“Who his own self bare our sins in his own body on the tree, that we, being dead to sins, should live unto righteousness: by whose stripes ye were healed.” I Peter 2:24
“Whereby given unto us exceeding great and precious promises: that by these ye might be partakers of the divine nature…” II Peter 1:5
As a winged monarch butterfly emerges from the state of being a worm, the fact of the matter is that the worm was made to become a monarch butterfly. It is the nature of the worm to end up with splendid wings and to float free as a cloud. Analogously, Christians, the children of God, have a destiny that includes our whole selves, material bodies and all, emerging to behold God in his splendid beauty, face-to-face, ourselves transformed as well as creatures of beauty, agility and unimagined powers, and yet recognized by one another for who we have been as well as who we have become in a state of grace. That state of being is one to which the Church Fathers consistently gave the name “deification.” This understanding of our destiny has been nearly lost in the western Church and we need to retrieve it for our good and God’s glory.
Remember this rule: “Grace perfects nature, it does not annihilate nature.” Supernatural grace enables human beings to fulfill the destiny for which they were created, thus supernatural grace is necessary for perfecting our nature. It is a puzzle that our natural destiny requires a supernatural means. The emergence of a monarch butterfly from a worm is the destiny of the worm. It is not contrary to its nature for the worm to become a monarch butterfly, rather it is contrary to its nature not to become a monarch butterfly. A worm that lives its whole life among milkweed plants sluggishly crawling from one leaf to another only to eventually fall from the plant and die dark soil would be contrary to nature in the sense of which I am speaking. But keep in mind that this is only analogous to our deification. The monarch’s metamorphosis is entirely natural; worms do not have to be baptized in order to become monarch butterflies and to achieve their destiny. But human beings require a state of supernatural grace to realize our natural destiny, a destiny that does not change our nature as human beings, as deified creatures who will behold God face-to-face which traditionally is called the beatific vision. Grace perfects our nature, enabling us to realize our destiny as children of God participating in the divine nature of the God who is God. Call to mind that when I speak of grace, the grace of God given to us, I am speaking of our participation in the divine nature of God. The state of grace is participation in the life of God which is what the other text I have cited from II Peter 1:4 declares:
“Whereby are given unto us exceeding great and precious promises: that by these ye might be partakers of the divine nature…”
That means that the things promised, not merely the act of making a promise — the things promised are the means, as instruments, by which we are made “partakers of the divine nature.” The epistle for this Sunday declares that our sins and disobediences were born by Jesus the Messiah in his human nature, body and all, upon the Cross.
“Who his own self bare our sins in his own body on the tree, that we, being dead to sins, should live unto righteousness: by whose stripes ye healed.” I Peter 2:24
Here is presented to the children of God our first and most intimate connection to the 2nd Person of the Blessed Trinity achieved by the grace and virtue of his Incarnation. As the writer of the Book of Hebrews says:
“Forasmuch then as the children are partakers of flesh and blood, he also himself likewise took part of the same… For verily he took not on him the nature of angels; but he took on him the seed of Abraham.” Hebrews 2:16
Our connection to the Son is precious and intimate because he has, like us, in loving solidarity with us, become a partaker of our flesh and blood. And that very thing was accomplished in the Incarnation through the flesh of his Mother, the Blessed Virgin Mary. God has become flesh of our flesh and thus we have a true connection, a material connection, an intimate connection in our mutual flesh. And realize this most profound truth: our very human nature, body and all that once hung upon the Cross, this day participates in the interior life of God the blessed Trinity. Human nature, body and all, has become God, taken up into the life of the God who is God, without annihilating Jesus’ human nature. It is because human nature, body and all, has been assumed into the life of God, that we human beings may now participate in the life of God. We have to have some way in and his human nature is our way in. This is what is meant by salvation. We too frequently think of salvation as salvation from sin without remainder. And yes, we are saved from our sins, but that is not the only reason for the Incarnation. Salvation in the most complete sense of the word means to be made whole, to grow into our full potential as human beings, to realize our destiny as deified creatures destined for the beatific vision, destined to behold God face-to-face. That is our true beatitude, our true happiness, our portion as human beings, the perfection of our nature by grace.
