Wednesday, July 28, 2021 (Day 53)

Katie Snipes Lancaster

Psalm 53 (from Robert Altar’s 2007 translation)
The scoundrel has said in his heart, “There is no God.”
They corrupt and do loathsome misdeeds.
There is none who does good.
The Lord from the heavens
looked down on the sons of humankind to see,
is there someone discerning,
someone seeking God…
There is none who does good.
There is not even one…

An Opening Word

Almost exactly the same as Psalm 14, you’ll have seen this one before if you’ve been following along. It is quite a hopeless Psalm, really. No one is righteous. No one is living God’s love. Everyone is a wrongdoer. Everyone acts dishonorably. Maybe that’s true. “All have sinned and fall short” (Romans 3:23). It’s a theme that gets repeated in scripture, especially when the authors of the texts despair at the state of the world. Maybe you feel a kinship to this Psalmist on the mornings when the newspapers are particularly full of heartlessness. Or, maybe, if you were in charge, you’d just delete this one from our sacred library (edited out because of its hopelessness). I guess, for me, it is encouraging that the Bible isn’t all rainbows and puppy dogs and saccharine positivity (though, exclusively erring on the side of dismal is no better). It points to a balanced theological worldview, a diverse set of texts in line with the multiplicity of reality.

There’s part of me, too, that loves reading about ancient church controversy. Maybe it makes me feel less alone (being a Christian in the 21st century can be a challenge, yes?). Mystic and church leader deeply admired by the Orthodox Church, Athanasius of Alexandria, was born in Egypt around 293 and quietly grew in prominence as a Christian leader, attending the monumental Council of Nicea, and participating in the theological debates surrounding the nature of Christ. Somewhere along the line, he got on the emperor’s bad side, and was exiled to the Rhineland (approximately modern day Germany). When the emperor died, he was able to return home, only to be exiled again by the emperor’s son who ascended to power. He took refuge first in Rome, then among the monks in the deserts of Upper Egypt (south on the Nile River). Every time his exile was lifted, he was welcomed home with open arms as a hero, but he never seemed to be able to stay home for long. Back and forth from exile, his theology deepened, and he became attuned to God in a unique way.

One of the major theological fights at the time concerned Christ’s divinity. Was Jesus God? Was Jesus partially divine? Was Jesus just plain human? Athanasius’ words below offer his theological perspective on that question, and offer all of us an equally new and familiar entryway into the meaning of Christ’s life.

Prayer from the Mystics: Athanasius of Alexandria (293–373)
Thus by what seems Christ’s utter poverty and weakness on the cross
Christ overturns the pomp and parade of idols,
and quietly and hiddenly wins over
the mockers and unbelievers
to recognize him as God.

May God meet us quietly and hiddenly too, Amen.