Daily Prayer :: Water

Encouragement for a lifelong journey of faith

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August 6, 2020 – Especially in His Death

Athanasius of Alexandria is an early Church Father, considered one of the great “Doctors of the Church.” He is the first person to identify the 27 books we now consider the New Testament. He contributed to the theological integrity of the church by struggling against Arians, who maintained that Jesus of Nazareth was of a “distinct substance” to the father (which would violate the doctrine of the Trinity), as well several Emperors. This penchant for conflict for the truth earned him the title Athanasius Contra Mundum (or Athanasius Against the World). This week, we are going to pray through one of his works, On the Incarnation of the Word (or De Incarnatione Verbi Dei). The text itself is a companion to another one of his works, Against the Heathen (or Contra Gentes). In his first work, he is offering written arguments against pagan beliefs and practices. But in the work we’ll focus on this week, On the Incarnation, Athanasius beautifully writes of the basis of Christian faith and salvation: the incarnation of Jesus. I will offer an excerpt of the text (you can find the whole thing here), and try to bring to our immediate relevance to us today.

Today’s Bible reading

For this perishable body must put on imperishability, and this mortal body must put on immortality. When this perishable body puts on imperishability, and this mortal body puts on immortality, then the saying that is written will be fulfilled:

“Death has been swallowed up in victory.”
“Where, O death, is your victory?
Where, O death, is your sting?”

The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.—1 Cor. 15:53-56

More thoughts for meditation

“The Word, since it was not possible for Him to die, as He was immortal, took to Himself a body such as could die, that He might offer it as His own in the stead of all, and as suffering, through His union with it, on behalf of all.”

“He was not subject to natural death, but had to die at the hands of others.”

“How could the end of death, and the victory over it be proved, unless challenging it before the eyes of all He had shown it to be dead.”

“So also the Life of all, our Lord and Saviour, even Christ, did not devise a death for His own body, so as not to appear to be fearing some other death; but He accepted on the Cross, and endured, a death inflicted by others, and above all by His enemies, which they thought dreadful and ignominious and not to be faced.”

“For it is only on the cross that a human dies with their hands spread out… For only he that is perfected on the cross dies in the air.”

Athanasius moves to his argument to the death of Jesus in the next section of the treatise. First, he argues that Jesus needed to die—that the incorruptible Word needed to become mortal flesh, so as to incur the punishment that satisfied the debt owed to God. But this death couldn’t be just any death. It couldn’t be a natural death, because the Lord demonstrates power over sickness. His life needed to be taken from him by others. And it needed to happen in public so that it might not be challenged and the resurrection would be glorified too. Furthermore, it needed to be a public, humiliating (“ignominious”) death, by his enemies. He needed to die the worst death and suffer the worse humiliation in order to showcase that he was not interested in selecting a “better” option. And not only that, but the worst death could offer magnifies the power of the resurrection—because it defeated even the darkest forms of death. This is why the death of Jesus today remains meaningful even for victims of modern-day lynchings. It matches that humiliation, which not only allows for a shared experience, but a shared triumph over it. Finally, Athanasius points out that the image of the cross—arms spread out, and high on a hill—shows both the embrace of God, uniting people with Christ’s widespread arms, and the height of God’s conquest, as our Lord dies in the air.

Suggestions for action

It can be tempting to overlook the shame of the cross in order to fast-forward to the triumph of the resurrection, but the specifics about Christ’s death both matter to us as individuals and also as a whole community. Christ died for us, in our stead and on our behalf, and the public shame of his death allows us to reject any shame that we may be experience for what he has wiped away. Additionally, the image of this death, in high, arms spread out, both elevates the conquest of the death that occurs on the cross, but includes all of us in it. The public humiliation that the Lord went through bonds God to the people that go through the same public deaths: we see this most evidently in the police killings of black and brown people. Try to hold all of that together right now: that Christ died for you, for all of us, and with the least of us at heart. Contemplate that as you observe this icon.

An Atonement of Shame - Orthodoxy and the Cross - Glory to God for ...

