This is part two of a sermon delivered by Father Martin Johnson on February 28 at All Souls Anglican Church, in Wheaton, IL. Part 1 ran yesterday. We’re thankful for Martin’s kindness in allowing us to post his sermon.
Long, long before the Cross became the symbol of Christ, His first followers would reveal themselves to one another as they faced daily their Cross with this most ancient image of the Christ: not the Cross – but Ichtus, Greek for ‘fish’; ΙΧΘΥΣ, iota chi theta|us. It is an acronym: iesus christos theos: Jesus, the Anointed One, God.
We too adopt this code as we paste the monogram on the rear bumpers of our SUVs. For the first Christians in Northern Britain life was no less dangerous than those earliest Christians; opportunities for martyrdom abounded. For them, then, this Christ-fish was the salmon.
Salmon, as is generally known, have a life-cycle that takes them from the rivers and streams in which they are born, to the Ocean, from fresh water to salt water, and then back again, back upstream to the very place they were born. How they do that, find their way from the broad, deep immensity of the Ocean, Atlantic or Pacific, to the headwaters of their own particular stream, is a mystery. They make their way, from the depths of the sea, to the mouth of the stream, then upstream, which means, against the stream, through rapids, sometimes even leaping over waterfalls, and, once upstream, in the still headwaters of their birth, they breed, lay their eggs, and – within a week – they die.
They go home; they make their way Home, to die; and to give life. I grew up in the shadow of Vancouver’s coastal mountains, these brooding giants of granite, glowering green, looming out of the Pacific Ocean, their heads buried in the clouds, and I grew up within walking distance of one of the region’s most prolific salmon rivers. When in 1954, the gorge which this river had cut over millennia of time was sealed, at a point upstream, where the channel was particularly deep and narrow, a reservoir was made, or made itself, so that the thirst of the City of Vancouver for pure drinking water might be slaked. The salmon soon discovered that the 300 foot high wall of concrete and masonry was frustrating their annual migration. Accordingly, to accommodate the salmon – and the salmon fishermen – an aquatic ladder was tunneled through the granite, so that the salmon could complete their journey home.
Through plate-glass walls, you can actually watch the fish, thrashing and thrusting against the current, in this extraordinary struggle of life and death; of life against death; of life out of death.
J Phillip Newell writes:
The salmon, strong and glistening with vitality, swims hundreds
of miles in the open sea and climbs thousands of feet in the
torrents of mighty rivers to give new life. And in spawning new
life, it dies. Christ, the Salmon of Wisdom, the One who gives
Himself for the birthing of new life.
The sight of those fish fighting for their lives, to swim – against the stream – against a stream which would have swept any of the rest of us out into Burrard Inlet – swimming for all their lives, so that they could die. So that, giving life, they could give up theirs: That is the image of Christ. No, it is no mere image; Imago Dei: this is the Christ Himself, having entered His creation.
In Newells’ words:
There was no other reason for [Him] to swim against the tide.
There was no other reason for [Him] to give all [His] glistening
strength to the journey. [He] came unbidden, with unbounded
longing … Christ is the bright, beautiful, blessed Salmon. Love
comes freely from the heart of life, with costly longing.
Unbounded longing; the longing that others, too, that the whole world, yearning and groaning in the stagnant slough of this world’s deep despond, might be set free; free to be reborn, free to seek the deep and open oceans of God’s truth and love; free to set our faces, again, to that place of death and resurrection; to swim against the current, to go against the flow, to find, not just a ladder; but a Cross.
And there, at the life-source of God’s Living waters to give our lives for Christ; and to give His Life to others.