Showing posts with label The Church. Show all posts
Showing posts with label The Church. Show all posts

Monday, May 13, 2024

The Fullness of Him Who Fills All in All

And God put all things under Christ’s feet, and gave him to the Church as head over all things. Now the Church is his body, the fullness of him who fills all in all. (Ephesians 1:22-23 NET).

This passage is packed with stunning revelation. Not only that God has placed all things under the feet of Christ crucified, risen and ascended to the right hand of the Father. Not only that God has given Christ as head of the Church, and that the Church is, consequently, the body of Christ. Not only that Christ fills everything in every way. But this: The Church is the fullness of Christ.

Earlier in Ephesians 1, Paul tells us what God’s mysterious will and good pleasure is, which he purposed in himself and which is perfectly accomplished in Jesus Christ:

In Him we have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of sins, according to the riches of His grace  which He made to abound toward us in all wisdom and prudence, having made known to us the mystery of His will, according to His good pleasure which He purposed in Himself, that in the dispensation of the fullness of the times He might gather together in one all things in Christ, both which are in heaven and which are on earth — in Him. (Ephesians 1:7-10)

Christ has not merely come at the end of time, he is himself the end of time, the fullness of time, the meaning and purpose of time. In him, God gathers together all in heaven and on earth — everyone and everything — bringing all into union, with Christ as head (anakephalaiomai). At the end of the chapter, we see Christ placed far above every rule, authority, power and dominion, far above every name that could ever be invoked. This is the Ascension. 

God has given Christ to the Church as the head (kephale) over all things. Paul specifically has in mind the relationship of head and body. He speaks of Christ as the head of the church, and of the Church as the body of Christ. Likewise, since Christ is the head of all things, what does that say about all things in heaven and on earth but that all is, in this way, the body of Christ.

Christ fills all things, in every way, with himself, and Paul declares that the Church, the Body of Christ, is that fullness which fills all in all. Being filled with Christ in every way, everything in creation is finally revealed to be the body of Christ, which is to say, the Church. This is what the end of time looks like. Fr. John Behr puts it very well for me:

I can no longer see the Church as a select group of people called out from unbelievers. Rather, the Church is the whole of Creation seen eschatologically; from which we already see islands in the present, called out from “the world” (in the negative sense).

Sunday, January 17, 2016

The Wedding Glory at Cana

In the season of Epiphany, we remember how the glory of Christ was first revealed to the world. We think of the Star and of the pagan wise men who followed it to honor the new-born King of Israel. We celebrate the baptism of the Lord Jesus, not only for how he identified with us in our need for repentance but also for how the Trinity was revealed — the Holy Spirit descending like a dove and the voice of the Father commending his Beloved Son. Now let’s consider a third important moment, which took place at the beginning of Jesus’ ministry, at a wedding at Cana.
On the third day a wedding took place at Cana in Galilee. Jesus’ mother was there, and Jesus and his disciples had also been invited to the wedding. When the wine was gone, Jesus’ mother said to him, “They have no more wine.”

“Woman, why do you involve me?” Jesus replied. “My hour has not yet come.”

His mother said to the servants, “Do whatever he tells you.”

Nearby stood six stone water jars, the kind used by the Jews for ceremonial washing, each holding from twenty to thirty gallons. Jesus said to the servants, “Fill the jars with water”; so they filled them to the brim.

Then he told them, “Now draw some out and take it to the master of the banquet.” They did so, and the master of the banquet tasted the water that had been turned into wine. He did not realize where it had come from, though the servants who had drawn the water knew. Then he called the bridegroom aside and said, “Everyone brings out the choice wine first and then the cheaper wine after the guests have had too much to drink; but you have saved the best till now.”

What Jesus did here in Cana of Galilee was the first of the signs through which he revealed his glory; and his disciples believed in him. (John 2:1-11)
It is significant that the first miracle Jesus worked was at a wedding, not only because he was affirming the goodness of man and woman coming together in marriage but, more than that, because marriage reveals the intimate relationship between God and his people. We see this in the prophet Isaiah, where the Lord says to Israel:
For Zion’s sake I will not keep silent, for Jerusalem’s sake I will not remain quiet, till her vindication shines out like the dawn, her salvation like a blazing torch. The nations will see your vindication, and all kings your glory; you will be called by a new name that the mouth of the LORD will bestow. You will be a crown of splendor in the LORD’s hand, a royal diadem in the hand of your God. No longer will they call you Deserted, or name your land Desolate. But you will be called Hephzibah, and your land Beulah; for the LORD will take delight in you, and your land will be married. As a young man marries a young woman, so will your Builder marry you; as a bridegroom rejoices over his bride, so will your God rejoice over you. (Isaiah 62:1-5)
Though Israel was deep in difficulty at the time because of her unfaithfulness, God promised he would not be silent but would rescue and restore her before the eyes of all the nations, and would give her a new name. No longer would she be called Deserted and Desolate but My Delight (Hephzibah) and Married (Beulah). In short, God would marry his people and rejoice over them just as a bridegroom delights in his bride. It is a profound relationship, that the Creator of all would claim a people for his own, to marry them and build a household and a heritage with them. Because God presents this relationship as marriage, every marriage then represents (re-presents) that divine relationship before our eyes.

