Testament Reading: Job 38:1-7
Testament Reading: Colossians 1:15-20
"It is the mark of
Deity to pervade everything and to extend to every part of the nature of
existing things... We learn this from the cross. In shape it is divided
into four parts in such a way that the four arms converge in the middle.
Now He who was extended upon it at the time God's plan was fulfilled in
his death is the one who binds all things to himself and makes them one.
Through himself he brings the diverse natures of existing things into one
accord and harmony."
--Gregory of Nyssa, An Address on Religious
week I discoursed at some length on the role of the Cross of Jesus Christ
as an agent of reconciliation between the rival factions of humanity. I
suggested that the cross, in New Testament parlance, reconciles both God
with human beings, and human beings with each other. This last it can do
only if it serves not as one more brick in the already sagging wall of
humanity, but rather as the mortar enabling all the bricks to coexist in a
united front. This morning, the fifth of Lent, I want to take things
further and speculate for a while on the even vaster implications of the
Cross of Christ, for it is a cosmic cross, vaster in scope even than the
salvation of the human race. At least that is what the Epistle to the
Colossians, perhaps the only thoroughly Gnostic text in the New Testament
canon, tells us.
In Colossians we
read that human redemption was only part of the mission of the Crucified
Christ. He did that, but he went above and well beyond it, too. The text
says not that he reconciled God and human beings, or even Jews with
Gentiles, but that he reconciled heaven and earth themselves! "... and
through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in
heaven, making peace by the blood of his cross."
Wait a minute! Did I
get that right? There was a gap between some heavenly entity and God? We
are used to the idea that "in Christ God was reconciling the world to
himself"--yes, this world, but some other world? That is what the
Stop and think a
moment just how narrow our perspective is. It is a heavy blow to the
credibility of the Christian story that it is so awfully anthropocentric.
That is, haven't we imagined a God who has nothing else to do but create a
world to our liking, as a stage on which we can be the main attraction and
he can be audience, director, and producer? In all those roles, and in the
roles of Father, Son, and Spirit, we imagine God to be concerned with
nothing more than his little darlings the human race.
Legend makes this
the specific reason for the revolt of Lucifer. He just could not stomach
the sight of the Almighty doting over his little clay bipeds--and then
when God summoned the mighty Lucifer to bow down before the little
homunculus--! That was too much, a straw to break an angel's back! It was
this unbelievable, not to say comic, hubris that made Christianity fall
with such a crash when all the discoveries since the Enlightenment dumped
Homo Sapiens unceremoniously from his throne. It turned out that, far from
being central in the grand scheme of things, our world was a speck of
flotsam orbiting a mediocre star in a back alley of a minor galaxy.
Contrary to Paul's assertion, the whole thing, the whole of human history,
was done in a corner. And when fossils revealed that we were merely
the latest among species, in fact an anticlimax after some mighty species
that had rules the earth far longer than we have been here--well, it was
too much. Christianity seemed discredited. But why? Why should these
discoveries seem to debunk the Christian religion? It was not God, but
humanity having made itself God, that was given the lie. Science revealed
that human beings were just what the Bible had always said we were.
Certainly nothing that God could be expected to waste his time on.
"When I consider the
heavens, the work of thy fingers, the moon and the stars which thou hast
ordained, what is man that thou art mindful of him, and the son of man
that thou carest for him?" (Psalm 8)
C.S. Lewis tried to
conceive of a part of the cosmic drama of God, in other words, what
else he might be up to, since Lewis realized he couldn't be spending
all his time here in Hooterville. He did this in his Space Trilogy. But
not by much. He still has the human struggle as pretty much central,
though there is a wider audience observing it. What else there is to it,
we can never know. But we must assume there is a wider frame of
reference--unless of course we want to play right into the hands of Ludwig
Feuerbach who said that the reason God happens to look just like us and to
be busy with naught else but us, is that he is us, a projection of tiny
humanity upon a big screen.
passage tries to give us some brief glimpse into the cosmic scope of God's
concern. It implies that our redemption was like unto that of a tiny
Pacific atoll in the Allied victory over Japan. The islanders, maybe a
hundred of them, were rightly glad to be free, but they were small
potatoes. There were bigger spoils in that war. We are on the atoll. The
stakes were higher than we know. How high?
I wonder, taking my
cue from theologian Thomas Altizer, if per haps what Jesus Christ has done
on that Cross, its arms like a sign post bristling with pointers in all
directions, is something that fundamentally changes the religious
universe. We are used to saying that on the Cross Christ closed the gap
between us and God. But that's not exactly what we meant. The symbol of
the upright cross, as Mircea Eliade said, is really a connector
symbol. It is a bridge, like Jacob's ladder. It does not, in
traditional terms, bring heaven and earth together. Rather it provides a
path from which one can travel from earth to heaven. And
that is what we do when we seek salvation from the cross.
But Altizer said
what Christ did was much more radical. He did close the gap. God
was in him descending to earth--and staying there! "He emptied
himself" says the text in Philippians. Suppose we took that seriously.
Suppose that on the cross the Transcendent, the heavenly, poured itself
out into the earthly, the Sacred into the Profane. Suppose that from Good
Friday onward the heavens were empty. As John Lennon said, "Above us only
sky." But where did the divine glory go? The fugitive spark of the
Shekinah of God is henceforth to be recognized in the world below, in the
face opposite yours, in the least of the brethren of the Son of Man.
In the second
century AD, the Buddhist philosopher Nagarjuna had the same revelation.
Traditionally Buddhists had rejected the profane world as Samsara, the
realm of pain and lust and death and rebirth into more of the same. They
did yoga exercises to escape this rotten world of Samsara and pass on into
a state of peace called Nirvana. But Nagarjuna discovered that they had
all been barking up the wrong tree. Nirvana had all along been under their
very feet and they had not recognized it ("Have I been with you so long
Philip and still you do not know me?"). All there really is, Nagarjuna
said, was the great ocean of the Sacred, and upon it, barely visible, is a
bright thin film of oil called the mundane world. When one sees it aright,
one does not flee it or despise it, but one sees through it and sees it
shimmer with the inner glory of the Sacred. It is a sacramental view of
In the Gospel of
Thomas the disciples ask Jesus, "When will the Kingdom come?" He answers:
"It will not come by expectation; they will not say, 'See, here,' or 'See,
there.' But the Kingdom of the Father is spread upon the earth and men do
not see it." (saying 113). Is it possible that this is what Jesus
wrought on the cross, or, in other words, may this be what we are to learn
from it? That he brought the kingdom nearer to us than we are to
ourselves, or that he simply revealed that it had never been anywhere
else? Aren't we saying this when we acclaim Jesus the savior of the
world? The Greek world used in such statements in the New Testament is
cosmos. If he redeems the cosmos he buys it back, he reclaims it
all as sacred space, holy ground that makes the feet shun their sandals.
Holy ground that impels every bush to burst into flaming revelation.
Because of the
cosmic work of Jesus Christ, heaven and earth, as the old Anglican liturgy
has it, have been knit into one piece.
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