Saturday, September 24, 2011

The Ascetic's Prayer

To be said upon rising in the morning, each morning:

Lord, this day I begin walking the path of Christ. Give me the strength of Your Holy Spirit, who is Life, to walk without stumbling. Give me the peace of Your Holy Spirit, who is Life, to be raised by You when I fall. Give me the wisdom of Your Holy Spirit, who is Life, to know that I am always a youth in this Spiritual life.

In the name of Your Son, Jesus Christ, who walked the path before me and is the Way Himself.


Tuesday, September 20, 2011

The Reality of Worship

I've had the opportunity over the last two weeks to direct my sight to the Kingdom of God, in ways which either I hadn't for some time or never had at all. The more I learn, I find the less I know (in that infinity keeps getting bigger). We turn towards the Kingdom and find entrance through Jesus Christ, whom the Church witnesses to (even in our failure -- the essence of the Church is forgiveness and healing). This led to the following set of thoughts about what exactly it is that the Church does when it gathers for worship. (This will build off the Chalcedonian theology series that I have been steadily adding to, yet go in a significantly different direction).

God is the creator of all things, including time (Gen. 1:14). That means, regardless of how unfathomable it is, God dwells outside the constraints and bounds of time. He is truly eternal. Eternal, though, often is understood in terms of time: I recently heard a pastor speak of "eternity past," which -- while an interesting heuristic device -- does not a whole lot of sense; eternity cannot be past, present, or future. It just is. So God, dwelling in an eternal 'now' (getting deeper than this has taxed Christian theologians for centuries, for example Boethius in the early "medieval" period -- I have no desire to go beyond the bounds of Scripture, nor of received theology, so I will stay shy of such speculations), operates His Kingdom always in its fulness. Being that we are in time, and not yet in the fulness of His eschatological purposes, means that we cannot always perceive this reality (Jn. 3:3). However, when we speak of the Kingdom, we are speaking of this very present reality: a reality that is not "becoming" or "progressing," but simply is. Yet we are supposed to enter it, indeed enter it "born of water and the Spirit" (Jn. 3:5), that is by baptism and by faith. So this reality, this Kingdom, can only be entered via the mediation of the body of Christ -- which Christ acts through in time and space -- the Church. My contention is that in the regular worship of the Church we transcend earthly, time-bound reality and enter into God's Kingdom in the fullest way current possible -- indeed, Paul says that we are even "seated with Christ in the heavenly places" (a good question to ask that is often not asked: where is Christ seated?) (Eph. 2:6).

This really gets to the nature of the Church and its worship. God had said through Amos that "Surely the Sovereign LORD does nothing without revealing his plan to his servants the prophets" (Amos 3:7). Moses hoped that "all the LORD's people were prophets and that the LORD would put his Spirit on them" (Num. 11:29), which was prophesied by Joel (2:28ff.) and fulfilled at the day of Pentecost (Acts 2). All the Lord's people, who have been born of water and the Spirit, are prophets. But what is a prophet? We often think of prophets as those who receive messages from the Lord. While this is true (and we still do receive messages through the reading of the Scriptures which remain active, living, and powerful even today), the role of the prophet is greater than that: they are counsellors of God, like Abraham the prophet was (Gen. 20:7), who intercede for others (the ministries of Moses and Jeremiah are key in this regard). More on this anon.

Another aspect that must be considered is the role of the Church qua Church: an ekklesia, a called-out assembly, was a ruling council of the city-state in which it was found. Christ's ekklesia is part of his basileia (kingdom/kingship) and hence functions as his ruling-council, interceding for whatever Babylon the individual/metropolitan assembly happens to be in (this is the basis of local ecumenicity)--this is the kingly aspect of the Church. This dovetails nicely with the prophetic/intercessional role of the Church (the priestly, that is, the teaching role of the Church, will not considered here). We, the prophets/counsellors of the Lord, who intercede for the world, enter God's throne room (cf. the book of Revelation) to do the work God has called us to do, equipped us to do, in the world -- the work that He is already at work doing, but remember He does nothing without first consulting His prophets!

This means that whenever we enter into worship, we are entering the timeless, eternal state of the Kingdom for the very purpose of interceding for those in time. This makes much more sense of, say, the doctrine of predestination, as we in worship enter the realm of God's decree and intercede, saying (hopefully): "Lord, save all mankind (1 Tim. 2:1-4); may we be accursed from Your presence that some might be saved (Rom. 9:2-4)." Certainly, we do not make the decision for God (He remains sovereign -- notice that the word now has concrete meaning in the action of the deliberative royal council), but we cry out, knowing that "the prayer of a righteous man is powerful and effective" (James 5:16).

This also has implications for our Eucharistic theology. Christ the Lamb, "slain from the foundation of the world" (Rev. 13:8 -- some translations refer this phrase to the writing in the book of life), is the one we partake of in his eternal enthronement. So when we partake of the Eucharist (or communion or the Lord's Supper or whatever), we are partaking of the very event -- which is both eternal and time-bound to ca. AD 30. Christ is slain, Christ was slain, in the Kingdom means the same thing. This would go a long way to resolving the ongoing debate between memorialists, consubstantionists, and transubstantists: we are speaking of the same eternal reality with different language (I'm still not convinced that Aristotelian categories, such as in the Roman Catholic and Lutheran traditions are particularly helpful, but that is neither here nor there): liturgical extension takes ourselves, our bread, our wines, our "one loaf" that is the Church, to the very event where Christ is present both as Victim and Victor.

It is important to note that although I am speaking of worship as an entering into an eternal state, I am not suggesting a magical suspension of time happens: time still passes for us for we are created beings not yet attained to the resurrection of the dead (Come quickly, Lord Jesus). It is precisely this interaction of the eternal and the temporal (in an hypostatic union, maybe?) that is the theatre of God's work: we leave the public worship of the Church, where we hear God's Word, partake of the Word, and speak the Word back to God so that we might bring the Life of God (the Spirit) to a dying world. To direct that world to the Kingdom of God, to see and to enter through "water and Spirit," so that the kingdoms of this world might become the Kingdoms of our Lord and of His Christ. And He shall reign forever and ever. Amen.