Jesus in First Place: The Dismissal-Resurrectional Theotokion in Tone 8

Genesis 1-2; Hosea 8-13, Daniel 13, Colossians 1:15-20

For the next two weeks, we repeat, for dismissal, the beloved resurrectional Theotokion in tone four.  Since we have already looked closely at this hymn, we will look back to another of this series of hymns that concern Mary.  I am referring to the one that we heard a few weeks ago in worship:  the hymn in tone eight.  Alone, of the eight resurrectional-dismissal hymns for the Theotokos, this one speaks to our Savior, and not directly to holy Mary.  The others all address our Lady, while worshipping the LORD supremely; but this one makes our pattern of reverence and worship explicit by its mode of address.  It is because of all that God the Son has done for us that we rightly honor His Mother.  Her very name, Theotokos, puts the reference to her Son first!  She is the GOD-bearer.  Here is the hymn, as it addresses Christ.

O Good One, you who for our sake were born of the Virgin and endured crucifixion,

Destroying death by death and revealing the Resurrection as God,

Do not despise those who were fashioned by Your hand!

Reveal Your merciful love for mankind!

Receive the Theotokos, the one who bore you, as she represents us;

And as our Savior, save your people, who have no hope in themselves.

 

Our worship, then, gives the lie to that naughty apocryphal story regarding Michelangelo and the peasant woman.  The story goes that the great artist was putting finishing touches onto the dome of the Sistine Chapel when he saw a woman below piously praying before a representation of Mary.  Deciding to have some fun, he called down in a dominical voice, “Woman!”, but she seemed not to hear.  Again, he called out, a little louder, “Woman!’ and she continued saying her rosary.  Finally, he shouted, “Woman, I’m talking to YOU!”  Without looking up, she retorted, “You-a be quiet! I’mma talking to your Mama!”

Of course, this jarring story is often told by Protestants who do not understand the reverence that the ancient Church has for the Mother of God, and want to mock it.  In answer to their worry that the Church has got things out of order, and for our own strengthening, this eighth Theotokion decidedly puts Jesus in first place, as a summary of all the things that this sequence of Theotokia celebrates concerning the glory of God in Christ, as seen in the piety of life of Mary.

Foundationally, we address God the Son as good. “O Good One,” the hymn begins. We are sent back again to the first story of the Bible, when God looked at the creation that He had made, and called it good.  For, of course, as the epistle of James reminds us, “Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, in whom there is no shadow of turning” (James 1:17). This good Maker, then, is the source of a creation that at every stage of its making was declared good by Him, until the climax of the sixth day is reached, and He exclaims, “It is VERY good!”  The second chapter of Genesis zooms into God’s actions on that sixth day— the making of our first parents.  In doing so, it demonstrates for us God’s particular love for those made after His image.  Those of us who know Christ can go even further, of course, than those who originally read the second chapter of Genesis.

We know, because of the revelation of Jesus, that we are created after the image of God, but that Jesus is the image of the invisible God, as the apostle tells us in Colossians.  Again, that wonderful hymn in Colossians 1:15-20 tells us that, although he may have appeared historically after a long line of other human beings, Jesus is the “head of the body, the Church” and the “head of all creation.”  It is Jesus first.  Not only that, but He is himself the Creator, the Word who said, “let it be.”  Let’s go back to that story in Genesis.

His creating work on that final sixth day, in contrast to the simple “command” that He issued for the rest of the created order, is deliberate, as He reasons, “Let us make Adam…”  Indeed, Genesis two goes on to show that his deliberate creation is also “hands-on”—He fashioned Adam from the same material as the earth, and formed Eve from a part of Adam’s own body.  And so with confidence, we can sing out the third line of this Theotokion: “Do not despise those who were fashioned by Your hand!”

But it is in the later actions of the God-Man, those that come after many different epochs and eras, that humans come to fully understand, or see more clearly, that this Good One truly loves us.  He is, we hear, the one who was born of a Virgin for our sake and who endured the cross for us, trampling down death by death.  He is not only Good, but He is God, says the hymn:

O, Good One, you who for our sake were born of the Virgin and endured crucifixion,

Destroying death by death and revealing the Resurrection as God.

Do not despise those who were fashioned by Your hand!

 

If the wonder of the creation, and our being made after God’s image, so that He can walk and talk with us, are not enough to convince us of God’s merciful nature, then His humble dwelling among us and His suffering in the crucifixion must surely suffice! In the Incarnation and in the Crucifixion we see in the boldest form the self-giving love of God.  Yet it is hinted at to the eyes of faith, all through the Old Testament.

