Tuesday, 21 March 2017

Hilasterion: Propitiation or Expiation?

"C. K. Barrett is a balanced and judicious interpreter who thinks that the idea of propitiation plays an important role because of its link to the wrath of God, even if (as he recommends) the word "expiation" is used in translations.In an oft-quoted passage from his commentary on Romans, Barrett says, "WE can hardly doubt that expiation rather than propitiation is in his [Paul's] mind," because there is no trace of a suggestion that God is the object rather than the subject. However, Barrett continues, "it would be wrong to neglect the fact that expiation has, as it were, the effect of propitiation: the sin that might have excited God's wrath is expiated (at God's will) and therefore no longer does so." Cousar summarizes Barrett's argument: "The propitiation is a secondary result rather than a primary cause of the atonement." That, in one sentence, tells us what we need to know at the conclusion of the debate.

God is not divided against himself. When we see Jesus, we see the Father (John 14:7). The Father did not look at Jesus on the cross and suddenly have a change of heart. The purpose of the atonement was not to bring about a change in God's attitude towards his rebellious creatures. God's attitude towards us has always and ever been the same. Judgment against sin is preceded, accompanied, and followed by God's mercy. There was never a time when God was against us. Even in his wrath he is for us. Yet at the same time he is not for us without wrath, because his will is to destroy all that is hostile to perfecting his world. The paradox of the cross demonstrates the victorious love of God for us at the same time that it shows forth his judgment upon sin."

Fleming Rutledge, The Crucifixion: Understanding the Death of Jesus Christ (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2015), 281-282.

Monday, 20 March 2017

Evening Service with Fauré Requiem

An Evening Service
with music from the Requiem Mass by Gabriel Fauré

Gabriel Fauré wrote the Requiem, the best-known of his large-scale choral works, between 1887 and 1890, adding further instrumental parts in 1900. The text is based on the Roman Catholic Mass for the Dead but it departs significantly from the standard liturgical text.
John Bawden explains: “Fauré included two new sections, the lyrical Pie Jesu and the transcendent In Paradisum, with its soaring vocal line and murmuring harp accompaniment. He also omitted the Dies Irae and Tuba Mirum - for most composers an opportunity to exploit to the full the dramatic possibilities of all the available choral and orchestral forces. Consequently the prevailing mood is one of peacefulness and serenity, and the work has often been described, quite justly, as a Requiem without the Last Judgement.”

Hymn 14 Eternal Light, shine in my heart

O God, make speed to save us.
O Lord, make haste to help us.
Lead your people to freedom, O God,
and banish all darkness from our hearts and minds.
The Rector introduces the service.

I Introit – Kyrie
Rest eternal give them, Lord,
and let light always shine on them.
It is right to hymn you, God, in Sion
and to you will be made a vow in Jerusalem.
Hear my prayer, to you all flesh will come.
Lord have mercy, Christ have mercy, Lord have mercy.

II Offertorium
O Lord, Jesus Christ, king of glory,
free the souls of the dead from the punishment of hell and the deep pit.
O Lord Jesus Christ, king of glory,
deliver the dead souls from the mouth of the lion,
so they are not swallowed by hell and do not fall into darkness.
Sacrifices and prayers to you, Lord, with praise we offer
receive them for those souls whom today we remember.
Make them, Lord, from death cross over to life
as once to Abraham you promised and to his seed.

The Word of God
Old Testament reading: Joshua 1:1-9
Each Scripture reading concludes with
This is the word of the Lord.
Thanks be to God.

III Sanctus
Holy, holy, holy, Lord God of hosts,
full are the heavens and earth with the glory of you.
Hosanna in the highest.