August 5, 2020 – Finding That Which Was Lost

Athanasius of Alexandria is an early Church Father, considered one of the great “Doctors of the Church.” He is the first person to identify the 27 books we now consider the New Testament. He contributed to the theological integrity of the church by struggling against Arians, who maintained that Jesus of Nazareth was of a “distinct substance” to the father (which would violate the doctrine of the Trinity), as well several Emperors. This penchant for conflict for the truth earned him the title Athanasius Contra Mundum (or Athanasius Against the World). This week, we are going to pray through one of his works, On the Incarnation of the Word (or De Incarnatione Verbi Dei). The text itself is a companion to another one of his works, Against the Heathen (or Contra Gentes). In his first work, he is offering written arguments against pagan beliefs and practices. But in the work we’ll focus on this week, On the Incarnation, Athanasius beautifully writes of the basis of Christian faith and salvation: the incarnation of Jesus. I will offer an excerpt of the text (you can find the whole thing here), and try to bring to our immediate relevance to us today.

Today’s Bible reading

I pray that you may have the power to comprehend, with all the saints, what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, so that you may be filled with all the fullness of God.—Ephesians 3:18-19

More thoughts for meditation

“God made humans in the Image of the Word, that thus they might know the Word, and through Him the Father.”

“God, foreseeing humans’ forgetfulness, provided also the works of creation to remind humans of him. Yet further, He ordained a Law and Prophets, whose ministry was meant for all the world. Yet humans heeded only their own lusts.”

“A king whose subjects had revolted would, after sending letters and messages, go to them in person.”

“A portrait once effaced must be restored from the original. Thus the Son of the Father came to seek, save, and regenerate. No other way was possible.”

“All man’s superstitions He met halfway; whether humans were inclined to worship Nature, Man, Demons, or the dead, He showed Himself Lord of all these.”

Athanasius offers a second reason for the incarnation. The first reason is so that God might save us: “putting away death from us and renewing us again.” And the second reason is so that God might make Godself known and seen to humans. The Word became Flesh so that we might know God.

Athanasius insists that from the moment of Creation, God sought to be known by those he created. First, God creates us in the image of the Word, so by knowing ourselves, we might know God. Athanasius wonders what the point of creation would be at all if God didn’t seek to known by what God created. But humans “wholly rejected God,” and more than that, made replacements for God in grave idols. In response to this, again to be known by humankind, God sent the Law and Prophets, but humankind was nevertheless “overcome by the pleasures of the moment and by the illusions and deceits sent by demons.”

But God persisted on being seen and known. Athanasius draws an analogy to a king who returns to his land in order to free it from being colonized. God has to come in person to save God’s blind people from their colonized land. God came to restore the image of God in humans. That “he might be able to create afresh the humans after the image.” The only way for God to do that was to come in person, to restore the image that was ruined. And Jesus did so by seeing what God was replaced with and demonstrating, indeed, that he was Lord over the false idols that humans worships. He appeared as a human so that humans might relate to him and know him and see him. The beauty of this is that we saw God through Jesus because he clothed himself in humanity to reveal to humanity the true image in which they were created. And though he accomplished salvation through his death and resurrection, it was through his life, “by what He did, abiding in it, and doing such works, and showing such signs, as made Him known no longer as Man, but as God the Word.”

Suggestions for action

As you read over Athanasius’s second reason for the incarnation, I hope that you can see God’s persistence in being known by God’s creation. That from the start, God wanted us to see God and God went to great pains to show us this truth. That persistence not only makes God a loving God, but it makes us worth loving too. God fought for us because of God’s own goodness, and also because of the goodness that God saw in us. Pray today that you can hold on to this truth today: God sees you as worth fighting for.

