Chad Brooks August 28, 2009 WO560 Final Paper

Worship, Eschatology and Sacramental Imagination

Attempting to write a thorough response to our intensive class on sacraments gives a wide range of application towards topic. The last year of my life has been spent in deep times of prayer and reflection towards how my two favorite theological topics, worship and eschatology, go together. This has been more of a pastoral task instead of an academic endevor, and I believe I found some finality through our week together studying Sacramental Celebration. On the first day of class, we were prompted to express a desire about the class to someone next to us. I told my classmate that I wanted to learn to express sacraments in a more cohesive and less academic manner, in a way that shows how they are the joining glue of the Christian life. What I found through my reflections and readings was how the sacraments interact with my two favorite topics and a wonderful answer to my desire expressed on the first day. My aim below is to show how the three topics (worship, eschatology, and the sacraments) dance together to provide a fuller understanding of Christian devotion. After outlining a few concerns and directives, I will use Revelation 19:1-4 as a case study towards applying my topic.

Eschatology Versus Apocalypse Modern Western popular culture is fascinated with the idea of an apocalypse. Through the task of modernity, the idea of a divine originator has been taken out of the universal story of the world. Instead, the belief is that the world started by chance (through the various theories of creation and evolution) and that the only way it will end is by apocalyptic chance. The church has bought into this movement as well, especially since the mid 1850’s, with the development and popularity of pre-millennial dispensationalism. Whereas the church used to have a view focused on fulfillment, it has shifted to theories of judgement and escapism.

This can also be traced to modernity and the rise of the individual. With the idea of “individual” comes the philosophy of “individual religion”. The Church shifted from the Patristic teaching regarding communal fulfillment to a concern with the individual after death bringing a preoccupation with “the multiplicity of affections and appetites that mark the spiritual progress of the individual believer.”1 The community of God has lost its focus on the sacramental nature of community and how it serves as a beacon to the relationship that exists within the Godhead. Our eschatology bears this fact, and underpins our entire soteriology. Reclaiming an eschatological view focused on the eschaton, instead of an apocalyptic theology that bypasses a sacramental view of the end will be a primary task for the historical Christian church in the 21st century. Understanding Sacramental Vision Forming a post-modern eschatology is different from merely critiquing what has been done in recent evangelicalism. It would be easy to fall on modern liberal historical criticism to draw a new exegesis, and to simply interpret the apocalyptic texts of Ezekiel, Daniel, and Revelation as fables and take a liberal preterist stance, denying prophetic realization. But this does not allow for an engagement with the Biblical text as a living breathing sacramental object. Secondly, it takes the biblical story and divorces it from an embodied, communal Christian lifestyle. M. Robert Mulholland writes on the idea of vision in his book “Holy Living in an Unholy World”, a commentary on St. John’s Revelation. He begins the book with a lengthy section on how vision interacts within Revelation and christian life in general. Vision is a holistic experience that take up the entire human psyche and “impact the totality of the human being and go


Colin Morris, The Discovery of the Individual, 1050-1200 (Harper and Row, 1972) pgs 139-152

beyond the limits of human beingness. Such experiences appear to be holistic and unitive immersions of the person involved in the larger matrix of reality of which human existence is part.”2 Admitting to the Christian life and the mystical teachings regarding the sacraments allows this type of experience, and builds an environment of worship that recognizes this aspect of the Holy Spirit in sacramental practice. Sacramental Imagination Defining sacramental imagination is the first step towards leading people to a participatory view of the relationships that exist inside worship. Having a sacramental imagination allows a picture to be painted of a world that exists inside the liminality of the kingdom of God. Viewing the world as being in constant interaction with the divine can be a stretch for those whose sacramental theology is based in passive remembrance. The Pastoral task is to find ways to teach this to congregations which might be clamoring for a grasp relevant to current society. Some of our best teachers of sacramental imagination are the Patristic Mystagogical sermons. These sermons were used to teach the baptismal candidates about the mysteries of faith, guarded secrets in their time. During the time preceding baptism, sermons would be preached that explained every piece of the churches liturgical action. A marker of mystagogy was its playfulness. It was not out of disrespect or irreverence, but the desire to really explain the intricacies of the faith by using examples from everyday life. The catechumens had spent month being taught the scriptures, so they understood the strands the fathers were trying to bring together by narratively journeying through the story of God. Craig A. Satterlee and Lester Ruth’s text


