Justin Welby, the Archbishop of Canterbury and spiritual leader of the worldwide Anglican Communion, has chosen Dr. Graham Tomlin’s book Looking through the Cross as the 2014 Lent book. The following is an excerpt from the Archbishop’s foreward:
The crucifixion of Jesus Christ is the great mystery of the Christian Faith. It is a mystery because everything about it points in the wrong direction. For God to be fully human, and then to die an ignominious death reserved for a criminal, seems so extraordinary and pointless as to be inexplicable. Indeed in the early centuries of Christianity many of the accusations against the church started with the assumption that you could not seriously believe in a God who undertook such a terrible and dishonourable death.
The truth of the crucifixion is shown as much as anything by the fact that the early church, despite these attacks, stuck to the story come what may. In John’s Gospel the cross and the story of the crucifixion are seen as the triumphant point in the life of Jesus. In none of the Gospels is it considered at any point to be defeat.
The cross is the moment of deepest encounter and most radical change. God is crucified – my Friend died – in some way, for me. Merely writing or reading these words together in one sentence is overwhelming. A person caught by the implications of the cross will be a person who has found the fullness of the life which is the gift of God.
Two thousand years later, the cross has lost much of its capacity to shock and to challenge. For those early Christians it was a badge of shame. Today it is more commonly seen as a symbol of beauty to hang around your neck. As a friend of mine used to say, you might as well hang a tiny golden gallows or an electric chair around your neck.
The fourth Issue of A Life of Theology: The Coram Deo Journal of Theology is now available on ISSUU and as a free update to the iBook edition (on the iBookstore for iPad and Mac).
“Remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return.”
There are three sheets of paper that I own which weigh far more than their physical makeup would lead you to believe: my marriage license, my daughter’s birth certificate, and my ordination license. When I was given the later of these three documents, a pastor told me that the rest of my life should now be spent preparing everyone I meet for those two services that I was now licensed to perform: weddings and funerals. I have a high view of the call to celibacy within the Christian tradition, so I do not see my task as preparing everyone I meet for their future marriage (though my students will tell you that I do enjoy offering the occasional bit of dating advice). I have felt, however, a lingering desire to study, teach, and model a better understanding and embracing of the role of death in the life of a Christian.
What I have found along the way should come as little surprise to those who have studied the history of our faith—or the history of the human race for that matter. We are far less prepared for our own death than those who have come before us. We believe the myth that we are invincible, that death happen to others, and that our own will only come after we accomplish all that we think we must.
Most of our Protestant traditions no longer celebrate days or seasons of the year that have historically been used by God to remind us that we will die, that our deeds in this life are not hidden from God, and that the holiness prescribed in our Scriptures is more than a suggestion. Like a young child given the freedom to take dessert at every meal at the expense of their vegetables, we have chosen the happier seasons of Christmas and Easter to the neglect of the anticipation, reflection, and conviction that come with Advent and Lent.
There is great victory and joy in our faith: our King faced death and arose victorious, and God has promised one day to do for us the very thing that He has done for Jesus. But this victory cannot be understood apart from the agony and despair that death brings: Why, my God, have you forsaken me? Can’t you allow this cup of suffering pass from me? The great victory of God on behalf of humanity comes through death itself. John Owen captures this reality in the title of his book The Death of Death in the Death of Christ. Our hope is that throughout this collection of articles on the importance of remembering our own mortality, the death of Jesus is seen as the reason that we are able to prepare for—instead of fear—our own death.
Jon Jordan, Dean of Students
Ash Wednesday, 2014
Over the coming week I will be posting one Eucharistic quote from each of the past 21 centuries of the Christian church.
These are not proper summaries of an entire century of thought, but do hopefully offer a small window into some of what some Eucharistic thinkers had to say.
Follow along on Twitter here: #centuryEucharist or continue reading below.