Monday, April 28, 2008

The Resurrection: The Central Mystery of Christ's Sacrifice

From Pastoral Ponderings by Fr. Patrick Henry Reardon

Too often---if my impressions are correct---the Resurrection and Ascension of our Savior are treated simply as the aftermath of the sacrifice of the Cross, the first effects of Redemption, so to speak. A Christian theology informed by Holy Scripture, however, will insist that the Lord's Resurrection and the Ascension were also integral components of that sacrifice. His glorification on high accomplished that latreuic perfection which was but faintly symbolized in the Old Testament sacrifices that prefigured it.

The victims of those sacrifices, after all, were not only immolated, expressing the self-gift of those who offered them; they were also transformed by sacred fire and thereby ascended to God as the expression of Israel's worship. God received them in the fire.

In the case of our High Priest and Victim, the Holy Spirit was the true fire that transformed His immolated Body and raised it up to the Father as the perfect oblation, the supreme act of worship. The Father received that sacrifice in the fire of the Holy Spirit. This, I take it, is what St. Paul had in mind when He wrote that Christ "gave Himself for us, an offering and sacrifice to God for a sweet-smelling aroma" (Ephesians 5:2). On the cross Christ "through the eternal Spirit offered Himself without spot to God" (Hebrews 9:14).

This truth respecting the sacrificial quality of the Lord's glorification is perhaps best expressed in the Epistle to the Hebrews, which portrays Jesus' entry into the true and heavenly sanctuary as the final act---the liturgical act!---by which He was perfected in His priesthood. Indeed, if Jesus "were on earth, He would not be a priest" (8:4).

That entrance into the Holy Place not made with hands was also the perfection of Christ as our Victim, because in it was achieved the goal of all sacrifice---the Victim became completely the possession of God, transformed by the divine acceptance of the gift. It was the fire of the Holy Spirit that raised Jesus from the dead and handed Him to the Father as the perfect sacrifice, through and in which the human race has access to the Throne. This is why the Church calls the event of the Cross the "Paschal Sacrifice."

According to St. Augustine, "this sacrifice was offered by the one true Priest, the Mediator of God and man; and it was proper that this sacrifice should be pre-figured by animal sacrifices, . . . for a natural body is endowed with heavenly attributes, as the fire in the sacrifice typified the swallowing up of death in victory" (Against Faustus 22.17).

The immolated flesh of Christ, because of the perfect love that He offered to the Father in the self-gift of the Cross, received the Holy Spirit as the iron receives the fire and is thereby transformed. It was the energy of the Holy Spirit in the flesh of Christ (for His soul had departed) that preserved Him from decay and raised Him from the dead.

The glorious Christ abides, therefore, in the divinized state of sacrifice. He is the Lamb who forever stands "as though immolated"---hos esphagmenon (Revelation 5:6)---our Spirit-bearing Mediator with the Father. In this state of glory, ascended on high, He is the channel of the Spirit's sundry gifts (Ephesians 4:4-13).

The Holy Spirit Himself was the first gift of the risen Christ to the Church: "Jesus said to them again, 'Peace to you! As the Father has sent Me, I also send you.' And when He had said this, He breathed on them, and said to them, 'Receive the Holy Spirit'" (John 20:21-22). It is a principle of the New Dispensation that this Holy Spirit comes to the Church through Christ's transformed, divinized flesh.

The Eucharistic Mysteries are especially pertinent to this principle. How do bread and wine become the very Body and Blood of Christ? Because, says St. John of Damascus, "The Holy Spirit is present and does these things." He goes on, "The bread and wine are not mere representations of the Body and Blood of Christ---God forbid!---but the same deified Body of the Lord." We partake of these Mysteries, Damascene insists, "that we may be inflamed and deified by participation in the divine fire." This is how the Christian is transformed: "Being purified thereby, we are united to the Body of Christ and to His Spirit" (On the Orthodox Faith 4.13).

1 comment:

Soterios said...

The mystery of the cross presents a pre-crucifixion sacrifice undertaken by Jesus.

Christians forget that the WORK of the high-priest is to make a sacrifice for OWN sins before atonement/purification can be made for the sins of the people. This sacrificial work is to be done before the commencement of ministry in order that POWER can be given to a glorified, holy (sin-less) soul. This is what Jesus came to reveal to those who would believe in him.

If Jesus' sacrifice was on the cross, then HOW would he have been able to do the miraculous healings and signs which accompanied his ministry? Rememeber he overcame Satan and was given divine authority to forgive sins. Why don't the gospels record the adolescent years of Jesus? If Jesus was always holy, why did he have to wait until his 30's to begin ministry? Jesus underwent a conversion process which the church today refuses to speak about. What do you think he was doing with "wild animals" in the wilderness and why was Paul fighting "wild beasts" in Ephesus?

As a high-priest, Jesus came to present us with a better way of worshipping God. That way is by the restoration of the soul to the place it was before SIN defiled it and made it fall. The way of holiness allows the presentation of the soul to God in an unblemished or undarkened state, thereby doing away with the ritual blood sacrifice of prime animals in a physical temple (earthly tabernacle). The work of the church is therefore to follow Jesus into heaven if ministry is to be done in accordance with the will of God and in the power which he promises to his true disciples.

Christians believe that Christ's work on the cross has absolved them from sins and they remain in bondage and fall into the end-time delusion which specifically concerns salvation.

By believing themselves to be already saved, yet without doing the WORK of the gospel which involves a period of testing, trial and suffering, no-one becomes righteous and no-one is made holy. The FRUITS of a heavenly ministry are therefore absent.

When the collective church begins to study the word and understand what it means to be FALLEN, then they will begin to UNDERSTAND what must be accomplished in order to be RISEN.

Even though Jesus "brokered" the way into heaven itsself, Christian worship today is still performed in a church when we have been told that worship is supposed to be in heaven itsself (in spirit & in truth) not in an earthly tabernacle.