Who: Leo the Great, also known as Pope St. Leo I (the Great), was Pope from 440-61 AD. Place and date of birth unknown; died 10 November, 461. Leo's pontificate, next to that of St. Gregory I, is the most significant and important in Christian antiquity, as he tried to combat the heresies which seriously threatened church unity even in the West, such as Pelagianism.
What: A sermon on the Gospel, incarnation and resurrection of our Lord.
Why: To encourage the Church in the power of the incarnation and the true faith and the nature of Christ and to give a new meaning to Passover in light of Jesus
When: Between 440 and 461 AD
You can find today’s reading on page 195 here: lentfatherscomplete.pdf
Here we are, at the final day of Lent. I hope you've found it an interesting journey through Church History, covering various authors and topics from the first four centuries of the Church. And what better way to end this series than with a sermon on the resurrection!
“The whole of the Easter mystery, dearly-beloved, has been brought before us in the Gospel narrative”, Leo declares as the opening statement of this sermon.
What is this Easter mystery? “The cross of Christ, which was set up for the salvation of mortals” which is both a “mystery and an example” for us to follow. It's “a sacrament where by the Divine power takes effect” and “an example whereby man's devotion is excited” to be “inseparably united to” Christ, who is “the Way that is of holy living, the Truth of Divine doctrine, and the Life of eternal happiness (Jn 14:6).
Christ took our nature upon Him for our salvation
In the beginning, when the “whole body of mankind had fallen”, our merciful God had purposed in himself to make a way to reconcile “His creatures made after His image [...] through His only-begotten Jesus Christ”.
Leo goes on to say that if we had not fallen from how God made us, we'd have been happy; but now we can be happier if we remain in what he has remade us to be through his Spirit.
Jesus was “excluded [from] all taint of the sin which has passed upon all men”, that taint being “weakness and mortality, which were not sin, but the penalty of sin”. The “Redeemer of the World” suffered these things for our sake, “that they might be reckoned as the price of redemption”.
In us is the “heritage of condemnation”, but in Christ is the “mystery of godliness” (1 Tim 3:16)
Through the enemy, Jesus had “His spotless flesh” tortured. Because of this, because Jesus willingly went to die for us, now “believers in Him might find neither persecution intolerable, nor death terrible, by the remembrance that there was no more doubt about their sharing His glory than there was about His sharing their nature”.
Set your minds on things that are above
Following on with the previous thought, Leo goes on to explain that, “in Christ we are crucified, we are dead, we are buried; on the very third day, too, we are raised”; which is why Paul writes to the Colossians,
So if you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth, for you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God. When Christ who is your life is revealed, then you also will be revealed with him in glory.
We achieve this raising by the power of Christ with us, who lifts us up, because he is with us, as he promised: “I am with you always, to the end of the age” (Matt 28:20). This in itself fulfills the promise that his own name means, prophesied by Isaiah when he said, they “ ... shall name him Immanuel” (Isa 7:14), which means “God with us”.
But even in Christ's ascending, he has not forsaken us, because even though he sits at “the right hand of God” (Acts 2:32-33), he also dwells within the whole Body of believers (Eph 1:22-23).
“Christ's victory is assuredly ours” then, just as we should expect since Jesus has “conquered the world!” (Jn 16:33). Whatever we battle against in this world, whether lust or greed, or heresy, “let us arm ourselves always with the Lord's Cross” so that our “Paschal feast will never end” by abstaining from the “leaven of wickedness” and having the mind of Christ (1 Cor 2:16).
The nature of the incarnation
For only those who hold to the correct view of the incarnation can properly appreciate Easter and the Lord’s Passover, Leo says. In explaining this he gives a sort of creedal statement similar to the Nicene Creed, which I’ll quote in full to demonstrate, because I think it is worth repeating:
For the Son of God is true God, having from the Father all that the Father is, with no beginning in time, subject to no sort of change, undivided from the One God, not different from the Almighty, the eternal Only-begotten of the eternal Father; so that the faithful intellect believing in the Father and the Son and the Holy Ghost in the same essence of the one Godhead, neither divides the Unity by suggesting degrees of dignity, nor confounds the Trinity by merging the Persons in one.
When Jesus emptied himself for our sake and restoration (Philippians 2:5-8), it was not for the loss of power, but for compassion; “the Invisible made His substance visible, the Intemporal temporal, the Impassible passible: not that power might sink into weakness, but that weakness might pass into indestructible power”, for there is no other name under heaven by which we are saved (Acts 4:12)!
A new meaning for Passover
Quoting John 13:1, Leo reinterprets Passover as now meaning that it was about the time when Jesus should “pass out of this world unto the Father”. In terms of his nature at this time, he goes on to say that, “because the Word and the Flesh is one Person, the Assumed is not separated from the Assuming nature”, therefore it promotes our nature as one which will one day be glorified in the resurrection.
And to “share in this unspeakable gift”, the Lord, ahead of his Passion prepared a “blessed passing over for His faithful ones” and the whole Church who were yet to come, by his prayer in John 17:20-21 for total unity with one another and with God, as he and the Father were one (Jn 14:20).
Only true believers can keep the Easter Festival
Those who deny the true nature of the Son of God, and that he himself is also True God, can have no part in this divine union nor in the Easter Festival. True Christians, accepting the Creed and the deity of Christ, “rightly exult and devoutly rejoice in this sacred season” of Lent and Easter (or Pascha), and “have no doubt about Christ's Birth according to the flesh, His Passion and Death, and the Resurrection of His body … who was truly born of a Virgin's womb, truly hung on the wood of the cross, truly laid in an earthly tomb, truly raised in glory, truly set on the right hand of the Father's majesty”!
But our citizenship is in heaven, and it is from there that we are expecting a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ. He will transform the body of our humiliation that it may be conformed to the body of his glory, by the power that also enables him to make all things subject to himself.
That marks the end of this Lenten series, I hope you’ve enjoyed it throughout these forty days. Enjoy your Resurrection Sunday – HE IS RISEN!