14th Sunday of Ordinary Time
July 6, 2014
Iona College, New Rochelle, N.Y.
“O God, in the abasement of your Son you have raised up a fallen world” (Collect).
We resumed Ordinary Time the day after Pentecost, June 9. Finally, we celebrate an Ordinary Sunday instead of some special feast, as we’ve done the last 3 Sundays.
The Collect this evening could very well have been an Easter season collect with its contrasting themes: abasement and raising up, slavery and gladness. The reference to slavery is also nicely timed with our Independence Day weekend—only by coincidence, to be sure, for such things don’t figure into the calculations of those who prepare the liturgical books in Rome.
God’s Son was abased, our prayer says, brought low from his place in heaven. There’s an allusion there to the early Christian hymn that St. Paul quotes in Philippians: “His state was divine, yet he did not cling to his equality with God but emptied himself to assume the condition of a slave, and became as human beings are” (2:6-7 NJB). Altho human beings tend to consider ourselves the peak of God’s creation—and that’s right in a theological sense—yet it’s a comedown for the Son of God to become human, a far bigger descent in dignity and splendor than any monarch ever suffered on being overthrown and cast into prison.
The Latin word in the Collect translated as “abasement” is humilitas, which in other contexts might be rendered “humility.” Its root is humus, “earth, dirt.” Our utmost lowliness as human beings is related to our earthiness; and this is what God’s Son took on, “assuming the condition of a slave, becoming as human beings are.” In fact, human, too, comes from humus. The traditional words of Ash Wednesday cut to the core of our being: “Remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return.”
The Son’s abasement or humiliation in our human condition had a purpose: to “raise up a fallen world.” Christ didn’t sink into our human muck and get stuck there; he grabbed hold of our humanity and thru his resurrection and ascension elevated it to the same place where he’d come from, the throne of God. Christ has restored to humanity the dignity we had when 1st we came from God’s hand, before we fell into sin and rebellion, into hatred, into loathing goodness like Mordred in Camelot (“Fie on goodness, fie!”); before we fell into “slavery to sin.”
This weekend we celebrate our freedom and the aspirations of the entire human race for freedom—aspirations we sometimes find in July 4 rhetoric and do find scattered in elements of the day’s liturgy. July 4, of course, is about political liberty and its related themes like economic and religious freedom. We’ve just concluded our 3d consecutive Fortnight of Freedom, trying to raise public awareness of current threats to religious freedom and freedom of conscience.
But when the Collect speaks of slavery, it specifies “to sin.” God’s Son has rescued us not from political tyranny but from diabolic tyranny, from the rule of sin, of hatred, of selfishness, of despair in our lives, from what St. Paul calls the works of the flesh (Rom 8:9-13)—our personal lives and our lives as a community of human beings. God’s Son took the condition of a slave and was tempted as we are; unlike us, he lived always in freedom, not yielding to the devil.
Through the forgiveness of our sins in Christ, we’re “rescued” or redeemed or restored to friendship with God. We’re empowered to live in the Spirit like Jesus, to do the deeds of the Spirit. We’re given hope of inheriting heaven with Jesus, of attaining the gift of “eternal gladness” alongside our Risen Savior. We pray God to fill us, his faithful people, “with holy joy.”
Joy comes from being in God’s grace, from living as his children, and that joy is holy because it’s based on God’s own life filling our souls, our hearts, our very existence. This joy spills out of us and infuses the community: our families, our workplaces, our social interactions, even our political interactions as we live out our relationship with Jesus—a relationship that leads us to imitate his virtues, to make his goodness our own: his “graciousness,” his “mercy,” his “great kindness,” his “compassion,” his “faithfulness” (Ps 145).