Thursday, January 31, 2019

Sermon for Epiphany II

Last week I preached the sermon for Epiphany II on the beginning of St. Mark's Gospel, climaxing with Jesus' baptism by John. The baptism introduces us to Jesus in Mark, and in this way sets the tone for his entire ministry.
The Eastern Fathers reflect at length upon Christ’s baptism as a potent symbol of the Incarnation in all its paradoxical majesty and mystery. An Orthodox hymn for Epiphany notes that in Jesus’s baptism we see “The River of Joy… baptized in the stream” (The Festal Menaion, 295). The One through whom all water was made and in which all things subsist is himself submerged in muddy Jordan. How can this be?... 
Christ’s baptism is a particular act of humility. St. Matthew’s Gospel dwells on the inversion of Jesus being baptized by John. “I have need to be baptized of thee,” John protests, “and comest thou to me?” (Matt. 3:14). St. Mark’s compact account draws attention not so much to the incongruity between John and Jesus but rather to the startling nature of John’s baptism. John preached “the baptism of repentance for the remission of sins,” and it is this baptism to which Jesus submits, despite having no sins to remit. Thus, in his first act in Mark’s Gospel, Christ explicitly identifies himself with sinners. Later Jesus will describe his impending Passion as “the cup that I drink” and “the baptism with which I am baptized” (Mark 10:38-39, ESV). From the outset, he expresses a freely chosen solidarity with sinners, and this identification of the Sinless Christ with sinful humanity comes to its awful and glorious climax on the cross.
Christ's baptism also inaugurates sacramental baptism, and so it reveals not only who Christ is -- but also who we are:
...we should never forget that, in being baptized into Christ’s death, we are also, as St. Paul tells us, “risen with him through the faith of the operation of God, who hath raised him from the dead” (Col. 2:12). We share in his death and in his resurrection, and we indeed partake of his divine life (2 Pet. 1:4). 
At every baptism, the heavens are rent, the Spirit descends, and the voice of God speaks: 
“Thou art my beloved child, in whom I am well pleased.”
You can read (or hear) the whole thing.

Tuesday, January 15, 2019

Jesus' Baptism, Liturgical Language

A (lightly modified) excerpt from my Sent folder (head nod to Alan Jacobs): 

 In light of my sermon this Sunday, I'm looking at Orthodox liturgy for Epiphany (from The Festal Menaion translated by Kallistos Ware and Mother Mary) and its reflections on Jesus' baptism. Fascinating stuff:

"Make ready, O river Jordan: for behold, Christ our God draws near to be baptized by John, that He may crush with His divinity the invisible heads of the dragons in thy waters."

I have no idea what that really means -- the footnoted reference to Ps. 73:13 proves less than illuminating** -- but it's pretty cool. I sense a Marvel adaptation.

But anyway, in the Preface there's this explanation of the language of their translation, which fits what Martin Thornton says about liturgical language (perspicacious but elevated is the ideal, which, he says, makes Elizabethan English perhaps the perfect liturgical form):

So far as the general style of our translation is concerned, after much experimenting we decided to take as our model the language of the Authorized Version... This, we realize, is a controversial decision. Many of our readers will probably feel that, if the liturgical texts are to come alive for people today, they must be rendered in a more contemporary idiom. To this it must be answered that the Greek used in the canons and hymns that are here translated was never a 'contemporary' or 'spoken' language. The Byzantine hymnographers wrote in a liturgical style that was consciously 'artificial', even though it was never intentionally obscure or unintelligible. As we see it, the language of the Authorized Version is best adapted to convey the spirit of the original liturgical Greek.... For three centuries and more the Authorized Version, and along with it the Anglican Book of Common Prayer, have provided the words with which English-speaking peoples throughout the world have addressed God; and these two books have become a part not only of our literary but of our spiritual inheritance...

Fr. Mark

**Turns out the reference is to Ps. 74:14-15 (in the 1928 Psalter; in the ESV it's 74:13-14): "Thou didst divide the sea through thy power; thou brakest the heads of the dragons in the waters. Thou smotest the heads of leviathan in pieces, and gavest him to be meat for the people of the wilderness."

Double cool.