Thursday of the Fifth Week of Lent

Jesus answered, "If I glorify myself, my glory is worth nothing; but it is my Father who glorifies me, of whom you say, 'He is our God.' You do not know him, but I know him. And if I should say that I do not know him, I would be like you a liar. But I do know him and I keep his word. Abraham your father rejoiced to see my day; he saw it and was glad."

Unfortunately, the Christian religion, first embraced by the Roman Empire and then outlasting it, took on some of the spirituality of empire; that is, an uncritical veneration of power. Succeeding empires in their turn -- the Holy Roman, Spanish, French, English, Dutch, Portuguese, Russian and so forth -- would embrace Christianity as their state religions, and for the same reason -- it's unquestioning reverence for power.
Religion teaches that one, only Sovereign God is all-powerful; empire must be all-powerful to sustain its legitimacy; they're obvious allies. When in doubt, might makes right. If you don't agree with the powerful, if you have some personal reservations about your rulers, you will be forgiven for going along to get along

The writers of the American Constitution attempted to distance this nation from state religion. No Christian sect would enjoy preference in this new polity. They assumed the Christian ethos, inherited from Europe, would be maintained by the many Christian denominations despite their endless quarreling. If there were other religions in the United States (Muslims, Jews, Native Americans or Buddhist) Christians assured themselves, "We all worship the same god (i.e. Power) so it doesn't matter.

Not many years later, a nation broken by Civil War needed a common religion to pull it together and the American Civil Religion was born. Documents like the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution, the Bill of Rights, the Gettysburg Address and Lincoln's Second Inaugural Address became holy writ for this religion. The American flag is its sacrament; federal buildings, monuments and parks are its holy places; and the Star-spangled Banner, America the Beautiful and God Bless America, its hymns. The righteousness of this religion is proven by America's ranking among the nations; it has the most powerful military, economy and cultural influence. Its might makes it unquestionably right. Patriotic Americans can assure themselves they are the freest people on earth; they have the power to prove it.

Brilliant green moss by the creek
on a late winter day
The kenosis of Jesus stands rather awkwardly before the cult of power. This humility, he tells us, reflects his Father's behavior. He is, as Saint Paul says, the perfect image of the invisible God. He does nothing except that which he has seen in the Father. If he is obedient, it's because his Father is obedient. There is priority in the Trinity -- the Father proceeds the Son and the Holy Spirit; the Son and the Holy Spirit proceed from the Father -- but there is no superiority. There can be no domination when each cheerfully, readily, eagerly obeys the others. 

In uttering the Word the Father surrenders completely to the Word made flesh -- like a dancer surrendering to her ecstasy. In loving obedience the Son responds, pouring out himself as an oblation -- a gift received and given back -- to the Father. Jesus' surrender to the Father on Calvary, even to the last drop of water, blood and breath, consummates the sacrifice.

This kind of divinity is unimaginable to those religions that celebrate power. They deify power to prop their own governments. Their god must jealously guard that strength and cannot surrender it without suffering annihilation.

Abraham rejoiced to see the humility of God. He saw it and was glad.

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I love to write. This blog helps me to meditate on the Word of God, and I hope to make some contribution to our contemplations of God's Mighty Works.

Ordinarily, I write these reflections two or three weeks in advance of their publication. I do not intend to comment on current events.

I understand many people prefer gender-neutral references to "God." I don't disagree with them but find that language impersonal, unappealing and tasteless. When I refer to "God" I think of the One whom Jesus called "Abba" and "Father", and I would not attempt to improve on Jesus' language.

You're welcome to add a thought or raise a question.