Thursday, July 21, 2011

The Forgotten Parousia

Google parousia and you will find a uniform definition that says something to the effect of coming, specifically Christ's coming again at the end of the age, His return in glory for judgment.  Interesting.  Yet the primary definition of parousia does not mean future coming but rather presence -- even abiding presence.  We have become so fixated upon the idea of the last days and Jesus "return" in glory that we have missed something here -- something profound.

All the secular Greek dictionaries define parousia, "presence;" most Biblical dictionaries also hold as at least the primary definition of parousia as "presence." But a strange thing has happened and now, somehow, the word means "coming" and "coming" has replaced "presence" as the primary association in the minds of people.

The truth is that too many Christians regard Christ as largely absent from their lives and absent from life in general.  He can be called upon but He is not present until He is bidden.  In a recent Bible study I asked who is in charge of this world and nearly all uniformly said "the devil."  The usual image is that we live as Christians alone in a world which is our enemy, ruled by the devil, waiting for Christ to come and usurp the devil from his throne.  Well, what happened on Good Friday and Easter Sunday?  What happens every Sunday?  While this confusion might be somewhat understandable among Christians who have no sense of God's presence through the means of grace, it is not acceptable for Lutheran Christians to speak in those terms.

We do not live in a world where Christ is absent.  We live in a world where Christ's presence ("Lo, I will be with you always even to the end of the age") is hidden and not obvious -- it is seen with the eyes of faith and not so easily with the eyes in our head.  Christ IS present.  He has not left nor has He abandoned us, for whom He suffered, died, and rose again.  He is present in His fullness -- as King, as Lord, as Prophet, as Priest.  Where?  In the Eucharist.

Before he was made Benedict XVI, Cardinal Josef Ratzinger once wrote "Liturgy is anticipated Parousia -- the 'already' entering our 'not yet."  Where is our Lord?  We have taught our children wrongly to point to heaven as if Christ were absent when we ought to be pointing to the altar where Christ is present according to His promise, hidden in bread that is His body and wine that is His blood.


There is in LSB a couple of wonderful collects that put it just so: 

Gracious God, our heavenly Father, You have given us a foretaste of the feast to come in the Holy Supper of Your Son's body and blood. Keep us firm in the true faith throughout our days of pilgrimage that, on the day of His coming, we may, together with all Your saints, celebrate the marriage feast of the Lamb in His kingdom which has no end; through Jesus Christ, Your Son, our Lord, who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever.


and

Lord Jesus Christ, Your time has come, for You have traveled to Jerusalem for the Passover from death to life. Help us to live knowing that the time of our redemption is at hand as You continue to dwell among us at the feast of Your very body and blood, a foretaste of the feast to come; for You live and reign with the Father and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever.

In addition, the same theme is present in hymn/song 955, Let the Vineyards Be Fruitful:

Let the vineyards be fruitful, Lord,
And fill to the brim our cup of blessing.
Gather a harvest from the seeds that were sown,
That we may be fed with the bread of life.
Gather the hopes and the dreams of all;
Unite them with the prayers we offer now.
Grace our table with Your presence, and give us
A foretaste of the feast to come.



Sadly, the richness of this truth too often passes over our heads.  The Eucharist is then merely a nice little add on to the worship of God's people, an optional extra not essential to us.  The Eucharist is the means of Christ's presence to us and for us and it is here in this Sacrament that we encounter the promise kept ("I will be with you always...").  Right here and right now in the Eucharist, our Lord gives Himself to us and in this communion we both glimpse and anticipate the heavenly banquet, the Marriage Supper of the Lamb in His kingdom without end.  Christ brings heaven down to us on earth, complete with the apostles, saints, angels and archangels (as the Preface reminds us).

I wonder if this could explain the hesitance of some Lutherans to embrace the weekly Eucharist, the frequent communion, and the piety which has both its source and summit in the Lord's Supper.  In the Eucharist we see by faith and receive in the holy eating and holy drinking the heavenly glory hidden in the earthly element, the extraordinary in the ordinary, the mundane that is made sublime. When we realize what Christ has given to us in the Mass, this heaven on earth experience, our sacramental communion with the Divine, we will experience with full effect that of which St. John speaks of "in the Spirit in the Lord's House on the Lord's Day."  Then and maybe then, we will learn to pray with renewed fervor before we present ourselves as the baptized to receive the things of God prepared for us:

Lord Jesus, You invite all who are burdened with sin to come to You for rest. We now come at Your invitation to the heavenly feast, which You have provided for Your children on earth. Preserve us from impenitence and unbelief, cleanse us from our unrighteousness, and clothe us with the righteousness purchased with Your blood. Strengthen our faith, increase our love and hope, and assure us a place at Your heavenly table, where we will eat eternal manna and drink of the river of Your pleasure forever and ever. Hear us, Jesus, for Your own sake.

