Thursday, August 15, 2002

Condescension?

“Tell me more about ‘condescension.’”

Oh, one of my favorite topics! To begin, our God is a God of majesty, glory and sovereignty whose supreme self-revelation is as a God Who willingly abrogates His majesty, glory and sovereignty in order to become small for us a human, in Jesus Christ. Small enough to die. For us. Our God is God of the Covenants Who tabernacles with His people (condescension again: the transcendent become immanent – visible, touchable, audible…).

A Holy God who risks His very self…to create and then to reconcile creation…Relationship is risk! Above all, the Bible witnesses to God’s passion for relationship:
And God said: I’m lonely still…
And by the bank of the river
He kneeled
him down
And there the great God Almighty
Who lit the sun…
Who flung the stars…
This great God…
Kneeled down in the dust
Toiling over a lump of clay
Till he shaped it in his own image;
Then into it he blew the breath of life.
Amen. Amen.

by James Weldon Johnson, from The Creation
Because, as you’ve implied, the Trinity isn’t three persons who have lunch together.

I love the section of Exodus [24:7-8] when Moses comes down from Mount Sinai, reads the Book of the Covenant within the hearing of the gathered people, throws the Blood of the Covenant on the people…and then, in the very next chapter God says, “Hey Moses! Tell my people to build me a sanctuary, that I may dwell in the midst of my people!” [Exodus 25:8] That’s what it’s all about: Emmanu-El, “God With Us.” So we can do the Word…

Creation itself may be the most outrageous and radical act of God’s condescension: to create in the image of the Holy One of Being. A Transcendent Other Who tabernacles with and indwells all creation. According to God’s promise we wait for and hope for not only new heavens but also for a new earth in which righteousness dwells [2 Peter 3:13]: before the Christ Event righteousness was an attribute of God alone, but in Jesus the Christ all creation is made righteous.

Again and over again Scripture testifies to God’s ongoing, decisive and unique action in human history. Isn’t humanity’s never-ending (and eternal!) search the search for the transcendent? We don’t need to seek, because the Transcendent has sought us out and met us, revealed Herself to us, most tellingly and most definitely in a human, in one of us – in Jesus of Nazareth. In the tension and on the edge of this historical ethos we’re born, live, love, suffer, give birth of all kinds, suffer, die and are reborn. Again! And isn’t this also the “in spite of” of grace in our own lives? “Treasures in earthen vessels,” not in “religious” things. God’s love is an everyday, common, ordinary and extravagant love that continues responding to our everyday and ongoing needs.

The artist and the poet both observe, evaluate and reshape their creations, just as God does. Creation is every artist’s, every poet’s, every parent’s passion. Every creation is its creator’s dream, imagined and imaged before eternity was breathed into being, imagined forever. In God’s ongoing condescension to us the God Far Off becomes Near to us in order to reshape us into the creation we were created to be and to become. I see our creation in God’s image as giving us the spectacular gifts of freedom and choice. Radical condescension! When humanity first claimed that unspeakably awesome gift in the paradise of Eden God rejoiced in A-dam’s “disobedience” as it meant humanity freely had chosen to walk in the Holy Way rather than remain at the childish state of unquestioned obedience. In this sometimes-called “fall” into “sin” or “separation” A-dam claimed humanity’s birthright of the freedom of God’s children created in the Image of the Holy One. The tempter told our progenitors “you will be as gods” if you eat the “forbidden fruit.” And the tempter was absolutely right-on! We reclaimed the Image of the God in Whose Image we were created to be and to live.

If creation weren’t “fallen” (we’ve talked about this) – actually a pre-redemptive state/situation as creation’s fallen-ness enables creations’ return in freedom to its Creator – there would be nor need for redemption or sanctification. The Word at once judges (evaluates), holds in hope and gives itself again in promise to shatter the separation between the Word and the Word’s creation in what Bonhoeffer calls God’s “unfathomable condescension.” Although eternity is divine, time as we know time is a human construct – one of God’s gifts to human need. In Jesus the Christ eternity and time both collide and actually become indissolubly united.

And many will come from east and west and north and south, and sit at the feast in the kingdom of God. ~ Luke 13:29

The eschatological feast is both sustenance and celebration, as is the empty tomb of Easter dawn. They’re both God’s “Surprise! You haven’t been annihilated!” and they’re also an entirely new Dance of Life. William Stringfellow says (paraphrased, as I haven’t read An Ethic for Christians and Other Aliens in a Strange Land for a long time) the Bread and Cup are “tokens of the Resurrection” and these “tokens…are discerned as the Word of God indwelling all creation and transfiguring human history.” All creation is redeemed and now the transcendent Holy One is present in our very midst, in, with and under the redeemed creation (endless and eternal condescension now!). Since we are both spirit and flesh, God enters our own individual and corporate lives as both Spirit and Flesh. Everything is God’s Word and Activity, always sacramentally present in, with and under all of creation. Jesus Christ, the LORD of Chalcedon, is both Body and Spirit, just as we Christians, “little Christs,” are both body and spirit. The Risen LORD’s presence in this redeemed creation makes transcendent common, everyday stuff like water, bread and wine. Just as the empty cross and the empty grave reveal God’s presence in the world, so now does all of creation. God continues to condescend to his beloved creation as Spirit, indwelling all and enabling us to see the Face of God and live not only in Jesus, in Jesus’ People the Church – the Body of the Risen Christ – but in all people!

Like the father in the dream you wrote about, the Creator awakens and re-enters (re-minds?) creation with a new name, with a new and this time unforgettable Dance of Life (I referred to the Eucharist as a new “Dance of Life”) in which we encounter the at once Crucified and Risen One in the substance of common, ordinary, everyday existence. Now all life is Holy. Now our home is the heaven, the paradise, the Eden of the created earth that previously had been a place of alienation, bondage and disconnectedness.

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