Jesus is life

Today, I listened to a mix Spotify designed for me while I worked, and in it was included the Steven Curtis Chapman song, ‘Jesus Is Life’ — a song that was one of my favourites back in the day, in fact. Here is the song:

Chapman’s song is primarily focussed on how Jesus is my life, and this is right and good. Sometimes those of us who try to connect to the ancient ways forget that, while individualism is a problem, our faith is still part of our own individual lives as persons. Jesus is my life — the air I’m breathing, why my heart is beating, everything I’m needing, to quote the song. Truths not to be forgotten.

My mind went in a different direction, probably because I’ve been reading Irenaeus of late, and Justin is also on my mind. What these second-century Christian thinkers stir up in my mind is not only that that Jesus is ‘the very heart of everything I am’ (quoting Steven Curtis again), but, well, to cite the title of a book by Rowan Williams, Christ, the Heart of Creation.

The ancient Christians saw that Jesus was more than just a good teacher, and more than just your own, personal Jesus (the link is to the Johnny Cash recording). He is God the Word Incarnate. Jesus Christ is Godinflesh, the theaner, the Godman. Justin talks about how God the Word exists as a seed within the whole of creation, within the heart and mind of every man, as the rational, guiding principle of the universe. Irenaeus talks about how He is above and beyond, mighty to save.

John 14:6:

‘I am the Way, the Truth, and the Life.’

Our Gospel is cosmic.

Thus Clement of Alexandria (late second century):

But let us bring from above out of heaven, Truth, with Wisdom in all its brightness, and the sacred prophetic choir, down to the holy mount of God; and let Truth, darting her light to the most distant points, cast her rays all around on those that are involved in darkness, and deliver men from delusion, stretching out her very strong right hand, which is wisdom, for their salvation. And raising their eyes, and looking above, let them abandon Helicon and Cithæron, and take up their abode in Sion. “For out of Sion shall go forth the law, and the word of the Lord from Jerusalem,” —the celestial Word, the true athlete crowned in the theatre of the whole universe. What my Eunomos sings is not the measure of Terpander, nor that of Capito, nor the Phrygian, nor Lydian, nor Dorian, but the immortal measure of the new harmony which bears God’s name—the new, the Levitical song. –Exhortation to the Heathen (Protrepticus), ch. 1

Of course, this does not leave out the personal reality of Christ in us, the hope of glory. In fact, this is part of the bigness of our God and our faith. That same cosmic Person who orders the stars and quasars and quarks and quantum realities gives life to each of us. He is life for your dog and life for you — and not just making your heart beat and your lungs breathe, but your spririt quicken and your soul survive.

The fifth-century bishop of Ravenna, Peter Chrysologus writes:

What the soul is to the body is what Christ is to the soul. Without the soul, the body does not live. The soul does not live without Christ. As soon as the soul leaves the body, stench, corruption, rottenness, the worms, ashes, horror and everything that is loathsome to the sight take it place. When God leaves, immediately the stench of faithlessness, the corruption of sin, the rottenness of vices, the worm of guilt, the ashes of vanities and the horror of infidelity enter the soul, and there comes to pass in the living tomb of the body the death of the soul now buried. -Sermon 19.5, in Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture: John, Vol. 2, p. 125.

This Lent, let us cling to that Life that enlivens the whole cosmos so that He may give life to our souls.

Christ on the Cross as the Tree of Life, San Clemente, Rome

Uneasy with the Mother of Our Lord

St. Mary (a purposefully papist picture)

For those interested in medieval drama, check out my thoughts on the Chester Cycle.

My mother organises a youth musical and drama group associated with her church.  One year, she decided to try and shake things up a little, to move away from Dennis and Nan Allan and songs by Steven Curtis Chapman and Michael W Smith, and to try out something medieval.  So she thought they might enjoy “The Second Shepherds’ Pageant” of Wakefield as found in the Everyman edition Everyman and Medieval Miracle Plays.  At the time, this group included a number of Baptists — a God-fearing people who are also suspicious of all scent of Popery.

As I understand it, they were not chiefly uneasy with the silly plot-line about Mak casting spells on the shepherds and stealing a sheep and then pretending it was his child, but, rather, with the Blessed Virgin.  I am dumbfounded by this fact, for here are the references to the Mother of Our Lord:

“They prophesied by clergy — that in a virgin / should he light and lie, to sloken our sin” (ll. 676-677)

“Hail, maker, as I mean, [born] of a maiden so mild!” (l. 711)

“Farewell, lady, so fair to behold, / with thy child on thy knee.” (ll. 746-747)

The Virgin herself has this one line to the Shepherds:

The Father of heaven, God omnipotent, / That set all on seven, his Son has he sent. / My name could he neven, and light ere he went. / I conceived him full even through might, as he meant; / And now is he born. / He keep you from woe! — / I shall pray him so. / Tell forth as ye go, / And min on this morn.

There is nothing in this play that is not simply what the Bible teaches. Jesus was born of a virgin, the power of God conceived Him in her.  I suppose the Bible says nothing of whether she be fair or no, yet that is but a small matter.

Protestants need to wake up and realise that the unconscious anti-Marian stance is unbiblical and unwarranted.  The Mother of Our Lord belongs in any discussion of the Incarnation, and she ought to have a central role in any retelling — artistic, dramatic, narrative — of the Nativity.  Furthermore, she belongs in a good number of the Gospel stories, from the Wedding at Cana to the Crucifixion, and probably the Empty Tomb as well.  She is a figure in the life of Christ, and one upon whom the favour of the Lord rests.

If we push St. Mary to the fringes of our understanding of the life of God while He was incarnate, then we fail at coming near a complete understanding of that Incarnate Life.  Given that the Incarnation is God’s most powerful revelation of Himself unto us, to fail at understanding Jesus’ life in any way, we are failing to understand God, Who He Is, and What He Does.