Perhaps the language of the prophets, and in particular, Hosea, intimates the extent to which our loving God would go to show us who He is and to bring us to Himself.  The prophet was speaking to a people—both in the north and in the south—who had gone after other gods, forgetting what the LORD had done, through the centuries, for them.  He calls out, Israel has forgotten their Maker and built palaces” (Hos 8:14 NIV). He reminds them of God’s great care by means of picture language and drama:  God actually has the prophet marry a prostitute, a symbol of His divine willingness to rescue His soiled people.  And the prophet speaks of what God had done for them, when He acted like a father:  “I led them with cords of human kindness, with ties of love. To them I was like one who lifts a little child to the cheek, and I bent down to feed them” (Hos 11:4). All this language suggests the intimate, hands-on relationship of God with His people.  But they are rebellious, idolatrous and foolish.  The prophet also speaks of God’s people in this way:  “Pains as of a woman in childbirth come to him [that is, to Israel], but he is a child without wisdom; when the time arrives, he doesn’t have the sense to come out of the womb” (Hosea 13:13).

A child, of course, who refuses to be born, and evades the touch of the midwife, will find a grave in the womb. Israel was meant to grow up, to be the light to the world, to draw others to the living God.  Instead, she turned inward, and, so to speak, died! As St. Paul says in Romans, many of the chosen people stumbled over the stumbling stone, the rock of offence.

But God can deliver even from death.  So the prophet goes on: “I will deliver this people from the power of the grave; I will redeem them from death. Where, O death, are your plagues? Where, O grave, is your destruction?”  (Hos 13: 14).  And, of course, the apostle Paul quotes this prophetic rejoicing in his letter to the Corinthians.  As those who have been grafted into the Body of Christ, we know the wonder of resurrection!  It is not just an unseen hope for us today, but something pictured by Jesus, when he rose on the third day. Again, it is Jesus first!

Indeed, most of us are not Jewish by birth, and so we know the wonder of being made from nothing—once we were no people, and now we are a people, the people of God!  (Reflect on the fact that Hosea called one of his children “not-my-people” and how it is a wonderful thing that Christ, by his death and resurrection, has opened the way for all, whether Gentile or Jew, to return to God for healing.)  He revealed the resurrection as God, as our hymn puts it, and shows His philanthropia, His great love, for the work of His hands.

Only the Maker of all, after all, had the power to reverse death, and indeed to refine the work of His hands so that it is even more glorious than it had originally been seen.  Let us remember that the resurrection was not simply a restoration of life, but the advent of a new sort of life altogether.  The OT stories of the Maccabees suggest that some Jews thought of the resurrection as a kind of mere resuscitation—one of the martyrs, for example, called Rashi, spoke before he died about not needing his intestines, which had been spilled from his body by the sword, because he would receive new ones.  But the final chapter of Daniel glimpses something more glorious: it speaks about the righteous in the resurrection shining “like the stars.” And the stories of Jesus’ resurrection show him, though corporeal, to be far more glorious than a mere mortal person.  Indeed, the Ascension clinches for us this truth: that we are not only to be restored in the resurrection, but made like the angels, or better, like God the Son. Christ is the first-fruits, the firstborn of many brothers and sisters.  Great is the hope that we have because of what He has revealed to us on the cross and in the garden on that first Pascha!

But we go on in this hymn to ask Him, yet again:

Reveal Your merciful love for mankind!

Receive the Theotokos, the one who bore you, as she represents us;

And as our Savior, save your people, who have no hope in themselves.

In our prayers we have boldness, because we have seen all that the LORD has done for our sake.  Our needs are ongoing, though, and we need to see His merciful love again and again. So we pray that He will accept, or receive the one who represents us before Him, His mother and ours.  Left to our own devices, we have no hope. As St. Paul put it, “if there is no resurrection from the dead, then we of all men are most miserable!”  But, in fact, we have seen the resurrection and the true light.  And we have seen the first glimmering of what comes of that resurrection in our Lady, who was taken body and soul into His presence as a sign of what He will do for all of us.  That one, whom He has already received, He will certainly heed as she intercedes for us.  We know that her prayers are effective, for us James puts it, “the prayer of a righteous person is powerful and effective” (5:16).  And there is no one more righteous, humanly speaking, than our holy mother!  Of course, we can ask God for forgiveness directly, and do so, week-by-week, before we receive the Mysteries, and, I hope, day-by-day in our personal prayers. But how wonderful is the greatest work of His hands, the holy Church, into which body we have been placed.

And so we gratefully and humbly ask the prayers of our brothers and sisters who love us, most especially of the one whom Jesus gave to his beloved disciple—and to all of us who are beloved—as a mother.  Our hope is not in ourselves, but in Him, and so by our prayers, and hers we remind ourselves that we constantly are in need of help.

In everything Jesus takes first place— He is our Head, As holy Mary told the servants, and tells us:  “Do what He tells you!” He reveals His love to us as we do so, and continually receives the prayers of those who love Him!

 

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *