2 Tuesday Unless a grain falls…
Isaiah 49.1-7, Psalm 71, I Corinthians 1.18-31, John 12.20-36
Yesterday we said that the whole world is full of the glory of God. The glory of God is not visible everywhere. It is visible in what to us may seem the most utterly implausible way, the most counter-intuitive place. He has hid the truth of himself in one single person, and what’s more, he has hidden the truth of us in that same single person.
God has decided that man is his glory. And the way that glory can be accessed is through Christ. Christ is found through the prayers and worship which fill the Church. We said that the incarnation and passion of Christ, and so every day of Holy Week, is an unfurling of the resurrection, the truth that Jesus is the risen Son of God and the whole future of man with God.
Today, according to the Lectionary, our readings are from Isaiah 49 – ‘in the shadow of his hand he hid me’, and I Corinthians 1 ‘The message about the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing’, and John 12. ‘The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified. Unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains just a single grain.’
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1 Monday The house was filled…
Isaiah 42.1-9, Hebrews 9.11-15, John 12. 1-11
1. The house was filled with the fragrance of the perfume
Each day of Holy week is a lesson in the resurrection. The resurrection spells itself out to us as the cross. We learn the glory of God and about our place in this glory – which means the resurrection. We learn about the resurrection through the passion of Christ. The passion of Christ is the glory of God for us.
The readings set by the Lectionary of the Church of England for today are from Isaiah, Hebrews and John. Isaiah 42 – ‘Here is my servant, whom I uphold, my chosen, in whom my soul delights’. Hebrews 9 – ‘Christ came as a high priest of the good things that have come, through the greater and perfect tent’. John 12 – ‘Mary took a pound of costly perfume made of pure nard, anointed Jesus’ feet, and wiped them with her hair. The house was filled with the fragrance of the perfume.
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Fifth Sunday of Lent
In our journey towards Easter we have seen that Christ is anointed and made king by the Holy Spirit. The Spirit has brought us into the communion and body of Christ, so that we are anointed with him and he with us. We have seen that Christ is our universal human-to-human mediator. He is the one who can hear and receive all other humans. The question to us is whether we are ready to receive through him the whole human race and created order as the gifts of God. Christ makes himself present only in this disguised form, so that our freedom to receive this life from him, or not to receive it, is entirely ours.
Consequently man is a mystery that cannot be controlled. It is not just man’s present, defined by the limits of our imagination, but his future that God has at heart here. God is guardian of our freedom: he does not let us give it away. We have seen man wrestle with the question of his own identity. We have seen this wrestling spelled out to us in terms of the accuser wrestling in the wilderness with Christ, Israel wrestling with Moses, Nicodemus and the Samaritan woman at the well wrangling with Christ about where life can be accessed. Through these are many different encounters, we have seen man wrestling with the dark figure of his own future. This future is life with God. This week Lazarus anticipates Israel – All Israel will be raised and the Church will be raised.
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Fourth Sunday of Lent
1 Samuel 16.1-13
At Easter God completes his act of creation by raising one of us to the full definition of humankind. In Christ the whole work of creation has been successful, and that success is opened to all of us. Through the Holy Spirit Christ has attached us to himself, so that the resurrection of the first man is the beginning of the resurrection of all humanity. Easter is a preview of the consequences of this for us: Christ’s resurrection is a rehearsal for ours.
In Christ, each of us joined to every other. The Church is the companionship of God making itself tangible and corporal here. The distinctiveness of the Church from the world is the great gift that God gives the world: the world is anointed with the Church. But what the Church knows is not obvious outside the Church – it has to be confessed. The Church has to pray and to speak up for the world. The world relies on us to do this.
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In these lectures the celebrated Orthodox theologian John Zizioulas introduces the Christian faith. Zizioulas shows that the living Christian community is the demonstration of God’s love for the world, and its faith articulates that love. This community is the communion and the freedom of God, given to the world. The Church sets out its account of this communion and freedom in its doctrine.
In his thoroughly integrated account, Zizioulas shows that the Christian doctrine of God is intimately linked to the Church. Human being is raised to participate in the life of God and sustained by the friendship that is shared by the triune persons of Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Within this communion man is made free, so he can willingly receive and give the love of God, and the Church is the form in which he participates in this communion.
Zizioulas not only tells us what the Church teaches, but also why, and what difference it makes to us. He lays out profound and complex ideas with the utmost simplicity to show us how Christian doctrine integrates issues of communion, freedom and personhood. These lectures also explore the relationship of the individual Christian to other Christians and to the Church, and so introduce us to a discipleship and spirituality of love. Few other thinkers have succeeded in establishing that communion and freedom are as fundamental as this. The lectures come in four parts, that discuss doctrine, God, the economy of God for man and the Church. A more profound or lucid exposition of Christian teaching would be hard to find.
