This is a page that focuses on religious and theological issues, as well as providing comprehensive teaching from a classic Catholic perspective. As you read the articles, it is my hope they will educate and bless you.

Sunday, November 22, 2015

The Gospel of "The Land of the Lost"


Back when I was just a young kid, a children's Saturday morning sci-fy series premiered called Land of the Lost (this is not the awful parodic movie of Will Ferrell's from 2012 either, but is the actual TV show).  A creation of the Kroft Brothers (who also came up with two of my wife Barbara's favorite shows, HR Puffenstuff and Banana Splits) the show was somewhat cheesy, with a combination of low-budget props, psychedelic 1970's theme music on the end credits and a corny banjo-twanged theme song on the opening sequence, and honestly, I found it amazing that as that girl Holly grew throughout the show, so did her outfit!   You would think after all that being stuck in a strange primordial dimension would wear out your clothes after a while, but hers grew with her - ah, the magic of television!    Despite somewhat cheesy effects though, the series was actually fun to watch and you did kind of get involved in the story.  A few years back, I actually purchased the entire series on DVD, and on occasion I like watching them again just for the heck of it, and a few months back I did watch them.  As I re-watched this iconic, cheesy, yet entertaining children's series from the 1970's, I began to have some wheels turn.  

In recent years, there have been many ministers and Bible teachers who have utilized popular science fiction movies and series for spiritual application, and I have run across at least three who have done so effectively with Star Wars, as well as a Star Trek.  So, as I was watching Land of the Lost again, I began to get some inspiration of my own, and the thought occurred to me - why not create a Bible lesson around this concept?   Theologically, it even fits.  So, I want to do a teaching now for you based on Land of the Lost, and hope it will be both inspiring and fun as well.

If you know the backstory to this show, you will remember that Rick Marshall, a park ranger of some sort by trade, was taking his two kids, Will and Holly, on this camping trip out west somewhere.  As they are going down this one river - I am assuming it was the Colorado River, and they were in the Grand Canyon - there is an earthquake, and a rift opens up causing the Marshalls in their raft to go down a waterfall that suddenly appeared, and it obviously blacks them out.  When they come to, they are in "the Land of the Lost."   If we look at Genesis 3:23, it is apparent that we as the human race  are also in a "land of the lost."  We live in an imperfect world, and sin and death, rather than a waterfall and an earthquake, are what brought us into it and keep us here.  When Eve was persuaded by the serpent in the Garden to eat of the forbidden fruit of the Tree of Knowledge, which we read about back in verse 6, it was as if a chasm opened and it catapulted Adam and Eve into a lost state, for the Bible tells us that "the Lord God sent him (Adam) out of the garden of Eden, to till the ground from which he was taken.  So He drove out the man, and He placed cherubim at the east of the garden of Eden, and a flaming sword which turned every way, to guard the way to the tree of life."   This opened up the man and his wife to some new challenges they had never faced before, challenges that faced their very survival.

When the Marshalls came to in the "Land of the Lost" after the water dropped them there, they awoke to find themselves staring at this:


Imagine just having the chaos of going over a waterfall, which knocks you out, and then opening your eyes to see something like that looking at you like fried chicken on the buffet line of the Golden Corral!   This guy is a nemesis called "Grumpy" in the show, and he is a Tyrannysaurus Rex who constantly harasses the family at the cave they eventually make into their home.  "Grumpy" parallels a type of fruit of sin and death we have in our lives, and that is adversity - we face these types of things all the time, our own "Grumpies" if you will.  The loss of a job, a family member becoming terminally ill, the rent being due without a lot of money to cover it, etc. - these are all the "Grumpies" we face.  Psalm 34:19 reminds us in these circumstances that "many are the afflictions of the righteous, but the Lord delivers him out of them all."   You will note that throughout this series if you have seen it, there are constant harassments from "Grumpy." but the Marshalls manage to survive and deal with his shenanigans.  And, so do we with the adversities in our lives.  God indeed will deliver us from adversity, even at the point where the adversity seems to consume us, and we also need to remember that we can take the good from such situations and use it as a growth experience -  Romans 8:28 after all reminds us that "all things work together for those who love God and are called according to His purpose," and it is that promise we need to hang onto.  

Throughout the whole run of the series, the Marshalls also faced these guys as constant adversaries:


For those who have seen this program, these were called Sleestaks, and they were some weird insect/lizard space aliens who ended up in the "Land of the Lost" some time earlier.   They carried out their reign of intimidation and terror from a series of underground caves near where the Marshalls lived called "the Lost City," and they too have an interesting parallel in our lives.  In Ephesians 6:12, we are reminded in this life that "we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this age, against spiritual hosts of wickedness in heavenly places."   So, just who are these "principalities and powers" this verse is talking about?   Ephesians 2:2 calls Satan "the prince of the power of the air," and John 3:20 tells us that "everyone practicing evil hates the light and does not come to the light, lest his deeds be exposed."   If you remember in the series too, the only way the Marshalls could contain the Sleestaks when they were being pursued was with a bright light of some sort, a lit torch usually - Matthew 5:14-16 tells us something about this as Christians when it first exhorts us that "you are the light of the world," and that we should as Christians "let our light so shine before men, that they may see your good works and glorify your Father in heaven."  Where does our light come from?   Psalm 119:105 tells us that Jesus, the Logos of God, is "a lamp to my feet and a light to my path," and therefore His Holy Spirit within us illumines the darkness and drives away evil.  In summary, the Sleestaks are an example of how Satan and his demons harass, tempt, and manipulate mankind, and that only the light of the Gospel can overcome the darkness, dispersing it and causing the demons to flee from us.  Only with the light of Christ can we overcome the "prince of darkness" and his minions.  

Despite threats from the Sleestaks and Grumpy the T-Rex, the Marshalls soon found that living in this "land of the lost" was not necessarily all bad, and they began to adapt and take advantage of the surroundings they were compelled to live in.  In the process too, they made some valuable allies.   The first of these was this interesting little creature:


This little guy, who bore a resemblance to a dwarf Sasquatch and was supposed to represent a race of primordial humanoids called the Pakuni, is Cha-Kah.   Like the Marshalls, Cha-Kah and his people were sort of dumped into the "land of the lost" against their will too, and they had to learn to survive.  Although some skepticism existed at first due to communication barriers, Cha-Kah eventually became a valuable friend to the Marshalls.  For our application, Cha-Kah represents our fellow Christians, who are often struggling with us in this life and therefore we need them as much as they need us.   This is also reminiscent of Romans 12:4-5, as well as reminding us of the mandate we are given in Hebrews 10:24-25, which admonishes us to "consider one another in order to stir up love and good works," and in doing so we are to "foresake not the assembling of ourselves together," but rather to "exhort one another."   As Christians, we cannot fight the battle alone, but we need each other, and we need something else too, a very important ally.

As time progressed in the series, and as the Marshalls began to acquire the means of successfully containing their adversaries, in particular those bothersome Sleestaks, they began to venture and explore more, and in doing so they found this guy to be a valuable ally as well:


This was Enik, who like the Marshalls, the Sleestaks, and the Pakuni, was stranded in the "land of the lost" against his will.  Enik was part of an ancient race called the Altrusians, and as you can guess by his appearance, he was somehow related to those bothersome Sleestaks.   It turns out that Enik's civilization was the ancestoral people of the Sleestaks, and for some reason the Sleestaks devolved into their adversarial nature from their more enlightened Altrusian past.   Enik for us as Christians can be viewed as an example of the Church - throughout the Land of the Lost story, Enik has the way home, and is the guardian of this knowledge.  In the same way, the Church is the guardian of the Gospel, and is responsible for preserving its message and communicating it to those who are lost too.   And, like Enik, the Church is not always perfect - some within it tend to be too guarded, or they tend to miscommunicate the truth they are charged with as a steward, and often it takes a serious confrontation from those who are "lost" to compel the Church to share it.   But, in the end, Enik does help the Marshalls, and he eventually takes his obligation to do so seriously.

As the series ended, it was never known how (or if) the Marshalls made it back, but we have a more certain outcome as Christians.  God provided our way out through Jesus Christ (John 3:16) and He is our only way of escape from our own "Land of the Lost."  And, unlike Enik, who was at times reluctant to share this information, God desires that all have the opportunity to participate in this "escape plan," and has provided the Church, as well as Christians as individuals, to share that message with us so that we have the choice of accepting that generous offer or rejecting it.  Therefore, if adversity or temptation is harassing you, Jesus calls you to Him, and He can show you the way out of the mess.  It won't be easy, as threats do exist, but like the Marshalls were able to prevail against these fictional adversities, we can through Christ who strengthens us do even more so in real life.   God bless until next time.  



