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Wednesday, August 5, 2015

The Lamb's Supper Part 5 - Introducing Revelation!

In our last study, we dissected the various parts of the Mass within a traditional Anglican context, and now in these next couple of studies we are going to see how it ties into Revelation's text, for interestingly, it does have a connection!  Although I am using Dr. Hahn's text The Lamb's Supper as a guide for the study, I will at times have some minor differences of opinion with his text, although for the most part his book is one of the best "popular theological" texts on the Mass, and is an excellent resource for the parish Bible study I am utilizing it for.  Also, as the occasion allows, I will "Anglicanize" some things, as Dr. Hahn is writing from a Roman Catholic perspective and may either have a different approach or not include some things that Anglican Catholic theology and liturgics would include, as we saw in the last study.  That being said, let us begin our lesson.

A cursory reading of the Book of Revelation can appear to defy common sense, because its imagery bears a similarity to a 1960's acid trip in many cases to the uninformed reader.  But there are some important things to remember about Revelation as it is read, and as we will see in subsequent studies in this series, it is the way one reads the book that determines what is understood from it - and, also as many of my professors at Franciscan University have wisely counseled, the entire Bible must be read with a prayerful attitude lest one falls into heretical teaching based on a merely academic or literary reading, as so many have done.   I like what Jase Robertson, who many of you will recognize from TV's Duck Dynasty, says about Scripture in general - "My main point of conflict was that I felt sometimes we studied the Bible as a legal document instead of a letter from God." (Jase Robertson, Good Call: Reflections on Faith, Family, and Fowl {New York:  Howard Books, 2014} p. 124).  Although to be fair Jase may have been simplifying that somewhat, he does have a point when it comes to Revelation - Revelation, in especially its first several chapters, is a letter from God to the churches of Asia that St. John, the Apostle, was charged with communicating to them as their bishop while in exile on Patmos.   But, as noted too, Revelation is also what is called apocalyptic literature as well, with apocalyptic giving the implication that something is being revealed to us (hence the name Revelation!).   Historically - and also correctly - a part of what is being revealed to us in this book is about future events, but it also contains so much more.  There are many dimensions included in its text, and although heated debates are often initiated over one or more of those dimensions, the fact is all of the interpretive dimensions of this mysterious book are actually true.  Therefore, it is important to start this study by saying that Revelation is always revealing in that it unmasks the prejudices, anxieties, and ideological bent of the particular reader.  And, that is where it can be uncomfortable, because as Jase Robertson said, Scripture as a whole is a series of letters from God to His whole Church, meaning you and I as individuals as well, and its message transcends time and place and is still relevant to us even today - in Revelation's case, maybe even more so.  Therefore, as we study Revelation (or indeed any Scripture!) perhaps we need to take some guidelines that David Bercot, in his book Common Sense (Tyler, TX:  Scroll Publishing, 1992) gives us:

1.  To find truth, you must start with a blank slate.

2.  Start at the beginning - with the teachings of Jesus.

3.  When reading Scripture, begin by giving each sentence its literal meaning if taken alone (with Revelation, there are exceptions though, as we will see later).

4.  Look at every statement in Scripture that applies, or could apply, to the topic being considered.  (Bercot, pp. 19-23)

To this I will add a fifth guideline:

5.  Always understand what the Church has historically taught about these particular passages - what did the Church Fathers and others say, for instance?

In the case of Revelation, application of these guidelines can be a little tricky in that Revelation lacks the orderly principles of a typical literary work - namely, a conventional story line arrangement.  That has led to some risky choreographics over the years for those who, in reading Revelation, fail to find order and therefore compensate by trying to impose their order on the text, as we see with myriads of dispensationalist writers and teachers over the years as an example.  Remember, Revelation was intended to reveal, and its contents must be understood to be for all Christians of all time, including the original 1st-century audience that St. John directed much of the book to.