August 4, 2020 – None, but He Who had created

Athanasius of Alexandria is an early Church Father, considered one of the great “Doctors of the Church.” He is the first person to identify the 27 books we now consider the New Testament. He contributed to the theological integrity of the church by struggling against Arians, who maintained that Jesus of Nazareth was of a “distinct substance” to the father (which would violate the doctrine of the Trinity), as well several Emperors. This penchant for conflict for the truth earned him the title Athanasius Contra Mundum (or Athanasius Against the World). This week, we are going to pray through one of his works, On the Incarnation of the Word (or De Incarnatione Verbi Dei). The text itself is a companion to another one of his works, Against the Heathen (or Contra Gentes). In his first work, he is offering written arguments against pagan beliefs and practices. But in the work we’ll focus on this week, On the Incarnation, Athanasius beautifully writes of the basis of Christian faith and salvation: the incarnation of Jesus. I will offer an excerpt of the text (you can find the whole thing here), and try to bring to our immediate relevance to us today.

Today’s Bible reading

Yet death exercised dominion from Adam to Moses, even over those whose sins were not like the transgression of Adam, who is a type of the one who was to come.—Romans 5:14

For the love of Christ urges us on, because we are convinced that one has died for all; therefore all have died.—2 Corinthians 5:14

For since death came through a human being, the resurrection of the dead has also come through a human being.—Hebrews 11:14

More thoughts for meditation

Our creation and God’s Incarnation most intimately connected.

But men, having rejected things eternal, and, by counsel of the devil, turned to the things of corruption, became the cause of their own corruption in death.

The human race then was wasting, God’s image was being effaced, and His work ruined.

We have incurred corruption and need to be restored to the Grace of God’s Image. None could renew but He Who had created.

He takes a body of our Nature… He makes it His own, wherein to reveal Himself, conquer death, and restore life.

By being above all, He made His Flesh an offering for our souls; by being one with us all, he clothed us with immortality.

In sections four to ten of On the Incarnation, Athanasius presents the first reason for the incarnation. Above, I’ve outlined the basics of his argument using his words, but now I want to unpack it more. For Athanasius, the incarnation and the creation are inextricably linked. God “gave us freely,” through the Word, through the incarnation, “a life in correspondence with God.” But human kind severed that relationship, “having despised and rejected the contemplation of God, and devised and contrived evil for themselves.” That is the problem that the Incarnation solves, that is the first reason for the Incarnation—to solve this dilemma: the gift God freely gave ruined rejecting “things eternal” turning to “things of corruption.”

Athanasius presents us with a conundrum that God is facing: “For it were not worthy of God’s goodness that the things He had made should waste away, because of the deceit practised on men by the devil. Especially it was unseemly to the last degree that God’s handicraft among men should be done away, either because of their own carelessness, or because of the deceitfulness of evil spirits.”

God is moved to save us, despite our “carelessness” or us being deceived because what God has made as good should not be away with. God is moved to love us because of who God is and who God created us to be. In order for us to return to who we were created to be, we need more than repentance. “None could renew but He Who had created.” The Word made Flesh, Jesus, was in a unique position to both suffer and recreate. So Jesus “comes in condescension to show loving-kindness upon us, and to visit us.” Jesus took the same pity on us that God did when God created us, Jesus extended the mercy, and “condescended to our corruption” and couldn’t bear to let death have the final word. He did this to keep us from perishing, while also preserving God’s good work. “He takes unto Himself a body, and that of no different sort from ours.”

Jesus takes on flesh, which removes death’s “holding-ground” among humans because the Word’s body came to dwell with them. Athanasius compares this to a king who comes back to his city, and no enemy or bandit can descend upon it any longer and subject it. The first reason for the incarnation is that “Word of God being made man has come about the destruction of death and the resurrection of life.”

Suggestions for action

Athanasius’s first reason for the incarnation is salvation. The Word became us to save us, to cancel our debt. Jesus clothed himself with a body that could be killed so that he might be killed on our behalf, and recreate us in his resurrection. The “logic” of this argument may be salient, but the romance of it is even more important. Forgiveness and reconciliation requires us to relate to the person we are forgiving and reconciling with. It requires us to become like them. Moreover, it costs us something, like it costed God something. And so while we are now free to forgive and reconcile, to repent and start over, without condemnation because of the work of Jesus on the cross, it still costs us something. It may cost us comfort but it could be something greater—our power, our privilege, maybe even our financial well-being. I hope that naming the cost itself will make it easier to forgive and to love one another, as God did us.