Tuesday, November 17, 2015

The Lamb's Supper Part 12 - The Mass as Heaven on Earth and Conclusion

I wanted to recap a couple of things from the last session of the study by talking a little bit about the mystery of the Church and how it relates to our participation in the heavenly.  This word mysterion, as Fr. Peter Toon points out, occurs 27 times in the New Testament and it is always used in association with verbage that points to the proclamation of the Gospel.  The Church therefore, as the word apocalupso we pointed out indicates, is the Bride of Christ, and the mysterion therefore is the real "meat" of that apocalupso of Christ with His Bride, the Church, in mystical union.  It is indeed the "great mystery" the Apostle St. Paul talks about in Ephesians 5:32 (Peter Toon, Worship Without Dumbing-Down: Knowing God Through Liturgy.  Northumberland, UK:  Edgeways Books, 2005. pp. 97-99).   And, as Christ's Bride, the Church therefore participates in the heavenly in an intimate sense, as also is noted in the Gospels, which we now look at.

Do you remember what the first two things Jesus preached when He began His public ministry?  If you look in Mark 1:15, as well as in Matthew 4:17, you see that His first proclamation had two parts around which the remainder of His pedagogy would be constructed as we read further in the parables:

1.  Repentance
2.  The immanency of the kingdom of God

When we look at the component parts of the Mass, we see a lot of references to repentance, even beginning in the Collect for Purity at the very outset, which petitions "Cleanse the thoughts of our hearts by the inspiration of Thy Holy Spirit, that we may perfectly love Thee, and worthily magnify Thy holy Name, through Christ our Lord, Amen."   It takes repentance and sanctification to prepare us to enter into the presence of the throne room of God Himself, and to receive Christ in the Holy Eucharist, and therefore the theme of repentance - which bears its own study - is to be seen throughout the whole of the Mass, even up to the "Domine non sum dignus" that we repeat thrice before going forward to partake of the Holy Eucharist itself.  This is where we now pick up with this study.

As Dr. Hahn points out, to go to Mass is to go to heaven in a real sense, and there are reasons that we go, and he lists four of them.  First, we go to heal sadness (Revelation 21:3-4).  Secondly, by the act of repentance we just talked about, we place ourselves under judgment.  Thirdly, it is to renew our covenant with God, as at a marriage feast in this context.  And finally, it is to receive the fullness of grace, the very life of the Trinity, within us - as the Cherubimic Hymn of the Divine Liturgy of St. John Chrysostom reminds us, we are to lay aside all distractions ("earthly cares") in order that "we may receive the King of all, who comes invisibly upbourne by the angelic hosts."    This is something that no power on heaven or earth can give us more of, because in essence we are receiving God into ourselves.

In the Mass, God has given to us His very life.  This is not merely metaphorical either, nor is it a mere symbol or foretaste, but rather it is a supernatural reality.  This is why we must go to Mass with eyes, ears, and other senses open to receive the truth which is before us, a truth which "rises like incense" (Psalm 141:2).  The life of God we receive in the Holy Eucharist is a gift we must receive properly and with gratitude.  And, God dispenses grace through the Holy Eucharist, which is why it is truly sacramental.  And, if that grace is received unworthily, it subjects us to judgment.   To receive "unworthily" doesn't necessarily imply that we need to be perfect to receive the Eucharist, but rather that we have a correct understanding of the Gospel  - as my spiritual mentor, Fr. Eusebius Stephanou, points out, a willful ignorance (in creationist Kent Hovind's translation, this means dumb on purpose) of the Gospel will cause those who receive Communion to also receive judgment and condemnation, and it can even lead to physical infirmity and premature death according to Apostolic warning (I Corinthians 11:29) (Eusebius Stephanou, Sacramentalized but Not Evangelized.  Destin, FL:  St. Symeon the New Theologian Press, 2005. p. 181).  I recall once a story one of our traditional Anglican clergy related involving this very type of judgment.  This particular priest was pastoring a parish in a city which had a serious issue with occultists, and some of these occultists were going to Catholic and other parishes and partaking of the Holy Eucharist in order to desecrate it in one of their pagan ceremonies.  Unbeknownst to this priest, one of those occultists was in his parish at Mass one Sunday, and came forward to receive.  When occultists do this, they do not consume the Host, but rather retain it in their mouth while they hastily leave the church, at which time they "reserve" it for the desecrating ritual they want to do with it.  At the time my priest friend gave this witch the Host, all of a sudden the witch's mouth experienced a seering burn, because the Holy Spirit was bringing judgment on this person for what they were about to do.  The witch ran from the church in a panic, and not long after that the occult infiltration of parishes stopped.  This story serves to remind us that the Holy Eucharist is a very precious thing - it is the very Body and Blood of our Lord we are receiving, which is why when the Prayer of Consecration is invoked over the elements in the Liturgy of St. John Chrysostom, the declaration  "Wisdom, let us attend!  Holy things for the holy people!" is loudly sung by the priest.  As faithful Christians, it is our duty when receiving the Holy Eucharist to choose the blessing through self-examination and penance and reject the curse - better we go through a self-judgment than suffer God's divine justice!
As Dr. Hahn continues the discussion on page 156, he addresses the importance of holy water and the Sign of the Cross.  By dipping our finger into the font of holy water at the entrance of the church and signing ourselves with the Cross, we renew a personal covenant that was initiated when we received the sacrament of Holy Baptism.  There is an important difference though - at your baptism (if you were baptized as an infant) your parents made that decision for you.  When we bless ourselves with holy water, we make the decision for ourselves by signing the Name of Him in whom we were baptized.  And, at this point an application of one of the "Four Pillars of Catechesis" comes into play - by signing ourselves, we accept the Creed and all it proclaims, rejecting Satan, and we testify of our commitment to follow and serve Jesus.  This therefore puts us under an oath - recall that the Latin word sacramentum literally does mean "oath," and it is one reason why baptism is called a sacrament.   And, that brings into application another of the "Four Pillars" - in the Book of Common Prayer, almost at the very beginning of the Mass the "Summary of the Law" is given, which is also found in Scripture in Mark 12:30-31 - it says this:  "Hear what our Lord Jesus Christ saith: Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind.  This is the first and great commandment.  And, the second is like unto it; thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself.  On these two commandments hang all the Law and the Prophets" (BCP, p. 69).  The "Summary of the Law" was Our Lord's condensation of the Decalogue (Ten Commandments) which is one of the "Four Pillars," and the whole Decalogue is recited as part of Anglican practice at least once a month.   Making the Sign of the Cross renews our obligation to uphold and live up to the rights and duties of the Decalogue.   Then there is the word "Amen."  Amen is a Hebrew word that literally translates "so be it," and it is more than just a response or a bookend to a liturgical prayer or your grace before a meal - when it is said, it is to be meant!   These seemingly insignificant things like the word Amen serve to remind us that we are not mere spectators in the Mass, but we participate fully in what is going on - it is the renewal of a covenant.

So, let us talk about this covenant now we are renewing at this point.  The covenant is not a past event, but is an ongoing reality - it is perpetually present as well as continually realized and reactualized.  The entire Mass is our perpetual renewal of that covenant.   First, it is a solemn oath taken before countless witnesses.  Secondly, it is not just what we pray, but also what we hear; it is the very Word of God.  In the Mass we swear to the Bible, and as we hear it we will be held accountable to it.  What that means is a couple of things.  First, in the Creed (one of the "Four Pillars," remember) when we confess "I believe one Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic Church," it means we live by her teachings.  Second, when we pray in the Lord's Prayer (another of the "Four Pillars") the petition "forgive us our trespasses," we receive  God's mercy, but also are responsible to dispense it to others, in particular those who have offended us in some way.  Also, when the priest says "the Lord be with you," and we respond "and with thy spirit," we are extending peace to our neighbor, yet we need to ask ourselves how to continue that peace? So, do we lose our tempers, etc.?  This is part of that internal self-judgment we have been discussing, which also is ongoing in a big way in our participation in the whole Mass.  Then there is the sacrament of the Holy Eucharist itself (another of the "Four Pillars") in which as we receive the Body and Blood, the priest says to us, "The Body of our Lord Jesus Christ, which was given for thee, preserve thy body and soul unto everlasting life. Take and eat this in rememberance that Christ died for thee, and feed on Him in thy heart by faith, with thanksgiving.  The Blood of our Lord Jesus Christ, which was shed for thee, preserve thy body and soul unto everlasting life.  Drink this in rememberance that Christ's Blood was shed for thee, and be thankful" (The People's Anglican Missal, p. 301).  This reminds us to ask ourselves this question - with what attention do we approach the table of the Lord?  To hear the Word of the Lord (kerigma, "proclamation") and to receive the Bread of Life (eucaristw, "Thanksgiving," or the Panis Angelicus) are profound mysteries - they are incredible gifts of grace that carry with them serious commitments on the part of the recipients of them.  Therefore, if we treat earthly elements (fire, water, electricity, etc.) with due respect, then how much more respectfully then shall we treat the very mysteries of heaven, which fill us in Holy Communion?   

