Thursday, July 23, 2015

#48 The Communion Rite Part 8: Communion in the Kingdom of God on Earth and in Heaven. Undertanding the Mass and Its Parts

"Blessed is everyone who will eat bread in the kingdom of God!" (Luke 14:15)
Scripture scholar Fr. Eugene Laverdiere wrote a very fine book titled Dining in the Kingdom of God. He writes about the meals that Jesus had with his disciples recorded in the Gospel of Luke with, of course, the supreme example of meal-sharing being the Last Supper.
So many of these meals had a significance that we don’t readily appreciate today. To share a meal with someone in the culture of Jesus was often to be bonded to them. Meals often had a religious significance. Jesus, a recognized man of God, shared meals not only with his disciples but especially with the poor and lowly, including sinners. He the Son of God was saying by this that God’s table and family were now open to the poor and marginalized. (See, for example, Luke 14:15-24 HERE)
This was something revolutionary! It also signified the coming of the Kingdom of God, which everyone understood in Jesus’s day would involve a great feast and was symbolized as a meal:
"On this mountain the Lord of hosts will make for all peoples
a feast of rich food, a feast of well-aged wines,
of rich food filled with marrow, of well-aged wines strained clear.
And he will destroy on this mountain
the shroud that is cast over all peoples,
the sheet that is spread over all nations;
he will swallow up death forever." (Isaiah 25:6-8)
We see that this great feast described by the Prophet Isaiah occurs when God destroys death forever. It was recognized that when the Messiah came, there would be a great feast forever. We see that this feast is described in the Book of Revelation as "the Wedding Feast of the Lamb":
"Then I [John] heard what seemed to be the voice of a great multitude,
like the sound of many waters and like the sound of mighty thunder-peals, crying out,
For the Lord our God
the Almighty reigns.
Let us rejoice and exult
and give him the glory,
for the marriage of the Lamb has come,
and his bride has made herself ready;
to her it has been granted to be clothed
with fine linen, bright and pure’—
"for the fine linen is the righteous deeds of the saints.
"And the angel said to me, ‘Write this: Blessed are those who are invited
to the marriage supper of the Lamb.’ And he said to me,
‘These are true words of God.’" (Revelation 10:6-9)
The Lamb is of course the Risen Christ, the Lamb of God. His Bride is the Church. There will be everlasting joy and celebration when Christ comes again and "the Lord our God the Almighty reigns." Then it will be said: "The kingdom of the world has become the kingdom of our Lord and of his Messiah, and he will reign for ever and ever." (Revelation 11:15)
The Eucharist, then, could be called  a sacrament of "dining in the Kingdom of God"; it is a communion in the Kingdom of God on earth and in Heaven; it is a participation in the now and future Kingdom of God.
As we pray in the Lord’s prayer: "Thy Kingdom come, thy will be done on earth, as it is in heaven." The Kingdom of God is the Rule of God’s love. In heaven, in the Communion of Saints, this Rule of love reigns supreme; we pray and hope for this Kingdom to be done on earth as it is in heaven. It is our hope and our task for this world.
The Eucharist, then, "anticipates the wedding feast of the Lamb in the heavenly Jerusalem." (Catechism#1329) "The coming Kingdom [is] anticipated in the Eucharist" (Catechism #2861) and the "Kingdom of God has been coming since the Last Supper and, in the Eucharist, it is in our midst." (Catechism #2816).
The Feast of Heaven is already begun in heaven"Those who even now celebrate it [the liturgy] without signs are already in the heavenly liturgy, where celebration is wholly communion and feast." (Catechism #1136). "Christ gives us in the Eucharist the pledge of glory with him." (Catechism #1419) It is the Risen Christ who comes to us in the Mass and "our participation in the Eucharist already gives us a foretaste of Christ's transfiguration of our bodies [in the Resurrection]." (Catechism #1000).
We recall how the Mass proclaims the Paschal Mystery, which includes the Second Coming of Christ:
"Therefore, O Lord, we celebrate the memorial of the saving Passion of your Son,
his wondrous Resurrection and Ascension into heaven,
and as we look forward to his second coming,
we offer you in thanksgiving this holy and living sacrifice."
(Eucharistic Prayer III emphasis added)

Orthodox Priest and Liturgist Fr. Alexander Schmemann writes:
"The Liturgy of the Eucharist is best understood as a journey or procession. It is the journey of the Church into the dimension of the Kingdom, our sacramental entrance into the Risen life of Christ." (For the Life of the World, p.26)

The Mass helps us come into the Rule, that is, the Kingdom of the God who is love. It both celebrates this love now present to us and looks forward to when this love will rule the earth as it does heaven.
When we receive Holy Communion we are being united to the present Kingdom of God "in our midst" as well as the future coming of the Kingdom, as Feast and Transfiguration in the Risen Christ.
Next Week: Concluding the Communion Rite