New Testament reading: Ephesians 6:10-20

IV Pie Jesu
Merciful Jesus, Lord, give them rest,
give them rest, eternal rest.
A sermon is preached.
Hymn 602 Blest are the pure in heart
Confession and Forgiveness
Christ the light of the world has come to dispel
the darkness of our hearts.
In his light let us examine ourselves and confess our sins.
Silence may be kept.
Let us admit to God the sin which always confronts us.
Lord God,
we have sinned against you;
we have done evil in your sight.
We are sorry and repent.
Have mercy on us according to your love.
Wash away our wrongdoing and cleanse us from our sin.
Renew a right spirit within us
and restore us to the joy of your salvation,
through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
The Rector declares God’s forgiveness.

V Agnus Dei
Lamb of God, who takes away the sins of the world,
give them rest.
Let light eternal shine on them, Lord,
with your saints for eternity,
for you are merciful.
give them eternal rest, Lord,
and let light always shine on them.

That the rest of this day may be holy,
peaceful and full of your presence;
in faith we pray.
We pray to you our God.
That the work we have done and the people we have met today
may bring us closer to you;
in faith we pray.
We pray to you our God.
That we may hear and respond to your call to peace and justice;
in faith we pray.
We pray to you our God.
That you will sustain the faith and hope of those who are lonely,
oppressed and anxious;
in faith we pray.
We pray to you our God.
That you will strengthen us in your service,
and fill our hearts with longing for your kingdom;
in faith we pray.
We pray to you our God.
God of mercy,
you know us and love us and hear our prayer:
keep us in the eternal fellowship of Jesus Christ our Saviour. Amen.

The Collect of the Day and the Lord’s Prayer

VI Libera me
Free me, Lord, from death eternal
on that day of dread,
when the heavens will be shaken and the earth,
while you come to judge the world with fire.
I am made to shake, and am afraid,
awaiting the trial and the coming anger.
That day, day of anger, of calamity and misery,
that day, the day of great and exceeding bitterness.

Sending Out
The Rector pronounces God’s blessing on his people

VII In Paradisum
Into paradise may angels draw them,
on your arrival, may the martyrs receive you
and lead you into the holy city Jerusalem.
May the chorus of angels receive you,
and with Lazarus, once a beggar,
may you have eternal rest.