The consequences of failing to live up to our witness are serious, and they need to be examined now.  In I Corinthians 11:27, there is a dire warning from the Apostle that partaking of the Body and Blood of Christ unworthily is tantamount to blasphemy.  A couple of verses later in verse 29, we are warned that bad Communions can bring physical judgment, as Fr. Eusebius noted in his book in the earlier quote.  Going back to verse 28, we are reminded of the importance of self-examination and confession of our sins before receiving Communion.  We naturally do want the blessings of the Covenant, and not their curse.  Therefore, the more we prepare for Mass, the more (sacramental) grace we take from Mass - that grace is also infinite, and the only limitation is our own capacity to receive it.  What grace consists of therefore is with God's help, we can be able to do what we could never do on our own, namely to love perfectly, sacrifice completely, and lay down our lives as Jesus did for us.  In essence, to live the Mass is a sort of "white martyrdom."   The word martyr is from the Greek root of a word that means "witness," and what it entails is doing all things, including mundane daily activities, as unto the Lord.  Our whole lives get caught up (raptured if you will) in the Mass, and this aspect becomes our participation in it.  As heaven therefore descends, we lift up to meet it, thus how the kingdom of God is made manifest to us (Remember Jesus's first message, "Repent, for the kingdom of God is at hand?"  In a real sense, this is it!).  Although we were made to live on this earth, ultimately we were made by our Creator for heaven.  And, in the Mass, heaven is unveiled for us now in the reality of the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.  That means that the Communion God created us for is now, made possible by our incorporation into His Bride, the Church.  And, when we participate in the Mass, heaven touches earth and waits us now (Revelation 3:20).  The door opens now to the Marriage Supper - will we accept the invitation?

Jesus says to us, "Behold, I stand at the door and knock," (Revelation 3:20).  We, as the Church, are the Bride of Christ unveiled (remember the Greek term apokalusw).  Jesus wants each and every one of us to enter into the most intimate relationship with Him.  And, He uses wedding imagery to communicate how much He loves us, and how close He wants us to be and to stay with Him.  Therefore, as we have emphasized throughout this study, we go to heaven whenever we go to Mass.  It is not merely a symbol or metaphor, but is as St. Athanasios said, "an eternal, heavenly Feast."  And, it is also the "hidden manna."   Jesus knocks at the door of our hearts (John 3:20) and it is Jesus who truly is the "Hidden Manna," the Panis Angelicus of heaven.  

With that, we now come to the end of this series of studies, and if you haven't experienced the fullness of faith in Christ, I want to invite you to do so today.  Some reading this may have never been converted intially in the first place, and you need to know two things.  First, Jesus died for your sins - John 3:16 reminds us that "God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have everlasting life."   All of us are in need of a Savior too, for the concupiscence to sin is unfortunately a sickness that has condemned us, and nothing we can do of our own volition can save us from its consequences - only the shed Blood of Christ and His broken Body can do that.  If that is you today, first you need to listen to what the Holy Spirit may be saying to you, and confess to God your sins, as well as committing to repent of them.  Then, you need to find a godly clergyman (preferably one who has Apostolic orders, but a good Protestant pastor will suffice too) who will prepare you to be baptized into the Church.  Then, read the Gospels, prayerfully and believing what you are reading, and "study to show yourself approved."  In time, you too may be able then to participate fully in the sacramental life of the Church.  If you need a church or a pastor to counsel with, and have problems finding one, you may also email me at djthrower@yahoo.com, and I may be able to refer someone in your area to you.  Thank you again for participating in this study, and the next lesson will begin a new series.  God's richest blessings be with you always.  

Saturday, November 14, 2015

The Lamb's Supper Part 11 - Heaven Touching Earth in the Family Bond

As we being this next section in the study, we are going to be capitalizing on the idea of "heaven on earth," and it is here that two "pillars" - the Lord's Prayer and the Holy Eucharist - begin to be tied together.  But first, I wanted to recap the Real Presence a little.

As mentioned in the last section quoting Frank Tipler's book, there are now scientific evidences that something transformative happens when the bread and wine are consecrated helping them become the Body and Blood of Jesus Himself, and although it cannot be observed or even fully explained, Tipler noted that this was nonetheless a valid hypothesis based on what he called quantum coherence.  Fr. Edward Schillebeeckx, in his classic volume Christ the Sacrament of the Encounter with God (Lanham, MD:  Sheed and Ward, 1963) takes this scientific idea to theological terms, noting that there is a difference between the materia and the forma of the sacrament, noting that they are two constitutive elements of the outward sacramental sign (p. 92).  He then notes that the Fathers of the Church rightly thought of the sacraments as a bringing together of the earthly element with the heavenly, through the liturgical action of the epiclesis, or prayer of petition. The physical elements of bread and wine - the materia - are thus made into the Body and Blood of Christ by a principle formula of determination (the Prayer of Consecration) - the forma - thus completing the sacramental action.  Quantum coherence then, via the transformation of the earthly materia with the heavenly forma, is what makes the sacrament then our supersubstantial bread we petition God to give us in the Lord's Prayer.  And, it is the bridge by which we open this next part of the study.

We now look at Hebrews 12:22-23, which gives us some background here for our study.  In verse 22, it tells us that we have now come to this enigmatic place called "the heavenly Jerusalem" in which there are an innumerable company of angels as well as the spirits of "men made perfect" as part of "the general assembly of the Church of the Firstborn, who are registered in heaven."   The reference here is exactly the same as the earlier image we saw in Revelation of the martyrs under the altar, and it is a vision of the Church Expectant.  When we participate in the Mass, as the Lord's Prayer reminds us, God's will is indeed done "on earth as it is in heaven" in a way that means that the mystery of the Mass encompasses both us (the Church Militant) as well as the saints in heaven (the Church Expectant) and together we form the complete Bride, the Church Triumphant.  Like the transformation of bread and wine into the Body and Blood of Christ itself, this mystery cannot be exactly explained, but it does happen.  And, in Christ, we are the true "family of God," and that is what I want to discuss more of at this point.

Revelation 19:9, as we have noted in earlier sections of this study, is a description of the Marriage Supper of the Lamb, and in the true form of how Scripture transcends time, this Marriage Supper also has multiple dimensions.  First, it speaks of the Second Coming, when Christ is fully united with His Bride, the Church.  However, it also speaks of now too, and is a picture of the Mass itself,  but in God's economy these are one and the same.  The family bond it alludes to here is one that is to be understood in terms of an extended family, rather than the Rockwellesque "nuclear family" we often think of.  And, that family bond, like the ancient Middle Eastern context of Scripture itself embodies, was something that was the person's primary identity - one is known, therefore, by the family identification of name, etc.  The most conspicuous sign of that family bond in ancient times, however, was often a mark or a signet ring of some sort that bore some symbol which identified its bearer with that particular family, and in the Church we have that mark - it is the sign of the Cross.  Since the time of Genesis in the ancient world, nations in turn were formed by extended networks of such families.  And within families that unification was symbolized by a bond of covenant.  This covenant was often sealed with a sacred meal and/or sacrifice, as well as a solemn oath.  In ancient times, this also took on an extreme form - many of the covenants of the Bible, for instance, were sealed by the sacrifice of a bull.  When the bull was slaughtered, often it was split in half, and after the oath was said between the parties, both parties of the covenant would then walk between the two halves of the bull, and the symbolism here was that if the covenant was broken by either, then the consequence and judgement would be severe like what happened to this cow.  A part of the bull was then prepared, cooked, and eaten to seal the covenant between the parties, and the other half was often offered as a burnt offering to the deity of the covenant parties.  God too utilized a covenant system in the Old Testament in ancient Israel in a similar fashion, which is where many of the Temple sacrifices also were involved that we read about throughout the Old Testament.  Jesus likewise used the covenant to describe His relationship to the Church, as we see in Matthew 26:28 and I Corinthians 11:25.  The New Covenant of Jesus therefore is the most intimate of family bonds, as it involves a sacrificial meal (the Eucharist) and a mark or signet of "God's Tribe" (the Cross).

As the family bond is the imagery Jesus utilized in this covenant relationship, it is important that our family is not only named for God, but our family is God!  Christianity is the only religion where God is not an individual in a traditional sense, but is Himself a family.  His proper name is Trinity - Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.  He has in Himself Fatherhood, Sonship, and the essence of family, which is love (note Pope John Paul II here).  God is therefore not just like a family in some abstract metaphorical sense, but truly is a family. He alone possesses fatherhood, sonship, and love in perfection.  God is therefore a family in His being, and we are His by adoption.  To elaborate on the latter, in establishing the New Covenant, Jesus founded one Church as an extension of His incarnation.  One classic way of looking at that is in the analogy of the moon, which is a common symbol for the Church utilized by many great Roman Catholic theologians.   Dr. Regis Martin, one of my Theology professors at Franciscan University of Steubenville, wrote about this in his book What is the Church (Steubenville, OH:  Emmaus Road Publishing, 2003) when he noted that the Church is a mystery, and behind its human exterior - which often still exhibits the effects of the fallen state of its members - stands the mystery of a more-than-human reality.  Like the moon itself, the Church radiates a light belonging to another, the Son (rather than the sun, in the case of the literal moon!), and one does not draw near to an institution whose structures magically emit light and life, but one draws near to a Person, Jesus Christ, the source of the Light and Life (Martin, p. 44).  Therefore, Christ founded the one Church as an extension - or if you will a reflection - of His own incarnation.  He extends the Trinity's life-giving grace to all humanity via the Church (although individual humanity can choose to accept or reject it), and we who are part of the Church in essence become "sons in the Son."    This bond is renewed every time we participate fully in the Mass, which is at once a shared meal, a sacrifice, and an oath.   Therefore, the Apocalypse unveiled in the Eucharist is for us a wedding feast where the Son of God enters into the most intimate relationship with His spouse, the Church.   To prepare for Communion, therefore, we must forsake our old name for a new one, much in the same way a bride takes her husband's family name.  We therefore join our sacrifice with His in the Mass and it makes our sacrifice perfect.  On that, remember the meaning of that word liturgy - we translate it in this study as a work from the people in a literal sense, right?   Our offering up of ourselves in the Mass is our work of sacrifice from ourselves to God, and we receive Jesus Himself as His sacrifice to redeem and restore us.  And, that seals and consummates our family bond.

