Sunday, June 01, 2014

The Head That Once Was Crowned With Thorns

If you search this site for posts on the Ascension, you will find quite a few. It's a holy day that I rarely miss at least mentioning, even if I fit a post only into the octave (as in this case). The feast of the Ascension has always seemed to me one of the most unqualifiedly joyful of the church feasts. It's like the great ending to a story. The author of the epistle of the Hebrews says,

Who being the brightness of his glory, and the express image of his person, and upholding all things by the word of his power, when he had by himself purged our sins, sat down on the right hand of the Majesty on high. (Hebrews 1:4)

And then there is the Psalmist:

Lift up your heads, O ye gates; and be ye lift up, ye everlasting doors; and the King of glory shall come in. (Psalm 24:7)

St. Paul:

Wherefore God also hath highly exalted him, and given him a name which is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of things in heaven, and things in earth, and things under the earth; and that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father. (Philippians 2:9-11)
We all know that, in terms of the history of God's work here on earth, there is a lot more to the story. But every story has chapters or sections, and when Jesus ascends to heaven to sit down at the right hand of the Father, to take up His place in His human body as the king of glory, that is a good ending to a huge and important section.

It occurred to me today to wonder what exactly it looked like when Jesus entered into heaven at His ascension. I mean to be precise here: As far as we know, the second Person of the Godhead is now permanently incarnate. That seems to have been the point of Jesus' resurrection in a glorified body. It seems to be an implication of Paul's teaching about Christ as the firstfruits of the resurrection of the dead (I Corinthians 15).

If this is correct, this means that Jesus continues to exist in some sense in time. (Naturally this question occurred to me given my recent work on God and the philosophy of time.) If one has a body, one is automatically in time. We don't know for sure whether angels are strictly disembodied. I gather Christian tradition has varied on whether angels are always disembodied except when they take on bodies to carry messages to human beings and do other work on earth for which a body is required, or whether they always have bodies. But Scripture is clear that angels can have bodies, if only temporarily. So now we have Our Lord incarnate, in a body, and merely created beings, the angels, capable of being embodied. And we also have the holy dead from the time up to Jesus' ascension. They would not be embodied, because the resurrection has not yet taken place for them. But they would be temporal creatures who naturally experience sequentially by way of the senses, and it is entirely reasonable to think of their existence as having some sort of form and sequence to it. Indeed, Jesus seems to allude to Abraham's knowledge of the Son prior to Jesus' incarnation when He says, "Abraham rejoiced to see my day, and he saw it, and was glad."

We can even take it that there must be some place where Jesus, incarnate, now exists and reigns, though in an important sense it must be "another world," a different space-time realm, from our own.

Putting all of this together, one can conjecture, though it is only a conjecture, that there may have been some sort of grand coronation scene at the Ascension, involving angels, the souls of the blessed dead, and Our Lord Himself in His incarnate body. I would love to have been there.

As usual, it is impossible to find a really strong choral version of some of the greatest hymns, but here are a couple of "The Head That Once Was Crowned With Thorns."

Even though it's only forty-five seconds long and doesn't include the first verse, I am charmed by the whole idea of a group's getting up at seven a.m. to go to the top of a tower in London and sing this hymn in honor of the Feast of the Ascension. So kudos to this British church choir:

Here is a fuller version:

And here are the wonderful words by Thomas Kelly:

1 The head that once was crowned with thorns
is crowned with glory now;
a royal diadem adorns
the mighty Victor’s brow.
2 The highest place that heav'n affords
is his, is his by right,
the King of kings and Lord of lords,
and heav'n’s eternal light--
3 the joy of all who dwell above,
the joy of all below,
to whom he manifests his love,
and grants his name to know.
4 To them the cross with all its shame,
with all its grace, is giv'n,
their name, an everlasting name,
their joy, the joy of heav'n.
5 They suffer with their Lord below,
they reign with him above,
their profit and their joy to know
the mystery of his love.
6 The cross he bore is life and health,
though shame and death to him;
his people's hope, his people's wealth,
their everlasting theme!


Kristor said...

I love this notion of Jesus embodied being in an actual throne room somewhere, together with the angels, saints and martyrs. See, this is one of the great things about Christianity: you get the One of Plotinus and Philo, the Brahman, the Supra-Personal Godhead of Dionysius - and you get the embodied God, as solid as Thor, capable of bleeding and eating.

Way I see it, if the One can be embodied at Nazareth, there's nothing to prevent him from being embodied in any other world. It isn't as though time and place somehow drive out eternity, so that they are not denizens of it.

Lydia McGrew said...

Thanks much, Kristor. I could be wrong about that, of course, but if Jesus is permanently incarnate now, He has to be *somewhere*, and in that case the notion of physical pomp becomes not so far-fetched at all.

Kristor said...

The coronation scene is described by an eyewitness in John's Apocalypse. Peter Leithart recapitulates it here:

Kristor said...

PS: NB that there seems to be no problem with Jesus of Nazareth having the body of a lamb. It would be odd if omnipotence were constrained to incarnation in only one sort of body, or in only one body at a time.

Lydia McGrew said...

Yes, I often find it easy to make the semi-exasperated comment that I don't know what is literal and what is "just a vision" in the Apocalypse, but those scenes definitely take on new meaning when one contemplates the idea that Jesus is really incarnate in a place.

Kristor said...

It's Heaven that's real. By comparison to Heaven, it's this world that's "just a vision."

Lydia McGrew said...

Kristor, you are a Christian Platonist par excellence. And I mean that as a compliment. "It's all in Plato, all in Plato. Bless me, what do they teach the children in the schools these days?"

Kristor said...

Hah! Quite. But, having been exposed to Professor Digory from an early age, how could I be otherwise?

It's funny. The older I get, the more concrete the Ideas seem to me, and the more evanescent this sublunary vale. I.e., the more I get like Digory, and the less like Susan.