Preaching alongside the Fauré Requiem

The Fauré Requiem was designed for a Roman Catholic mass for the dead which creates challenges for a devotional performance in a Church of England service. [Outline of service]
The Church of England is separate from the Roman Catholic church not least because from the sixteenth century onwards such masses were considered an aberration. The Eucharist is a memorial of Christ’s atoning death; it cannot function as a sacrifice the living bring for the dead.
John Bawden writes about the prevailing mood of the Fauré Requiem being one of peacefulness and serenity. This probably reflects the way many in our society think about death: an entry into peace and serenity. We like to think that those who have died are now at rest. But is this what we truly believe? And if so, on what grounds?
Is this a little like people saying to someone who goes through a hellish illness, “I am sure you’ll be all right in the end; life will get easier!” Do we know that? Just this week I read a contribution from a woman suffering from chronic pain, saying how unhelpful such reassurances which have no basis in fact are.
The rest for which we pray so hopefully is of course not the cessation of all activity which is simply death. The “eternal rest” is meant to be a peaceful life where instead of striving and fighting there is calm and refreshment; it is not the eerie silence of a place where nothing ever happens any more.
The Requiem, from beginning to end, petitions God many times that he would give eternal rest. Now it seems to me that it is one thing to commend someone who has died to God at a funeral service, praying that God would give rest to the deceased. It is a different thing to continue to petition God several times on later occasions. Why continue the petition? Is this for our sake or for the sake of the departed?
Is there maybe a niggling doubt? Does God need to be urged to give eternal rest because we are not actually convinced that he has done so?
This seems to lie behind the words of the Offertorium. The music may sound like “a Requiem without the Last Judgement” but the words of the Offertorium very much assume that there is “the punishment of hell and the deep pit” and that there is a real risk that the “souls whom today we remember” might be “swallowed by hell” and so the prayer asks for a passing from death to life.
This reflects a very controversial doctrine, namely that purgatory is a part of hell. Hell is therefore seen as a place of punishment for two types of people – those, on the one hand, for whom all hope is lost, namely any who died unrepentant, and those, on the other hand, who have to endure sufferings before they are fit to enter the presence of God.
This does not sit well with the overall testimony of the New Testament.
Appeal is usually made to 1 Corinthians 3:12-15 where Paul writes,
12 Now if anyone builds on the foundation with gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, straw—13 the work of each builder will become visible, for the Day will disclose it, because it will be revealed with fire, and the fire will test what sort of work each has done. 14 If what has been built on the foundation survives, the builder will receive a reward. 15 If the work is burned, the builder will suffer loss; the builder will be saved, but only as through fire.
But it is quite a leap from the picture of a builder escaping “as through fire” with nothing to show for his efforts to the idea that many will need to spend some time in hell before they can enter heaven.
We read in Hebrews 9:27 that “it is appointed for people to die once, and after that comes judgement” and wherever the NT speaks of post-mortem judgement a clear division is implied between those who enjoy God’s presence and those who do not. In the story about the rich man and Lazarus, we hear in Luke 16:26 “And besides all this, between us and you a great chasm has been fixed, in order that those who would pass from here to you may not be able, and none may cross from there to us.”
Many Christians have read these statements as incompatible with the belief that the dead might move from the pain of hell to eternal bliss, let alone that they may do so through the prayers of the living.
If there is a purgatory, it seems better to locate it in or with heaven than in hell in so far as hell indicates ultimate separation from God. As Geoffrey Rowell, a retired bishop in the CofE states, “Purgatory is a place of preparation for heaven, not a lesser hell.”
Indeed, if there is a purgatory, its purpose is surely to purify us from every sinful thought and attitude and make us holy in desire, character, and habit. In this case the process will take as long as it takes and it seems to make little sense to believe that it can or should be shortened by our prayers, even if we wanted to accompany the process with our prayers.
But it may be wrong in any case to think of purgatory as a temporal process to which we can contribute with our prayers.
But maybe the prayers are not really about the departed, maybe they are about us. Maybe they are our way of saying that we have not forgotten someone.
In this case would it not be better to mention our loved ones by name in our own private prayers and to do so with gratitude for what we have received rather than with anxiety about what is or might be?
The CofE has prayed since 1552 “for the whole state of Christ’s church militant here on earth.” Militant here means the opposite of “at rest” and so ensures that the prayer is for the living only. Indeed, the 1552 Prayerbook (The Second Prayer Book of Edward VI) finally removed all prayer for the departed and even the Elizabeth Prayerbook of 1559 did not re-introduce them.
The 1662 Prayerbook added a thanksgiving for departed Christians, coupled with prayer that we may share the glory with them hereafter.
“And we also bless thy holy Name for all thy servants departed this life in thy faith and fear; beseeching thee to give us grace so to follow their good example, that with them we may be partakers of thy heavenly kingdom.”
This has a very different ring from the prayers in a Roman-Catholic Requiem.
Except that the penultimate movement of the Fauré Requiem, Libera me, also is a reminder that thoughts about death and the afterlife should lead us to pray for ourselves. Our main concern must be with the living.
We hear the Fauré Requiem tonight alongside the second service readings appointed for this Sunday. The first reading [Joshua 1:1-9] is very matter of fact about the death of Moses and encourages a forward-looking perspective. It urges meditation on what has been received through Moses rather than reflection on the fate of Moses who famoulsy disappeared without his body being found.
Similarly, our second reading [Ephesiasn 6:10-20] can remind us that we are “the church militant” – we are the ones in the midst of the battle of good against evil. Those who have gone before us are no longer in the battle. Our departed brothers and sisters in Christ are at rest, awaiting the resurrection. And those who do not belong to Christ are no longer in the battle between good and evil either.
Those who are beyond this battle in Christ, the faithful departed, do not need our prayers; the departed who are not in Christ cannot benefit from our prayers. We need to pray for one another, the living. It is us who are called to take up the whole armour of God and to stand firm against evil.
So tonight, for me, is not an opportunity to pray for souls in purgatory. But this is not because I dismiss all talk about purgatory as fanciful myth. Much of the imagery which we link with hell and purgatory comes from the middle ages when, so it seems, the pictures were often understood quite literally, more often than either in antiquity or in modern times.
It is easy to dismiss these pictures of purgatory and hell by insisting on taking them literally but many Christians throughout history spoke of the fires of hell without thinking of literal flames and instead pondered what it is that is being symbolised here.
In his encyclical SpeSalvi (Saved In Hope), Pope Benedict XVI wrote:
“Some recent theologians are of the opinion that the fire which both burns and saves is Christ himself, the Judge and Savior. The encounter with him is the decisive act of judgment. Before his gaze all falsehood melts away. This encounter with him, as it burns us, transforms and frees us, allowing us to become truly ourselves.
All that we build during our lives can prove to be mere straw, pure bluster, and it collapses. Yet in the pain of this encounter, when the impurity and sickness of our lives become evident to us, there lies salvation. His gaze, the touch of his heart heals us through an undeniably painful transformation “as through fire” [1 Cor. 3:15].
But it is a blessed pain, in which the holy power of his love sears through us like a flame, enabling us to become totally ourselves and thus totally of God.
In this way the inter-relation between justice and grace also becomes clear: the way we live our lives is not immaterial, but our defile­ment does not stain us for ever if we have at least continued to reach out towards Christ, to­wards truth and towards love. Indeed, it has already been burned away through Christ's Pas­sion.
At the moment of judgement we experience and we absorb the overwhelming power of his love over all the evil in the world and in ourselves. The pain of love becomes our salvation and our joy. It is clear that we cannot calculate the “duration” of this transforming burning in terms of the chronological measurements of this world.” (par. 47)
And it is also clear, to me anyway, that this process is meant to happen, or at least begin to happen now. As we encounter Christ in one another, in the poor and marginalized, in his word, and in the Eucharist we are to be cleansed of our falsehood.
Purgatory is here – and now, as we meet Christ, whether or not it is also there and then in a post-mortem encounter with Christ.

