By Martha A.
Reading the Gospel of Matthew in light of the Book of Daniel, Matt K. preached that the Great Commission is the means by which the image of God will fill the earth and Christ will gain authority over all the nations of the earth. Given that in our church calendar we have just celebrated Trinity Sunday, and given our current health crisis, racial turmoil, and national trauma, Matt’s sermon was liturgically and socially timely.
There are so many rich passages on which I could reflect (and we all should reflect!). However, I think I’ll narrow it down by sticking to the things I know best – theology and music/liturgy. Two phrases in particular have persisted in my thoughts since yesterday morning: “the image of God,” and “brought to its/their knees.”
The image of God. Matt argued that it is through the baptismal message of the Great Commission that the image of God will fill the earth. In the passage from Genesis that John Hare read yesterday we heard, “So God created humankind in his image, in the image of God he created them” (Genesis 1:27). What exactly does it mean that we are made in the image of God? God is one substance. God is three Persons. That’s not how humans are made. Perhaps Aquinas’s understanding of analogy and metaphysics can help us a bit. God is good, just, wise, etc. in God’s essence. As creatures, if we are good, just, or wise, it is only by participation in God’s goodness, justice, or wisdom. Our goodness is in some way the same as God’s goodness, but it’s not quite the same. We are creatures. God is God. We participate in God’s goodness.
Participation. What does that mean? We participate in God? When my husband and I discuss theology, I often use “participation” to explain how we, as Christians who partake in the sacraments, relate to God. He always says he doesn’t know what that means. So far, I don’t seem to have been able to explain it to him fully. Mystery, I often say. We have to leave room for mystery in God. We can’t know everything. We are creatures. “Participation” gives us an image to cling to, but doesn’t fully clarify how we are made in the image of God. And anyway, that image has been woefully marred by the Fall. We are sinful. We cannot escape this sin by ourselves. We need Christ in our lives. But even with Christ, on this side of paradise we only “see in a mirror dimly,” as Paul says in 1 Corinthians 13:12. We do not yet “see face to face.” And yet, we participate in this God. The Holy Spirit works in and through us. We are created in God’s image.
That image has been marred, but God restores it in Baptism. God maintains it through the Eucharist. We confess our sins, receive the Body of Christ at His table, and become members of His Church – members of His Body. Maybe that’s it. We participate in God’s goodness, love, wisdom, and justice, insofar as we are active participants in the Body of Christ that is the Church. As Matt said, we are many individuals, but together we make up the Church. Furthermore, we make up the Body of Christ, and Christ is one Person of the Trinity. Christ is fully human. We are fully human. Christ is fully God – the one substance that God is, so is Christ. But Christ is a Person distinguishable from the Father and the Holy Spirit. As the Body of Christ, we make up the one Person of Christ. In Christ God and Man are one. Through this divine hypostatic union we are able to participate in God.
This leads me to the other image – that of being brought to one’s knees. The virus, Matt preached, has brought nations to their knees. He posed the Great Commission as being the antidote: it also brings people to their knees, but for God, not fear of death. Many images of adult baptisms show the adults on their knees. This is, of course, partially a practical matter of height. But it is also the posture with which we should face the Almighty Trinity. We have been indelibly marred by sin. How can we even think of facing God when we have besmirched His image in us? Our sin should bring us to our knees. We must humbly confess this sin. How could we do otherwise? To the Creator of all the earth we confess. “Where were you when I laid the foundation of the earth?” God demands in Job 38:4. Where were we indeed. Perhaps this liturgical action of kneeling, of coming before God in humility, in a stance of confession, is the first step in regaining the image of God we have lost. In the last few weeks it seems like the only response possible in light of our sins, both individually and collectively. Perhaps it is on our knees that we will begin to understand what it means to be created in the image of God, to be saved through Baptism, and to participate in the Body of Christ. Perhaps being the Church means falling to our knees. I certainly need this reminder. I need to pray on my knees.