Saturday, December 27, 2014

Does our earthly liturgy bear resemblance to the heavenly?

Benedict XVI wrote:

With its vision of the cosmic liturgy, in the midst of which stands the Lamb who was sacrificed, the Apocalypse has presented the essential contents of the eucharistic sacrament in an impressive form that sets a standard for every local liturgy. From the point of view of the Apocalypse, the essential matter of all eucharistic liturgy is its participation in the heavenly liturgy; it is from thence that it necessarily derives its unity, its catholicity, and its universality. (Pilgrim Fellowship of Faith, 110-11)

The truth is we screw up our understanding of Revelation when we miss the liturgical character of this book of comfort and we screw up our understanding of worship when we fail to see that the earthly liturgy anticipates and inaugurates the heavenly liturgy.  Many commentators have missed the boat by ignoring or by being completely oblivious to the obvious liturgical cues inherent in him who writes while in the Spirit on the Lord's Day.  Not a small amount of damage has been done both to the reputation of Revelation and the fearful way Christians approach the Marriage Supper of the Lamb which has no end because these ties between the heavenly liturgy and the earthly liturgy have been missed.  I would say just the opposite is equally true -- the what and how and why of Sunday morning has become a free for all within the domain of personal preference and stripped from the dominion of God and His grace when we fail to acknowledge that what we do there is fundamentally related to the heavenly liturgy prepared for those who love Him.

The oft repeated (though apocryphal?) story of how the emissaries of the Czar were impressed by the Byzantine liturgy is but one way in which the essential parallels between the earthly and heavenly liturgy prefigure and glimpse the future God has prepared for us.  Yet the sad truth is that much of what happens on Sunday morning does not even intend to bear any relationship to the holy character of Revelation's liturgy -- much less live up to that identity and future.  What has happened is that there has become an unholy disconnect between what happens in the Lord's House on the Lord's Day among the baptized people of God and what they hope and expect in the future prepared for us.  Will some of us be disappointed by the Marriage Supper of the Lamb in His kingdom which has no end?  If God were to allow it, it might very well describe the disconnect between the promise and our expectation.  If for this reason alone, we should be mindful of their essential unity.

Scott Hahn writes in The Lamb’s Supper: “I suspect that God revealed heavenly worship in earthly terms so that humans—who, for the first time, were invited to participate in heavenly worship—would know how to do it” (122).  These are words for us to consider -- especially those who have anything to do with the planning, preparation, and performance of the worship of Sunday morning.  Sadly, too many Christians are transported nowhere but into the domain of personal preference and happiness on Sunday morning.  We not only pick and choose our churches by our likes and dislikes, we judge churches primarily by Sunday morning and what we find enjoyable or meaningful.  Never mind that faithfulness is the only reliable way to judge what  we see and experience on Sunday morning!

It might do well for those who sit down with a blank sheet of paper to write out what will happen on Sunday morning to spend some time in Revelation and in the consideration of what God desires from and has provided for His people.  We have abandoned architecture which flows out of the liturgy and fashion our churches to match the marketplace and malls of America and with it instilled in our people the idea that the function of Sunday morning is to make us feel better, happier, or more inspired about who we are, what we want, and how we might achieve our dreams.  We have also ditched the liturgy in favor of a Christian kind of variety and entertainment show designed more to put a smile on our face than deliver to us the gifts of the Kingdom.  The rapture we need to deal with is not the one that some think may lead to driverless cars and empty seats but the one that delivers to us faithfully the means of grace and Christ who is in them and works through them!

For most of the early Christians it was a given: the Book of Revelation was incomprehensible apart from the liturgy. … It was only when I began attending Mass that the many parts of this puzzling book suddenly began to fall into place. Before long, I could see the sense in Revelation’s altar (8:3), its robed clergymen (4:4), candles (1:12), incense (5:8), manna (2:17), chalices (ch. 16), Sunday worship (1:10), the prominence it gives to the Blessed Virgin Mary (12:1-6), the “Holy, Holy, Holy” (4:8), the Gloria (15:3-4), the Sign of the Cross (14:1), the Alleluia (19:1, 3, 6), the readings from Scripture (chs. 2-3), and the “Lamb of God” (many, many times). These are not interruptions in the narrative or incidental details; they are the very stuff of the Apocalypse. (The Lamb’s Supper, 66-67)


John Flanagan said...

Many good points, however, I do not think that it is as "screwed up" as you suggest. As for Revelation, it is indeed difficult to understand in many places for the ordinary non scholarly Christian, of whom I and millions of others identify. No doubt the liturgy is often imperfectly expressed in some quarters, but I trust God understands our imperfections of worship and examines the heart. The heart of each man and woman is where The Lord resides with His elect and His earthly church, and the form of our liturgy and whether it falls short or not He will judge.

Janis Williams said...

All earthly liturgy is but a reflection (as in The Revelation). Whether we get it right or "screw it up" does, I believe, matter. When you write a letter (email?) to a loved one, you can be cryptic because they know you. You can speak in a kind of code, because you are intimate. It is the loss of true intimacy with the Word and Sacrament which causes our failure in what we reflect back to God on Sunday.

Janis Williams said...

Woshipping God's way matters. Just ask Aaron's sons. They weren't offering someting different (fire). They likely weren't intending to be irreverent. Maybe they wanted the people to like them, and think they were "spiritual." They did offer to God something He had not asked. There is huge joy in the foretaste of things to come, but there is holy fear, also. What bride isn't fearful on her wedding day along with the joy?