Now, we get to the original focus of our study.  The liturgy is pretty much spelled-out for us in Revelation, and Revelation is indeed incomprehensible apart from the liturgy, which is something that unfortunately many of our Evangelical Protestant brethren fail to understand.  Often, many Evangelical prophecy teachers are correct on many details of Revelation, but then they begin to look at the book through about 80 years of Dispensationalist lenses, and when they do that, this is where they come up short - many of them often have a condition called Romophobia which inhibits their getting the fuller understanding of the text because they fail to see the liturgical dimension to Revelation because to do so makes them sound "too Catholic," God forbid!  Fact is however, as a Catholic Christian myself, I have a greater appreciation for Revelation and Bible prophecy now than I ever did because I also understand that the liturgical dimension does play a part as well, and it gives a fuller picture that many often miss due to reading the book through pre-established theological filters.  That being said, we see many elements of the Liturgy in Revelation, and indeed it does make the book come more to life when you are actively participating in what it says via the Liturgy of the Church.  Here is a few of these elements and where they can be found:

1.  The Altar (Revelation 8:3)                                                                                  
2.  Robed Clergy (Revelation 4:4)                                                                          
3.  Candles (Revelation 1:12)                                                                                
4.  Incense (Revelation 5:8)                                                                                    
5.  Manna (Eucharist - Revelation 2:17)                                                                  
6.  Chalices (Revelation 16)                                                                                  
7.  Sunday Worship (Sorry Seventh-Day Adventists! Revelation 1:10)                  
8. Prominence of the Virgin Mary (Rev. 12:1-6)
9. The Sanctus (Revelation 4:8)
10. The Gloria in Excelsis (Rev. 15:3-4)
11. Sign of the Cross (Revelation 14:1)
12. The Alleluia (Rev. 19:1,3,6)
13. The Scripture Lessons (Rev. 2-3)
14. The Agnus Dei (several places)

If one took the time and had the initiative, you could actually construct a complete historic Liturgy just out of the Book of Revelation alone. This definitely gives some prophecy teachers a little more homework to do too, especially some of the more anti-Catholic ones who often utilize certain passages to demonize the Roman Catholics and other Christians.

It is apparent that Revelation is sacramental as well as prophetic - it is not either/or, as some try to interpret it, but is both/and.  And that leads to an important question - with all this liturgy in Revelation, then why is it a recorded vision rather than a liturgical text?  An excellent question that deserves a concise answer actually!  First, as I have taught over the years, much of what God's people have done in our acts of worship over the centuries has been a reflection of the heavenly.  Dr. Hahn, on pages 68-69 of his text, goes into this somewhat as he talks about the worship of both the ancient Jewish Temple and the Church, and what he correctly notes on page 68 is that according to ancient Jewish beliefs, the worship in Jerusalem's Temple mirrored the worship of the angels in heaven.  The covenant liturgy, the Levitical priesthood, and the sacrifices served, in essence and in Dr. Hahn's words, as shadowy representations of heavenly models.  One very important difference however was something that Jesus Himself made possible for us - whereas ancient Israel prayed in imitation of the angels, the Church of the last days (which we have been living in since the Ascension, by the way) worships together with the angels (Revelation 19:10).  Revelation has now revealed one worship, shared by men and angels, in other words!  This is something I also heard a Pentecostal evangelist and distant relative of mine, Perry Stone, say once when he preached in a conference that when Moses received the Law on Mt. Sinai, God gave him a glimpse into the heavenly throne room and instructed Moses to order the worship of the tabernacle upon what he saw.  And, in Isaiah 6, we also see that prophet having a similar vision of this worship.  That being said, the Temple (and earlier Tabernacle) in Jerusalem with its trappings pointed to higher realities.  The worship of the Temple, as noted, was modeled upon the court of heaven, and its worship mirrored the angelic worship that goes on continuously in that court.  However, the higher reality the Temple pointed to - a model of worship - becomes a realized truth in the Church, Christ's Bride, as we can now pray together with the angels in heaven!  Remember Jesus with the Samaritan woman at the well?  In John 4:20, the Samaritan woman initiated a discussion of where the true place of worship was to be by pointing out that her people, the Samaritans, worshipped on Mt. Gerizim (where today a remnant of Samaritans still have a temple interesting enough) while the Jews maintained that Jerusalem is the place where one ought to worship.  Jesus answers by saying "Woman, believe me, the hour is coming when you will neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem worship the Father," (John 4:21 NKJV) and a couple of verses later He tells her why - "But the hour is coming, and now is, when the true worshippers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for the Father is seeking such to worship Him.  God is spirit, and those who worship Him must worship in spirit and truth."  (John 4:23-24, NKJV).  Jesus was speaking of this very thing we are discussing when He spoke these words recorded in John's Gospel to the Samaritan woman, and I am thinking John may have had one of those "Aha!" moments later when Jesus was giving him the visions which inspired Revelation, and the fact that through Jesus man and angel can worship God the same in Christ was the true message revealed in this aspect of Revelation.  As this is a fact now of the worship of the Church, it indeed is an encouragement to us that we can, as Scripture proclaims, now "boldy approach the throne of grace" (Hebrews 4;16, NKJV).