Protestant Fundamentalists a lot of times have a big issue with the Mass, and often they are quick to accuse Catholic Christians of "resacrificing Jesus again."  However, that needs some clarification.  First, the teaching of the Church is that there was only one sacrifice of Christ, that being Calvary.   And, far from being a "resacrifice" of Christ, the Mass is our supernatural participation in that one sacrifice.  This is deemed a mystery because the embodied reality of the Mass transcends the human conception of time and space, but is rather in God's economy.  And, the Mass makes present in time what the Son has been doing eternally - loving the Father as the Father loves the Son, and the Son giving back the gift He received from the Father, for our redemption.   That gift is the life we were originally meant to share before the fall, and in order to share in it, we first must undergo significant change ourselves.  We are incapable in and of ourselves to give or receive so much, and we are also incapable of change on our own merit and effort.  Therefore is the reason why God gives us His own life in the sacraments.  First, that grace makes up for weaknesses of human nature.  Second, through that sacrifice, we are able to love perfectly and sacrifice totally with His help.  Third, what God the Son has been doing through all eternity He begins doing now in humanity on a personal level - within each of us.  Hebrews 13:8 affirms the immutability of Jesus - He doesn't change!   And, Jesus, like the other Persons of the Godhead, is without beginning or end (John 1:1, Revelation 1:11).  And, it is humanity that changes, not God (I Corinthians 5:17).   Therefore, every time we receive the Holy Eucharist, we receive Jesus, and only with His grace imparted to us can our own transformation take place.  The Eucharist changes us, although like the elements of it we do all we've done before, but what we do is made divine in Christ.  In essence, becoming part of God's family entails a complete transformation.  A Syriac Church Father and writer, Aphraat, said it this way - God becomes man's temple, and man God's temple.

Now, this leads to another common issue our Fundamentalist Protestant brethren often bring up about why we call our clergy "Father."  They point out that Jesus Himself, in Matthew 23:9, told us not to call any man "Father," yet what I find interesting as a side note is that if they dare call their own biological fathers by their first names, especially back when many were still young, they probably would have been whaled with a switch or a strap for disrespect!   That is actually quite interesting - as a former Protestant myself, I was also guilty of taking Scripture literally where it suited me, but then allegorizing it when it "helped" my argument.  This is one of those situations.  For instance, take the use of incense in Church.  A Fundamentalist will shriek in horror when the priest or deacon in an Anglican, Orthodox, or Catholic church brings out the thurible and starts censing the congregation, but incense is all over Scripture as a part of both the worship of the Temple in the Old Testament as well as around God's throne in the heavenly sanctuary.  Yet, for all the "literal interpretation" some Protestant Fundamentalists harp on, when it comes to this everything becomes an allegory - "Aww, incense is just a symbol of our prayers, " they say.  Another one in recent years that has really gotten a lot of attention is that verse in Matthew 7:1-3, which a lot of Protestant liberals and charismatics almost beat to death.  That is the classic "Judge not lest ye be judged" passage, and it has been used by many to justify everything from bad music in churches to "gay marriage."  Problem is, most of those using this verse to justify such things err in that they are trying to justify things that the Church already has authority to judge, and many of these same people interpret this verse inconsistently.  I have seen, for instance, people who use this verse to justify rock bands in churches, but often are the first to scream out in judgement at the weakness of one of their own family members - sisters condemning sisters, etc.  Perhaps such people need to study these things a little more closely themselves!  The verse "call no man 'Father' "  also falls into this category, and now we will discuss that a bit.

If we look at the earlier discussion about how the Church reflects Christ, and is an extension of His incarnation on this earth, then it only makes sense that it is Jesus Himself who allows for our clergy to be called "Father."  The verse in Matthew 23:9 is not a prohibition against that, but is rather a warning about self-promotion, or taking on titles to grasp after status and prestige.  Therefore, it is not man who recognizes a priest as "Father," but rather the Church.  

One final note on the familial dimension of the Church involves the communion of saints.  The communion of saints is not a mere abstract doctrine, but is rather a lived reality - we see it best expressed and lived out in the celebration of the Mass around the Lord's Table, sharing a common cup.  It is the familial bond that seals the covenant which identifies us as God's family, and therefore is a mystery that is lived in reality.  Picking that up in the next (and final) section, we will return to the supernatural heavenly dimension of the Mass.


Thursday, November 12, 2015

The Lamb's Supper Part 10 - Worship, Warfare, and Confronting Adversity Sacramentally

In his book The Lamb's Supper, Dr. Hahn opens Chapter 9 with a quote from writer T.S. Elliot that says "humankind cannot bear very much reality."  People in today's society truly do often look for an escape from the pressures of life, and as a result many diversions from stress are on the market.  Some of these "escapes" or diversions range from cheap romance novels to more serious and destructive things such as illicit drugs and pornography, and others abuse alcoholic beverages to such a degree that it creates a dependency.  What humankind truly finds unbearable though is the enormity of evil, which seems to be pervasive and even invasive into the individual lives of so many.   As I am writing this now as a matter of fact, I am doing so almost debating if I even should, being our family has gone through its own crisis - the lesson contained was actually presented at our parish Bible study some months before it was shared here, but in writing it out here and publishing it, at the time I am doing so a lot has been transpiring in my personal life that I still am facing challenges with.  Therefore, perhaps as I am revisiting these notes something may strike a chord even with me, as the teacher is never above learning either.

When faced with adversity - economic difficulties, illness, a sudden death in the family, or some other crisis - we have a naturally-endowed choice to make, and that is either "fight or flight."  This natural endowment is basic to our created nature as human beings, and it is only natural to contemplate a course of action based on one of those two choices.  However, unfortunately "flight" is not always something we can do, and we may be forced to fight in some circumstances.  Due to the fallen state of the world we live in, we can always attempt to run from evil, but we can never hide from it, as some evil will find us eventually.  In some cases, if we flee from the battle itself, we cannot ascend to heaven either.  After all, as any good leader of a nation will attest, we cannot rule unless we conquer our opposition which may threaten our authority.  But, in the midst of that, we have good news.

When the 20th century first dawned, a godly Pope, Leo XIII, occupied the throne in Rome, and at one point he had a vision of what the 20th century would entail, and what he saw essentially was that God was allowing for a "sifting" of the Church, and many would fall away as a result.  According to the vision, Satan appeared before God and challenged Him, saying that in 75 to 100 years he could destroy the Church, and God allowed Satan to try.  The year Pope Leo saw this was 1884, and the timeframe he saw was between 1959 and 1983.  To help aid the faithful, God instructed Leo to compose a prayer that invoked the help of St. Michael the Archangel, and that prayer was to be said after every Low Mass.  Here is that prayer:

Saint Michael, the Archangel, defend us in battle
Be our protection against the wickedness and snares of the devil
May God rebuke him, we humbly pray, and do thou, oh Prince of the heavenly host
By the power of God, thrust into hell, Satan and all the other evil spirits,
Who prowl through the world, seeking the ruin of souls. Amen. 
(from http://www.stjosephschurch.net/leoxiii.htm - accessed 11/12/2015)

