Atone-over

JMJ

IN THE EPISCOPAL CHURCH’s Book of Common Prayer (1979), as the priest breaks the consecrated bread, is sung the Fraction Anthem. “Christ our Passover is sacrificed for us. Therefore let us keep the feast.” John the Baptist, of course, refers to Christ as the “Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world” (John 1:29). And the New Testament is filled with references to Christ as an atoning sacrifice. (eg John 3:16, Romans 3:24, Hebrews 9:12-16, Revelation 5:9.)

But here’s where my meditations on this hit a snag: the Lamb offered every year at Passover was not offered as a sin offering. The main sin offering was, of course, Yom Kippur, and certainly Good Friday was in the Passover Season. Also the Yom Kippur offering is two goats. Not Lambs. The Passover offering does not fit the pattern of any of the other sacrifices of Leviticus. It was given by God to the people of Israel while they were still in Egypt, before the Temple or Tabernacle system was even discussed.

So it seems that there is a huge significance for this evident change in the Christian reading of the sacrificial system’s symbolism. This theological move forms the hinge by which we connect with the Jewish people. Why is our reading of Passover the way it is? Mind you these are only ruminations: I’m not really going anywhere and I have a lot more questions than answers.

As I noted this reading (of atonement as part of the Messiah’s mission) is present already in the earliest texts of Paul and the Gospels. So it’s not an aberration.

I’m not the historian that can delve into 2nd Temple Judaism. A cursory investigation on the internet shows a lot of Christian sources rather than Jewish ones. It seems the question of Why Passover and not Yom Kippur is a common one. There is a comment from Abraham ibn Ezra, writing in the 10th Century, understanding Passover as an atonement for those “in the house”. (Cited here.) That same page also has an extensive citation from Rashi which seems to hold that image as one of atonement, however I don’t think it jives totally? Both of these comments are in the 10th Century, though. Is there any earlier information? Shrug. This is a meditation, not a history paper.

Nu? Typology, maybe?

If Egypt is taken as a sign of “the world” or “sin” or as a synecdoche for all Gentiles, then Passover is a sign of leaving the worldly order (Mammon) for the Heavenly Kingdom.

If we understand sin as a bunch of rules we’ve broken, demerits, as it were, then we need a sin offering (like Yom Kippur) but if we understand sin as a breaking of the Marriage Covenant between God and his people then we need to redo the covenant, not just undo a few demerits. Passover is before the Sinai covenant and so it’s a good symbol to use for a do-over or a Mulligan.

Another clue about Egypt can be found if we loop back to the Fraction Anthem from the 1979 Prayerbook. It comes from a short passage in Paul:

Do you not know that a little leaven leavens the whole lump? Cleanse out the old leaven that you may be a new lump, as you really are unleavened. For Christ, our paschal lamb, has been sacrificed. Let us, therefore, celebrate the festival, not with the old leaven, the leaven of malice and evil, but with the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth. I wrote to you in my letter not to associate with immoral men; not at all meaning the immoral of this world, or the greedy and robbers, or idolaters, since then you would need to go out of the world. But rather I wrote to you not to associate with any one who bears the name of brother if he is guilty of immorality or greed, or is an idolater, reviler, drunkard, or robber—not even to eat with such a one. For what have I to do with judging outsiders? Is it not those inside the church whom you are to judge? God judges those outside. “Drive out the wicked person from among you.”

1 Corinthians 5: 6-13 (RSVCE)

Paul makes a parallel with the Jewish tradition of “liturgical spring cleaning”. A Jewish family removes all leaven from their house before Passover, sweeping all the corners, wiping down all the shelves. Very pious folks – of a certain standing – even have an entirely different dishes to use, even entirely different kitchens! Paul uses the leaven to signify sin, lists a bunch of sins that he’d like to remove from the Corinthian congregation and warns them that even a little yeast will (eventually) cause the entire bread to rise – not just some of it, but all of it. Taking leavening as a symbol for evil (as it is in the OT), the Apostle urges Christians to leave behind them their lives of sin and to not even associate with those who won’t. (The word rendered “immorality” in the RSVCE refers to sexual immorality. It’s actually the Greek word pornos and it’s related to prostitution. See 1 Corinthians 5:11.) We’re leaving all this behind us in Egypt. We’re not going to let it contaminate our new loaf.

How is this at all an Atonement though? Queue up an offhanded comment from the most recent episode of Bible Project podcast. Look at Exodus:

For I will pass through the land of Egypt that night, and I will smite all the first-born in the land of Egypt, both man and beast; and on all the gods of Egypt I will execute judgments: I am the Lord. The blood shall be a sign for you, upon the houses where you are; and when I see the blood, I will pass over you, and no plague shall fall upon you to destroy you, when I smite the land of Egypt.

Exodus 12:12-13 (RSVCE)

I will smite all the 1st born. So even an Israelite would have been included without the Blood. God was allowing the substitution of an innocent life (the lamb) for the life of the First Born. Even more, in the substitution, the whole family was eating the flesh of the First Born.