Saturday, 18 March 2017

“I have no husband"

“I have no husband” (John 4:17). Karoline M. Lewis, John (Augsburg Fortress, 2014), 59, comments:
“Her brief statement is heartrending. It is not only a statement about her marital status but an assertion about her marginalized status. She is a woman, a Samaritan woman, without a name, who has been married five times. To have been married five times in ancient Palestine would be evidence of circumstances completely beyond the control of any woman at that time. Likely widowed or divorced, the fact alone of having had five husbands would have indicated some sort of curse against her or her family. What on earth did she do, or her ancestors, that she would be subject to such destitution. To have had five husbands could also mean that the woman had been divorced, often for trivial matters, but more likely because she was barren. If she was barren, that would mean that she would not have family to turn to in the case of being widowed [but what about extended family?], which would further exacerbate her dependent status. The fact that she is currently living with a man not her husband does not correspond to a modern-day “shacking up” or “living in sin.” Rather, her situation was probably a levirate marriage. By law (Deut. 25:5-10), the brother of the dead husband was obliged to take in his dead brother’s wife, either by formal marriage or by living arrangements of some kind.”
Shawna R. B. Atteberry similarly notes:
“She could also be trapped by the Levirate marriage law. Her five husbands could have been brothers for whom she was supposed to produce an heir (Matt. 22:24-28). Either the family ran out of sons or the next son could have refused to marry her. That she was living with a man now who was not her husband could have been the lesser of two evils. Since the culture provided economic security only within family structures, her only other choice after husband number five died or divorced her could have been prostitution. Regardless of why the woman had had five husbands, the implication is still that she is a woman who cannot keep a man.”
As to why Jesus even provoked this statement Karoline Lewis notes:
“For the woman to be able to recognize who Jesus is means that Jesus has to reveal not only who he is but also who she is. her need for him must be named so as to make sense of the mutual dependence between believers and Jesus.”
“At stake in this encounter is the incarnation itself. For Jesus to name anything else about her other than that which has completely defined her reality up to this point would be to not take the incarnation seriously.”

