Skip to comments.Lent and Beyond: Lenten Meditations, continued: Rathernotblog
Posted on 04/03/2006 12:58:30 PM PDT by sionnsar
Next in the series of Lenten meditations by the collaborative Anglican bloggers writing for Lent and Beyond, we have The Tyranny of Death by "Prof. IRNS" of the RatherNot blog. Don't miss this one as it is a most interesting look at 1 Corinthians 15.
This is the thirty-sixth in a series of daily Lenten devotionals by a group of Anglican bloggers and friends. Todays entry is by Professor Say of the Rather Not blog. You can read other entries in the series here.
The Tyranny of Death
In looking at the lessons for today, Monday in the fifth week of Lent, I noticed something odd. The 1928 ECUSA Book of Common Prayer has for its Epistle reading for the Daily Office 1 Corinthians 15: 12-19. Yet the 1979 Prayer Book has set the fifteenth chapter of 1 Corinthians for the first week of Easter.
It is easy to see why the composers of the 1979 lectionary should place this passage immediately following Easter:
(12) Now if Christ is preached as raised from the dead, how can some of you say there is no resurrection of the dead? (13) But if there is no resurrection of the dead, then Christ has not been raised; (14) if Christ has not been raised from the dead, then our preaching is in vain [Greek kenon, empty] and your faith is in vain [empty]. (15) We are even found to be misrepresenting God, because we testified of God that he raised Christ, whom he did not raise if is true that the dead are not raised. (16) For if the dead are not raised, then Christ has not been raised. (17) If Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile and you are still in your sins. (18) Then those also who have fallen asleep in Christ have perished. (19) If for this life only we have hoped in Christ, we are of all men most to be pitied. (RSV)
I cannot read the minds of those who set the earlier lectionary, but why would such a passage be read before Easter rather than after? I would like to make a suggestion as to why this resurrection passage makes such good Lenten reading.
It is something of a theological commonplace to say that, in contemplating the human condition stemming from the fall of Adam, western Latin Christianity has focused on an inheritance of a tendency to sin resulting in death, whereas the eastern tradition has preferred to speak of an inheritance of death resulting in a tendency to sin. The locus classicus of this discussion is Romans 5, especially verses 12 to 14. It is not my purpose here to rehearse those arguments, or to suggest a preference for one view over the other, or to discuss the questions of the state of the human will that inevitably arise. Rather, it is to propose only for purposes of this meditation using the lens of the inheritance of death and of sin as its consequence (rather than the other way round) to see why this is such an appropriate passage for Lent, what it says about the deliverance we long for, and why we fast in preparation for it.
The late Eastern Orthodox theologian and historian John Meyendorff (whom I had the privilege to meet when he served on my dissertation defense committee) liked to refer to the Orthodox understanding of mans fallen state as the tyranny of death. By this, he meant that, in the Byzantine tradition, the universality of death creates a condition in which sin is inevitable. The fallen world we inhabit is not a world in which man sins and therefore dies, but in which he dies and therefore, in his desperate efforts to cope with this terrifying reality, drives away his awareness of it through either sensual satisfactions or achieving an immortality on his own terms and at the expense of anyone in his way. We recoil at the more obvious instances of this, whether it be drug addiction in the case of the former, or the quest for power in the case of the latterHitlers Reich was to last a thousand years. But these are only the cases easiest to spot. In truth, our entire world is arranged around the inevitability of death: bank accounts, personal status, careers, et cetera, and these just as surely exert a constant pull on our egos as any need to obliterate our consciousness through chemicals or build monuments to ourselves like Shelleys Ozymandias. It is surely no accident that, in the immediate enthusiasm of the church after Pentecost, private property was abolished (Acts 4:32-36), and just as surely no accident that it didnt last. In Meyendorffs words,
Mortality, or corruption, or simply death (understood in a personalized sense), has indeed been viewed, since Christian antiquity, as a cosmic disease which holds humanity under its sway, both spiritually and physically, and is controlled by the one who is the murderer from the beginning (Jn. 8:44). It is this death which makes sin inevitable, and in this sense corrupts nature. Byzantine Theology
It is this tyranny of death that captures our consciousness by the terror of nothingness, that the passage in 1 Corinthians speaks about and that Lenten discipline is intended to stand against. For if it were only from our sins that Christ came to save us through suffering in our place, why should Christ rise at all? If Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile and you are still in your sins. In fact, we believers are actually worse off than the heroin addict or the egomaniac, since our hope is delusory.
Thus, as the Christ was not merely sacrificed for our sins but raised so that we might share in his divine life, so we do not fast to atone for our sinsto the Christian that ought to be obviousnor to meet some legal obligation (the dreaded works righteousness), nor even for spiritual discipline, which is a fine phrase but misses the point. Instead, Christian discipline, heightened in Lent through fasting, is an effort to practice by anticipation living in a world without death as we someday shall in reality, a world where material joys abound but do not control or corrupt us because, alive in God, they shall be ours to enjoy forever, without the terror of death to create an insatiable appetite or an egos black hole. The Lenten fast is thus act of faith in the resurrection, a declaration in the teeth of all the worlds temptations that our faith is not empty, that we do not hope in Christ for this life only. It is an asceticism for the common man, and the paradox of Lenten denial is its affirmation of the goodness of creation, a creation we are intended to enjoy forever.
(20) But in fact Christ has been raised from the dead, the first fruits of those who have fallen asleep. (21) For as by a man came death, by a man has come also the resurrection of the dead. (22) For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ shall all be made alive.
Prof. I. R. N. Say is a an expatriate Yankee and professor of classical history at an institution of higher learning somewhere south of the Mason-Dixon line.
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