Typology indeed.

This is not the case in Yom Kippur where the two goats are used: one is sent out of the camp and the other is burned up on the altar and its blood is sprinkled around in the Holy of Holies. Jesus is not that offering: his offering is consumed not by God’s flames but by his family – that is us. His life is substituted for ours. Hebrews says that God did not desire sin offerings, but rather the Body of the Messiah. Through the Body and Blood of Jesus it says, we are able to enter the Holy of Holies. We could read Hebrews 10 to indicate the Yom Kippur sacrifice (where the goat’s blood is sprinkled everywhere) or we can read it as the Passover Sacrifice, where – because God now has flesh and blood – we can enter the Holy of Holies through the veil of his flesh.

The veil of the temple is torn, not because a new priest has entered the Holy Place and torn it, but because the real veil – Jesus’s Flesh – is pierced, revealing the wounded heart of God to all of us to enter into his love.

And Christ our Passover is sacrificed for us to move us out of the Egypt of our Sins to the waters of Baptism and then a lifelong journey to the Holy Land. We’ll stop at Sinai at Pentecost to have the Law Written on our Hearts, and as we wonder through the desert of this world we will (occasionally) wonder why we left Egypt at all. God will give us our Daily Bread.

And then we cross Jordan Dry-shod.

Into Glory.

Pascal Hours

JMJ

FROM THE EASTERN RITE Tradition, these prayers are said during Bright Week. I like them for “waking up” and “Going to Bed” prayers all during the Easter Season. Even the forty-fold “Lord Have Mercy” seems celebratory.

+Through the prayers of our holy fathers, Lord Jesus Christ, our God, have mercy on us. Amen.

+Christ is risen from the dead, trampling down death by death, and on those in the tombs bestowing life.(3x)

+Having beheld the resurrection of Christ, let us worship the holy Lord Jesus, the only Sinless One. We worship your cross, O Christ, and your holy Resurrection we praise and glorify; for you are our God, and we know no other besides you, and we call upon your name. O come, all you faithful, let us worship Christ’s holy Resurrection, for behold, through the Cross joy has come to all the world. Ever blessing the Lord, we hymn His Resurrection; for, having endured crucifixion, He has destroyed death by death. (3x)

Before the dawn, the women came with Mary, and found the stone rolled away from the tomb, and heard from the angel: why do you seek He who lives in everlasting light here among the dead, as though He were a mortal? Behold the grave-clothes. Go quickly and proclaim to the world that the Lord is risen and has slain death. For He is the Son of God Who saves all.

Though you descended into the grave, O Immortal One, you destroyed the power of Hell. And you rose as victor, O Christ God, calling to the myrrh-bearing women: Rejoice! And giving peace unto your apostles: you grant resurrection to the fallen.

You were in the grave bodily, but in Hell with your soul as God: in Paradise with the thief, and on the throne with the Father and the Spirit. You fill all things, O Christ the Inexpressible.

+Glory to the Father and to the Son and to the Holy Spirit.

Your tomb is shown to be life-giving and more beautiful than Paradise, and truly more resplendent than any royal palace, O Christ, the source of our resurrection!

Both now and ever, and unto the ages of ages. Amen.

O sanctified and divine tabernacle of the Most High, rejoice! For through you, O Theotokos, joy is given to those who cry: Blessed are you among women, O all-pure Lady.

Lord, have mercy (40x).

+Glory to the Father and to the Son and to the Holy Spirit, both now and ever, and unto the ages of ages. Amen.

+More honourable than the Cherubim, more glorious than the Seraphim, who without corruption gave birth to God the Word, True Theotokos, we magnify you.
O Lord Jesus Christ our God, for the sake of the prayers of your most pure Mother, of our holy and God-bearing fathers, and all the saints, have mercy on us. Amen.

[For Compline add this prayer:
Blessed are you, Master almighty, who have given light to the day by the light of the sun and made the night bright with rays of fire, who have granted us to pass through the length of the day and draw near to the beginnings of the night. Hearken to our entreaty and that of all your people, and forgive all of us our sins voluntary and involuntary and send down the multitude of your mercy and acts of compassion upon your inheritance. Wall us about with your holy Angels. Arm us with the weapons of your justice. Surround us with the rampart of your truth. Guard us with your power. Deliver us from every calamity and every assault of the adversary. Grant us that the present evening with the coming night may be perfect, holy, peaceful, sinless, without stumbling, and dreamless and likewise all the days of our life; at the prayers of the holy Mother of God and of all the Saints who have been well pleasing to you since time began. Amen. ]

+Christ is risen from the dead, trampling down death by death, and on those in the tombs bestowing life.(3x)

Glory to the Father and to the Son and to the Holy Spirit, both now and ever, and unto the ages of ages. Amen.

+May Christ our true God, Who rose from the dead, trampling down death by death bestowing life on those in the tombs, through the intercessions of His most Pure Mother, and of all the saints have mercy on us and save us, for He is good and the Lover of All.

