A Spotless Offering

We celebrate the Feast of St. Ignatius of Antioch today. He is really one of the genuine heroes of the early Church. The second bishop of Antioch in Syria, he was martyred in the year 115 and yet his primary teaching comes down to us in the form of seven letters he wrote while under arrest and journeying toward his own death. I think he wrote six of them to churches and a seventh to Polycarp, another martyr-bishop.

Ignatius fulfilled quite literally both our Lessons from Scripture today: St. Paul’s powerful words in Romans about nothing being able to separate us from the love of Christ – even “death nor life, nor angels, nor rulers…nor anything else.”  And Jesus’ image of the grain of wheat falling into the ground and dying…only later to bear much fruit. Surely Ignatius’ life and death are testimonies to that!

 

Some of his words sound a bit over the top to modern ears, even though we would still embrace the underlying theology: “You should all follow the bishop as Jesus Christ did the Father,” he says, “Follow, too, the presbyters as you would the apostles; and respect the deacons as you would God’s law.” We would probably want to add something about the laity in all that richness….something about the community of the baptized and the Body of Christ being made up of many members with a diversity of gifts but the same Spirit.

Yet some of Ignatius’ other comments have a strikingly contemporary ring. In speaking against a kind of mindless fundamentalism he writes: “When I hear some people say, if I don’t find it in the ancient documents, I don’t believe it…To my mind, it is Jesus Christ who is the ancient documents.” An early way of saying that, while the Bible is the Word of God derivatively, Jesus Christ is the Word of God incarnate – the Word made Flesh! 

And while today some biblical scholars may have a tendency to overemphasize the humanity of Jesus at the expense of his divinity, it was the other way around in some parts of the 2nd century Church. To the Gnostics, who were all about Jesus’ divine nature, Ignatius writes that Jesus was “…of David’s lineage, of Mary; who was really born, ate, and drank; was really persecuted under Pontius Pilate; was really crucified and died in the sight of heaven and earth and the underworld…” He wanted the Gnostics to know that this Jesus was both God and Man!

You and I may not be able to imagine bearing the kind of heroic witness to Christ that this man bore. But at this very moment, we are heeding one of Ignatius’ chief commands. “Try to gather more frequently,” he wrote to his people, “to celebrate God’s Eucharist and to praise him,” And so we do this, Sunday by Sunday, and day by day.

And – in doing so — we pray, in the words of today’s Collect, that God may “…Accept…the willing tribute of our lives and give us a share in the pure and spotless offering of your Son Jesus Christ; who lives and reigns…for ever and ever.” Amen.

    

One Response to “A Spotless Offering”

  1. rwk Says:

    Interesting, as this boils down to Chrisotology again. A weak Christology can distort our view of Scripture. Christ as moral teacher/example — be it interpreted by liberals or conservatives — is an incomplete and ultimately unsatisfactory view. The same is true of the error of the gnostics, making Christ fully other denying Christ’s humanity. Christ was fully God and fully Man, as the Creeds and Scripture teach. That is why I find John’s Gospel the most captivating — it is the richest in helping me formulate a full understanding of Christ. The church needs to reflect on this more and less on the “issues of the day”. The bride must know the nature of the bridegroom.

    My grandmother was Byzantine Catholic. I have always been struck how the Eastern Rite Christian liturgy captures and reinforces the “otherness” and “holiness” of Christ in contrast to liberal and evangelical “overly humanizing” of Him. It is a dichotomy we need to be aware of. Attendance at an Orthodox or Eastern service is a good way to recalibrate. I have always found the “Prayer of Humble Access” a good check on my “bringing Christ down”.

    Christ is both fully man, understanding our nature, suffering, weaknesses and failings. But He is at the same time the Lamb of God, the sacrifice promised by God to redeem His people. It is refreshing to ponder anew issues that take us beyond our present squabbles. Thank you.

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