Friday, July 16, 2010

How Firm a Foundation

By the mystery of thy holy Incarnation; by thy holy Nativity and submission to the Law; by thy Baptism, Fasting, and Temptation,
Good Lord, deliver us.

By thine Agony and Bloody Sweat; by thy Cross and Passion; by thy precious Death and Burial; by thy glorious Resurrection and Ascension; and by the Coming of the Holy Ghost,
Good Lord, deliver us.

The inner logic of the Great Litany moves from praying for deliverance from exterior forces to a recollection of those things God has done for us in Christ. By recalling them, we pray God to deliver us from all adversaries (physical and spiritual) by the interior power of faith in him. Such faith is always a gift from God, something for which we must be profoundly grateful. If that gratitude fades, our faith is at risk.

This portion of the Great Litany has the character of a Creed or summary of the key elements of the Faith. It also recalls passages from the Epistles of St. Paul where the Apostle briefly summarizes the most important events in the life of Christ. These “proto-creeds” would be picked up by other early Christian writers (notably St. Ignatius of Antioch in several of his letters written on his way to martyrdom in Rome), forming the basis of the Creeds we use in worship today.

These petitions in the Litany makes very clear the centrality of historic Christianity in the Anglican faith. Many of the early heresies – and many modern mimics of these dead-ends in aberrant Christianity – obscure the fully human and fully divine nature of Christ with strange, convoluted, or imported ideas. Here, we are shown a Christ who was born into human life with all of its vulnerabilities and limitations, experienced pain, suffering, and death – while at the same time was (and is) the Son of God, bringing the divine into union with the human, rising from the dead and carrying our nature to the very throne of God. We also re-affirm the giving of the Holy Spirit in the life of the Church, that Spirit always pointing to the authentic Christ and the Faith revealed by the Scriptures as interpreted by the ancient and undivided Church.

This portion of the Litany functions rather like the foundation to a building. On the articles of faith we confess in these two petitions, the entire edifice of Christianity rests. The security and hope we seek in life cannot be had on any other terms but these. All attempts to fashion life on man-made comforts or controls lead to failure and frustration. By recalling what God has done for us in Christ, we are strengthened in the gift of faith. In so doing, we are renewed in confidence, courage, and strength to show forth God's power to love and redeem.

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