Continue reading “John Zizioulas Lectures in Christian Dogmatics – Editor’s Introduction”
In our preparation for Easter we have been looking at the different aspects of the resurrection that are presented to us in the Scripture readings for the five Sundays of Lent. We are thinking through here what we are doing when we gather in Church and spelling out some of what is going on, on Easter Sunday morning. We want to show when we say ‘Christ is risen’ we are referring to a question, and to a promise, about our own identity.
We said that the Christian confession of God helps us to hear the question of God, ‘Where is your brother?’ The Christian faith is a real listening, to the world and to God, and it prevents us from making ourselves secure without one another.
So far we have said that the Church is the fellowship created by the love of God for us and God’s act of witness to the world. Next we have to say that the Church is the whole company of heaven, making itself felt here and now for us. This company are our servants, and together they make up the service of Christ to us. This company is also in disguise, so it is not obvious that this is what is happening.
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Second Sunday of Lent (Year A)
Romans 4.1-5, 13-17
We are practicing our gospel. This is what we are doing in Lent. We are explaining what we mean when we say at Easter that Christ is risen. Last week we saw that man is confronted by the question of his identity. He is summoned to be free and to make the world free. Will he answer this summons? This the question for man, and indeed for God. Man is confronted by the question of whether this is his purpose, and he is tempted to turn away from this freedom to control it, reduce it, delegate it, even refuse it altogether.
I said that we talk about Easter by talking about the Church and by talking from the Church. We cannot discuss Easter in terms of general truth, that can be separated from the distinctive community of the Church and so turned into a cliché about ‘new life’, just a religious expression of what we already know from other sources. We have to learn the distinctive calling of the Church, which is to be Christ-bearers to the world. How hard this is and how inextricably it is tied to the Christian gospel and the Christian gospel to the Church is what I want to show you today.
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First Sunday of Lent (Year A)
Genesis 2.15-17, 3.1-7
I On the way to Easter
We are on our way to Easter. On Easter morning we will say that ‘Christ is risen’. Easter is the moment when the undying and indestructible life that God makes itself apparent. God has set out to bring us into relationship first with himself and then with all other human beings – he will raise us. When we say ‘Christ is risen’ we are pointing to the coming resurrection of all creation in him and so we are pointing to our own resurrection, which is the resurrection that is of real interest to us.
The resurrection is what the Church has to tell the world about. We can prepare for this resurrection, by learning something about Easter, and Lent is this preparation and learning. But Lent is not for everyone. It is not for those who are not Christians, nor even for those who are young Christians. Lent is not for you until you have been through a few years of Christian discipleship. The fasting and privations of Lent are for the Church only, and even then only for the experienced. The discipline of Lent cross is the means and the inner working of the resurrection. But the cross is the advanced class, for the Church only. Easter is not about suffering and death and so we are to become ever more doleful as Easter approaches, for the passion and suffering of the Lord is not the message to the world, the resurrection. The passion is how Christ’s resurrection makes itself known to us, for now.
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Every Christian doctrine is an exemplification of the Christian doctrine of God. The Christian confession of God and that God is for us, requires an account of the generous provision of God, which is what providence is, and it requires all the other doctrines that make our talk about providence meaningful. The Christian doctrine of God tells us that we are not God, and so we are discharged from the exhausting though self-imposed duty to make ourselves divine, that is to take ourselves to be everything, and also to be able to stand outside this everything and decide whether or not to affirm it. One corollary is that we can really know other people, but we cannot know them and master them utterly, because they belong not in the first place to us, but to God, who has high ambitions for them. We are not ourselves by being ‘just-human’, without God. Thus the doctrine of God gives us the truth of man, but the truth of man cannot be extracted from this doctrine and cashed out into a theory about man. Because God mystery, by which we mean he is knowable only to extent he makes himself known, and man is the creature of God, man is a mystery too. The assessment of God is that we along with rest of the world are worth waiting for, and the Church is the demonstration that this is still the good judgment – of God. The secret of being human, is hidden with God, and only in communion with him, can we be human, together, with other humans.
Continue reading “The Son and the Spirit in the Providence of God – John Zizioulas on time and communion”
There are just two theological tasks. One is to say what Christian doctrine is, and the other is to offer it to the world. The second depends on the first. First, Christian doctrine must be done for its own sake, just as we worship God just for the sake of it, for joy. We wonder at the creation of God and we express that wonder, despite ourselves. Doctrine is likewise doxological.
Colin Gunton was a student of the Christian doctrine of God. It is true that he was at centre of a revival of trinitarian theology and rediscovery of the Holy Spirit. But trinitarian theology is simply Christian theology, and theology is Christian when it understands that God may be known, only, as Father, and he may be known in this way only by the Son, and those the Holy Spirit includes in the Son. Any other account is the theology of another religion. Colin Gunton was never taken in by the belief that something more sophisticated than doctrine is just around the corner. He remained intrigued and delighted by that whole vast package, and only as we are so too will we have anything to contribute, to the church, to the university and to the world. The first responsibility of the Christian is to learn their own tradition, and the second is to tell the waiting world what they find there. Only if we know our own tradition, do we have something to say.
Continue reading “Father, Son and Holy Spirit – Colin Gunton and the doctrine of God”