M. Robert Mulholland Jr. Holy living in an Unholy World (Francis Asbury/Zondervan, 1990) pg 18

‘Creative Preaching on the Sacraments”3 is a great blend of mystagogical thought and contemporary praxis. What bearing does eschatology have on my faith? Another initial issue that will take pastoral leadership is bringing eschatology back to forefront of Christian experience. The historical events surrounding eschatology only make sense by us realizing a view of the future that revolves around God completely unifying himself back with humanity and through this the redeemed humanity understanding the full extent of who the Triune God is. A second tier to this task would be also stating that eschatology is in the context of promise and not threat. Through the sacraments engaging with eschatology we are thrust into a new imagination, our baptism is our entrance and our Eucharistic celebration is our expectation. We understand the foreign nature of our earthly citizenship, existing in St. Augustine’s dual City of God and City of Man. We remember the kingdoms place in eschatology, and the fact that we live inside a timeline thats end is actually eternal. While there is a bracketing around human time, time doesn’t exist within the divine and the framework after the bracket is directly governed by the eternality of God. Salvation has an ultimate end of recovery and understanding the relational nature of the Father. An evangelical experience is not the final point of a journey towards God, and to think that our Enlightenment idea of “saving faith” is the preeminent explanation for the actions of Jesus Christ would be a grave mistake. Dons Scotus (via James Torrance) thought “even if the Fall had not happened, the incarnation still would have taken place.”4 For our escha-

3 4

Craig A. Satterlee and Lester Ruth Creative Preaching on the Sacraments (Discipleship Resources, 2001) James B Torrance Worship, Community & the Triune God of Grace. (InterVarsity Press, 1997) pg.73

tology, this has an extreme bearing. The Triune actions of grace through the sacrifice of the cross bring us to the fullest understanding of God that can a created being (earthly or heavenly) can possess. Salvation is tied up in eschaton because of the proleptic vision that the church has towards Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Our worship dually celebrates and is the fulfillment of Christ's coming. The definition of !"#$%&' is linked with the idea of restoration. The church has an eschatological character, a participation in the admittance of both the reality of the kingdom now and the coming eschatological kingdom. Worship and the Sacraments Growing up inside the free church tradition, sacramental understanding was minimal at best. Worship was primarily understood as something that the church participates in because of what God has done for us. It was an individual action separated from any sort of participation, human or divine. Worship was confusing, because it was never named, defined or fleshed out; it instead just functioned as another line item to prop up the sermon. Worship must be pointed towards something. The central place of how the Trinity operates as “By the Father, through the Son and in the Spirit” provides a rubric that allows humanity to interact with the divine. Instead of worship being an action that is just us directing action towards God, or us worship with some type of divine grace being given to us, we understand (through sacramental imagination) that our worship is a constant dance with the Trinity and the Saints. The place of baptism and the table are markers in the Christian life, and means of grace that are a process of divination. Our approach to the Father is only possible because of the per-

petual offering of Jesus Christ. We also give up the pretenses of confusion and fear of pentecostalism to admit to the Holy Spirits place in our worship and His5 role as Paraclete.

Revelation 19:1-4 as applied text
19:1 After these things I heard a tremendous voice, like of a crowd of many people speaking; ! ! Hallelujah! Salvation has come and glory and power belong to God alone;

19:2-Because of his true and righteous judgment He has weighed the great idolatress, who destroyed the earth with her idolatry, He rescued the blood of the servants out of her hand. 19:3 And a second time they said; ! ! Hallelujah! The smoke from her city ascends into the eternity of eternity

19:4 And the twenty four elders and four living creatures fell and worshipped God who sits on the throne sing; ! ! Amen. Hallelujah6


Entering into the heavenly vision of St. Johns Apocalypse in chapter 19, we come into the

story late. The characters have already been long introduced and many of the cryptic elements have already taken place. We see an interaction between the redeemed church and the creatures of heaven that speaks to the eternal placement of those who are found in Christ. This is a great text for us to look at, because it allows us to think of heavenly worship, eschaton and an envisioned sacramental reality of participation in the throne of God. ! A brief description of the heavenly creatures is needed. They are introduced in chapter 4

of Revelation and are woven throughout the narrative. Books have been written identifying these

The nature of God is asexual, and referring to God as male or female is problematic. This reference is used in the spirit of classic orthodoxy, and not out of misogynistic desires.

Authors own translation

characters, but most agree that the four creatures represent the totality of creation wrapped inside the existence of the Father. Their role that has been played out since the beginning of time is one that identifies and protects the holiness of the Father. The twenty four elders have put themselves is a posture of constant submission towards who God is. They represent those who have passed through the salvific efforts of God into a new reality. These are heavenly creatures, full of the knowledge of the divine, but do not have an earthly home. ! The interesting part of this reading is found in vs. 4, with the antiphonal response of the

heavenly creatures; Amen, Hallelujah. Glossed, this is contemporarily translated as we agree, Praise the Lord. These are two words that are heard in church often, and are part of the Christian vocabulary that many people might take for granted. But there is deep meaning in this response. G.K. Beale notes this response as a “formal expression of ratification” 7 by the creatures. These words are the endorsements of the truth spoken by Christ’s church. The creatures of heaven and operating in agreement with the redeemed church. The creatures, since they are holy beings, understand the function of the incarnation as rescue, and the activity of God recovering His world. It is a “reckless indiscrimination” 8, salvation as the action and the very make-up of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. ! God is also doing this with us, enlisting us in the saving action, by our entry into the

kingdom through the sacraments.9 We understand our Eucharist as a “Transporting Feast”, as

7 8 9

G.K.Beale The Book of Revelation (Eerdmans,1999) pg 929 Eugene Peterson Reversed Thunder (Harper & Row, 1988) pg 153 Ibid 166