Jesus attended the wedding at Cana with his mother, and a problem arose: the wine ran out. Wine was important to any feast, a symbol of great rejoicing. A wedding feast could last up to seven days — that’s a lot of wine! — and to run out midway would be a social disaster. Jesus’ mother brought the matter before him, but he answered, “Why do you involve me? My hour has not yet come.”

To which hour was he referring — the hour for his glory to be revealed? Perhaps. And yet, his glory truly was revealed before the day was over, and it caused his disciples to have faith in him. But perhaps what he had in mind was the deeper truth to which the wedding pointed, the marriage of God and his people, and he was thinking of a wedding yet to come, in which he and his bride would be the central figures. This is the wedding John the Revelator described in a divine vision:
Let us rejoice and be glad and give him glory! For the wedding of the Lamb has come, and his bride has made herself ready ... I saw the Holy City, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride beautifully dressed for her husband. (Revelation 19:7, 21:2)
This bride is the Church, for whom Christ has given himself and whom he is preparing for himself. Paul speaks of this in his letter to the Jesus followers at Ephesus, where he teaches husbands how to be toward their wives.
Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her to make her holy, cleansing her by the washing with water through the word, and to present her to himself as a radiant church, without stain or wrinkle or any other blemish, but holy and blameless. In this same way, husbands ought to love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself. After all, no one ever hated their own body, but they feed and care for their body, just as Christ does the church — for we are members of his body. “For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh.” This is a profound mystery — but I am talking about Christ and the church. (Ephesians 5:25-32)
This profound mystery can be experienced, in significant measure, in the loving, self-giving, intertwining nature of marriage and it is cause for great rejoicing and exuberant celebration. For in Christ, God takes us as his bride and receives us into his house where we may feast on the abundance of his glory and drink deeply from the wine of his love.
Your love, LORD, reaches to the heavens,
    your faithfulness to the skies.
Your righteousness is like the highest mountains,
    your justice like the great deep.
    You, LORD, preserve both people and animals.
How priceless is your unfailing love, O God!
    People take refuge in the shadow of your wings.
They feast on the abundance of your house;
    you give them drink from your river of delights.
For with you is the fountain of life;
    in your light we see light.
Continue your love to those who know you,
    your righteousness to the upright in heart.
(Psalm 36:5-10)

Tuesday, April 7, 2015

In the Wake of the Resurrection

On this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not overpower it! (Matthew 16:18)
In the Apostles’ Creed, the early Church confessed that Jesus “was crucified, dead and buried.” But that was not enough to describe what happened. The Creed goes one step further and affirms that he “descended into hell.” This was considerably more than being shrouded and entombed. The Greek word for “hell” is Hades and refers to the place of the dead. While the lifeless body of Jesus lay in the grave, his soul descended to Hades. And what did he do there? Here is how Paul puts it in speaking of Christ’s ascension gifts to the Church:
But to each one of us grace has been given as Christ apportioned it. This is why it says: “When he ascended on high, he took many captives and gave gifts to his people.” What does “he ascended” mean except that he also descended to the lower, earthly regions? He who descended is the very one who ascended higher than all the heavens, in order to fill the whole universe. (Ephesians 4:7-10)
Paul is referring to Psalm 68:18 and taking it as concerning what Christ had done. Before he ascended to the highest heavens, Jesus first descended to the lowest depths, that is, to Hades. However, he did not descend into hell as a captive but as a conqueror. He came to free the captives, and he did it by taking captive the captors themselves.

Who were these captors who have now been made captives of Christ? They are the “principalities and powers” (the demonic forces that are behind ungodly kingdoms and cultures) whom Christ disarmed at the cross (Colossians 2:15). They are the works of the devil, which Christ came to destroy (1 John 3:8). It is the devil himself, who held the power of death (Hebrews 2:14). The power of death has been broken so that it no longer has its victory, and the power of sin, which is the sting that brought forth death in the first place, has been defeated (1 Corinthians 15:55-56).

All of this causes me to see Matthew 16:18 in a new light. Jesus announced to the disciples that he would build his Church, “and the gates of Hades will not overpower it!” How could they? For Christ has shattered the gates and stripped death and hell of their power. They cannot keep anything in, they cannot keep anything out. They cannot overpower the Church or keep it from plundering hell.

In the wake of his resurrection from the dead, Christ builds his Church, and the gates of Hades cannot prevent it. In the end, all things in heaven and on earth will be reconciled to God though him, and God will be all in all.