One thing this prayer reminds us that should be a comfort is this - two-thirds of the angels are on our side, and they, like St. Michael their commander, battle for us constantly even while we rest.  Additionally, we also have the prayers of the Church Expectant - those in heaven with Christ.  And, ultimately in the end we win because God controls that ultimate outcome.  This means we can count on heavenly help, even though we don't see it immediately.  As a matter of fact, it can be downright troubling to us because it seems like Jesus is "delayed" - especially when the rent payment is due, you have no money to cover it, and you're down to the last couple of meals in the house.  What is so interesting though is that even the very prayers of the saints and angels direct the course of history.  When we look in Revelation 6:10, for example, we see something very interesting.  In the previous nine verses of that chapter, we see an eschatological scenario of all sorts of evil things being released upon the earth, and many have been martyred as a result of that evil (which is historically believed to be the future time of the Great Tribulation, during which the Antichrist rules the earth).  In St. John's vision, the martyrs are under an altar and are crying out to God "How long, O Lord holy and true, until You judge and avenge our blood on those who dwell on the earth?"  These martyrs represent two things.  First, if you go into the sanctuaries of many churches - Roman, Eastern, or Anglo-Catholic - there is usually under the altar a reliquilary containing a relic of the patron saint of that parish church.  That custom is based on this verse, Revelation 6:10.  It serves to remind us of something Tertullian said, that being "the blood of the martyrs is the seed of the Church."   However, in addition to representing past martyrs of the Church, historically this verse also foretells a time of great persecution which will come upon Christians, and is consistent with the New Testament record as a whole.  As Dr. Hahn points out in his book though, the power of the prayers of the saints differs in many aspects from that of the world, and the "wrath of the Lamb" also differs on one level as well.  That begs a question for us - what if the Second Coming of Jesus was much like his first?  This is a curious thought in that some years ago a Christian filmmaker created a film called The Judas Project in which Jesus (represented in the movie by the fictional character Jesse) is alive in our times and is doing His ministry today.  Watching the film makes one think "what if??"  That inspiration leads to this question then - what exactly is the "wrath of the Lamb?"  It is first imperative to understand that viewing God's judgement in lieu of His fatherhood doesn't in any way diminish the standard of His justice, but rather it personalizes it.  We approach Jesus, remember, in the Mass, and one thing we are admonished to do is a self-examination before receiving the Body and Blood of the Lord, and this leads to a form of God's judgement called conviction.  Conviction is a work of the Holy Spirit that in essence brings the "wrath of the Lamb" on our sin from within, and it can be unpleasant if that sin is deeply-rooted.  However it is better that we be judged now than later, because as unpleasant as conviction and the sting of unconfessed sin can be, it is a relatively small thing compared to the eternal fires of hell that await those who don't open themselves up to the Holy Spirit's cleansing work.  It is similar as well with a parent and child - if a child steals candy from a store and is caught, the parent punishes the child then as a sign of love, and it is also a preventitive measure to keep the child from developing that sin as a habit that could one day land him in the state penitentary for a much more heinous crime.  God, as our Father, works with us in a similar way.  This examination of conscience therefore, allowing the Holy Spirit to convict us of any transgressions past or present, prepares us then for the sacramental grace we receive when we do partake of the Eucharist, and hence the next part of this discussion.

The Eucharist is in essence a real and vibrant image of Jesus' Second Coming.  And, just as we will "be changed in the twinkling of an eye" at the Second Coming, so the Eucharist also is transformational.  Every time one partakes of the Eucharist, one is transformed.  A Christian physicist, Frank J. Tipler, even noted that scientifically this transformation can be proven in a scientific term called the  Second Hypothesis of the Singularity.   As Tipler explains this, essentially it is like this - there are two aspects of matter to consider, one being substance and the other accident.  Substance in this context entails what something actually is, while accident is how it appears to the untrained eye.  Through the invocation of the Holy Spirit in the Eucharistic Prayer of the Mass, the substance of the species of the Communion (bread and wine) are changed to the substance of Jesus Himself in a mystery that cannot be explained.  Yet, the accident makes the Eucharistic elements still appear to be bread and wine (Frank J. Tipler. The Physics of Christianity. New York: Doubleday, 2007. pp. 239-240).  As Tipler explains on page 239 of his text, the Roman Catholic term transubstantiation is defined in modern physics as quantum coherence, meaning at the atomic level the elements look the same, but its coherence is different because Jesus Himself establishes coherence between the bread and His Body.  Years ago, I also read another study (although I cannot remember for the life of me who wrote it or where it came from!) that established that there is an element in the red blood cells of Christians that cannot be found in the non-Christian, and that was fascinating!  It simply means that we are being transformed into that which God originally created us to be, and it doesn't necessarily happen overnight - as a matter of fact, it only fully happens at the repose of our bodies.  Our Eastern Christian brethren call this process of sanctification Theosis (Qeosis) and it is something that begins at our baptism and continues until our glorification at death.  I said all that to lead into how the Eucharist also plays into our hope of Christ's Second Coming, in that this transformation happens every time we partake of the Holy Eucharist at Mass.

The Eucharist is a very real image of the Second Coming in that it is, as we just discussed, transformational.  That gives us hope then in that we can see current events as a story which has a conclusion we already know.  We are again reminded of Romans 8:28 here, which reminds us that "all things work together for good for those who love God and are called according to His purpose."   This is part of the "Blessed Hope" we have in the Second Coming, and is realized every time we approach the Lord's table as well.  The reason for Romans 8:28 can also be found in the Lord's Prayer with the petition "Thy will be done," for the will of God intends all history to lead us to the eternal communion of the Marriage Supper. 

The encouragement in this today is simple - although hell and death appear to prevail in the world, they really don't have the power they appear to have.  Our prayers, and especially the Holy Eucharist, are the force that propels history toward its goal.  And, in the sacrifice of the Mass, history truly achieves its goal.   The Mass is where Christ and the Church celebrate their wedding feast and consummate their marriage.  Therefore, despite adversity, we continue to fight because not all who are invited to the feast have arrived.  And, this is where the evangelical mission of the Church comes into play.  God first of all wills that we play an indispensible role in salvation history, and although we may ask "what can I do?", the reality is that we are the vessels through which the Holy Spirit works to bring about God's will to mankind.  It is both the Holy Spirit and the Bride of Christ (the Church) who issue the invitation to mankind. and although we as the Church issue the invitation, the enemy (the Antichrist spirit that has worked throughout history) works tirelessly but in vain against us.  However, the most dangerous enemy is not outside, but within - our own concupiscence and the weaknesses it exploits to compell us to sin - and it needs to be identified and rooted out, including the overcoming of sinful habits.  Therefore, the bottom line is that we can only advance when we come to know ourselves as we truly are, that being as God sees us.  Only in the Eucharist can we do this.  At the Eucharist, we face the judgment seat of Christ, and as we bow in humility before that throne, only then can we be lifted up.  And, it is that uplifting which transforms us.   We now look at how this fits into the sequence of our Mass.

This fact - seeing ourselves as we really are and allowing God to transform us into what we should be - is why it is so important to do a thorough self-examination when we participate in the Mass, and it is also a reason why the Mass as a whole works together to lead us to that ultimate encounter with Christ.  In our Anglican Book of Common Prayer, there are four components to the Mass that we do just that, and they are intersperse throughout.  The first is called the General Confession, which is generally prayed after the Offeratory and marks the end of the Liturgy of the Word.  The prayer is found on page 75 of the Prayer Book, and here it is:

Almighty God, Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, Maker of all things, Judge of all men; we acknowledge and bewail our manifold sins and wickedness, which we from time most grievously have committed, by thought, word, and deed against Thy divine majesty, provoking most justly Thy wrath and indignation against us.   We do earnestly repent, and are heartily sorry for these our misdoings; the remembrance of them is grievous unto us, the burden of them intolerable. Have mercy upon us, have mercy upon us, most merciful Father; for thy Son our Lord Jesus Christ's sake, forgive us all that is past and grant that we may ever hereafter serve and please Thee in newness of life, to the honor and glory of Thy name, through Jesus Christ our Lord, amen.  

After the priest announces absolution upon the congregation, he then proclaims what are called "The Comfortable Words" on page 76 of the Prayer Book.  An interesting story is behind this part of our Mass.  In the early 1800's, America experienced a religious revival called the Great Awakening, and many of the preachers of the frontier that participated in this revival were Anglican Low Churchmen who often used the Book of Common Prayer in those settings.  As many frontiersmen converted to Christianity from some rather wild lifestyles, these conversions were often dramatic and en masse, which led to the evolution of what is called in Evangelical revivalistic tradition the "altar call."  As I envisioned some of these black-robed Anglican clerics preaching to these masses of people and receiving converts to Christianity, one thing I connected was the fact that many of the Scripture references used in these "Comfortable Words" in the Prayer Book are also commonly used today in Evangelical revival meetings at altar calls, and it is not a vain conclusion to assume that perhaps this is where that inspiration came from.  Let us look at the "Comfortable Words," which are exclusive to the traditional Anglican Mass, and see what they entail:

Hear what comfortable words our Saviour Christ saith unto all who truly turn to Him:

Come unto Me, all ye that travail and are heavy laden, and I will refresh you (Matthew 11:28)

So God loved the world, that He gave His only-begotten Son, to the end that all that believe in Him should not perish, but have everlasting life (John 3:16)

Hear also what Saint Paul saith.  This is a true saying, and worthy of all men to be received, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners (I Timothy 1:15)

Hear also what Saint John saith.  If any man sin, we have an Advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous, and He is the propitiation for oru sins (I John 2:1-2)

