For the Life of the World 2

Posted: October 8th, 2009 | Author: | Filed under: For the Life of the World | Tags: , , , , , | Comments Off on For the Life of the World 2

In this week’s podcast, Deacon Michael Hyatt got through the first four sections of the second chapter of For the Life of the World entitled The Eucharist. I’ve read the entire chapter, but since I am listening and studying along with the podcast, I’m going to proceed at the same pace here. First, here is the link to this week’s podcast of At the Intersection of East and West.

The opening of this chapter is no less provocative and evocative than the beginning of the first chapter.

In this world Christ was rejected. He was the perfect expression of life as God intended it. The fragmentary life of the world was gathered into His life; He was the heart beat of the world and the world killed Him. But in that murder the world itself died. … But when Christ, the true life of the world, was rejected, it was the beginning of the end.

Wow. There’s our story. From the beginning Cain has killed Abel, but when we turned our murderous eye toward the one who was our life, we died. Of course, that’s only one layer, and it’s one that just occurred to me as I typed the above excerpt. Every time I read it, I see another layer. I also like how he places the beginning of the end at the Cross. We are not going to enter into the “beginning” of the end times at some future date. We live within them now and have for two thousand years.

Christianity often appears, however, to preach that if men will try hard enough to live Christian lives, the crucifixion can somehow be reversed. … Not that this world cannot be improved — one of our goals is certainly to work for peace, justice, freedom. But while it can be improved, it can never become the place God intended it to be.

That world died, once and for all, on the Cross. We put it to death. “Natural life” has been brought to an end.

And yet, from its very beginning Christianity has been the proclamation of joy, of the only possible joy on earth. It rendered impossible all joy we usually think of as possible. But within this impossibility, at the very bottom of this darkness, it announced and conveyed a new all-embracing joy, and with this joy it transformed the End into a Beginning. Without the proclamation of this joy Christianity is incomprehensible. It is only as joy that the Church was victorious in the world, and it lost the world when it lost that joy, and ceased to be a credible witness to it. Of all accusations against Christians, the most terrible one was uttered by Nietzsche when he said that Christians had no joy.

I quoted all of the above because it struck me at least as deeply as it did Deacon Michael. I was formed within a culture that intuitively understands Nietzsche, and his critique strikes right to the heart of the dissolution of modern Christianity. I found the joy of Christ, but it was hidden away, masked from view. By and large Christians have little joy, even when the lack is masked by plastic smiles. Postmoderns are the masters of the mask, yet we are rarely fooled by them.

And we must recover the meaning of this great joy. We must if possible partake of it, before we discuss anything else — programs and missions, projects and techniques.

Amen and amen. I see lots of noise about technique, about programs, about ways of doing Christian stuff. Most of it means less than nothing.

Joy, however, is not something one can define or analyze. One enters into joy. “Enter thou into the joy of the Lord” (Mt. 25:21). And we have no other means of entering into that joy, no way of understanding it, except through the one action which from the beginning has been for the Church both the source and fulfillment of joy, the very sacrament of joy, the Eucharist.

Where did you think he was going in a chapter named after the Thanksgiving? This begins a look at that which I appreciate so much, the Christian life as a process. We enter into joy. We grow in grace. It’s not about some one-time event. It is a life that can become the story of our life.

Father Schmemann points out that distinctions between “liturgical” and “non-liturgical” churches and christians is largely an exercise in missing the point. It’s not a category of “cultic” practices. It’s not a “sacred” (as opposed to “profane”) aspect of life. As he discussed in the first chapter, such distinctions make no sense from a Christian perspective.

But this is not the original meaning of the Greek word leitourgia. It meant an action by which a group of people become something corporately which they had not been as a mere collection of individuals — a whole greater than the sum of its parts. It meant also a function or “ministry” of a man or of a group on behalf of and in the interest of the whole community. … Thus the Church itself is a leitourgia … The eucharistic liturgy, therefore, must not be approached and understood in “liturgical” or “cultic” terms alone. Just as Christianity can — and must — be considered the end of religion, so the Christian liturgy in general, and the Eucharist in particular, are indeed the end of cult, of the “sacred” religious act isolated from, and opposed to, the “profane” life of the community.

That speaks deeply to me. I’m not sure I can put it into words that someone who has no experience of “cultic” activities completely outside the bounds of Christianity can understand. But I look at most expressions of Christianity and I see simply different versions of the same dualism. The above rejects that perspective. Utterly and unequivocally.

At this stage we shall say only this: the Eucharist is the entrance of the Church into the joy of its Lord. And to enter into that joy, so as to be a witness to it in the world, is indeed the very calling of the Church, its essential leitourgia, the sacrament by which it “becomes what it is.”

The Church becomes what it is by entering into the joy of the Lord through the Eucharist. The idea of something or someone becoming ever more what it is fits into my perspective like a glove. Isn’t that what we do most of our lives? Who among us feels complete or finished?

Well, I’m only through section two of this chapter, so I believe I’ll split it into two posts and continue tomorrow.


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