November 18: Ole Skjerbæk Madsen

Christ Temple November 18, 2018

Daniel 12:1-3; Hebrews 10:11-14,19-25; Mark 13:1-8

Dear Sisters and Brothers in Jesus Christ,

In this period after All Saints’ Day the bible readings, and not the least today, are pointing towards the end of time and the return of our Lord. Some of these themes are also taken up in Advent as we prepare for the coming of the Lord – born as a child, greeted as a teacher, healer and king, and expected to return ending history, fulfilling the judgement of evil and bringing a new Heaven and a new Earth. The end of the liturgical year and the beginning of it is full of the same expectation.

In the reading from Daniel we learn that God will send the archangel Michael to protect his people in the time of anguish which will fall upon all nations. The righteous will pass through the final trials, persecution and God’s final dispute and showdown concerning the powers of destruction and abuse. They shall shine like the stars.

Also, the gospel of Mark speaks of fearful things that will happen. The destruction of the temple was to come – only 40 years after this prediction of Jesus. But he was also pointing to the ends of time. There will be rumors of war, and indeed nation will rise against nation. And nature will come out of control – may be as a reaction against humans’ abuse and exploitation of our fellow creatures and nature. We may be filled with anguish, distress and worries may be even terror. Our time only too well match Jesus’ description of the last days of human history. And yet Jesus says, “do not be alarmed… This is but the beginning of the birth pangs.” Something new will come to life; the kingdom of God will be fully established.

The reading from Hebrews gives us further reason not to despair. Jesus Christ is our high priest with God. All other priests were imperfect; they had to always repeat their sacrifices. But Jesus Christ only had to sacrifice once. His sacrifice was to fulfill the will of God and to give himself fully to us, to give up his life for us to live. He gave up his divine prerogatives to share the conditions of our life. Our life conditions are formed by sin, abuse of one another, of self-interest at the cost of others, of forgetfulness of God and of our own nature as created to be God’s children. It’s a life where we make others to become victims of our own pursuit for success, or where we are the victims of others. Jesus introduced the standards of serving love and thus became the neighbor of those suffering – not least those who were outcast and marginalized. His uncompromising message of grace and God’s fatherly love and unconditional acceptance of us challenged the pattern of sin. Thus, he was brought to the death on the cross as a pascal victim for our sins.

Only through suffering he would restore us to our true nature – revealed on the cross. Originally, we were created in his image, created in cross form – to be firmly grounded in the earth sharing the same substances as earthly creation, but also erect and free as a column that unites earth with heaven. And not only that, we were created to stretch out our arms to give, to receive and to embrace.

Jesus Christ made himself a sacrifice to restore our true nature, and this sacrifice he offered to God his and our father, and he is now sitting at the right hand of the father, having fulfilled the aim of his incarnation. He brought the marks of his suffering with him into eternity, and because he presents his offering up himself at Calvary in eternity all that he has accomplished will be present to us at any time. Eternity is present at all times and thus Christ’s sacrifice once and for all taken up into eternity, is present now as we share his word and share the holy communion.

Hebrews says that we now with confidence may enter the holy of holies to be part of the fellowship of the triune God.

This presupposes a true or clean heart – a heart that by God’s grace is purified from our preconceptions and prejudices. This cleansing of the heart is one of the central issues of Christfulness – that spiritual program that TFSCC has called Dorte and me to introduce in Hong Kong. In our retreats I often compare our heart with a mirror.

We are created to reflect the creative light of God, so that God can recognize God self in us, and so that our fellow beings can know God by the light which shines from us, as a reflection of God. This light is often not as clear as it could be; the mirror is dirty or covered over. But even when there isn’t any light that gets through, due to the thick layer of grime on the glass, the mirror is still there, underneath.

What then can be the reason for this grime? It can come from our thoughts, our feelings or our memories. Our thoughts contain so many impressions of ourselves and others, of our lives, our successes and failures. They can contain ideas about ourselves, about God, and other people, but these are our thoughts, and not necessarily reality. Often they create a distance or separation in our relationships to others, to God, and to our true selves. We have made God, ourselves and others into objects, commodities, or things – something we can own, something to fear, something to win, something to lose.

Only a new creation can break through this layer, for the more we fight it, the thicker the layer of grime becomes, and the further we fall from the centre of our being. In the beginning God said, “Let there be light”, and there was light (Gen. Ch. 1 v3). The Word who became flesh in Jesus Christ is the one who called the light into existence as the beginning of creation. Christ called humans into existence by forming the dust of the earth and laid his image in the human as a reflection of himself, the shining Glory of God and perfect image.

In the human person of Jesus Christ, we see God (the Word, or Son of God) and at the same time what a true human is as created in the image of God. True humanity is a life lived in openness to God and God’s approaches to us, and a perfect reflection of God bringing life and freedom to other people. Jesus Christ embodies, then, in his humanity, God’s original created purpose for humankind. In his human existence we get an idea of how a life fully soaked in God’s presence looks, and see a life lived from the inside to the outside – that is, lived outward from God’s image in the heart.

We need the Holy Spirit if this true humanity is to become ours. The Holy Spirit bears witness of Jesus Christ and allows us to see ourselves in the light of his life – to see the way we ought to be according to God’s creation. The more we see Jesus, the clearer God’s presence will shine in to the centre of our being. This is a searing light, which removes all the layers of grime, and cleans the mirror to be new. It’s like the conception of a new life; Christ is born in our hearts.

From this point on, life becomes about living from the inside and out. Christ sits on the throne in our hearts and we begin to become like him from the inside and out. The more the light shines, the more the grime shows: Memories, feelings, thoughts and fantasies. The Holy Spirit drives us from time to time out in solitude, stillness and the desert, where we seem to be alone with the grime and the darkness, and where we must lay down our fantasies, thoughts, feelings and memories. But we are not alone. Christ is the hope of Glory. Our life is anchored in the kingdom of God, which is to come, and which too is right here, right now.

St. Paul, the Mystic, describes it as a process of dying, “…I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.” (Gal. Ch2 v20,).

Hebrews says that this is not only concerning my relation to God, but that we should be witnesses of Christ and of our hope. So, experiencing Christ in us we must share this freedom of being a child of God with others. We must set God’s or Christ’s image in them free by serving love and loving service. Finally, Hebrews teaches us that a new life with Christ in our heart is a life in a committed fellowship with other followers of Christ. Hebrews puts it very fine: “Let us consider how to provoke one another to love and good deeds.” Thus, we shouldn’t neglect our congregation or fellowship, but encourage one another – because the end of times draws near – and we need God’s grace and each other to keep hope alive amidst what would else frighten us and make us despair.