Friday, July 29, 2011
We did not know if we were in heaven or on earth...
As wonderfully quaint as this story is, the sad truth is that those same people would hardly be moved to such a conclusion upon visiting the average Christian Church in America. Sure, there are those Ralph Adams Cram buildings and some places of extraordinary liturgy and music and some with breathtaking art and some with some puffs of incense where people do not cough away the holy smoke... but... the vast majority of church buildings (whether Roman Catholic or Protestant or Lutheran) are pretty bland and what happens within them fairly pedestrian on Sunday morning. Whether the lecture hall style that emphasizes the mind or the cushy seated theater setting and lights of the entertainment style, architecture has decided the less is more and more is even less. Even Roman Catholic buildings (from the LA Cathedral to the suburban religious mall) are not immune from the banal and trite that passes for church architecture. Protestant buildings are all about size, screens, and seating (from Osteen's converted arena to the strip mall settings with their exposed metal beams and ductwork). Lutherans tend to follow the same bland setting with some blond, plain chancel furniture thrown into the mix to make it "Lutheran."
What happens in them is also fairly bland. Few would mistake the average Roman Catholic Mass with its strumming guitars, gauche vestments, lackadaisical singing, and throw away newsprint missalettes as heaven on earth. Before we get too smug about it, we Lutherans tend to go through the motions without much enthusiasm, singing generic hymns that have little to do with the pericopes, and preach justification in a thousand ways that all sound the same. That is not even to mention those churches without sacraments, without the liturgy, without any sense that Christ is present except in the feeling of the heart or the thought of the mind.
Scott Hahn wrote convincingly of the Mass as Heaven on Earth and I only wish we thought it were true! His is hardly a new idea but is as ancient as Christianity but we seem to have done a pretty good job of masking our awareness of this age old thought. He mentions a host of things that should be routinely identified with what happens in our churches on Sunday morning (I will leave it to you to judge whether or not they happen where you are):
In the Spirit on the Lord's Day... Rev. 1:10; around the High Priest... 1:13; and the altar...8:3-4, 11:1, 14:18; surrounded by the priests... 4:4, 11:15, 14:3, 19:4; wearing vestments... 1:13. 4:4, 6:11, 7:9, 15:6, 19:13-14; with candles...1:12, 2:5; and penitent sinners... 2-3; with incense... 5:8, 8:3-5; with the book (of life)...5:1; the Eucharistic meal... 2:17; with chalices... 15:7, 16, 21:9; the sign of the cross (Tau)... 7:3, 14:1, 22:4; the Gloria... 15:3-4; the Alleluia... 19:1, 3, 4, &; 6; calling God's people to lift up their hearts... 11:22; singing Holy, Holy, Holy... 4:8; giving the "Amen" of faith to what God has done... 19:4, 22:21; acknowledging the "Lamb of God"... 5:6 & all over; with the Blessed Virgin Mary and all the angels and saints... 12:6, 13-17, 5:8, 6:9-10, 8:3-4; the chanting of the songs of praise... 4:8-11, 5:9-14, 7:10-12; reading from Scripture... 2-3, 5, 8:2-11; with the faithful fulfilling their baptismal and priestly vocation of worship... 1:6, 20:6; the catholic and universal church... 7:9; silent moments of contemplation... 8:1; with this feast pointing to the everlasting feast of the Marriage Supper of the Lamb which has no end... 19:9, 17....
Blessed is he who comes in the Name of the Lord! It is not simply a list of details but the various individual things that represent the fullness of the heavenly vision that God has made known to us NOW in Christ, which is coming and not yet fully come, and which we shall know face to face to come... These are certainly heavenly images but they are seen within the framework of an earthly setting. Heaven has come to earth! Time and eternity stand still to pause as God gives Himself to us now in this chronological moment in time as He will finally give us in the everlasting day which is to come.
We have not been to church on Sunday morning... we have been to heaven! Where we get that right, so many other things will be right as well. It is this sense that caused Philip to respond Nathanael as he did: Nathanael said unto him, Can there any good thing come out of Nazareth? Philip saith unto him, Come and see.
Would that we had such as sense of heaven on earth on Sunday morning that we called to the world: Come and see!!