For the Life of the World 3

First, here is the link to Deacon Michael Hyatt’s  podcast, At the Intersection of East and West, which goes along with today’s post.

Today’s post covers sections 3 and 4 of the second chapter of For the Life of the World. After looking at the centrality of joy, we look at the journey of the liturgy of the Eucharist.

The liturgy of the Eucharist is best understood as a journey or procession. It is the journey of the Church into the dimension of the Kingdom. We use the word “dimension” because it seems the best way to indicate the manner of our sacramental entrance into the risen life of Christ. Color transparencies “come alive” when viewed in three dimensions instead of two. The presence of the added dimension allows us to see much better the actual reality of what has been photographed. In very much the same way, though of course any analogy is condemned to fail, our entrance into the presence of Christ is an entrance into a fourth dimension which allows us to see the ultimate reality of life. It is not an escape from the world, rather it is the arrival at a vantage point from which we can see more deeply into the reality of the world.

I’ve always perceived reality as a journey, so the language of movement, of journey, feels more true to me than not. He describes this journey beginning when Christians leave their homes and beds.

The purpose of this “coming together” is not simply to add a religious dimension to the natural community, to make it “better” — more responsible, more Christian. The purpose is to fulfill the Church, and that means to make present the One in whom all things are at their end, and all things are at their beginning.

Jesus calls himself the alpha and the omega, the beginning and the end. And if he is the beginning and end of anything, he is the beginning and end of all things. We aren’t coming together to “be fed” (a strange expression I’ve heard in an SBC context regarding listening to a sermon — I don’t know how common or widespread it is) or to be “discipled” or “trained”, though all of that and more may happen. It is not the central purpose.

We always want to make Christianity “understandable” and “acceptable” to this mythical “modern” man on the street. And we forget that the Christ of whom we speak is “not of this world,” and that after His resurrection He was not recognized even by his own disciples.

My background has been pluralistic enough that the idea that there’s anything we could do to make Christianity “understandable” or “acceptable” to the casual observer has always struck me as bizarre. I understand Father Schmemann’s insistence that Christianity is the end of all religion, but as you approach it, you will consider it a religion. And it’s fairly strange even by the standards of any world religion, much less by those who insist on a secular nature to reality. Christianity seems strange to people because it is strange. Life and joy and love may draw you into it, but there’s nothing that feels normal about Christianity to anyone who is not Christian.

I like his point that the resurrected Jesus is unrecognizable even to those who have known him for years and loved him save when he desires to be known. Go back and read the Resurrection narratives and feel how strange they truly are. They are unlike anything else in cult or history. Father Schmemann takes it further.

There was no physical imperative to recognize Him. He was, in other words, no longer a “part” of this world, of its reality, and to recognize Him, to enter into the joy of His presence, to be with Him, meant a conversion to another reality. The Lord’s glorification does not have the compelling, objective evidence of His humiliation and cross. His glorification is known only through the mysterious death in the baptismal font, through the anointing of the Holy Spirit. It is known only in the fullness of the Church, as she gathers to meet the Lord and to share in His risen life. The early Christians realized that in order to become the temple of the Holy Spirit they must ascend to heaven where Christ has ascended.

Of course, by heaven, we do not refer to some other reality. We are not leaving this world for some other. One need only read the end of Revelation to put that common misconception to the lie. Heaven is never farther than a breath away and at the same time greater the largest sea. It is veiled from us today through the mercy of God. We often think of ascension as rising upwards, but the more common usage in the ancient world would have been for a king or an emperor to ascend to his throne, to take power. And “clouds” in Jewish imagery represent the presence of God.

We gather so that as the ecclesia we can become the temple of the Holy Spirit.

To leave, to come … This is the beginning, the starting point of the sacrament, the condition of its transforming power and reality.

This is the doxology that opens the Divine Liturgy of the Orthodox Church.

Blessed is the Kingdom of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, now and ever, and unto ages of ages.

From the beginning the destination has been announced: the journey is to the Kingdom. This is where we are going — and not symbolically, but really.

Amen. We agree. We should be careful not to voice our agreement unless we really intend to make the journey. If a worship service of any sort is not a journey, why are we bothering to meet at all? Amen is one of the most important words in the world.

It is Christ’s gift to us, for only in Him can we say Amen to God, or rather He himself is our Amen to God and the Church is an Amen to Christ. Upon this Amen the fate of the human race is decided. It reveals that the movement toward God has begun.

We are left here at the beginning. We’ll proceed farther on the journey next week. But the artist in me appreciates Father Schmemann’s note that beauty is never “necessary”, “functional”, or “useful”. But it is human. And if we did not love beauty or if we worshiped a God who did not love beauty, we would be other and less than human.

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