For the Life of the World 6

This week I’ll reflect on sections 9-16 of the second chapter of For the Life of the World. But first, the link to Deacon Michael Hyatt’s  podcast to which I’m listening as I read the book.

The book now moves into that part of the liturgy called variously the Liturgy of the Faithful, the Liturgy of the Table, or the Liturgy of the Eucharist. In the book, Fr. Schmemman treats the transition not as a new liturgy, but simply as another transition in the Divine Liturgy. I have noticed that Orthodoxy seems to make less of a distinction between the first part of the liturgy and the second than I’ve found to be common in Western liturgies. Part of that, I’m sure, is due to the sacramental manner in which the Gospels and the reading of the Holy Scriptures are treated, something to which Fr. Schmemman earlier referred.

“Let us lift up our hearts,” says the celebrant, and the people answer: “We have lifted them up to the Lord.” The Eucharist is the anaphora, the “lifting up” of our offering, and of ourselves. It is the ascension of the Church to heaven. “But what do I care about heaven,” says St. John Chrysostom, “when I myself have become heaven …?”

We give thanks and we lift up ourselves. We do not merely offer. We become. Jesus commanded us to do this in remembrance of him, but the language he used is not the language of a memorial, of an intellectual reflection on a past event. The language he used is the language that Jews still use about Passover. It is the language of making a past event present — of participating and inhabiting an event in a way that transcends time. In fact, as we make the past of the Cross present, we also make the future of the Kingdom present. Past and future converge and live in the present moment. Indeed, we do become heaven together.

The Eucharist has so often been explained with reference to the gifts alone: what “happens” to bread and wine, and why, and when it happens! But we must understand that what “happens” to bread and wine happens because something has, first of all, happened to us, to the Church. It is because we have “constituted” the Church, and this means we have followed Christ in his ascension; because He has accepted us at His table in His Kingdom; because, in terms of theology, we have entered the Eschaton, and are now standing beyond time and space; it is because all this has first happened to us that something will happen to bread and wine.

I’ve found myself almost lost in the mire and confusion of all the debate over “what” exactly happens in the Eucharist. I even have a series here that tries to sort a little bit of that confusion out in at least a minimally organized way. I greatly appreciate Fr. Schmemman’s call to step back and truly see the larger picture. Yes, the fact that something does happen matters. But the context in which it happens matters even more.

I’m going to take the latter sections of Chapter 2 a little bit more slowly as there is a lot to absorb, especially for someone who is not Orthodox. So tomorrow I’ll pick up with section 10.

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