekveldsliturgien (Mika 5:1).

Vår himmelske Far sende ut Ordet, og det kom ikkje tomt tilbake til han. Han gjorde sin Fars vilje, og fullførde det som han vart sendt for å gjera. Kristus vart menneske for å ta oss med tilbake att i fanget åt Faderen, tilbake til vårt eigentlege opphav. Ja, dette er natta då Kristus lyfte mennesket opp — då han tok det tilbake til Faderen; ofra, vigsla, helga, oppstaden! Og ved han har vi også del i dette, ved vår dåp der vi døydde frå oss sjølve, og stod opp at med Kristus til evig liv! Lat oss difor tilbe Gud! Lat oss prisa han for den han er, og lat oss takka han for hans verk! Lat oss be:

Allmektige Gud, himmelske Far, vi høglovar ditt heilage namn og takkar deg for den store nåde og miskunn at du gav Son din for syndene våre og reiste han opp så vi skulle verta rettferdige for deg. Vi bed deg: Gjev oss din Heilage Ande, så vi kan leva i krafta av Kristi oppstode og etter livet her vekkjast opp til det evige livet, ved Son din, Jesus Kristus, vår Herre, som med deg og Den Heilage Ande lever og råder, éin sann Gud frå æve og til æve. Amen.[3]

Noter:

[1] Det er litt fleire tekstar i Den katolske kyrkja si ordning. Desse er (utan forkortingar) 1Mos 1:1-2:2; 1Mos 22:1-18; 2Mos 14:5-15:1a; Jes 54:5-14; Jes 55:1-11; Bar 3:9-15.32-4:4; Esek 36:16-17a.18-28; Rom 6:3-11; og Luk 24:1-12. Det er endå meir i Den ortodokse kyrkja.

[2] Etter den gamle ordninga for Den norske kyrkja som de kan finne i Gudstenestebok for den norske kyrkja (del I; Oslo: Verbum 1992, s. 223-243. Ordninga i Sandvikskyrkja er litt annleis, ein les t.d. ikkje evangeliet i byrjinga. Eg har omsett teksten til nynorsk.

[3] Etter gamal kollektbøn for påskedag, Dnk. (Tekstane i kyrkjeåret. Oslo: Verbum 1990, s. 235)