MY SECOND SIGH

Walking on a roadFor any religion to be true to itself they need to have a truth at it’s core and keep a visible unity or it falls apart of the definition of who the believers are.  Looking at early Christianity when I was a young adult I sighed looking at the beauty of the early church and lamenting that it died waiting for some ultimate movement to find the key and get it back on track.  The following passage made me sigh and makes me sigh now but for different reason. 

They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers. Awe came upon everyone, because many wonders and signs were being done by the apostles. All who believed were together and had all things in common; they would sell their possessions and goods and distribute the proceeds to all, as any had need. Day by day, as they spent much time together in the temple, they broke bread at home and ate their food with glad and generous hearts, praising God and having the goodwill of all the people. And day by day the Lord added to their number those who were being saved (Acts 2:42-47). 

apostles’ teaching– – Everything that has been covered in what I wrote in Hebrews 6:1-2. 

fellowship- – Not a mutual admiration society.  It is a bond they have in the Holy Spirit. 

breaking of bread– – As indicated in what has already been covered, the believers not only understood the sacramental life but acted out on it. 

the prayers- – They reached out to God.  Some of it was formal and some not. 

Awe came upon everyone- – Now we get to longstanding traits that stand the test of time of right Christian practice and outreach.  Awe was not of the apostles but Who they taught about.  The center was the living Christ.  It was a sense of reverence. 

many wonders and signs were being done by the apostles- – Christianity is supposed to have the miraculous.  Miracles point to God in times of refreshing. 

All who believed were together and had all things in common- – Social justice teaching was something that was developed in articulation and practice over time.  But loving ones neighbor needs it since resources get complicated over time. 

Day by day, as they spent much time together- – They hang together, have joy in their hearts and have true and unified worship as a community. 

the Lord added to their number those who were being saved- – Simply put, they were obedient to the Great Commission.  They had a revolution that was spiritual and practical that Jesus is Lord in an empire that said Caesar was Lord.  This is only natural since in the Great Commission Jesus said “All authority in heaven and earth has been given to me.  Therefore go and make disciples…” (Matthew 28:18-19a). 

And here it stands today.  I have readers who are Christians of different backgrounds.  Most affirm the even more articulated declaration of the Nicene Creed of 325.  Possibly you are a reader who is unsure of what Jesus is and if it is worth it to be a part of any context of the Body of Christ since it is full of sinners.  To you, I would say I am one and there is room for one more.  But if Jesus is all he said he was and did all he said he would do, then to surrender to his bond in the cross is the greatest adventure of all.  And it is an adventure meant to be planted in the soil of what he founded which is “the Church. The pillar and foundation of truth” (1 Timothy 3:15). 

And now I return to the aforementioned sighs.  In my youth I saw a deadness of church that was dependent upon brief revivals that would be reflective of something kind of like the “real church” of the roots or early days.  Later I came to see verses like the “pillar” reference which made me question my beliefs of church.  It made me look for golden threads.

So I will now look at the development of the Christianity with more focus on the Nicene Creed written at the Council of Nicea in 325 AD.  It defined Jesus being 100% God and 100% man.  It defined the Trinity.  It was their shoulders that successors stood on a few generations later when the canon of Sacred Scripture was first defined. This body of teaching authority in that same council referred to “one, holy, catholic and apostolic church.”   

Let us see if the threads hold up 300 years after the church was founded by Jesus. 

apostles teaching of 1st Century— apostolic in the 4th

prayers and awe of the 1st—- is holy in the 4th 

fellowship and social conscience in the 1st- one and with “communion of saints” in the 4th

breaking of the bread in the 1st——catholic and eucharistic in the 4th.   Is this last one a stretch?  Catholic figuratively means universal.  But literally in the etymology means “according to the whole” in Greek.  The universal tied of Christ being present in beautiful in the preaching of the word but is substantial everywhere through a universal church.  For this church that would pierce the kingdom of darkness it would be authoritative and would re- present the sacrifice of Calvary in a supernatural way.  Below is ironically a passage of the Old Testament that shows us the way but the early church fathers quoted often. 

For from the rising of the sun to its setting my name is great among the nations, and in every place incense is offered to my name, and a pure offering; for my name is great among the nations, says the Lord of hosts (Malachi 1:11). 