Friday, 10 March 2017

Who Gets Reconciled, God or Us?

"One of the objections brought against Anselm is that he makes it sound as if a change has to take place within God -- as though the crucifixion altered God's attitude towards his rebellious creatures. The New Testament, however, never mentions God being reconciled to us. It speaks only of our being reconciled to him." But Anselm does not claim that "somehow the sacrifice of Jesus caused the Father to change his mind".

"If we are to appreciate -- if not entirely adopt -- Anselm's language of satisfaction, we need therefore to be clear that the change effected by Christ's self-oblation does not occur within God. This is of primary importance. If we do not emphasize this, we end up with a dangerously capricious God who is indeed open to the critiques brought by those who think of the wrath of God as an emotion that must be appeased. In all our discussions of reconciliation, this underlying point is fundamental. It is not God that is changed. It is the relationship of human beings and the creation to God that is changed."

David B. Hart shows in his essay "Gift Exceeding Every Debt" that "the cross does not effect a 'mere posterior reconciliation of justice and mercy' but is -- in a lovely phrase -- the 'filial intonation' of the preexistent divine love. He sums up: 'In the God-man [Deus Homo], within human history, God's justice and mercy are shown to be one thing, one action, life, and being...the righteousness that condemns is also the love that restores.'"

Fleming Rutledge, The Crucifixion: Understanding the Death of Jesus Christ (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2015), 163-164.

Sunday, 5 March 2017

Adam and Eve Breaking Apart

"Eve, the other person, was the limit given to Adam in bodily form. He acknowledged this limit in love, that is, in the undivided unity of giving himself; he loved it precisely in its nature as a limit for him, that is, in Eve’s being human and yet ‘being another human being’. Now he has transgressed the boundary and come to know that he has a limit. Now he no longer accepts the limit as God the Creator’s grace; instead he hates it as God begrudging him something as Creator. And in the same act of transgressing the boundary he has transgressed the limit that the other person represented to him in bodily form. Now he no longer sees the limit that the other person constitutes as grace but as God’s wrath, God’s hatred, God’s begrudging. This means that the human being no longer regards the other person with love. Instead one person sees the other in terms of their being over against each other; each sees the other as divided from himself or herself. The limit is no longer grace that holds the human being in the unity of creaturely, free love; instead the limit is now the mark of dividedness. Man and woman are divided from each other.

This means two things. First it means that the man claims his share of the woman’s body or, more generally, that one person claims a right to the other, claims to be entitled to possess the other, and thereby denies and destroys the creaturely nature of the other person. This obsessive desire [Sucht] of one human being for another finds its primordial expression in sexuality. The sexuality of the human being who transgresses his or her boundary is a refusal to recognize any limit at all; it is a boundless obsessive desire to be without any limits. Sexuality is a passionate hatred of any limit. It is extreme lack of respect for things-as-they are [Unsachlichkeit]; it is self-will, an obsessive but powerless will for unity in a divided [entzweiten] world. It is obsessive because it knows of a common human being from the beginning; it is powerless because in losing his or her limit a human being has finally lost the other person. Sexuality seeks to destroy the other person as a creature, robs the other person of his or her creatureliness, lays violent hands on the other person as one’s limit, and hates grace.By destroying the other person one seeks to preserve and reproduce one’s own life. Human beings create by destroying; in sexuality the human race preserves itself while it destroys. Unbridled sexuality is therefore destruction κατʼ ἐξοχήν; it is a mad acceleration of the fall, of the downward drop. It is affirming oneself to the point of self-destruction. Obsessive desire [Sucht] and hate, tob and ra—these are the fruits of the tree of knowledge.

