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Upholding the Faith and Order of the Church
Saturday September 23rd 2017




By Fr. Will Brown, Rector of Holy Cross, Dallas

St. John writes: “He who believes in [Jesus] is not condemned; he who does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only Son of God.”

Scripture, and hopefully our experience, bear out the joy that flows in the wake of the resurrection of our Lord, who said that the joy of Easter would be for his disciples a joy that no one would be able to take away from them (cf. John 16.22). But one dimension of the joy that Jesus’ disciples experience at Easter is in the threat that his resurrection poses to the “powers that be,” with whom we are at war.

The Catholic poet Alice Meynell contrasts the darkness and secrecy that is the context of the Lord’s resurrection, with the publicity of his suffering and death. The passion is something the world can see, and over which the world crows. But the event of the resurrection is a divine secret, taking place at night, inside a sealed tomb, supervening on the world’s darkness, and invisible to the powers that be. Meynell writes:

All night had shout of men, and cry
Of woeful women filled His way;
Until that noon of sombre sky
On Friday, clamour and display
Smote Him; no solitude had He,
No silence, since Gethsemane.

Public was Death; but Power, but Might,
But Life again, but Victory,
Were hushed within the dead of night,
The shutter’d dark, the secrecy.
And all alone, alone, alone,
He rose again behind the stone.

Likewise the ever sacramentally imaginative Hans Urs von Balthasar wrote in very starkly evocative terms of the Lord’s resurrection, and the threat it poses to the order of this age. What takes place “behind the stone” is a beginning without parallel, as if Life were arising from Death, as if weariness (already such weariness as no amount of sleep could ever dispel) and the uttermost decay of power were melting at creation’s outer edge, were beginning to flow, because flowing is perhaps a sign and a likeness of weariness which can no longer contain itself, because everything that is strong and solid must in the end dissolve into water. But hadn’t it – in the beginning – also been born from water? And is this wellspring in the chaos, this trickling weariness, not the beginning of a new creation?

The chaotic fountain remains directionless. Could this be the residue of the Son’s love which, poured out to the last when every vessel cracked and the old world perished, is now making a path for itself to the Father through the glooms of nought?
Or, in spite of it all, is this love trickling on in impotence, unconsciously, laboriously, towards a new creation that does not yet even exist, a creation which is still to be lifted up and given shape? Is it a protoplasm producing itself in the beginning, the first seed of the New Heaven and the New Earth?
The spring leaps up even more plenteously. To be sure, it flows out of a wound and is like the blossom and fruit of a wound; like a tree it sprouts up from this wound. But the wound no longer causes pain. The suffering has been left far behind as the past origin and previous source of today’s wellspring.
What is poured out here is no longer a present suffering, but a suffering that has been concluded–no longer now a sacrificing love, but a love sacrificed.

Only the wound is there: gaping, the great open gate, the chaos, the nothingness out of which the wellspring leaps forth. Never again will this gate be shut. Just as the first creation arose ever anew out of sheer nothingness, so, too, this second world – still unborn, still caught up in its first rising – will have its sole origin in this wound, which is never to close again.

In the future, all shape must arise out of this gaping void, all wholeness must draw its strength from the creating wound.

To be sure, the Gospel of Easter brings nothingness to nothing. It poisons and frustrates and overthrows the power structures of our world. We may affirm this, and yet how often do we play by the world’s rules and let the world’s ways of thinking get inside of us? The Gospel of Easter says that Jesus’ exaltation arose from his humility, because not only did he not seek power or position, but he emptied himself of the position and the power that were his essentially and by right. He laid himself aside at every turn, and in so doing, as Austin Farrer said, his whole life was a perpetual rehearsal of his death.

Acts says that the authorities “arrested the apostles and put them in the common prison,” (12.18) – because God chose them to be servants of the Gospel of Easter, enemies of the powers that be. And maybe a part of the point of the story of the Apostles is not so much that God delivered them from jail, but that they were in jail to begin with. No doubt you know what happens right after the passage we read today: “Peter and the apostles” (Acts 5.29) are beaten by the authorities. But it says that they gave glory to God “that they were counted worthy to suffer dishonor for the name,” (5.41). And that is the kenotic story of the Apostles to the end, in almost every case, as far as anyone knows. Saint Paul, for example, measured his quality as a servant by the degree of his emptiness:

“Are they servants of Christ? I am a better one! …. [I have experienced] far greater labors, far more imprisonments, with countless beatings, and often near death. Five times I have received at the hands of the Jews the forty lashes less one. Three times I have been beaten with rods; once I was stoned. Three times I have been shipwrecked; a night and a day I have been adrift at sea; on frequent journeys, in danger from rivers, danger from robbers, danger from my own people, danger from Gentiles, danger in the city, danger in the wilderness, danger at sea, danger from false brethren; in toil and hardship, through many a sleepless night, in hunger and thirst, often without food, in cold and exposure.” (2 Cor. 11.23ff)

And at the end, at last, he adds something with which, perhaps, we can empathize a little: “apart from other things,” he says, “there is the daily pressure upon me of my anxiety for all the churches.”

All of this is after our Lord rises in glory. Some of us are involved in lawsuits. All of us are involved, by virtue of the power and authority of our ordination, in the life and the witness of the apostles. We should never expect to win anything on the terms of this unbelieving world. We should never expect our truest, our most real victories, to be in a register that the Dallas Morning News or the Fort Worth Star Telegram can recognize. Because Jesus rose from the dead at night, behind the stone. For servants of the Gospel of Easter, every real victory – like that one transcendent victory we serve – will be anonymous; it will be something that takes place at night, in the midst of the world’s darkness and hidden from the world by that darkness. Our victories occur in a chamber sealed by a stone, away from all eyes.

But we should not allow the unbelieving world to dictate anything to us. We should not be taken in by the rules of their game. No desertion; no surrender. We should not begin to think that because our victory belongs to the order of martyrdom and virginity, that because it is a secret whispered by the Lover of our souls, that it is any less a victory for that. And while each of us labors in some degree of difficulty or confusion or darkness, while each of us may mourn, we should never despair, nor mourn as those who have no hope. For Christ has died; Christ is risen; and he will come again. And his coming again will be accompanied by a categorical disclosure of the victory he has already won, the victory we serve, and on account of which we too are regarded as sheep to be slaughtered (Rom. 8.36). But the Greek word for this categorical disclosure is “apocalypse.”

For “behold, [our victorious King] is coming with the clouds, and every eye will see him, every one who pierced him; and all tribes of the earth will wail on account of him. Even so. Amen,” (Rev. 1.7).