In many ancient liturgies, it is around this point - after the Confession and before the Sursum Corda - that catechumens were typically dismissed from the Mass, as now it was the beginning of the Communion of the Faithful.  The Confession and the Comfortable Words serve as a continual call to conversion and transformation, not only of the unbaptized but also of the faithful.  And, they are part of this process of self-examination we have discussed to prepare us for the Lord's Table.  Two other prayers just before reception also further compell us in that direction, reminding us of the spirit of humility we all should have in approaching the Holy Eucharist.  The first of those is the Agnus Dei ("Oh Lamb of God, who taketh away the sins of the world, have mercy upon us") and the second is a prayer one finds in older Roman Missals as well as in the Anglican Book of Common Prayer, the Domine non sum dignus ("Lord I am not worthy that Thou shouldst come under my roof, but speak the word only, and my soul shall be healed.") which is repeated three times by striking one's right breast with the left fist.  These prayers of the Church are included in the Mass to encourage recollection, which in turn allows us to examine our own thoughts words, and deeds.  In addition to praying during Mass prayers like those just discussed, we also pray before Mass as well, and these quiet, private prayers (sometimes with lighting of candles) assist us in concentrating on the reality of the Mass despite exterior distractions.   It is also customary to receive the Sacrament of Reconcilliation prior to receiving the Eucharist as well, as it is an outward fruit of this internal self-examination and also Scriptural as it is recorded in James 5.  The Anglican Catholic Church, the communion of which I am a part, does recognize Reconcilliation as one of the seven sacraments of the Church - this is affirmed in the Affirmation of St. Louis (1977) as well as historic Anglo-Catholic practice, though as Archbishop Haverland notes, "Anglican practice is much looser (than Roman Catholic practice - my add) but a good churchman should receive this sacrament at least once a year before making their Easter Communion" (Mark Haverland, Anglican Catholic Faith and Practice. Athens, GA:  Anglican Parishes Association, 2011. p. 77).  The Sacrament of Reconcilliation is also listed twice in the Book of Common Prayer, although no specific form is provided being that the sacrament is by nature a private sacrament - many ACC clergy, for instance, use the Roman formula for Confession.  It is also noted in Scripture, in James 5:16.   However, there are safeguards and guidelines to administering and receiving this sacrament that are vital.  One of these is that the minister of the Sacrament must be a trained and credentialed minister of the Church.   Second, there is the "seal of confession," which means what is heard in the administering of the sacrament remains with the priest and cannot be violated. It is also of note that the sacrament of Reconcilliation is also strongly and intimately associated with the sacrament of Unction, in that healing of the body and penance of the soul were always historically and theologically linked to each other.  The classic ancient manual of Church discpline that is an integral part of the Fidei Depositum called the Didache further suggests that Confession should precede every reception of the Eucharist, so that our sacrifice as faithful disciples may be pure.  The standard for receiving the sacrament of Reconcilliation for both Anglican Catholics and Roman Catholics is once a year, although the faithful are encouraged to go frequently by many of the writings of the Church Fathers and Saints. 

So, what does that mean for us, and where do we stand?  First, we are sinners by nature and weak, and awareness of that is vital. However, we are also on the stronger side of the battle as faithful Christians.  We invoke angels and worship our God beside them in the Mass as their equals.  And, as Dr. Hahn points out on page 141 of The Lamb's Supper, the Mass for us is comparable to the Normandy invasion of 1944 in the spiritual realm.  We can also invoke the saints, as they are powerful allies for us.  As we noted in Revelation 6:9-10, God's vengeance follows close upon the prayers of the martyrs beneath the altar.  And, as an army is ordered, so are we in the Church Militant in the liturgy - we approach confident, joyful, and assured of the fact that God is our strength.   However, preparation for the Mass is a lifelong process in that doctrinal and spiritual formation to prepare for it is vital - that is why we study (2 Timothy 2:15) and pray (2 Thessalonians 5:17), as well as assemble ourselves together (Hebrews 10:25).   We also make the Sign of the Cross with full knowledge that it is the banner we carry - before the Cross, demons tremble!   In doing so, we dip holy water upon our fingers with knowledge that this water also makes the demons flee.  We recite hymns such as the Gloria, as well as the historic Creeds of the Church, as if our lives depended upon them (in essence, they truly do!).   Then, when we receive Jesus in Holy Communion, we route the enemy at that moment, and from henceforth we can keep watch with Jesus's watchfulness.  The brightness of the Mass goes from the sanctuary of the Church home with us, and as we grow in grace, it will shine brighter still the more we partake of it.  The lesson therefore is that the light of Christ always triumphs over spiritual darkness, and this is why we are exhorted in Matthew 5:14-16 to let that light shine in us rather than hiding it under a basket.  

However, although our victory is assured, the fight can be intense.  In the Mass itself even, we often struggle with the aggravations of distractions - screaming kids, someone's strong perfume, bad singing, etc.  That leads me to relate a humorous story.   Some years back, when we attended a small Anglican parish in St. Pete, FL, the vicar's wife was also a sort of unofficial choirmaster.  Now, up-front, the vicar and his wife were two of the most loving and gracious people you would ever hope to meet, and as a vicar he did an outstanding job in that parish.  However, his wife was, well, one of those people who was not that musically-gifted, and God bless her, she tried (and the Lord honored that I feel).  On one occasion - I want to say it was either an Easter or Christmas Mass - we were at Mass and the organ was playing either during the Offeratory or a Communion hymn.   The organ music was very worshipful, and it really helped the worshippers to be led into an attitude of receptivity for what God did in the Mass.  However, at a point - mind you, we were sitting right in front of the choir too! - this loud, off-key shreik came from the choir, and it was the vicar's wife beginning her solo part in the anthem the organist was playing.  I about jumped out of my seat!  The lesson here is that the warfare and distractions are sometimes unitentional on the part of those who may be doing them, and indeed, in the case of our vicar's wife the best intentions were there.  However, Satan can use those to cause us to lose focus, and we need to somehow see past the distractions and focus upon what is happening sacramentally.  The reason for this is that the "unveiling" we discussed in the last lesson in John's Apocalypse can be as terrifying as it is consoling, but the good news is that we can prevail with heavenly aid.  Although we are children of God, and are incorporated as Christians sacramentally into His promises, we still live in this world, and it is a world afflicted with constant perils, both small and great.   However, the victory does belong to us, and is there for the taking.  This hearkens also back to the Lord's Prayer, when we pray the final petition "deliver us from evil."  Not only are we asking for that deliverance, but in essence we are also giving God glory for providing it before we ask - that is, if we understand that God hears prayers differently from us.  So, the next time the bratty kids or the bad singers - or the junior warden's snoring son on the back pew! - attempt to distract us, may we recall the reason why we are in church in the first place, and lay claim to the victory which is ours to overcome such petty distractions.

In conclusion, the Church has always taught that the end is near in two ways.  First, at your parish church, where it is something to run to and not from. Secondly, as Protestant writer Mark Hitchcock said in a conference I attended some years back, we as Christians have lived in the "last days" since Jesus ascended the first time, but now we are in the latter part of those last days.  As we see prophetic events unfold in the world around us, we have really no cause for fear, as for the Christian this is good news!  It means we will be with our Lord soon, and we should also confort and encourage each other with that thought.  It also means that the Mass, for those of us who are Catholic Christians, is a preview of that day, and hence our participation in it is in essence a participation in the Second Coming - it means, I guess, that we are in a way "raptured" every time we receive the Eucharist!   On that note, we will pick up the next study. 

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

The Lamb's Supper Part 9 - Extraordinary Censers and Lifting Our Hearts and Spirits

This teaching is in two parts - one spills over from Part 8, and the other continues with a new subject area altogether.  We are continuing on Dr. Hahn's book, The Lamb's Supper, and as mentioned in previous studies this is not meant to be a word-for-word teaching of the book, but rather the book provides a sort of structure for the teachings presented.  The substance of this teaching, if you are following along with the book, picks up on page 121, and we are going to talk a little about incense and related issues as they relate to St. John's vision in Revelation.

In the book of Revelation, as we have seen, St. John depicts the celestial scenes in earthly terms, and why is that?  First, it is how God revealed it to him - God revealed heavenly worship in Revelation in earthly terms so it would teach mankind how to worship.  Remember, Revelation is an "unveiling" (Greek apokalupsw, "unveiling") and is a term that is connected with the marital covenant relationship.  Therefore, as a book Revelation is a visionary reflection then that reveals a norm.   It also emphasizes Christians embracing a new covenant that includes rather than excludes the old.  That fact leads to a few parallels to discuss.

The first parallel is a sealing of the Covenant.  In the Old Covenant, the sealing was via the painful act of male circumcision, but in the Church it is a sealing through a much different and less invasive symbol, that of the sacrament of Holy Baptism.  A second parallel is the day set aside for worship - for Israel, it was the seventh-day Sabbath, but for the Church it is the Lord's Day, which is the first day of the week (Sunday).  The commemorative parallel is embodied for Israel in the Passover, but for the Church it is not just commemorative but a present reality of Christ's presence in the Holy Eucharist;  the former was annual and infrequent, while the latter is very frequent. The point of these parallels is that Jesus didn't come to do away with everything in the Old Covenant, but rather to complete it, and He does so through the establishment of the Church.  The Church intensifies and internationalizes, as well as internalizing, the worship of Israel.  The Incarnation of Christ also invested many of the trappings of the Old Covenant with greater capacities.  For instance, this Covenant was no longer required to be carried out at a central place on earth, as Christ is now enthroned in heaven functioning as our High Priest in a heavenly Holy of Holies.  That being the case, it begs the question - does this mean the Church doesn't have externals, as some of our Fundamentalist Protestant brethren would say?  Not at all!  As a matter of fact, we can not only have the externals, but heaven also, which is one dimension to the petition in the Lord's Prayer we pray that says "Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven."  To examine this further, it must be remembered that God created the visible universe, and all that is in it we read in Genesis 1 in several places He said "it is good," and therefore we cannot eschew the externals and only have a cerebral faith - that fallacy was the foundation of an ancient heresy called gnosticism, and unfortunately we see some remnants of that even among Protestant Evangelicals, who often think that for some reason external expressions of worship are "evil" or something.   Does not God's creation testify of His glory also?  If so, then it is only natural that we as Christians worship with all our being, including all senses, and there is absolutely no harm in doing so.  Therefore, it is important to remember that the next time some Evangelical brother derides "smells and bells" in our worship, remind them that God uses the things of nature at times to convey supernatural truth.  