Pray that God may help you clothe yourself with the experiences of others, so that we can reconcile with one another, and truly develop a New Humanity in Christ, a recreated humanity, a new creation!

Yesterday was Flannery O’Connor Day.  Appreciate her off-kilter look at Southern Christianity at Celebrating Our Transhistorical Body.

August 3, 2020 – On the Incarnation of the Word

Athanasius of Alexandria is an early Church Father, considered one of the great “Doctors of the Church.” He is the first person to identify the 27 books we now consider the New Testament. He contributed to the theological integrity of the church by struggling against Arians, who maintained that Jesus of Nazareth was of a “distinct substance” to the father (which would violate the doctrine of the Trinity), as well several Emperors. This penchant for conflict for the truth earned him the title Athanasius Contra Mundum (or Athanasius Against the World). This week, we are going to pray through one of his works, On the Incarnation of the Word (or De Incarnatione Verbi Dei). The text itself is a companion to another one of his works, Against the Heathen (or Contra Gentes). In his first work, he is offering written arguments against pagan beliefs and practices. But in the work we’ll focus on this week, On the Incarnation, Athanasius beautifully writes of the basis of Christian faith and salvation: the incarnation of Jesus. I will offer an excerpt of the text (you can find the whole thing here), and try to bring to our immediate relevance to us today.

Today’s Bible reading

In the beginning when God created the heavens and the earth.—Genesis 1:1

All things came into being through him, and without him not one thing came into being.—John 1:3

By faith we understand that the worlds were prepared by the word of God, so that what is seen was made from things that are not visible.—Hebrews 11:3

More thoughts for meditation

Athanasius begins his treatise on the incarnation by focusing on creation, first by refuting three competing viewpoints of creation, and then by retelling the biblical narrative of Creation (using Genesis, but also passages in the New Testament in order to incorporate Jesus into the narrative).

He argues against the Epicureans that because they believed “everything has had its beginning… independent of purpose” all of creation would be alike and not distinct. And that isn’t adequate to explain the diverse universe as he experiences it.

To the Platonists, he argues that their belief that “God has made the world out of matter previously existing and without beginning” makes God weak because God does not precede the material here, God simply organizes it. “He works at existing material, but is not Himself the cause of the material.”

Finally, to the Gnostics, he argues that their belief that the creator, the “artificer,” is distinct from the Father of Christ is manifestly disproven in the Bible (Matthew 16:4, John 1:3). After he deconstructs these arguments he moves toward his telling of the creation account.

The true doctrine. Creation out of nothing, of God’s lavish bounty of being. Humans created above the rest, but incapable of independent perseverance. Hence the exceptional and supra-natural gift of being in God’s Image, with the promise of bliss conditionally upon his perseverance in grace.”

Athanasius retells the biblical creation narrative, naming God as the source of goodness, and crediting Jesus Christ as the creator (using John 1:3 and Hebrews 11:3). He writes that God has taken a “special pity” on the human race, one that he did not “barely create” us, but in a special way, in God’s image and “of the power of His own Word.” He says we now reflect the Word of God. But it wasn’t enough that God created us, God secured us by grace through the law, and gave them a place in paradise, in God’s own garden. If they kept the grace, the law, they stayed in paradise without “sorrow or pain or care.”

Suggestions for action

Looking back at Athanasius’ arguments against the contemporary theories of creation is interesting. Many of those philosophies are long-gone at this point, and some of his critiques don’t stand the test of time as they were corrected later on when we learned more about our physical environment. But what strikes me is that his retelling of the biblical narrative does remain sound. Though we know that eventually human corrupt the creation by their own sin, there is a deep comfort to be found in being especially created by God, with attention, in God’s image, with the power of Christ. We know that Jesus fulfills the very law given to us by grace, and so now we can live in the paradise that begins now without “sorrow or pain or care” (but also with those things, in this strange in-between time that we live).

What stands between you and believing that God takes a “special pity” on you? Pray for the courage to believe that God did not merely create you, but made you with a unique care and gaze that names you as the beloved.

Today is Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn Day.  Appreciate the witness of this great, 20th Century author and prophet at Celebrating Our Transhistorical Body.

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