Charles Wesley wrote, bringing us into a timeless reality of action with God.10 The sacraments are the best vehicle of participation, a vehicle that God provided. ! But what does this antiphon have to do with us today? Does it hold some sort of secret

regarding our salvation? Gleaning contemporary meanings out of Revelation without diverting off into crackpot prophecy is a skill that is not practiced well by many church leaders. I think that our answer lies in the liturgical and textual analysis of v.4. Why are the heavenly creatures agreeing with the words of the redeemed? To think that the church holds more understanding of God than the creatures that have surrounded him in heaven for eons is bold. But to reference Dons Scotus again, the incarnation is a fundamental action that would have happened regardless of the fall. Christ came not because of sin, but because God desired a complete union with humanity that could only be finally realized by grace. This does not discount what Christ did regarding sin, or say that Adam and Eve were not truly perfect, but that the fundamental attribute of God is salvific. The creatures that have been responsible for naming and protecting the holiness of God are agreeing because as a saved people, we understand the things of God better than they do. The heavenly creatures can understand the idea of grace, but they can never understand it as an action because they haven’t received it. ! This makes salvation not about perfection, but a deep holy love and desire for relation-

ship. Sacrifice for the sake of salvation is in the very being of God. The twenty four elders and living creatures were saying to the redeemed, “This is now your song to sing, because of grace and that you now know God in a way we cannot. While me may understand the complexities of his holiness, you understand him through the radical, sacramental power of grace.” This pro-


Daniel B Stevick The Altar’s Fire (Epworth, 2004) pg 129

vides a very Wesleyan way to look at the eschaton, as fulfillment that is couched in the marriage supper of the lamb. As humans we look towards this privilege with expectation.

Sacramental Vision today
! At the heart of our sacramental vision is memory, the anamnesis, the constant active memory of the Church. We use our memory to locate ourselves not in the plight of postmodernity, but in the story of God. It orients us towards a narrative that is built out of rescue, renaming, and bringing the lowly to places of Holy prestige. It gives us coherence, meaning and a frame of reference that is built in the creator of the world. Because of this we “are not trapped and confined in the present moment but can locate it as the invention of temporal processes and actions, which gives us the wherewithal to transcend the limitations to which the here and now restrict us”.11 We do know what has happened before us and we know the design of the world. In participation with anamnesis is prolepsis, the active engaging of the future. We know that our world is on a timeline, and that it is originated with the divine. Placing our worship in the language of eschaton allows us to give service to this idea that is able to stay away from the language of revenge and judgement. We know that these things will happen, but that more is written regarding how humanity will be eternally positioned in relation to God. The liturgical Sanctus of the church is a recognition of how creation and end are in relation towards one another, and that end does not mean a final point, but a reconfiguration. Schmemann says “This is the ultimate purpose of all that exists, the end, the goal and the fulfillment,because this is the beginning, the principle of Creation.” 12


Barry Harvey Can These Bones Live? (Brazos Press, 2008) pg. 47 Schmemann For the Life of the World (St. Vladimir’s Seminary Press, 1973) pg.40

12 Alexander


When we worship, we place ourselves on this timeline. We shift back towards renewal,

and again think that our sacramental actions are a reality and sign of our communion with God. The baptismal waters and the Lords table re-members us back into humanities proper place with God. But unlike Adam and Eve, we live knowing the radical sacramental powers of grace. Worship ceases to become a spiritual filling station and returns to the chief story of the Church. An ancient-future practice both grounds us and thrusts us towards the Trinity. ! The Church’s mission as an eschatological oriented people is one that understands we do

have a storyteller. We tell of what happens when we will all know more about the story than ever imagined. Our Eucharist is the time in which we taste an appetizer of the anticipated heavenly reality. We are in between memory and hope, and we look forward to the time in which we will be able to do the things of heaven best; because we have a savior standing like a slain lamb that has brought us a redemption steeped with the grace that God gives his restored people.

Beale, G. K. The Book of Revelation: A Commentary on the Greek Text (New International Greek Testament Commentary. Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1998. " Harvey, Barry. Can These Bones Live?: A Catholic Baptist Engagement with Ecclesiology, Hermeneutics, and Social Theory. Brazos Press, 2008. " Morris, Colin. The Discovery of the Individual 1050-1200. University of Toronto Press, 1987. " Mulholland, M. Robert, Jr. Revelation: Holy Living in an Unholy World. Zondervan, 1990. " Peterson, Eugene H. Reversed Thunder: The Revelation of John and the Praying Imagination. HarperOne, 1991. " Satterlee, Craig A., and Lester Ruth. Creative Preaching on the Sacraments. Discipleship Resources, 2002. " Schmemann, Alexander. For the Life of the World: Sacraments and Orthodoxy. 2nd ed. St Vladimirs Seminary Pr, 1997. " Stevick, Daniel B. The Altar's Fire: Charles Wesley's Hymns on the Lord's Supper, 1745 Introduction And Comment. Epworth Press, 2005. " Torrance, James B. Worship, Community & the Triune God of Grace. InterVarsity Press, 1997. "