Monday, March 1, 2010

A Missing Perspective

I remember when I began hearing words that I had never encountered before -- not the kind you say when you stub your toe on the foot of the bed in the middle of the night, but the kind that spring from theological discourse.  One such word is eschatology.  When I first heard the words eschaton used I was not sure if I should look it up on a map or in a dictionary or in an encyclopedia.  For those of you who might be wondering what I am talking about, this is the theology of the last things -- the consummation of all things in Christ, who provides for us the future and a view to that future He has prepared for us and for all things.

Echatology is like millenialism -- there are different forms or perspectives.  You have realized eschatology or you have future eschatology, with variations on a theme as well.  Realized eschatology basically sees the death and resurrection of Christ as the terminating events after which nothing new takes place.  Future eschatology bascially sees all present fulfillment and reality in Christ as pointing to the one final event of God's intervention at the end of history.  Well, enough of this.  This is not what I am posting about.

What I am concerned about is that Christian faith and life has become lodged in the immanent and the transcendent nature of our faith and life has taken a back seat.  We live from the present moment toward some vaguely defined future that is mostly a dream to us, a pious dream, but still something less real than the reality that forms our daily life.  We view redemption through the lens of our lives today.  In conservative terms this might mean individual forgiveness and restoration so I am okay again and in liberal terms this might mean manifesting God's reign on earth today through social justice and ecological advocacy.  But the point is that the future has become both less real to us and less important to us than the present.

In contrast to this we heard in yesterday's epistle about our citizenship in heaven -- the tip of a mountain of statements from St. Paul that urge us as Christians to live with a view to the future, the future that is already ours by promise and is anticipated but not yet consummated within the Divine Service (the foretaste of the feast to come...).

God's work does not end with what He has already done; there is more to come -- some of which we cling to by faith and other parts of which we anticipate or or know even now.  It is not the full surprise of a future as radical a departure from reality as was His incarnation and atonement -- this future brings to completion all that He began, to consummation all of the promise of this redemptive act.

The disappointing truth is that there is much silence about these things and little sense of this in the life of the average Christian.  That we have and know the future is meant to shape the perspective of our daily life; we live in confidence of that which is not yet realized or consummated in our experience.  In other words, we live as if Christ was given to us to redeem the day but not time itself.  We have lost a sense of destiny -- who and what we are looms so large in our thinking that what we shall be has little room to occupy our heart-felt hope and our reasoned expectation.

It is as if we have traded a man centered view of history for the Christ centered view of history of Scripture.  This is not some theological point distant from our daily reality but something that touches our sense of who we are in Christ, what is our purpose here in Christ, and what is the future that Christ has prepared for us.

So when Scripture says that the sufferings of this present moment are not worth comparing to the glory which is to come... we shrug our shoulders as if this is not real consolation.  What we really want is the suffering to end now -- not the prospect of a day to come when suffering shall be no more.  What makes our burdens of this present day bearable is that they are lived out in Christ, in the strength and sufficient grace of Christ, and for the brief moment that will (not might, but will) pass away into the eternity that we were born again for in baptism.

This eschatological perspective is given voice in the creed every Sunday.  I believe in the resurrection of the body and the life everlasting -- not as some pie in the sky when you die hope but the real and genuine hope of Christian people -- because of the incarnation, righteous life, obedient death, and life giving resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ.  When we make confession of the creed we are by this statement orienting ourselves away from the pervasive immanence that makes today the only day.  Instead we orient ourselves and our lives toward the transcendent -- and the life of the world to come... The new heavens and earth, the new body like Jesus own glorious body, the lifting of the veil and the banishment of death and all that belongs to it -- this is our perspective that shapes today because of the eternal tomorrow.

What we long for is not the repair of the present day but glory of the day to come.  What Christ has come to accomplish is not a bandaid through the present moment but the radical rebirth of our lost lives to eternity.  We carry this with us here and now but its consummation awaits the great and final day when we and all the saints will be gathered together for all eternity, in the Marriage Supper of the Lamb in His kingdom which has no end.

All our earthly life is lived in view of this eschatological perspective and confidence.  All our baptismal vocation is lived out to assist in the preparation of the world for and in ushering in the announcement of this everlasting kingdom.  It is not for this life only that we have hope but because we hope for the eternal day we have hope for this present moment.  Because we serve the Lord in eternity, our service to Him in the present life has meaning, purpose, and an eternal consequence.  It is this that elevates our mortal existence and lends to us the nobility that escapes this present moment with its mundane and routine activities.

We see and sing this perspective in the great hymns of the faith.  Yet it has become far too distant from our perspective today.  We do not feel the longing for or sense the anticipation of that consummation.  We prefer Christ the King to the Sunday of the Fulfillment -- perhaps because Christ the King is an earthly image we can relate to and the Sunday of the Fulfillment does not have such a concrete ring to it. We need to recapture this wonderful sense of eternity, where our citizenship is, so that we are able to live out fully the opportunity the Lord affords us for this present life.  If we do not, then so much of our faith is senseless and the disconnect between today and forever is comfortable when, in some measure, it should be unbearable.

Last Sunday we sang "Lord, Thee I love with All My Heart."  I wonder if we actually read or understood the words to the final stanza as we sang it.This is the faith that possesses eternity so that we might live out this temporal life fully and completely in Christ.

Lord, let at last Thine angels come
To Abr'ham's bosom bear me home,
That I may die unfearing;
And in its narrow chamber keep
My body safe in peaceful sleep
Until Thy reappearing.
And then from death awaken me,
That these mine eyes with joy may see,
O Son of God, Thy glorious face,
My Savior and my fount of grace.
Lord Jesus Christ, my prayer attend, my prayer attend,
And I will praise Thee without end.


Elaine Gavin said...

Thank you for your lovely words. I am a new subscriber to your blog and have thoroughly enjoyed it. Our church choir sang the Busarow concertato on "Lord, Thee I Love With All My Heart" three times this past weekend--two services on Sunday and for a funeral on Friday. One of our day school teachers, Louise Bolt, passed away after a long battle with cancer. The readings and music at the service filled the sanctuary with comfort, courage and joy. I didn't want to leave and was melancholic all weekend. My heart ached for Louise's family, and I will miss her, but I finally realized that the primary cause for my melancholy was that I didn't want to leave the music, the joy and comfort, the glimpse of heaven. But we have to leave and go out into the empty places until we, too, go home. Thank you, Lord, that my citizenship is in heaven! "The Lord is my light and my salvation; whom shall I fear? The Lord is the stronghold of my life; of whom shall I be afraid?" Ps. 27:1

Janis Williams said...

Fr. Peters,

Do you think some of what you have posted about is because we as believers have caught the "I Wanna Live Forever" disease of our culture?