Homilies by Rev. Andrew Collis unless indicated otherwise.
‘The Saviour enthroned’
We have a remarkable icon for this last Sunday of the church year. The icon is of Byzantine origin and dates from the seventh century or earlier. Our particular artwork is from an illuminated manuscript of the twelfth century. The subject derives from a variety of sources: Isaiah's vision of the Most High enthroned among seraphim (6:1-
The four creatures, according to Ezekiel and John of Patmos, are the human, the lion, the ox and the eagle. We might reflect on the ways that these four creatures bear witness to God and to God in Christ. [DIAGRAM #1]
Some scholars suggest that Ezekiel, exiled in Babylon in the sixth century BCE, was influenced by the cultures of Assyria and Babylon. The animals associated with the "tetramorph", the four creatures, symbolised the four fixed signs of the zodiac: the human or angel representing Aquarius; the lion representing Leo; the ox representing Taurus; and the eagle Scorpio. In Western astrology the four symbols are associated with the elements: Water, Fire, Earth and Air respectively. [DIAGRAM #2]
The early Christians adopted this symbolism and adapted it for the four Evangelists (the four Gospels), the tetramorph first appearing in Christian art in the fifth century. St Jerome is generally credited with assigning the tetramorph to the Evangelists.
The creatures, just like the four Gospels, represent four facets of Christ. Matthew is represented as the human or angel because his Gospel centres on the human nature and the life of Christ. Matthew's Gospel begins: "This is the family record of Jesus Christ, descendant of Bathsheba and David, descendant of Sarah and Abraham." Mark is represented as a lion because he proclaims the royal dignity of Christ, the lion being the king of beasts. In Mark's Gospel is heard the voice of a lion roaring in the desert: "Make ready the way of Our God, clear a straight path." Luke the Evangelist is represented as an ox or a calf. His Gospel dwells on the atonement and the loving sacrifice of Christ. Luke begins with the story of the priest Zechariah, and renews the notion of priesthood and sacrifice. John is represented as an eagle, as his Gospel describes the incarnation of the divine Logos. St Jerome writes: "The fourth [face signifies] John the Evangelist who, having taken eagle's wings and hastening toward higher matters, discusses the Word of God." [DIAGRAM #3]
Perhaps we can think of some other good reasons for relating Christ to the four creatures, the four elements, the four Gospels. Minimally, this is a way of keeping open our confessions and claims. The reign of God in Christ is no small matter. Our confessions and claims will need to take into account the best anthropology, the best ecology, the most faithful ecclesiology, the most universal spirituality, and so on.
Christ is enthroned in/upon four gospels. A common lectionary ensures that all four gospels are read every three years in the churches throughout the world.
Our pictures of the reign of Christ ought to be rich and complex. They will be cruciform, meaning they will resist all ideologies of violence, all violent ideology. Our Gospel reading for today expresses this powerfully by way of the penitent criminal, yet another last and lost figure in Luke's story, to whom Jesus says: "Today you'll be with me in paradise." Unbounded kindness. Forgiveness without bounds. In the midst of mockery, torture, hopelessness. Unbounded kindness. Forgiveness without bounds.
Our pictures of the reign of Christ will include figures other than Christ. They will include our own selves and lives. Recently I was reading a commentary on Shakespeare's play, Hamlet, and the commentator, Harold C. Goddard, mentioned four passions of Hamlet in the context of describing a most well-
Even without exploring the various possibilities for connection between our feast day and a drama about a prince and a kingship denied, I suspect we can relate to the passions of Hamlet, the quintessentially modern human being suspended between desires for vengeance and justice; caught between the past and a present becoming. How might such passions in our own lives serve to confess that Christ is sovereign? Our passions, our convictions, bespeak a subjectivity -
What is it to be subject to God in Christ? What is it to be human -
Creativity. Wonder. Love. Curiosity/Truth. [DIAGRAM #4]
How might such passions in our own lives -
The cross, the passion of Christ, the cross most passionately, is the resurrection -
Let's complete the homily together. Creativity. Wonder. Love. Curiosity/Truth. Freedom. What are you passionate about? How does your passion serve to confess and to enthrone Christ as sovereign? ... Amen.