Sunday, October 11, 2020

Who for. . .

A million years ago when I was off to one conference or meeting, I came home with a pocket full of goodies.  Pens, pencils, pads, candies, trinkets of all kinds were the bounty of the trip.  And when I got home, I emptied my pockets and brief case.  The kids had the same question:  who is that for?

It is one of the things I miss in the Apostles' Creed.   The Nicene makes it clear.  Who for us men and for our salvation . . . came down from heaven and was incarnate by the Holy Spirit of the virgin Mary and was made man. . .   Those who benefit from the benefices of the Lord are us.  He saved us because we could not save ourselves.  He offered Himself on our behalf, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.  Christ did not benefit Himself from all that He did.  But we have benefited.  He did it for us.  But He did not do it simply a sign or symbol or kind gesture.  He did it for our salvation.

Christ's liturgical work did not take place in a clean and orderly building but upon the bloody cross and amid the chaos of a people who cheered on His death and authorities who thought they were in charge.  But Christ's liturgical work did not end there.  It is repeatedly made available to us in the Divine Liturgy or Service.  It is a curious thing that this word liturgy comes to us not from context of worship but of the polis -- the city and its political structure.  The administrator of government is a liturgist.  On the one hand, he governs on behalf of another, the emperor of Rome.  On the other hand, he governs on behalf of the people. At least that is our hope.  None other than St. Paul sees it this way.  He reminds us that there is no authority but God and no authority except that which comes from God.  Even ungodly rulers are God's servants for our good.  It is His liturgy.  God will hold Him accountable but He serves on our behalf.  (Romans 13) 

We call it the Divine Service because God is at work in us serving us with His gifts.  Jesus is both liturgist and victim or offering. He does not offer what is not His but He offers all that is His -- Himself. The promises of God are better than the promises of men and the liturgy of God is better than the liturgy of men.  He does not serve us merely as advocate but as the one who takes upon Himself what is destined for us.  Unlike the priests of the Old Covenant, He does not simply take what is ours and place it before the Father.  He offers Himself -- a sacrifice beyond us -- and He presents Himself to the Father on our behalf. But again, He does even more.  He cleans us up, clothes us with His own holiness and righteousness, and then offers us to the Father -- those whom He has purchased and won.  That is also His liturgy.  It is also a work on behalf of the people.

For this reason, the Divine Service can never be claimed as ours nor dare we suggest that the work is ours.  Even the ministers of the Divine Service are but mouths and hands used by Him who does His work through us but never so that we can claim it to be our own.  We offer God nothing except that which is His and there is nothing in this for which we should claim credit or expect reward.  Tithes are not taxes and offerings are not bribes.  Either they are gifts of gratitude or they are nothing.  No, we are not there to do something but to receive.  The receiving is the work for which we were destined and in this receiving the Holy Spirit is given us so that we might discern the body, confess its sufficiency, and rejoice in its blessing.  Faith is what recognizes and receives what the Lord has accomplished for us.  So the liturgy is not the work of the people but Christ's work for the people.  If we have a liturgy at all, it is the liturgy or work of faith, prompted by the Holy Spirit, to hear with our ears and taste upon our lips the gift and blessing of the Lord's self-offering.

It could be that this is not enough for those who think they have something worthy to offer the Lord.  But it will reveal and suffer them their poverty to reject the Lord's own liturgy and substitute in its place their own.  

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