What do we mean when we speak of the Person of Jesus Christ?
Christ be with me, Christ within me,
Christ behind me, Christ before me,
Christ beside me, Christ to win me,
Christ to comfort and restore me.
Christ beneath me, Christ above me,
Christ in quiet, Christ in danger,
Christ in hearts of all that love me,
Christ in mouth of friend and stranger. (i)
When we speak of the person of Christ, we must have a knowledge of God, and His love for His creation, or else we will misunderstand the Person of Christ, along with His purpose in coming among us. Christ did not come among us to find out what it is to be human, nor did He come to us to temper an angry God, He came as the one promised, the one that would bring the kingdom, the one who would repair the separation between creation and creator, the one who would create a Church for all, and finally the one that would mediate God’s presence to all creation.
As the poem that founds the hymn, St. Patrick’s Breastplate shows us clearly that Christ is all encompassing. This speaks to God’s wish to be with His creation. God is love, and He made creation to share that love. This is an absolute, and must be the basis for all theology, otherwise we slip into heresies too many to count. Love is the reason, all starts with love, and all ends with love. As we study the beginnings of mankind, the garden, man’s relation with God, and finally man’s disobedience, we see a God that acts with love in every action. From the moment of the expulsion from the garden, man lamented his sinful action, and yearned for God. This was not an unrequited love, God yearned for humankind. God would not leave His creation; Jesus in the Old Testament times is the promise that once again mankind would walk with God. Jesus was hope for redemption found in the Word of God, and in the mouths of God’s chosen prophets. Jesus, prior to the Incarnation, was the Logos who was comfort to all that sought God, He was the lighthouse to a ship lost in a storm.
Before the Christ event, man was most formal with God, not even speaking His name. God set rules for His creation and it was man’s obligation to follow. Breaking commandments was a grave offense that could not be corrected, only appeased through sacrifice. The idea of a personal relationship with God was foreign to most at the coming of Christ. This fact unfortunately bred a rote adherence to God’s law, obeying to obey, not for love of the law giver. This view of the law brought demigods, who would punish those who were outcast or less fortunate
The person of Jesus at the incarnation was the embodiment of change and reform. All creation would receive a stark reminder that God was love, and in love He sent His only Son. Eternal as the Father, second person of the Trinity humbled Himself to be born of a virgin, virgin before, during and after the birth of Christ by divine miracle. Jesus was fully man and fully God, a hypostasis that to many would seem impossible, but the incarnation truly showed to all the power and love of God. Jesus was self-aware as divine and would herald the coming of the kingdom of God, setting a table of love in the face of hate. Jesus from the beginning of His earthly ministry would show solidarity with those who were outcast, in prison and sick. Mankind was not created as Narcissus, to gaze at his own beauty, instead God created us with love in order to share that love with all. This means sharing love with the one without a cloak as in Luke:
Luke 6:29-31 To him who strikes you on the cheek, offer the other also; and from him who takes away your coat do not withhold even your shirt. Give to everyone who begs from you; and of him who takes away your goods do not ask them again. And as you wish that men would do to you, do so to them. (ii)
As well as a different type of love found in Thessalonians:
2 Thessalonians 3:10 For even when we were with you, we gave you this command: If anyone will not work, let him not eat. (iii)
Love is not simply a hug or a kiss, it is indeed a true way to deal with all facets of life, this was Jesus as He lived and taught on earth. Here we must stop and understand that Jesus was not a pacifist, though He did instruct us to always discuss our problems before taking up arms. Augustine, and later Aquinas would take up this teaching and show that Jesus found love in many forms, some gentle, some not. The person of Christ in His incarnation was the picture of family, of solidarity with the poor, of protector of God’s creation from those who would exploit it.
The person of Jesus was sacrificial. The wages of sin was death, and that could not be undone. But through the Divine plan of salvation Jesus would repair the brokenness of humankind and allow God to once again come close to His creation. Though death remained, the power of God through the Holy Spirit’s indwelling would allow mankind to begin the restoration of all of creation in cooperation with God. This salvation, brought through a loving sacrifice, was and is available to all mankind, bringing salvation to all in whatever state they find themselves. This free gift is the most powerful proof of God’s love for us that mankind has ever seen. Open to all is the opportunity to be lifted out of darkness and sin and be in an instance transformed and healed. Though salvation is a free gift, it is only applicable to those who believe and actively practice their faith. Those who do not believe or chose to turn their back on the Church have the freedom to reject this great gift.
Love cannot operate from a distance. Once Jesus had left the earth for the right hand of God, mankind would again be alone. God knew this from the beginning, and Jesus before He left would create His Church. The person of Jesus is found in the Church.
Jesus left a sacramental economy in place within His Church. These sacraments are all very real means of and to Christ and His grace. The Church stands as a beacon to all of who Christ is and what He did for us. From the baptismal font at the door, reminding us of God’s salvation coming through water, to the crucifix on the wall behind the altar reminding us of the salvific act of love Jesus offered to us on the cross, the Church stands as a beacon of Christ and His love. But a beacon only gives vision, and vision is always in some way separated from the viewer, and this simply was not close enough for God. The Church therefore was gifted the sacraments in order to mediate God’s presence to all humanity. Whether this mediation be through the priest “in persona Christi” or through the love of marriage or through the mysteries of the Eucharist, Jesus is truly present, and God is intimately close. The Church is not simply a building for self-help groups, it is the very real presence of God to His creation. As I began this section saying, the person of Jesus is found in the Church, I should end the section explaining that reality. The Church, the people of Christ, are the bride of Christ. In good times Jesus can be seen very clearly through gazing at that bride, but if that bride is not diligent about her prayers and disciplines, that vision glorious can be distorted. Our assurance lies in the fact that the efficacy of the sacraments does not rely on the actions, good or bad, of the people that make up the Church. As long as proper Holy Orders reside in the Church, God will be very real and present to the faithful, even in the worst of times.
Lastly, the person of Christ is the lasting presence that Jesus partakes in to all of creation. Jesus showed us that God does not wish to be a distant God, He wants to be present with His creation, in a loving way. As we look about creation, we see God’s love in every sunrise and sunset, in every infant and every act of kindness. God’s presence is within His church certainly, but we see Christ’s presence everywhere, a lasting after-image of Jesus and His miraculous works. An after image that is not fading but ever present and ever strengthening with every redeemed soul.
Christ, just as God, wishes to be in every facet of our lives; with me, behind me, before me, beside me, to win me, to comfort and to restore me; beneath me, above me, in quiet and in danger, in hearts of all that love me, in mouth of friend and stranger. The person of Christ is the Person of the Divine Trinity that ensures that in all situations I am either loved and encouraged or stretched or disciplined. The person of Christ is the very vision of the Father, showing the divine love to all who would ask. He is the redeemer of all through His sacrificial loving acts. He is the alpha and the omega, the beginning and end, and He will be our judge at the particular and general judgements.
[i] St. Patrick’s Breastplate, Charles Villiers Stanford, 1902
[ii] Catholic Biblical Association (Great Britain). (1994). The Holy Bible: Revised Standard Version, Catholic edition (Lk 6:29–31). New York: National Council of Churches of Christ in the USA.
(iii] Catholic Biblical Association (Great Britain). (1994). The Holy Bible: Revised Standard Version, Catholic edition (2 Th 3:10). New York: National Council of Churches of Christ in the USA.