Wednesday, March 5, 2008

Ad latus (to the side)

This Lent for our Wednesday evening Vespers I have been preaching a series of Meditations on the Bodily Sufferings of the Christ on the Cross. The inspiration comes from St. Bernard of Clairvaux's 12th century Rythmica Oratio, a series of poems addressed to the different members of Christ's body on the cross: ad pedes (to the feet), ad genua (to the knees), ad manus (to the hands), ad latus (to the side), ad pectus (to the breast), ad cor (to the heart), and ad faciem (to the face or head). This sort of mystical contemplation is handed down in Lutheranism through Buxtehude's cantatas Membra Jesu Nostri and the more familiar hymn O Sacred Head, Now Wounded by Paul Gerhardt.

Wednesday in Laetare

Ad latus (to the side)

In the Name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit.

Upon the First Adam, the LORD God caused a deep, death-like sleep to fall. And while the First Adam slept, the LORD God took one of his ribs and closed up its place with flesh. That rib the LORD God made into a woman and then He presented her to Adam. Adam recognized her at once saying, This is at last bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh; she shall be called Woman, because she was taken out of Man. Then Moses records for us in Genesis 2:24 the LORD God’s institution of marriage: Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and they shall become one flesh.

Now Genesis 3:15 is typically referred to as the protoevangelium or “First Gospel”, because, after the Fall into sin, God responds, in a curse upon the serpent, the devil, by promising that a seed, a descendent of Eve would crush Satan’s head and destroy his power. However, I posit to you that the prior verse, Genesis 2:24, is a Gospel proclamation which precedes the traditional First Gospel.

The reason that the proclamation, Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and they shall become one flesh, is a Gospel proclamation is because a fuller meaning than mere human marriage was to be fulfilled in our Lord, Savior, and Bridegroom Jesus Christ.

Jesus Christ is the Second Adam, a new, better, perfectly human Son of God. Where the First Adam failed, the Second Adam is faithful. Jesus too was tempted by Satan, not once, but three times; not in a lush garden paradise where life was easy and comfortable and food plentiful, but in a barren desert wilderness where He had been fasting for forty days and was hungry. He resisted the devil by faithfully trusting in the Word of God, not adding to it or subtracting from it.

The LORD God caused also a deep, death-like sleep to come upon His Son, Jesus the Christ, the Second Adam, as He sent Him to the cross to die for the First Adam’s, and for all sons and daughters of the First Adam’s, sin. There, on that cursed tree, the LORD God made Him who knew no sin to become sin, that in Him we might become the righteousness of God. Protesting not that He was innocent, that He was God, He humbled Himself, becoming obedient, obedient even unto death on the cross.

Therefore a man – The Man – left His Father in heaven and the glories thereof; therefore a man – The Man – left His mother Mary…, that He might hold fast to His wife…, and that the two become one flesh.

As the Second Adam slept in death-like sleep, the LORD God opened His side. A centurion thrust his spear through Jesus’ side and out of His opened side issued, not a rib, but blood and water. As the LORD God from the rib He removed from Adam’s side made for him a wife, so the LORD God from the pure blood of Holy Communion and the recreating water of Holy Baptism, flowing from the pierced side of Jesus, made for His Son a wife, a bride, the Church, that the two might become one flesh. This is He who came by water and blood – Jesus Christ; not by the water only but by the water and the blood.

It is the precious blood and the holy water of Christ that makes the Church His pure and holy Bride. We are birthed from His pierced side chaste and clean. Apart from Him we are unclean; we are no Eve “the mother of all the living” but the progenitors of sin and death. We are more like Hosea’s prostitute bride. But our Bridegroom has loved His Bride and gave Himself up for Her, that He might sanctify Her, having cleansed Her by the washing of water with the Word, so that He might present the Church to Himself in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish.

So they are no longer two, but one flesh. The one flesh union of the Second Adam and the New Eve, of the Bridegroom Christ and His Bride the Church, is refreshed, renewed, nourished, sustained, and, yes, even consummated, in the Eucharistic Feast of the Body and Blood of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. You eat His body, your flesh is united with His flesh; you drink His blood, and His blood courses through your veins. You are one flesh, one body, and He is the head of His body the Church. You are as intimately united as husband and wife, indeed as God the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. This mystery is profound, and I am saying that it refers to Christ and the Church.

Hail, side of the Savior
wherein sweet honey is found,
wherein love’s power is revealed,
from which pours a fountain of blood
which cleanses foul hearts.

Behold, I approach You.
Pardon, Jesus, if I am in Your debt.
With reverent countenance
I come to You of my own will
to behold Your wounds.

In the hour of death, may my breath
enter, Jesus, Your side.
Expiring from me may it enter You;
lest the fierce lion pounce,
let it dwell with You.

In the Name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit.


Father Hollywood said...

Father Jon:

I just stumbled onto your blog, and I am really enjoying it. Keep up the good work, and Pax Christi!

Fr. Jon M. Ellingworth said...

Father Hollywood, thank you for the kind words and encouragement. I will return the compliment saying that your blog is most enjoyable, provocative, and inspiring. Thanks for your thoughts and fine work! Et cum spiritu tuo.