The hand of the Lord was upon me, and he brought me out in the Spirit of the Lord and set me down in the middle of the valley; it was full of bones. And he led me around among them, and behold, there were very many on the surface of the valley, and behold, they were very dry. And he said to me, “Son of man, can these bones live?” And I answered, “O Lord God, you know.” Then he said to me, “Prophesy over these bones, and say to them, O dry bones, hear the word of the Lord. Thus says the Lord God to these bones: Behold, I will cause breath to enter you, and you shall live. And I will lay sinews upon you, and will cause flesh to come upon you, and cover you with skin, and put breath in you, and you shall live, and you shall know that I am the Lord.” {Ezekiel 37:1-6}

Anna recently posted her thoughts regarding Marriage, Sex and the Kingdom of God at Deepsoil.Her thoughts and insights are very great and I commend them to you all.

The thread I would like to pick up on is this understanding of restoration, perfection and consummation in creation. These are all, of course, intimately connected to salvation and dependant upon the work of Christ.

Over the past several months I have been thinking and reading a lot about marriage, most particularly as the marriage service is presented in the historical Anglican Book of Common Prayer. Now, why did I approach from this direction? Why not look directly at the scriptures? (I have been-appropriately-challenged because of this). Primarily I approached the topic from this perspective because I was writing a paper for a pastoral theology course and I am at an Episcopal seminary. Because it is my tradition I need to consider the ways in which that tradition approaches these questions so that I can speak truthfully and in an informed manner with people who come to me and seek an understanding of what our church believes and teaches when it witnesses and blesses their joining in Holy Matrimony. Additionally, I think the approach of the historic liturgy is a very good way to consider the question of what exactly Christian marriage means.

Obviously this is begging the question as to what exactly the above passage from the book of Ezekiel has to do with marriage. Be patient, I promise I’ll get there–in this post even.

In considering the way in which Christians have traditionally approached questions of marriage, most have considered it from the dual perspectives that rule the Christian life, i.e. creation and redemption. In doing so Christians have taken theircues from Christ himself. Anna has done a good job of opening up the issue of the eschaton in the Christian view of marriage. But this view in and of itself is not explanatory. What exactly is it that is being finished, completed, accomplished, perfected, restored or recreated @ the end of days? The answer to that question is, I believe, apparent in Christ’s teaching on divorce:

Mark 10:1-11

And he left there and went to the region of Judea and beyond the Jordan, and crowds gathered to him again. And again, as was his custom, he taught them.

And Pharisees came up and in order to test him asked, Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife? 3 He answered them, What did Moses command you? They said, Moses allowed a man to write a certificate of divorce and to send her away. And Jesus said to them, Because of your hardness of heart he wrote you this commandment. But from the beginning of creation, God made them male and female. Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and hold fast to his wife, and they shall become one flesh. So they are no longer two but one flesh. What therefore God has joined together, let not man separate.

And in the house the disciples asked him again about this matter. And he said to them, Whoever divorces his wife and marries another commits adultery against her, and if she divorces her husband and marries another, she commits adultery.

In this and other, similar, situations Jesus demonstrates a manner of interpretation that goes back to the beginning, comments on the fact that dispensations were given because of our hardness of heart but, in keeping with the inauguration of the Kingdom which his incarnation and earthly ministry represent, Christ is quick to call his listeners (and us) to task and to demand that we grow up. This is not merely an analogy; you see Jesus has come to demonstrate true humanity, to redeem us from our bondage to sin, and therefore from our hardness of heart. Jesus is proclaiming the Kingdom and in doing so he is recalling the original intent of God in creation, and commanding us to live into that intention.

In the original state of creation it is generally believed by Christian theologians, Adam and Eve would not have died, physical death being a ramification of the corruption brought about by sin and spiritual death (or second death, final death) being the result of the act of sin itself. St. Athanasius in On the Incarnation reflects this view in his discussion of the reasons for the incarnation:

This, then, was the plight of men. God had notonly made them out of nothing, but had also graciously bestowed on them His own life by the grace of the Word. Then, turning from eternal things to things corruptible, by counsel of the devil, they had become the cause of thier own corruption, the graceof their union with the Word made them capable of escaping from the natural law, provded they retained the beauty of innocence with which they were created. That is to say, the presence of the Word with them shielded them even from natural corruption, asalso Wisdom says: “God created man for incorruption and as an image of His own eternity; but by envy of the devil death entered into the world

Athanasius goes on to give an account of all the sins and compounding of sin which transpired in the world after the fall, finally ending his account of the reasons for the incarnation with these thoughts:

Even crimes contrary to nature were not unknown, but as the martyr-apostle of Christ says: “Their women changed the natural use into that which is against nature; and the men also, leaving the natural use of the woman, flamed out in lust towards each other, perpetrating shameless acts with their own sex, and receiving in their own persons the due recompense of their pervertedness.”

