Written by Tyler Merrill. Media by Cassandra Rieke.
“Hoka Hey,” or “today is a good day to die”, is a phrase derived from the Lakota Indian tribe. This phrase, yelled by Lakota warriors riding into battle, typically
connotes that if one dies, he can die peacefully because he has done everything in his ability to live through the battle and to see the next day. Consequently, death no longer fills the warriors with fear—quite the affect of a two-word phrase. Today, the phrase has taken on a life of its’ own. Lakota men no longer scream “Hoka Hey”, going into battle. Instead, Hoka Hey is more likely to be decorated and admired on the walls of Pinterest. But, what this statement ultimately still achieves is that—even for a moment—it forces us to think about our life as a whole. Is today a good day to die? For most, when this existential quip grabs our attention it is not on our last day on Earth. Consequently, we make temporary plans to approach life differently. Yet, like any good diet or workout plan, we cease to make it a priority in our lives. Life soon returns back to how it once was. In like manner, I’d like to suggest that Holy Week today is similar to “Hoka Hey” for Christianity. What was once literally one’s life is now largely decorated and admired as a source of our salvation. Unlike “Hoka Hey”, however, Holy Week provides the opportunity to participate in faith through Jesus Christ. We are not merely observing the life, death, and resurrection of Christ, but are being invited to take up our own cross and live in faith. In order to do so, however, it is imperative to have a deep understanding of the person of Christ. Without it we compromise our faith to that of one that is only decorated and admired on the walls of social media in this life.
Today is Good Friday because Jesus Christ was crucified, died, and was buried for our sins. However, we cannot fully grasp the salvific powers of these events if we do not address the person of Christ. One’s understanding of Christ or Christology is deeply rooted in the juxtaposition of His identity and role. Furthermore, one’s Christology informs the remainder of Christian doctrine. Consequently, it is imperative to our faith to explain Jesus’ identity and role in the Christian faith. In the New Testament Jesus is given names that accentuate how he was fully human and fully God. However, when one identifies Christ as God, they are susceptible to disregarding Jesus’ humanity. As a result, the power and mystery of the Christian faith can be diminished. The Early Christian church identified this issue at the Council of Chalcedon through the term “incarnation”. Derived from the Latin word for flesh, “incarnation” expresses that Christ is God in the living flesh. He is the savior of humanity, is worshipped, and reveals God. Thus, His life, death and resurrection cease to be merely events, but a means to salvation. Therefore, it is significant to comprehend Christ not only as God incarnate, but also as a mediator between a fallen humanity and God.
John Calvin’s Institutes of the Christian Faith systematically expound how Jesus mediates between the two (humanity & God) through His revelation and salvation. It is necessary for Christ to mediate because the fall of humanity has contaminated human reason and human will. Calvin explains that unbelief is an “act of will as much as reason; it is not simply a failure to discern the hand of God within the created order, but a deliberate decision not to discern it and not to obey God” (p. 73). Consequently, the incarnation of Christ mediates between mankind and God because humanity lacks the resources to fully discern God. Consequently, we cannot be saved on our own. Thus, the knowledge of God and the source of salvation must come from outside the human situation. Therefore, by being God incarnate Jesus allows humanity to be transformed into His likeness through grace. Calvin summarizes this point by stating that the incarnate person of Christ fulfills the three great mediatorial offices of the Old Testament: prophet, priest, and king.
The work of Dorothy Sayers furthers the notion that it is significant to know the particularities of Christ. Without deliberately examining the particulars of Christ, one voids all subsequent theologies. This is to say that all of faith relies on knowing of Christ and knowing Christ personally. The Christian faith relies on both. When one does not do diligence to Christ and His incarnational nature they liken Christianity to the ideologies of Humanism. Furthermore, when approaches faith only through human reason they neglect to comprehend how faith is a personal relationship with God.
Martin Luther’s essay The Babylonian Captivity of the Church highlights three points that make use of his ideas of the Christian faith. The three points are: 01) Faith is a personal, rather than a purely historical reference, 02) Faith concerns trust in the promises of God, and 03) Faith unites the believer to Christ. This is to say that we ought to trust that Jesus was born for us personally. Furthermore, faith is not merely belief, but rather the willingness to act and rely on God. In doing so, we are united with Christ. By being united in Christ, our sins, death and damnation are overcome with Jesus’ grace, life, and salvation. Thus, we cannot speak of our faith abstractly—especially throughout Holy Week. Rather, when we speak of faith, we ought to think of our awe-inspiring relationship with God and what he is calling us to do for His glory. Therefore, when faith is discussed this Good Friday and beyond, we ought to find strength and calling in God and His transformative relationship in our lives.
It ought not be difficult to read Luther’s three points and Calvin’s institutes as one who enjoys historical theology. However, as one who enjoys historical theology because they love history more than Christ himself, I find that the words of those who have come before me are biting. Past theologians call me out of nostalgia and into dire reflection. It is here that I realize that in my attempts to study God and the Church, I have neglected to fully appreciate the majesty of faith. Consequently, my faith is not personal, relying on Christ, and filled with treasure. Rather, as Luther states, I am trusting in historical accuracy and the wisdom of Church figures (how foolish). Thus, my personal salvation is at stake, but also how I view Jesus Christ. As of now, I do not fully trust Him with all my life, but still seek the treasures he provides through His resurrection. Therefore, I pray that this Easter weekend for those who feel similarly, can accept the Church’s invitation to begin to know, trust, confide in, and rely on Christ and can begin to fathom the treasures of being in relations with him transcend just salvation.