This can be described as a “cosmic sign of the rising sun which symbolizes the universality of God” (Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger,The Spirit of the Liturgy, 2006 p. 64).  But follow the line of consistency on these overlapping traits shown in Sacred Scripture, Sacred Tradition and history.  When Malachi wrote this, no valid sacrifice could happen except in Jerusalem but the sacrifice of the mass being a universal re-presentation of Calvary.  But a valid Eucharist requires a valid priest.  A valid priest requires laying of hands.  Valid laying on of hands would require a tracing all the way back to the upper room when Jesus breathed on his disciples and hence gave the power of the authoritative church in an authoritative priesthood.  And so the Catholic Church stands.  “You are Peter.  And upon this rock I will build my Church.  And the gates of hell will not prevail against it” (Matthew 16: 18).  And this is my second sigh.  It stands now and by the grace of God in Christ Jesus it will always stand. 

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KINGDOM OF LIGHT: CONTINUING TO DO SO

Son of DavidI have been writing about early teaching foundations of the early church which were good for what they are as a compass or boundaries on the shape of the faith.  To not lay the foundations again because someone has a spiritual amnesia is important.  The writer of Hebrews mentions in the next breath there is a momentum to go forward in growth.  “And we shall do this [going beyond the basics], if only God permits”(Hebrews 6:3).

I had a surgery resident friend who who said an organism is either growing or dying. In the next verses the writer of Hebrew sounds out a clarion call for the believer to continue on in holiness and not assumption.  The writer had touched on judgment in the prior verse but next it is shown how judgment needs to be put in context of also those who have been touched in a salvific way as well.  The Christian is called to a marathon of faith and not just a judge’s affirmation that the “fire insurance” was paid in Bible camp decades ago.  However, some who have the foundation of being saved, evangelized and catechized may want to take it all for granted. 

For it is impossible to restore again to repentance those who have once been enlightened, and have tasted the heavenly gift, and have shared in the Holy Spirit, and have tasted the goodness of the word of God and the powers of the age to come, and then have fallen away, since on their own they are crucifying again the Son of God and are holding him up to contempt. Ground that drinks up the rain falling on it repeatedly, and that produces a crop useful to those for whom it is cultivated, receives a blessing from God. But if it produces thorns and thistles, it is worthless and on the verge of being cursed; its end is to be burned over (Hebrews 6:4-8). 

For it is impossible to restore again to repentance- – This seems at first to be literally damning unless one looks more broadly in the New Testament. 

Again I tell you, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of God.’ When the disciples heard this, they were greatly astounded and said, ‘Then who can be saved?’ But Jesus looked at them and said, ‘For mortals it is impossible, but for God all things are possible’ (Matthew 19:24-26).

Seeing the words of Jesus here we are reminded by him pointing to his Father in heaven that salvation of any kind is tethered to his grace.  Now in returning to the context of Hebrews 6 we see a context of catechizing and spiritual formation by the authority of the church.  The church is called to bring the gospel and give the formative teaching which is God working through the flesh of imperfect, finite people.  When that is done, the church has done all it is called to do.  But in what Jesus said is that God does not know the meaning of the word “impossible”.  God can still reach the converted who fall away.   

who have once been enlightened, and have tasted the heavenly gift, and have shared in the Holy Spirit– – These parts underly the point that there was a sacramental context to the life of a fully initiated believe.  There had been catechesis which is an early church term for the handing down of Sacred Tradition.  By scripture and early church fathers we see that to be baptized is to be enlightened, to taste of the heavenly gift is to be baptized, partake of the Eucharist and to share in the common bonding effect of the Holy Spirit in the sacrament of Confirmation.   

tasted the goodness of the word of God and the powers of the age to come– – Another reference of the tasting but not only of ceremony. This an emphasis of a current encounter with life.  Strongs Confordance defines it as “that which is or has been uttered by the living voice, thing spoken, word” (G4487).  This puts the context of being  Christian disciple as being holy and always fresh with what I would call the objective and subjectively understood reality of God’s kingdom. 

But if it produces thorns and thistles….- – This is dire and calls out the nature of man with the Parable of The Sower of Jesus in the background which illuminates how the seed of God’s word is not to be received as shown below. 

