March 31, 2013

Putting Things In Order

Christ came among us to put us back in our proper place...


Easter 2013 • SJF • Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG
Since death came through a human being, the resurrection of the dead has also come through a human being; for as all die in Adam, so all will be made alive in Christ. But each in his own order.

When our cat Augusta Victoria died last year Brother James and I took our time before we sought a replacement. Finally after some months I looked at the website of a local animal shelter and the picture of one of the cats available for adoption spoke to me. (He said, Meow.) When we went to the shelter the cat himself was most insistent that he be adopted. There is an old saying that you don’t choose a cat but a cat chooses you, and this was very much the case: as he came right up to me and looked me in the eyes through the mesh of the separating screen. And so Sir Bootz Paddington found a new home.

His predecessor Augusta Victoria, as her name would suggest, had been a rather regal and restrained lady, particularly in her later years, and I’m afraid we had forgotten just how energetic a young cat can be, and so Sir Bootz not only found a new home but has very quickly made it his own. There is another old saying that “to cats all the world belongs to cats.” And one of the things that cats believe is that everything high should be brought low. (Perhaps all cats are inspired by the prophet Isaiah!) Placemats, paperweights, coasters and silverware belong not on dinner tables but on the floor. Towels belong not on the towel-rack, but on the floor. Magazines do not belong on an end or coffee table, but on the floor. Seat cushions belong not on chairs — but where? — on the floor. After all, the floor, like everything else, belongs to the cat, and it is his natural habitat. What appears to be dis-order to us is completely orderly to the cat.

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Human beings, in the long run, are often no more in accord with the will of God than with the world-view of the cat. In fact, we human beings had gotten ourselves completely out of order with the will of God — to the extent that God himself had to come among us as one of us to put things back in order. This is what Christ was doing in the incarnation; in his birth, life, suffering, death and — as we observe today — his resurrection. God in Christ came down to our level — a level which we sometimes need to be reminded does not actually belong to us any more than the floor belongs to the cat. (Don’t tell the cat! And if you did tell him, he’d just give you a blank stare anyway, and say, O.K., sure, I know what’s mine...)

Christ Jesus came to put things back in order, to restore things from the disorder into which our ancient ancestor Adam had disturbed and disrupted things — introducing disorder into God’s orderly world. And God did this by coming among us as a human being, in a very orderly response to the disorder: for, as Saint Paul assures us, since death came through a human being, the resurrection of the dead would also come through a human being.

Now, this is a point on which we need to be very clear — as it sometimes gets a bit confused. I have heard people describe the incarnation — Christ’s coming among us — almost like one of those old stories about a king who wants to discover what his subjects really think of him, by going about among them disguised as an ordinary person. And it is true that Jesus Christ came among us as an ordinary person — but this was absolutely not a disguise. There was no pretense or deception, or mere appearance of being human. Jesus Christ was a human being — a man who lived in the Middle East some 2000 years ago, who exercised a ministry, fell afoul of the authorities, was condemned to death and executed — dead and buried. He was a man.

But he was also God — not just a very good man looked upon favorably by God, — and adopted by God as I might adopt a cat — but God himself, fully divine at the same time he was fully human.

And this addresses the second fallacy of this wrong thinking: God did not need to come among us, like a king disguised among his people, to find out how badly we had gotten things wrong, to find out what we really thought about God. God was only too well aware of just how badly off track we had gone, and the questions posed by God to Adam and Eve about whether they had eaten of the forbidden fruit were purely rhetorical. God knew exactly how far humanity had fallen from the place where God had placed them.

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And it is because Jesus is one person with two natures, human and divine, that he is able to reconcile and repair the disorder that Adam introduced, when he and his wife took and ate of the fruit of the tree that had been forbidden, in their misguided effort to be like God. The tragedy is that they already were like God — they had been made in God’s image, after God’s likeness. If they had resisted the temptation to grab at what in due course God would have given them when they had grown to greater maturity, they would have reached the perfection which otherwise had to await the coming of the perfectly obedient son of God, born as a human being, to share the fate that human beings earned through the fall of their ancient ancestors, but to redeem that fall and put humanity back in order.

And thus the great disorder of death was dealt with once and for all. And from the cat’s perspective — at last — this was done exactly as any cat would do, by putting all things under his feet. Jesus triumphed over that old enemy, death itself.

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And yet, as we look around us, don’t we see that there is plenty of disorder in the world; that although Jesus Christ defeated death on Calvary, people still die? Surely they do, and we know that very well. God help us, though, if we stop at that; if, as Saint Paul observed, “for this life only we have hoped in Christ, we are of all people most to be pitied.” If all there is, in other words, is this life followed by death and the grave; if there is no resurrection of the dead, no hope of the life to come, then we have wasted an awful lot of time and energy. But as Saint Paul said, “In fact, Christ has been raised from the dead.” When the women went to the tomb that morning long ago, the angels assured them that the living one was not to be found among the dead, but that he was risen. And as Peter said to Cornelius and his household, “God raised him on the third day and allowed him to appear...to us who were chosen by God as witnesses, and who ate and drank with him after he rose from the dead.”

That, my friends, is the unanimous testimony of Scripture, words from long ago. But there is other testimony closer to us — as close as our hearts, if we will listen to God speaking in them and through them, assuring us that death is not the end. Death is simply part of the disorder that God put right in Jesus Christ. We will all still die — we will see, many of us, our parents, our friends, sometimes even our children, pass beneath the shadow of death. Some of us have already seen these things. But those of us who trust in God rely on the assurance of things not seen — of the hope of the resurrection, the restoration of order where all things were disorder, the lifting up of that which has fallen down, the raising up of that which had been buried.

Although the cat might like to see all things brought down to his level, God will raise up all that has been brought low. Our Lord Jesus Christ stooped to pick us up from where we had fallen, and will do so again, and again, with each death, new life will come one day, on the great day of resurrection, when the trumpet sounds and we are raised incorruptible, restored to the likeness we once shared with God himself in Jesus Christ. To God be the glory henceforth and forever more. Alleluia, Christ is risen. The Lord is risen indeed, Alleluia.


4 comments:

JCF said...

One of my BFF's cats has the nickname "She Who Knocks Sh*t Down" (she's especially fond of walking along ledges, clearing everything in her path).

Great sermon, Tobias. Happy Easter---He is Risen, Alleluia!

Tobias Haller said...

Thx, JCF. If they were larger, we could use them as snowplows!

whiteycat said...

This is the BEST Easter sermon! Thank you for incorporating Sir Bootz! Cats are wonderful sources of wisdom!

I do not comment often, but could not pass up this opportunity!

Tobias Haller said...

Thanks, Whiteycat. There has been a gap on cats in sermons since Christopher Smart... and I thought it high time!