A close reading of the Bible and the Fathers will reveal an underlying concern with the bentness of the current state of the world. In other words, there is a sense in which what is is a perversion or a shadowed mirror of what was intended at creation. Consider the act of creation in Genesis for a moment, where God is said to “hover” or “move” over the waters. It is important to understandthat water, the ocean, the abyss were often seen as the source of chaos in Israelite thought. This is something that early Christianity picked up on, which was continued later on in the tradition, as we see in the works of the Laudian divines who thought that:

Heaven and earth had a beginning. They were not always. But at that beginning, they were not distinguished, the one from the other. All lay in a confused heap, “like a disordered and deformed chaos”. That is “said to be void and without form, and not able to be kept together, had not the spirit of God cherished it”. What is of interest here is Swan’s clear implication of the tendency of created matter towards annihilation, or reverting to nothingness, even in the most primeval and chaotic state, were it not for the action of God. This emphasis is his awareness that all things are upheld, not by their own natural force, but by the grace of God. (God’s Order and Natural Law: The Works of the Laudian Divines, by Ian M. MacKenzie)

This reversion to nothingness is what Athanasius is concerned about in De Incarnatione, when he discusses the importance of the first sin, the turning of humanity from the contemplation of and fellowship with God. In other words,humanity, being created ex nihilo or out of nothing, along with the rest of creation, had a natural inclination to revert to the original state, i.e. non-existence. The only thing that prevented the spontaneous degeneration and disintegration of humanity was the fact that in our creation we were made in the image and likeness of God, via the Word. In other words, eternity was imputed to humanity by virtue of being created in the image of God through the Word of God. But when we fell, our relationship with God was frayed, and as a result, death and decay entered the world, being a natural intrusion of the original nothingness into the good creation which God brought forth from it. St. Symeon the New Theologian approaches the fall in a similar manner and is representative of the tradition. In his 2nd Homily On the Blessed State Symeon states that God instituted the Law so that humanity might not fall completely away “after man had eaten of that forbidden tree and had died a bitter death, that is, had fallen away from God and become subject to corruption”. This fallen state however, is not without recourse, and God is not without resources in this situation:

Afterwards, however, when Christ came and so intimately joined in himself the Divinity with humanity that these two which had been extremely separated, that is, the Divinity and humanity, became one Person, although they remained unfused and unmingled–from that time man became, as it were, a light, through the union with that first and unsetting Light of God, and he has no more need of any written law, because the divine grace of Jesus Christ remaining with him and in him brings forth as fruit for him the blessed state, that is, love, joy, peace, longsuffering, goodness, mercifulness, faith, meekness, and temperence. [. . .] All [. . .] striving and all [. . .] struggle must be directed to acquiring the spirit of Christ, and in this way to bring forth the fruits of the Holy Spirit: for in this consists the spiritual law and the blessed state.

In this sense then, the Incarnation of Christ reestablishes the blessed state. Yet, there is obviously a problem: people still die. The Kingdom has been inaugurated, but it has not yet been consummatedor made complete. In other words, creation, and redemption are still imperfect insofar as they are incomplete. This is not to say that anyonessalvation is incomplete if they still die and their bodies still decay, rather it is only to highlight the reason for the Christian’s cry of “Come Lord Jesus.”

“Son of man, can these bones live?”

How, in our present state, are we to seek out the perfected state promised by our Lord? Here I am referring to sanctification, or the completed work of the Spirit in our hearts. Finally of course, we must admit that such a work can only be completed in God’s time, which in most cases must be considered to be at the last. But, like Wesley, I believe we should at least admit the possibility of sanctification in this life. We must admit the possibility because to do otherwise would be to deny that the Holy Spirit can complete God’s works in our hearts. To state that it must be complete in this life however, would lead us not only into a sort of spiritual scavenger hunt, but also to the creation of spiritually elite or arrogant folk.

But I digress. And I need to digress further in order to pull everything together a little more tightly.

The word secular used in English to refer to something apart from the Church has its origins in the use of the latin root as a term for the time between times, or the liminal period between Christs earthly ministry, crucifixion, resurrection and ascension.

During this interim period, creation is being drawn toward the ends ordained by God. As such, there are certain practices which help individuals participate in the ongoing perfecting and eventual consumation of God’s kingdeom.

{more to come}

Old Man In the ShantyMeridian BandMonroe Street3:33