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The Celtic Revival: Celtic Christian Culture (8)

O holy Jesu; O gentle friend; O Morning Star; O mid-day Sun adorned; O brilliant flame of the righteous, and of righteousness and of everlasting life, and of eternity; O Fountain ever-new, ever-living, ever-lasting...

  - Anonymous, Litany of Jesus II, Irish, 15th century[1]

“For behold, the day is coming,
Burning like an oven,
And all the proud, yes, all who do wickedly will be stubble.
And the day which is coming shall burn them up,”
Says the LORD of hosts,
“That will leave them neither root nor branch.
But to you who fear My name
The Sun of Righteousness shall arise
With healing in His wings;
And you shall go out
And grow fat like stall-fed calves.”

  - Malachi 4.1, 2

J. B. Phillips wrote an important book some years ago entitled, Your God is Too Small. He was concerned that believers in his generation were holding to a skewed understanding of God. He believed their view of God was not the same as what the Scriptures present, and their faith was suffering as a result.

In this book, Phillips surveyed various misconceptions of God current in his day– the doting Grandfather in the Sky, the Cosmic Cop, and so forth. He showed that, while each of these views contained some truth, each was deficient in many ways. Unless our view of God is as big as the Scriptures teach, Phillips insisted, we will never know the full and abundant life in Christ which God promises to all who believe.

It’s a book well worth reading.

What Phillips observed about the views Christians held of God back in the ‘50s could well be applied to the view of Jesus many believers hold today. Our tendency is either to bring Jesus down to our level, reducing Him to our counselor or friend or constant companion, or to narrow the scope of Jesus’ achievement so that we end up embracing a gospel of forgiveness and eternal life, but not the Gospel of the Kingdom Jesus proclaimed.

Celtic Christians never underestimated the glory, power, and awesome might of the resurrected, reigning, and returning Jesus. On the high carved crosses that began to appear late in the period of the Celtic Revival, Jesus is often represented as the Sun, or as the Center of the vast cosmos. This is in line with His claim to be the Light of the world and Paul’s insistence that everything in the cosmos is held together in Christ (cf. Jn. 8.12; Col. 1.17). All the various panels on a carved cross show the centrality and supremacy of Christ. The great stories of the Bible and Church history, depicted on those panels, point to Him. Carvings on other panels declared the whole world to be subject to King Jesus. All the peoples of the world adore and worship Him; and all of creation arranges itself in an orderly and beautiful manner according to His rule and Word.

A Celtic carved cross is not a crucifix but a statement in celebration of the magnificence of King Jesus and His glorious power to save and renew. It presents a worldview, etched in stone, in which Jesus is both King and Center of all things.

We see this same focus reflected in other aspects of Celtic Christian culture. In the glorious illuminated Gospels of the Celtic period – the Book of Kells and the Lindisfarne Gospels – Jesus is depicted as utterly beautiful, completely at peace, and sovereign over all creation.

For more personal use, the individual litanies that appeared in the afterglow of the Celtic Revival capture some of the greatness of the Lord, as we see in the selection introducing this article. Jesus is at once deeply personal – “gentle friend” – and immensely cosmic – “mid-day Sun” – as well as intensely spiritual and life-giving in these Celtic Christian representations.

Is this the Jesus we worship? Who’s your Jesus, anyway? Is He the One Who upholds the universe and all things in it by the Word of His power? Who is putting all His enemies under His feet? Who goes forth conquering and to conquer, and rules the world with a scepter of uprightness? Who is making all things new? Yet Who continues whispering on your behalf to the Father of glory, every moment of every day?

Or is yours the gentle Jesus, meek and mild, Who would never think to demand anything of you, but only wants to forgive you and love and prepare a place for you in heaven?

When the Jesus of Scripture and our Celtic Christian forebears is our Jesus, then we will know more of the transforming grace and power they knew, and which sustained a revival of true Christianity that lasted for nearly four centuries.

For Reflection
1. We say that we know Jesus. What do we mean by that? What is it to know Jesus?

2. What can we do to keep from falling into a “too small” view of Jesus?

Psalm 2.7, 8 (Agincourt: O Love, How Deep, How Broad, How High!)
Proclaim the message far and wide, that God has exalted the Crucified!
From heav’n He sent us His only Son, Who has for us salvation won!

Lord Jesus Christ, dear beyond loving, bless me with the pure ardor of Your glorious heart, to know Your transforming grace and power, so that I might… Adapted from Oengus mac Oengobann, Féilire Oengusso

To know Him

Paul wrote that knowing Jesus truly was the driving force of his life. What does that mean? Our book, To Know Him, can help you learn to know Jesus like Paul did. Order your free copy by clicking here.

Thank you
Thanks so much to those of you who faithfully support the work of The Fellowship of Ailbe. God uses your gifts and prayers to reach thousands of people every day in over 180 countries. We praise the Lord for His having moved and enabled you to share with us in this ministry.

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T. M. Moore, Principal
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All Psalms for singing from The Ailbe Psalter. Scripture taken from the New King James Version. © Copyright 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.


[1] Plummer, Litanies, p. 41.

T.M. Moore

T. M. Moore is principal of The Fellowship of Ailbe, a spiritual fellowship in the Celtic Christian tradition. He and his wife, Susie, make their home in the Champlain Valley of Vermont.
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