How does that happen, how do we actually participate in the divine life of God? The way we normally begin to participate in the life of God is though our incorporation into the human nature of Jesus Christ. The way we are normally incorporated into the human nature of Jesus Christ is through Holy Baptism and once incorporated we are nurtured in the Church as we appropriate the other sacraments especially the Holy Communion. So here are the two chief sacraments of the Church, the two means of grace, the means of participation in the divine life, the means born of the Savior’s will. Here are the “exceeding great and precious promises” by which we become partakers, participants in the divine nature of our Lord Jesus Christ. Now I want to show you how this promise is contained and realized through the liturgy of the Holy Communion. This is when and where it happens.
After the sermon the celebrant goes to the Altar where he begins the offertory by doing specific things with the assistance of an acolyte who brings to him first the bread box. The celebrant will remove the number of hosts he wishes to consecrate and places them upon a white linen called a “corporal.” When that is done his acolyte brings the cruets of water and wine to the Altar. You see this every Sunday. The celebrant first pours the amount of wine into the chalice that he wishes to consecrate and then the acolyte holds up the cruet of water for a blessing. After blessing the water the priest pours a small amount it into the chalice of wine an action that brings to our minds the water and blood that flowed from our Lord’s side at Calvary. After mixing the chalice the celebrant in a low voice says this prayer which was inspired by St. Athanasius’ teaching on the Incarnation:
“God, who didst wonderfully create, and yet more wonderfully renew the dignity of the nature of man: Grant that by the mystery of this water and wine we may be made partakers of his divinity who vouchsafed to become partaker of our humanity, even Jesus Christ thy Son our Lord; who liveth and reigneth with thee in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, world without end. Amen.”
That prayer goes back to the forth century liturgy in Rome. From the beginning the Church has taken the mixing of the chalice at the offertory as signifying two things: first the human and the divine natures of our Lord Jesus Christ – the wine signifying the divine nature and the water signifying the human nature of our Lord. Secondly, as early as St. Cyprian and Pope Julius in the early 300s the water was taken to signify the people of God and the mixing indicates the participation of the Christian in the divine life of our Lord. All Catholic and Eastern Orthodox Churches require a mixed chalice of water and wine at the celebration of any eucharist — it is not optional. If you attend a service and the celebrant does not mix the chalice that probably means one of two things. First it may mean that the minister and the church in which this service is occurring are ignorant of the right way to celebrate the Holy Communion and that in my opinion would not inspire much confidence in that minister or jurisdiction. But it may be that the minister and the church are not ignorant of the mixed chalice but they do not believe what we believe about Jesus. I am not saying that is necessarily the case, but it is peculiar that such a venerable, ancient, and universal tradition is eschewed. Luther rejected the mixed chalice and so did most churches of the Reformation and that may point to a defective understanding of the Person of Jesus Christ. If they deliberately do not mix the wine with water and they know better it may be that they hold beliefs about Jesus the Messiah that are erroneous.
Everything that matters depends on this: Jesus Christ is God and this God became a real human being. He has always been God and he always will be God but has not always been a human being and he became a human being just like all of us: he had a Mother. In fact he became Mary’s flesh; as sure as you are the flesh of your mother, God became the flesh his His Mother, thus the Church’s august title for Mary is Theotokos: “Mother of God.” As sure as your blood is blood from your mother, so the blood that flowed down the Cross was the blood from the Blessed Virgin Mary which is to say our blood. Furthermore God’s human flesh, his human nature, is now part and parcel of God’s reality and it always will be. He will never cease to be a human being. In Genesis we have the narrative of man made in the image of God while in life of Jesus Christ we have the narrative of God made in the image of man. In the story of God’s life made flesh we see not only the uncreated glory of the only begotten Son, but we also see the created glory of his creature man uplifted as God had always intended. The Incarnation was not merely God’s response to sin; the Incarnation is not God’s backup plan; the Incarnation is God’s perfect will, his loving will to enable his creature man to participate in his divine life, to enable his creature man to realize our destiny for the beatific vision, to behold God face-to-face. And that has always been God’s intention.