Tuesday, April 15, 2008

The Liturgical Nature of Christ's Death

My favorite Christology text to date is titled The Mystery of Jesus Christ by Ocariz, Seca, and Riestra. I think they've taken a very smart route in writing the book by employing three authors with different disciplines (one has a degree in Biblical Studies, another in Historical Theology, another in Systematic Theology). I read something last semester, however, with which I don't entirely agree. They write:

Some authors have raised the objection (against the sacrificial character of Christ's death) that that death did not have a cult-like character (or, to put it more accurately, lacked the external rite of an act of cult); others (defending the idea that Christ's death was a sacrifice) have sought that ritual character in the interior offering Christ made of himself on the cross...Therefore, it can be stated that Christ's death is cult-like without being liturgical; it is also the origin, the source and the centre of all liturgy. (Emphasis theirs)

I agree that Christ's death is cultic in nature. However, I think there is a liturgy involved - a very ironic liturgy. The irony is found throughout the passion - for instance, Jesus has already prophesied about his own death and resurrection, but the people yell out to him "Prophesy!" (Mt 26:68//Mk 14:65).
So how is the death of Christ liturgical? Jesus is wearing a purple garment (a high-priestly color - Ex 28:6) and a crown of thorns (Mk 15:17, Ex 28:4 and also see Zech 6:11-12). The cross is a mock altar upon which the sacrifice is given, even though it is "outside the camp" (Heb 13:13). Instead of the ritual washing the High Priest was to do before entering the Holy of Holies, Jesus is washed in his own blood after the scourging (Mk 15:15). There is the recitation of Scripture (Mt 27:46 reciting the opening lines of Ps 22). There are even "conversions" (Lk 23:42). There's probably a myriad of other things that I've thought about and since forgotten that seem to parallel the liturgy of the Temple, but certainly in an ironic way.


Polycarp said...

Very interesting take.

Danny Garland Jr. said...

There is a book I used for a paper two years ago on the Passion narrative, called "Irony in the Gospel of John." You would probably like it. Unfortunately, I forget who it is by.