19 comments:

Jon M. Ellingworth said...

Thank you for this terrific post! At the 2010 Symposia at Concordia Theological Seminary, Fort Wayne, Indiana Dr. Scott Hahn made this great quote, "The Eucharist is not compensation for a delayed Parousia. It is the Parousia." And, lo, I am with you always...

Pastor T.G. Waite said...

I just recently "stumbled" across your blog, and found myself most grateful for many of your reflections. This current post is exceptional, indeed. Thank you for your faithfulness to Our Lord and His Church and, please, keep up the excellent work! Pax Christi!

christl242 said...

I wonder if this could explain the hesitance of some Lutherans to embrace the weekly Eucharist, the frequent communion, and the piety which has both its source and summit in the Lord's Supper. In the Eucharist we see by faith and receive in the holy eating and holy drinking the heavenly glory hidden in the earthly element, the extraordinary in the ordinary, the mundane that is made sublime. When we realize what Christ has given to us in the Mass, this heaven on earth experience, our sacramental communion with the Divine, we will experience with full effect that of which St. John speaks of "in the Spirit in the Lord's House on the Lord's Day." Then and maybe then, we will learn to pray with renewed fervor before we present ourselves as the baptized to receive the things of God prepared for us:

Substituting the term "Catholic" for "Lutheran" the same could be said of the Roman church.

With all due respect to then "Cardinal" Ratzinger, the Roman church has weekly Communion and yet people still walk out after they have received, having fulfilled their "obligation" to "assist" at mass. Without the firm grounding in the Word that both Lutherans and Catholics need it just becomes a ritual to be "done".

A priest on EWTN recently complained that homilies about eschatology are hardly heard in RC parishes today.

Once again, I am beating the drum of what people see and hear from the Vatican is not what is generally encountered in the average novus ordo parish where weekly Eucharist is not the cure-all some Lutherans think it is.

Christine

Paul said...

"Let us keep our last end ever before us. Let us always remember that we shall die, and recognize the world's deceitfulness; then we we shall live holy and upright lives." Lawrence of Brindisi (+ 1619) Or as a great country song puts it: "Live like you were dying'!" Thanks for an excellent post on the reasons behind the plateau and/or decline of the church.

Anonymous said...

The truth is that too many Christians regard Christ as largely absent from their lives and absent from life in general. He can be called upon but He is not present until He is bidden. ... The usual image is that we live as Christians alone in a world which is our enemy, ruled by the devil, waiting for Christ to come and usurp the devil from his throne. ... While this confusion might be somewhat understandable among Christians who have no sense of God's presence through the means of grace, it is not acceptable for Lutheran Christians to speak in those terms.

We do not live in a world where Christ is absent. We live in a world where Christ's presence ("Lo, I will be with you always even to the end of the age") is hidden and not obvious -- it is seen with the eyes of faith and not so easily with the eyes in our head. Christ IS present. He has not left nor has He abandoned us, for whom He suffered, died, and rose again. He is present in His fullness -- as King, as Lord, as Prophet, as Priest. Where? In the Eucharist.


Ah, so we Lutherans suffer from a disease called "Calvinism." I get it. If Christ is not present until we call Him, is His presence necessarily spiritual rather than actual?

Anonymous said...

"For as often as you eat this bread
and drink the cup, you proclaim the
Lord's death UNTIL HE COMES. 1Cor.11:
28.

This Biblical text connects the
Parousia with the Sacrament. Thus we
can wholeheartedly say the Divine
Service of Word and Sacrament does
anticipate the Parousia.

Christ comes now in Word and Sacrament to give us Himself, His
gift of forgiveness and the promise
of eternal life. At the Parousia
Christ will finally bestow on us
our actual entry into heaven.

Anonymous said...

Kittel's Theological Dictionary of
The New Testament would be more
helpful than a secular Greek
dictionary.

Matthew is the only evangelist to
use the word Parousia and Paul
is credited with using Parousia as
a technical term for the Second
Coming of Christ.

Terry Maher said...

This is a fine post, but weekly Communion has nothing to do with the problem.

Weekly, even daily, Communion has not produced a communion of Parousia participants in those denoms which practice it, as die Christine notes.

In the one I came from, the traditional ending of the Mass was a standing joke -- Go the Mass has ended, Thanks be to God!

Weekly Communion, canons in the mass, etc, are just bogus as indicators of anything at all except a frustrated desire to have the results of Roman legalism, that even Roman legalism hasn't produced, but without the legalism.