From this dividedness, however, there now follows a second thing, humankind’s covering itself up. Human beings with no limit, in their hatred and in their obsessive desire, do not show themselves in their nakedness. Nakedness is the essence of unity, of not being torn apart, of being for the other, of respect for what is given, of acknowledging the rights of the other as my limit and as a creature. Nakedness is the essence of being oblivious of the possibility of robbing others of their rights. Nakedness is revelation; nakedness believes in grace. Nakedness does not know it is naked, just as the eye does not see itself or know about itself. Nakedness is innocence."

Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Creation and Fall: A Theological Exposition of Genesis 1–3Dietrich Bonhoeffer Works 3 (Minneapolis: Augsburg Fortress, 1997), 123-124.

Saturday, 4 March 2017

Did God Really Say?

The question is ...one that is put by a forked tongue, for it plainly wants to be thought of as coming from God’s side. For the sake of the true God, so it appears, it wants to cause the given word of God to fall. In this way the serpent purports somehow to know about the depths of the true God beyond this given word of God—about the true God who is so badly misrepresented in this human word. The serpent claims to know more about God than the human being who depends on God’s word alone. The serpent knows of a more exalted God, a nobler God, who has no need to make such a prohibition. It wants to be somehow itself the dark root from which the visible tree of God then first stems. And from this strongly held position the serpent now fights against the word of God. It knows that it has power only where it purports to come from God and to represent God’s cause. Only as the pious serpent is it evil. In posing its question it derives its existence from the power of God alone, and it is able to be evil only where it is pious. So now it purports to be the power that stands behind God’s word and from which God then draws God’s own power.
The question that the serpent posed was a perfectly pious one. But with the first pious question in the world, evil appears on the scene. Where evil shows itself in its godlessness, it is altogether powerless; at that point it is just a bogeyman, something we have no need to be afraid of. Indeed evil does not concentrate its power at that point at all; instead it there most often diverts attention away from the other place where it really wishes to break through. And in this latter place it is veiled in the garb of piety. The wolf in sheep’s clothing, Satan in the form of an angel of light—that is the figure that is in keeping with evil. Did God really say …?—that is the utterly godless question. Did God really say that God is love, that God wishes to forgive us our sins, that we need only believe God, that we need no works, that Christ died and was raised for our sakes, that we will have eternal life in the kingdom of God, that we are no longer alone but upheld by God’s grace, that one day all grieving and wailing shall come to an end? Did God really say: You shall not steal, you shall not commit adultery, you shall not bear false witness.…? Did God really say this to me? Or does it perhaps not apply to me in particular? Did God really claim to be a God of wrath toward those who do not keep God’s commandments? Did God really demand the sacrifice of Christ—the God whom I know better, the God whom I know to be the infinitely good, all-loving Father? This is the question that appears so innocuous but through which evil wins its power in us and through which we become disobedient to God. Were the question to come to us with its godlessness unveiled and laid bare, we would be able to resist it. But Christians are not open to attack in that way; one must actually approach them with God, one must show them a better, a prouder, God than they seem to have, if they are to fall.
What is the real evil in this question? It is not that a question as such is asked. It is that this question already contains the wrong answer. It is that with this question the basic attitude of the creature toward the Creator comes under attack. It requires humankind to sit in judgment on God’s word instead of simply listening to it and doing it. And this is achieved by proposing that, on the basis of an idea, a principle, or some prior knowledge about God, humankind should now pass judgment on the concrete word of God. But where human beings use a principle, an idea of God, as a weapon to fight against the concrete word of God, there they are from the outset already in the right; at that point they have become God’s master, they have left the path of obedience, they have withdrawn from being addressed by God. In other words, in this question what is possible is played off against reality, and what is possible undermines what is reality. In the relation of human beings to God, however, there are no possibilities: there is only reality. 

Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Creation and Fall: A Theological Exposition of Genesis 1–3Dietrich Bonhoeffer Works 3 (Minneapolis: Augsburg Fortress, 1997), 107-108.