The Thomas Option


Today’s Readings:

On the evening of that first day of the week, when the doors were locked, where the disciples were, for fear of the Jews… Thomas, called Didymus, one of the Twelve, was not with them when Jesus came.
John 20:19a, 24
Where was Thomas that first night and why was he not locked up for fear with all the others?
Fear of the Parties in Power does not mean there was any real danger. For all we know from our point in history, perhaps literally every Jew is Jerusalem was home enjoying a family meal and avoiding leavened products. Maybe they thought they’d finally done away with this trouble-maker and his disciples were only so much dust. The Romans didn’t care: they did their job and killed the guy, albeit a bit unwillingly. I don’t think they would want to risk much trouble on the feast either.
In the lessons from Acts this week at Mass, it would seem that Peter has to remind Caiaphas about the guy he had killed.  I don’t think anyone cared. Yet the disciples had seen their master slain.  I don’t think they were illogically afraid. Yet we can never know how in sync they were with what was actually going on in Jerusalem at that time. It seems possible that their emotions were getting away from them. That crazy woman was getting annoying about her gardener. Matthew says when they saw him, “they worshipped him” but, even then, “some doubted”.
So where was Thomas?
The Church Fathers posit the “earthliness” or, if you will, “carnal” nature of Thomas’ lack of faith. And I’m ok with that. But let me read that same claim a bit further.
Would not the same man who says “Unless I see and touch him” also say “Unless I see a soldier coming at me, I’m not going to worry about it”?  When the Apostles were hiding out, is it not possible that, seeing how scared they were, Thomas did the manly (maybe brash and stupid as well) thing and went out to grab some food? Later, when Luke and Cleopus get back from Emmaus, “The Eleven” are all there, so he was only out for a short while. “We need food: someone has to get it and I’m not going to let my fear run away with me…” sounds like the same bro who would later say, “I’m not going to let my false hopes run away with me.”
This is the Thomas Option then: to not hide out for fear of Jews or Romans. To get out and do something in the service of the Community that might get you killed and know that Jesus was talking to us when he said “blessed are those who have not seen and yet believe.”

Christ is Risen!

The Paschal Homily of St. John Chrysostom 

If any man be devout and love God, let him enjoy this fair and radiant triumphal feast.
If any man be a wise servant, let him rejoicing enter into the joy of his Lord.
If any have labored long in fasting, let him now receive his recompense.
If any have wrought from the first hour, let him today receive his just reward. If any have come at the third hour, let him with thankfulness keep the feast.
If any have arrived at the sixth hour, let him have no misgivings; because he shall in nowise be deprived thereof.
If any have delayed until the ninth hour, let him draw near, fearing nothing.
If any have tarried even until the eleventh hour, let him, also, be not alarmed at his tardiness; for the Lord, who is jealous of his honor, will accept the last even as the first; he gives rest unto him who comes at the eleventh hour, even as unto him who has wrought from the first hour.

And he shows mercy upon the last, and cares for the first; and to the one he gives, and upon the other he bestows gifts.
And he both accepts the deeds, and welcomes the intention, and honors the acts and praises the offering.
Wherefore, enter you all into the joy of your Lord; and receive your reward, both the first, and likewise the second.
You rich and poor together, hold high festival.
You sober and you heedless, honor the day.
Rejoice today, both you who have fasted and you who have disregarded the fast.
The table is full-laden; feast ye all sumptuously.
The calf is fatted; let no one go hungry away.

Enjoy ye all the feast of faith: Receive ye all the riches of loving-kindness. let no one bewail his poverty, for the universal kingdom has been revealed.
Let no one weep for his iniquities, for pardon has shown forth from the grave.
Let no one fear death, for the Savior’s death has set us free.
He that was held prisoner of it has annihilated it.
By descending into Hell, He made Hell captive.
He embittered it when it tasted of His flesh.

And Isaiah, foretelling this, did cry: Hell, said he, was embittered, when it encountered Thee in the lower regions.
It was embittered, for it was abolished.
It was embittered, for it was mocked.
It was embittered, for it was slain.
It was embittered, for it was overthrown.
It was embittered, for it was fettered in chains.
It took a body, and met God face to face.
It took earth, and encountered Heaven.
It took that which was seen, and fell upon the unseen.

O Death, where is your sting? O Hell, where is your victory?

Christ is risen, and you are overthrown.
Christ is risen, and the demons are fallen.
Christ is risen, and the angels rejoice.
Christ is risen, and life reigns.
Christ is risen, and not one dead remains in the grave.

For Christ, being risen from the dead, is become the first fruits of those who have fallen asleep.
To Him be glory and dominion unto ages of ages. Amen.

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A desktop image, based on the Resurrection Icon by Mark Dukes for St Gregory of Nyssa Parish in San Francisco. At one time this Icon was given to all new members of the parish.  Click on it to embiggen and save to use as a desktop if you wish.