When Luther decried the sorry state of Christian piety and practice in the Preface to the Small Catechism, what did he recommend -- Look to it you pastors, make sure you have weekly communion with canons and all the trappings and rules of thumb people feel bad about if their actions don't measure up?

Hell no. Our ministry is something different than it was under the papacy, he says, and those who need such things to goad them into the practice of the faith may as well revert to the pope and his minions.

Anonymous said...

Attention Terry Maher

In the Preface to the LARGE Catechism
Dr. Luther say, "We daily need God's
Word as our daily spiritual bread...
To occupy oneself with God's Word
is a tremendous help against the
devil, the world, the flesh and all
evil thoughts."

There is no Preface to the Small
Catechism by Dr. Luther

Terry Maher said...

Read it here:

http://www.cph.org/t-topic-catechism-preface.aspx

Pastor T.G. Waite said...

"Weekly Communion, canons in the mass, etc, are just bogus as indicators of anything at all except a frustrated desire to have the results of Roman legalism, that even Roman legalism hasn't produced, but without the legalism." (Terry Maher)

I do not read of such a desire in the article, nor do I understand the call for a return to weekly celebrations of the Eucharist to be simply for the sake of the celebrations themselves. Rather, I read a heartfelt call to the Church to return to (a genuine appreciation of) a concrete way in which God has deigned to encounter His people - the Means of Grace, the Word and Sacraments. Indeed, to a world in which many seem to feel that God has abandoned it and/or feel that God is absent, the Sacrament of the Altar is a veritable manifestation of God's promise, "Lo, I am with you always, to the close of the age" (St. Matthew 28:20). "Lex orandi, lex credendi."

christl242 said...

Pastor Waite,

Points taken but until Lutherans once again have a better grasp of the Word of God I would submit that even weekly Communion won't do it.

There was a time growing up when I could see within my own family circle how my Lutheran grandmother cherished and read the Bible that she even carried to church while my Catholic grandmother was rooted in the sacramentalist of hers.

We can no longer take for granted that Lutherans in America are well catechized in the Word, a must if Holy Communion is to take its rightful place as the Sacrament of the baptized.

As a Catholic I saw all too well what happens when that is upended.

Christine

christl242 said...

"rooted in the sacramentalist"

Should, of course, read "sacramentalism"

Christine

Terry Maher said...

There is no dispute from me about the What of the Sacrament. The point is, increasing the When of the Sacrament is essentially unrelated to the genuine understanding of the What and should be taken no further than Christ himself did, as often as you do this ...

Emily Carder said...

Christ's presence among us is not merely in the Sacrament, although that is where are to look for him according to His promises. He is at the right hand of the Father. And where is the Father? And where is the Father's right hand? Everywhere. So Christ is everywhere the Father's right hand is. He is everywhere, not merely "up." I am with you alway finds its source in the sacraments and word. He does not somehow leave the auditorium after receiving the gifts. He takes us into himself. We are thereby at the right hand of God with Him.

christl242 said...

And how did I miss this:

Scott Hahn??? At Concordia Theological Seminary?

You know, all Lutherans should watch "The Journey Home" on EWTN. Marcus Grodi the moderator was first a Presbyterian then a Lutheran (not LCMS though, I think) pastor. The constant gushing over every guest who has "come home to Rome" is something that really must be experienced first-hand.

It was because of Hahn that Grodi "came home to Rome".

On one episode Grodi stated that he was never aware that any Lutherans used crucifixes.

Hahn was also very popular at Franciscan University, Steubenville which has a strong charismatic contingent.

Not exactly my idea of Confessional Lutheran models.

Anonymous said...

To put all of these above comments
in perspective:

Until Lutherans are completely
committed to being in the Word of
God ON A DAILY BASIS....the goal
of a WEEKLY Eucharist in every
Lutheran parish will not happen.

Serious reading and meditating on
God's Word each day is the support
system needed for every Christian.

Pastor Peters said...

One of the great things about Concordia Theological Seminary, Ft. Wayne, is that they bring a variety of people outside our tradition but with points of view that intersect our confessional life in such way that it teaches, informs, and requires us to dig deeper into our own Confessional identity... I have long said that this is the finest kind of ecumenism and much of it takes place in January at the Symposia...

christl242 said...

with points of view that intersect our confessional life in such way that it teaches, informs, and requires us to dig deeper into our own Confessional identity

As long as the Lutheran participants clearly understand that in Roman parlance "dialogue" is always with a view to bringing the "separated brethren" home to Rome.

The only thing I am grateful to have learned during my Roman experience.

Christine