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Heaven on Earth
VirtueOnline-News ^ | 3/03/2006 | The Rev. Dr. Robert J. Sanders

Posted on 03/04/2006 7:55:23 AM PST by sionnsar

In this essay I will discuss how worship can become heaven upon earth.

God the Father of Jesus Christ is transcendent, dwelling in light unapproachable. This great God, however, speaks and acts as his Word or Deed, and the decisive divine words and deeds are public events given to the senses. In the Old Testament the primary public event was the Exodus. In the New, God the Word became incarnate in Jesus Christ, and in Christ, the transcendent Father made himself visible and audible. As Jesus says in John's gospel, "If you have seen me you have seen the Father" (Jun. 14:9).

Once seen and heard, the words and deeds of Jesus were recorded as the apostolic witness of Scripture. These words and deeds are then set forth in worship as readings, sermon, and the liturgical words and manual acts of the Holy Communion. As this happens, the Holy Spirit enlivens the biblical words and deeds of worship to reveal the risen Lord Jesus Christ, and through him, the entire company of heaven gathered before the throne of the transcendent Father. This triune event, the Father sending the Son, his words and deeds rendered in worship and enlivened by the Spirit, creates heaven upon earth. What is this like?

Let us imagine a gathered community celebrating the Eucharistic feast as it was meant to be. As the words and acts of worship evoke the risen Christ, the Holy Spirit illumines the proceedings with an impending sense of the divine glory. In a moment, the congregation is set before the throne of God with "angels and archangels and with all the company of heaven" (BCP, 362). The heart is exalted to see the Holy God in the company of the blessed, and the body is filled with joy to hear the chanting of the heavenly host in the singing of the Sanctus. As the liturgy proceeds, this sense of God's transcendent glory is mingled with the terrible moment of Christ's death, the words of institution over the bread and wine, the night at midday when he hung on the cross, and the poignant words from John's gospel, "Having loved his own he loved them to the end" (Jn. 13:1).

At that moment the divine glory is suffused with the aching humility of a God whose love has no limit. With utter joy the congregation bursts forth in song, joined by the martyrs beneath the altar, the four and twenty elders, and the mighty throng of heaven from every nation, tribe, and language who praise the Holy One upon the throne, and at his side, the Lamb slain from the foundations of the world (Rev. 5:8 12, 6:9, 7:9 12). Although these great mysteries are heard, seen, touched, and tasted as "through a glass darkly" (I Cor. 13:12), it is, in my view, the highest experience given to human beings upon earth.

These spiritual events depend upon the power of God over time. In worship, the past of Christ's passion and the future before the heavenly throne of God can come together in the present moment of Eucharist. Worshippers are with Christ in his death, are before the throne. This can be seen in the liturgical words, "Christ has died, Christ is risen, Christ will come again" (BCP, p. 363).

This heavenly reality has certain characteristics. Among other things, the congregation cannot see or hear God without becoming a new creation with new responsibilities and capabilities. In Eucharist, the sovereign God and his people bind themselves to one another in a solemn covenant through the blood of Christ and the eating of the Eucharistic meal. This covenant entails blessings and commands resulting in a counter cultural way of life based on sacrificial love. Secondly, God acts to heal in the Eucharist, for in heaven God will "wipe away every tear from their eyes, there shall be an end to death, to mourning and crying and pain ..." (Rev. 21:4) Finally, the Eucharist is a modified Passover, representing God's deliverance from slavery and the gift of the Promised Land. The Eucharist calls for social, economic, and political justice both within the Church and the world with a special regard for the poor and broken hearted.

Two factors, corresponding to Word and Spirit, impede the glory of the Eucharist. In regard to Word, Christ is the Word/Image of God (Jn. 1;1, Col. 1:15). The adornment of the sanctuary, the sermon, liturgy, and music must conform to the words and images of Scripture which describe Christ in his glorious Kingdom. Among other things, beauty is essential because God is worshipped in the "beauty of holiness" (Psalm 29:2, 96:9). The Spirit reveals the Son who brings worshippers to the transcendent Father, and unless the words and images of worship reflect the Son, the Spirit does not fully work.

Further, Scripture and tradition agree that one must be spiritually prepared before coming to Communion. No preparation is perfectly adequate, but through Christ's justifying sacrifice on the cross, sinners enter the very presence of God. For this reason, God is always working in every Eucharist even when people are poorly prepared. At the same time, however, God not only justifies, he sanctifies by drawing believers closer to himself. In regard to the Word, this entails education, growth in Christ. With respect to Spirit, spiritual cleansing is required. Many people have barely been taught about the Eucharist, and many come to Communion with unconfessed sins, deep hurts, bitterness, lack of forgiveness, and evil spirits which blind them to the glory of God. In my last essay I described how confession, forgiveness, inner healing, and deliverance can cleanse the soul. This was the practice of the ancient church, preparing catechumens for baptism and Eucharist, and it needs to be restored.

We need to reclaim the glory, wonder, and power of the Eucharist. That along with the preaching of the gospel, the miraculous work the Spirit, and an active passion for justice, will make Anglicanism a vital force here in North America.

Let me recommend two Orthodox texts: First, there is Alexander Schmemann, For the Life of the World, (Crestwood: St. Vladimir's Seminary Press, 1988); secondly, Vladimir Lossky, The Vision of God, (Bedfordshire: The Faith Press, 1963). Finally, to show, not simply talk about, but show the wonder of the Eucharist in relation to the whole of life, I wrote a novel, Face to Face (Xlibris Press, 2003). All three of these books can be found on line at or Barnes and Noble.

--The Rev. Dr. Robert J. Sanders, Ph.D. is rector of Christ the King Anglican Fellowship in Jacksonville, Florida. He is VirtueOnline's resident cyber theologian

TOPICS: Mainline Protestant

1 posted on 03/04/2006 7:55:25 AM PST by sionnsar
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To: ahadams2; axegrinder; AnalogReigns; Uriah_lost; Condor 63; Fractal Trader; Zero Sum; ...
Traditional Anglican ping, continued in memory of its founder Arlin Adams.

FReepmail sionnsar if you want on or off this moderately high-volume ping list (typically 3-9 pings/day).
This list is pinged by sionnsar, Huber and newheart.

Resource for Traditional Anglicans:

Humor: The Anglican Blue (by Huber)

Speak the truth in love. Eph 4:15

2 posted on 03/04/2006 7:56:10 AM PST by sionnsar (†† | Libs: Celebrate MY diversity! | Iran Azadi 2006)
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To: sionnsar
"If you're planting a tree when the moshiach comes,
first finish planting, then go to greet him."
3 posted on 03/05/2006 7:17:25 AM PST by onedoug
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