As we focus next on the "Heavenly Zion," it is important to remember that although the Church now has the fullness of the New Covenant, it doesn't mean that we advocate the heresy of revocationism (saying the Church somehow "replaced" natural Israel and revoked its covenant, a view also called "Replacement Theology").   The Jewish people still have a special place in God's plan, and many Catholic Fathers, saints, and visionaries over the centuries have affirmed that just prior to the end of days, a conversion of the Jewish people will take place.  This is even noted in the Catechism of the Catholic Church when it notes that "the 'full inclusion' of the Jews in the Messiah's salvation, in the wake of 'the full number of Gentiles,' will enable the people of God to achieve 'the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ,' in which 'God may be all in all.' " (CCC, 674).  We also note here CCC 839, which says "To the Jews belong the sonship, the glory, the covenants, the giving of the law, the worship, and the promises; to them belong the patriarchs, and of the race, according to the flesh, is the Christ, for the gifts and calling of God are irrevocable (Romans 11:29)."   This means that anti-Semitism has no place in Christian worship, theology, or spirituality, because God has not totally forsaken the Jews and will give them the final opportunity to accept Christ as a nation as their promised Messiah.  Therefore, the focus of the "Heavenly Zion" is not to be interpreted as "replacement" of the Jews, but is rather something else, and here it is.  In Hebrews 12:21-24, we have what is an abstract of the whole book of Revelation essentially - it talks about the "Heavenly Zion" as being sealed by a new covenant, a covenant it states specifically in verse 24 as being one of blood.   The "blood covenant" it speaks of here is the Eucharist, and it is Christ's own Blood which is the focal point of the covenant, and our "road to Zion," so to speak.  The physical Zion was also a major part of this covenant, because it was in the physical Zion that the Eucharist was fully initiated and executed.  And, the physical Mount Zion is in a real sense the place of the heavenly Jerusalem, and serves as a symbol of our earthly point of contact with heaven.  And, as Christians, we are there with Jesus whenever we participate in the Mass.  And, that is the significance of the "Heavenly Zion!"

Now, we turn again to the marriage allegory in Revelation.  As mentioned, the Greek word for "revelation," apokalupsw, literally means an "unveiling," and it was a marital term related to the lifting of the veil of a virgin bride just before the consummation of the marriage in the conjugal act.  The "unveiling" imagery in Revelation means just that in a spiritual sense too - it is a union of heaven and earth as cosummated in the Holy Eucharist.   If fully realized and appreciated, the closeness of the union of heaven is such that it is akin to the fruitful and ecstatic union of the love of a husband and wife.  This imagery is also used in Ephesians 5 to describe the Church as the Bride of Christ, and Revelation is her "unveiling" in a real sense.  The climax of the apokalupsw therefore is the communion of the Church with Christ, the "Marriage Supper" of Revelation 19:9.   It is from that point that man rises from earth to worship in heaven, and therefore both heaven and earth participate together in a single act of loving worship as embodied in the Holy Eucharist.  

We now turn our attention to Revelation 11:12, and the phrase "come up hither."  For many Evangelical Protestants who espouse what is called a pretribulational eschatology, this verse is often given an association with I Thessalonians 4:16 as a justification for belief in an event known as the Rapture.  The word Rapture is from the Latin word rapeo, and it entails a "catching up" (this is also the root of the word rhapsody as well), and in essence every Christian does believe in a Rapture, but it is the timing that is the focus of theological debate.  However, that would be the focus of a whole other teaching, for although Revelation 11:12 is used to substantiate the Rapture teaching, there is another focus that Dr. Hahn wants to emphasize in his book, and it relates directly to the Mass itself.  In both our Anglican Liturgy as well as the Roman Catholic Mass, there is a prayer that is said normally at the beginning of the Communion of the Faithful called the Sursum Corda, and essentially it is this - the priest says "Lift up your hearts," to which the response is "We lift them up unto the Lord." 
The reason this is said is to remind us that something very special is about to happen, and we are admonished to open our hearts to it as St. John did in Revelation.  Therefore, "lifting up our hearts" is a worship in the spirit.  However, in order to do that, we must first seek recollection, which is one reason why in the Eastern liturgies the command "Wisdom, let us attend" (in Greek, sofia) is proclaimed before important aspects of the Liturgy, such as the Gospel Lesson and the Eucharistic prayer.  In other words, we cannot be occupied with the temporal when we should be focused on something greater - we are about to receive Jesus, and that alone is worthy of our attention.  This is why too in the Christian East one of the prayers said is called the Cherubimic Hymn, and it is as follows:

We who mystically represent the Cherubim, and sing to the life-giving Trinity the thrice-holy hymn, let us lay aside all earthly care; that we may receive the King of all, who comes invisibly upborne by the Angelic Hosts.  Alleluia, alleluia, alleluia! (A Pocket Prayer Book for Orthodox Christians. Englewood, NJ:  Antiochian Orthodox Christian Archdiocese of North America, 1956. p. 77)

The Orthodox Cherubimic Hymn conveys the idea well that this discussion was emphasizing, and again it requires the giving our whole being, as a virgin bride submits herself to her husband on her wedding night, in order to fully participate in the mystical union of "heaven and earth" that is realized in the reception of the Holy Eucharist.  As the next study picks up, the discussion will turn to the relation of the Mass as a weapon of spiritual warfare against the enemies of our souls.  

Tuesday, November 10, 2015

The Lamb's Supper Part 8 - "Heaven on Earth"

The year was around  AD 987, and in the city of Constantinople, seat of the Christian Byzantine/Roman Empire,  a rather disheveled-looking group of visitors arrived at the Emperor's court.   These befurred and somewhat rough-looking visitors were from the court of Prince Vladimir, Grand Duke of Novgorod in the far-off land of Rus, and they were on a special mission from their ruler, a mission of religious inquiry.   The emissaries had already visited the lands of the Germans (the Holy Roman Empire), the Khazars (a Turkish tribe north and west of the Caspian Sea who had earlier adopted Judaism as their religion), and the Volga Bulgars (another Islamic Turkish tribe east of the land of Rus itself).  The emissaries and their prince were not impressed with the religious practices and ceremonies of these other nations, so here they were in Constantinople.  The Emperor, far from being appalled at the appearance of these exotic visitors from the North, enthusiastically informed the Orthodox Patriarch to prepare for a Pontifical Liturgy, as he wanted to show these visitors the glory of the God they served.  Upon the conclusion of the visit, both the Patriarch and Emperor saw the emissaries off with gifts and honor, and they returned to their leader in Novgorod.  When they arrived back home and were asked to give an account of this visit, the emissaries said of "the Greeks" the following: "Then we went to Greece, and the Greeks led us to the edifices where they worship their God, and we knew not whether we were in heaven or on earth.  For on earth there is no such splendor or such beauty, and we are at a loss as to how to describe it.  We only know that God dwells ther among men, and their service is fairer than the ceremonies of other nations.  For we cannot forget that beauty.  Every man, after tasting something sweet, is afterward unwilling to accept that which is bitter, and therefore we cannot dwell longer here." (from Cross and Sherbowizt-Wetzor, trans. The Russian Primary Chronicle - Laurentian Text.  Canbridge, MA: the Medieaval Academy of America, 1953. p. 11).  Some years earlier, Prince Vladimir's mother, St. Olga, had become a baptized Christian, and Vladimir therefore had some idea of this faith, as did his boyars (nobles), and upon asking their counsel, the boyars said this: "If the Greek faith were evil, it would not have been adopted by your grandmother Olga who was wiser than all other men," at which point Vladimir asked if it would be imperative to be baptized then - the boyars said the decision was ultimately his, and thankfully he decided to do just that a year later after during a battle in which, like St. Constantine some centuries before, Vladimir promised to be baptized if he prevailed against his enemies in battle, and of course he did.  At the time of his baptism as well, Vladimir was suffering from a serious eye ailment, and when the Orthodox bishop of Kherson baptized him, Vladimir was immediately and miraculously healed, and his comment that day was "I have now perceived the one true God."  And that is the story of how Russia became Christian, based on just a visit to a full Liturgy of the Church.