Since this lesson is not about hermeneutics or anything that technical (I will leave that for my Theology papers in graduate school!) I won't spend a lot of time discussing Revelation's authorship except to say that as it relates to this study, Dr. Hahn holds to a pre-70AD date for its authorship based on the fact that John's precise description of the Temple required a tangible point of reference for measurement, etc.  This is a big debate among theologians and Biblical scholars that I won't get into at this juncture, although I do have my own viewpoint on it that I will share in a more relevant study for that at some later point in the future.  But, this does lead to some interesting observations as it relates to the study, as one dimension of John's vision as interpreted points possibly to the passing away of the old and the creation of the new.  We often relegate that to the "new heavens and new earth" which will come into being when Jesus returns in His second coming, and the Church affirms that interpretation.  Again, however, we must remember that we don't necessarily read the Bible like just any other book, and therefore there is another level or dimension of interpretation that Dr. Hahn talks about in his book which makes perfect sense as well, and can also be a multi-dimensional application of this vision.  It is called a spiritual interpretation, and what it entails is that the new Temple Christ reveals to John in Revelation is Christ's mystical Body, the Church.  A work was begun at the Ascension of our Lord that will find its completion at His Second Coming, and again both the allegorical (spiritual interpretation) and anagogical (eschatological interpretation) are true, and not necessarily mutually opposed - Revelation is both prophetic and liturgical.  Consider what renown Russian Orthodox theologian Fr. Alexander Schmemann, in his book For The Life of the World (Crestwood, NY:  St. Vladimir Seminary Press, 1963) says when he writes: "When man stands before the throne of God, when he has fulfilled all that God has given him to fulfill, when all sins are forgiven, all joy restored, then there is nothing else for him to do but to give thanks.  Eucharist is the state of perfect man.  Eucharist is the life of paradise."  (Schmemann, p. 37).  In the context of this study, what Fr. Schmemann is saying is that in the Eucharist, we celebrate now what will take place as a present reality, as if it has already taken place - in the economy of Jesus as God, it already has!   And, the reason for that is as Fr. Guardini has eloquently written - "The primary and exclusive aim of the liturgy is not the expression of an individual's reverence and worship for God.  It is not even concerned with the awakening, formation, and sanctification of the individual soul as such.  Nor does the onus of liturgical action and prayer rest with the individual; it does not even rest with the collective groups, composed of numerous individuals, who periodically achieve a limited and intermittent unity in their capacity as the congregation of the Church.  The liturgical entity consists rather of the united body of the faithful - the Church - a body which infinitely outnumbers the mere congregation.  The liturgy is the Church's public and lawful act of worship and it is performed and conducted by the officials whom the Church herself has designated for the post - her priests.  In the liturgy, God is to be honored by the body of the faithful, and the faithful are to derive sanctification from this act of worship.  It is important that this objective nature of the liturgy should be fully understood...The fact that the individual Catholic, by his or her absorption into the higher unity, finds unity, finds liberty and discipline, originates in the twofold nature of the human being, who is both social and solitary."  (Romano Guardini, as quoted from his work The Spirit of the Liturgy, pages 121-122, in Heinz R. Kuehn, Ed. The Essential Guardini - An Anthology of the Writings of Romano Guardini {Chicago:  Liturgy Training Publications, 1997} pp. 140-141).  What this classic text of the great Roman Catholic theologian is saying essentially is this - we worship in the liturgy as part of a greater Church that transcends time, place, and age; and as Dr. Hahn says, we worship with the angels in heaven as well as with the Church of all ages.  Remember the basic theology of what the Church is?   The Church doesn't just consist of those one sees, but rather includes us (the Church Militant), those who have went onto their eternal reward (the Church Expectant), and the glorified Church of the Second Coming (the Church Triumphant), and with that all the heavenly host.  That prophetic dimension of liturgical worship should "fire us up" inside, because what it says is that we are part of something greater than ourselves - because we accepted Christ's call to follow Him, we are part of His Bride!  And, this is what Dr. Hahn is ultimately communicating to us in his text, and as he is faithful to the historic testimony of the Church in that, he is affirmed by great theologians of the East and West (such as Guardini and Schmemann) as well as Church Fathers and even St. John himself.  As we continue next lesson, we will begin to explore this more in-depth by taking Revelation's imagery and seeing it from a liturgical perspective.  God bless until next time.