In Isaiah 6:5, we note that the Prophet received a similar revelation to what Vladimir's emissaries received when we read that when Isaiah had a vision of heaven, in which God was sitting on His throne, with the full pageantry of the courts of the Almighty displayed, he was humbled and could only say "Woe is me, for I am undone! Because I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people with unclean lips.  For my eyes have seen the King, the Lord of hosts" (Isaiah 6:5, NKJV).  However, in response to Isaiah's humility, God sends on of the seraphs from around His throne with a live coal from the altar and touches Isaiah's mouth, saying, "Behold, this has touched your lips.  Your iniquity is taken away, and your sin is purged" (Isaiah 6:7, NKJV).  This account mirrors that of the Apostle St. John in Revelation 1:12-20, in which when the Apostle beheld the glory of God in His sanctuary, he fainted, but like Isaiah with the coal, Jesus Himself laid his right hand on the Apostle, and said, "Do not be afraid, I am the First and the Last" (Revelation 1:17, NKJV), and then He begins to give John what amounts to an episcopal letter to seven churches in the diocese St. John was the bishop of, and He did so in a liturgical context.  In both cases, Isaiah and John were encountering the same Lord and God in their respective visions, and in a different way so were the Russian emissaries who participated in the Liturgy in the Church in Constantinople many centuries later.  There is a sacramental dimension to this witnessed presence of Christ in all these examples, and it is here our lesson focuses.

Oftentimes, a Greek word parousia is used to refer to the Second Coming, and indeed this word (in Latin alphabet we know it as Parousia) can be used in that context.  However, the word parousia means so much more than that, as its literal translation is "presence," and the presence it references is a very specific type of presence - it is a real, personal, living, lasting, and active presence.  It hearkens back also to the promise Jesus made in the Great Commission in Matthew 28:20 when He declared "Lo, I am with you always," and it symbolizes something more than just a "blessed hope" of His return.  The parousia is also imminent in that it takes place right now, and in particular when Christians celebrate the sacrament of the Holy Eucharist.  In quoting Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI, it is essentially being that "liturgy is anticipated Parousia, the 'already' entering our 'not yet."  Looking at this from a Catholic Christian dimension, it means that God dwells among mankind now because the Mass is "heaven on earth" in a very real sense. 

This idea of the Mass as "heaven on earth" is an explicit teaching of the Church and integral to the Fidei Depositum.  If we look in the Catechism of the Catholic Church, for instance, it is noted that worship in the Mass is worship that participates in the liturgy of heaven (CCC, 1089).  Also, from an Eastern Orthodox perspective, Fr. Peter Gillquist notes in his book Becoming Orthodox (Ben Lomond, CA: Conciliar Press, 1989) on pages 79-80 that the Divine Liturgy (or Mass in the West) is the grandest multi-media event of all time (here he references Catholic convert Thomas Howard) but it is even more so because of our participation in it.  Dr. Hahn likewise notes on page 117 of  The Lamb's Supper (New York: Doubleday, 2002) that at Mass we are in a sense already in heaven, and he notes the Catechism here which says essentially that the earthly liturgy of the Church is a foretaste of the heavenly (CCC, 1090).  This leads to a bit of a problem then - if this is the case, why are so many people in our parishes so passive and indifferent when it comes to celebrating the Mass?  I mean, people go up, take communion, sit back down, and then look at their watches so they don't miss the Sunday pot roast cooking at home or the Packers game on Fox today.   If we truly understood what we are partaking in, it should fire us up more than a Pentecostal woman at a tent revival, shouldn't it?   Yet, tragically it does not.  This is a very important reason too why more effective catechesis must incorporate the Liturgy into it, and in doing so it would engender a greater love for what we are doing as a Church and we would also have a richer understanding as to why we do what we do, and this is the whole point of these studies as well.  Therefore, we need to first start with Scripture, and in particular with this study of Revelation, and identify where different elements of the Liturgy can be found.  It is also a good apologetic when we come up against the occasional Fundamentalist Protestant who for some reason believes the Liturgy of our Church to be some sort of "pagan ceremony" due to another type of poor discipleship such people receive too - thus, there is also an evangelical dimension to understanding the Liturgy as well.

If we want to truly see the Lord Jesus coming in glory, and if we want to experience the Liturgy the way that St. Vladimir's emissaries witnessed it in Constantinople over 1200 years ago, we must learn to read Revelation through the Church's eyes.   I want to first relate a personal story here of how I came to appreciate this better, as it was something that gives me a powerful testimony of my own Christian life.  Back in 2001, Barb and I were attending the Cathedral of Saint Jude, the great Roman Catholic diocesan see for the Diocese of St. Pete, FL.  I was sitting about midway back in the church that day during Mass, as Barb had attended an earlier Mass due to volunteering at the parish book store.  At about the time Fr. Kovanis, who was celebrating the Mass that day, was praying the Eucharistic Prayer over the Host, I saw as plain as day a pillar of fire descend over the altar of that church, and it was as if I knew then that this was truly Jesus I was receiving when I took the Eucharist, and not some mere "memorial" or "symbol."  Up to this point, I was struggling with my own doubts, as I was still in High-Church Protestant mindset then (although I was chrismated into the Church on Easter Vigil in the year 2000) and merely thought that although something powerful and sacramental happened at the Consecration, the Host and chalice only contained teh Body and Blood.  That day my perception changed, as I realized that what I was receiving was Jesus!  Jesus had given me a parousia of Himself that day in a very intimate way, and it has stuck with me even to this day.  This is when the guidelines that Dr. Hahn gives in his book The Lamb's Supper really took on a new meaning for me, and now I will share with you what those are.  First, Revelation must be read with the sacramental imagination - the prophetic and sacramental, the eschatological and the Eucharistic, all converge.  Secondly, to understand prophecy, prophecy needs to be understood sacramentally.   Revelation indeed does speak of end-times events, and no one believes that stronger than Yours Truly!  However, Revelation is also more than just a book of prophecy, but rather a book of revealing, and a book that makes the presence of Jesus a centerpiece of its whole theme.  This is true throughout Scripture, and it is consistent with what is called a Christocentric hermeneutic of Scripture too.   That being established, I have a little guide about the "glory hidden in the routine" that we see in Revelation, chapter-by-chapter:

Revelation 1-3:

1.  Sunday Worship (1:10)
2. A High Priest (1:13)
3. Lampstands (candles) (1:12)
4. Priesthood of the faithful (1:6)
5. Penitence and General Confession (Rev. 2-3)
6. Eucharistic Host (2:17)
7. Lampstands again (Rev. 2-5)

Revelation 4:

1. Priesthood (presbuteroi) and vestments (4:4)
2. The Sanctus (4:8)
3. Antiphonal Chant (4:8-11)

Revelation 5: 

1. The Scripture Lessons (whole chapter)
2. The Agnus Dei (5:6)
3. The Gospel lesson (5:1)
4. Incense, intercession of saints and angels (5:8)
5. Antiphonal Chant (5:9-14)

Revelation 6:

1. Vestments (6:11)
2. Intercession of angels and saints (6:9-10)

Revelation 7:

1. Vestments (7:9)
2. Sign of the Cross (7:3)
3. Chant (7:10-12)
4. Universality (catholicity) (7:9)

Revelation 8:

1. Contemplation (8:1)
2. Altar (8:3-4)
3. Incense (8:3-5)
4. Intercession of angels and saints (8:3-4)
5. Readings (lessons) from Scripture (8:2-11)

Revelation 9-12:

1. Altar (11:1)
2. Priests (presbuteroi) (11:15)
3. The Sursum Corda (11:12)
4. Prominence of the Blessed Virgin Mary (12:1-6)
5. St. Michael the Archangel (12:7)

Revelation 13-17:

1. Blessed Virgin Mary (all four chapters throughout)
2. Priests (14:3)
3. Vestments (14:18, 15:6) and altar
4. Voluntary gift of celibacy (14:4)
5. Chalices (15:7, ch. 16)
6. Sign of the Cross (14:1)
7. Gloria in Excelsis (15:3-4)

Revelation 18-22:

1. Chant (18:1-8)
2. Vestments (19:13-14)
3. Alleluia (19:1,3,4,6)
4. Amen (19:4)
5. Marriage Supper of the Lamb (typology of Eucharist here) (19:9,17)
6. Priesthood of the faithful (20:6)
7. Sign of the Cross (22:4)
8. Amen (22:21)

Taken together, the above references from Revelation comprise a great majority of the Mass as celebrated, although there are also other Scriptural references that could be cited in addition to these in Revelation if time allowed.  Although much is given to details in the Mass, and indeed these details have an inter-connectivity with the catechetical task as well, it is important to understand that the Mass must also be taken in the grand scheme of its totality, just like Scripture.  Ironically too, just like the Mass Revelation is also divided into two sections - the first 11 chapters are focused on the Word and its proclamation, both in the case of Jesus and in the literal written word of pastoral missives to the various parishes in Asia that St. John was bishop of.  The second (chapters 12-22) is focused on the Marriage Supper imagery, which is a typology of the part of the Mass called "the Communion of the Faithful."   Again, the prophetic is fully realized in the sacramental, and as we read Revelation again may we understand it that way.  

On that note, we will pick up in the next lesson with more of the celestial imagery and the typologies in Revelation that also reflect the Old Testament.