And others are those sown among the thorns: these are the ones who hear the word, but the cares of the world, and the lure of wealth, and the desire for other things come in and choke the word, and it yields nothing (Mark 4:18-19). 

But what if someone hardens their hearts and is too spiritually blind to admit that they are fallen away?  Maybe they fabricate a convenient Jesus of their own choosing?  Though they are not responsive to the finite reach of the church, the Holy Spirit the word can come in a level that is not seed form, is sudden and for that fallen believers repentance.  Call it a divine illumination as detailed below. 

Let us [Christians] therefore strive to enter that rest, that no one fall by the same sort of disobedience. For the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and spirit, of joints and marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart. And before him no creature is hidden, but all are open and laid bare to the eyes of him with whom we have to do (Hebrews 4:11-13). 

In a word, God wants to break the heart of the one who is religiously fluent in their head but hard of heart. 

So for the Christian the sobering news is that you are not in heaven yet.  However, later in the same book there is good news is that maintaining salvation is possible when attached to God in grace. One can pivot from servile fear to a balanced fear of the Lord in his love knowing Jesus knows how hard it is to live a holy life on earth with its struggles.    

 Since then we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus, the Son of God, let us hold fast our confession.  For we have not a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sinning. Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need (Hebrews 4:14-16).

But this drawing one can do is perfectly natural if filled with the Holy Spirit and faith.  Jesus founded his Church that way to be a light to the world in Him. There is in God’s “permitting” a holy people who can go forward by the merits of Jesus and in communion with the saints.  This last point is important in how the ongoing growth in holiness in the believer is not meant to be solo.  Christ built his church and said it will not end.  He even said that it would be on the offense overall so that the gates of hell would not prevail against it.  How that works in theory and practice is worth now looking at beyond the individual believer and more broadly to the macro level.

THE RESURRECTION ENCOUNTER

Jesus Holding The Bread“I love God but I hate religion” is a common phrase today.  But religion can have connection if one can find it in its purest from.  If there is a pure form to connect with Jesus, one would hope he knew about it and said something about it . Otherwise he would not be a rightful founder of the Christian faith which includes in its elemental teaching “the resurrection of the dead” (Hebrews 6:2). 

First, in moving from our individual experience of Christ in the power of his resurrection, there is a context to corporate worship being a worship in spirit and truth.  To illuminate this, Christ in his resurrected body took initiative on the day of his resurrection.  He came walking on the road to Emmaus with two disciples who somehow could not recognize him.  He led them through a Bible study about their crucified leader they mentioned and how the Old Testament needed to be fulfilled.  As it got to the end of the day they badly wanted to keep his company though not knowing it was their Lord.  This is what he did. 

When he was at table with them, he took the bread and blessed, and broke it, and gave it to them. And their eyes were opened and they recognized him; and he vanished out of their sight. They said to each other, “Did not our hearts burn within us while he talked to us on the road, while he opened to us the scriptures?” And they rose that same hour and returned to Jerusalem; and they found the eleven gathered together and those who were with them, who said, “The Lord has risen indeed, and has appeared to Simon!” Then they told what had happened on the road, and how he was known to them in the breaking of the bread (Luke 24:30-34). 

First what we can notice is the structure of it.  It is preceded by an overview of the scriptures with an explanation of their meaning.  In my church we call that the Liturgy of the Word.  Then Jesus is at “table with them”.  This can be a setting for a meal but “table” is often interchangeable in the Old Testament with the word for altar.  So it is allowable for it to be a sacrificial setting.  “He took the bread” possibly could be the todah sacrifice of thanksgiving which in Greek is eucharistia.  Then with “and broke it” is reminiscent of Jesus saying several days ago “this is my body, broken for you” when he proclaimed a new covenant. The main pattern is consistent with the mass or Divine Liturgy in Catholic and Eastern Orthodox churches.  Properly understood, to partake of the Eucharist is a not like partaking of Christ: it is partaking of Christ.

[H]e become a grain of wheat that dies; thus in the Eucharist he makes a gift of himself to all, gives himself to us and is held in out hands as the true Bread of Life.  Thereby the Eucharist becomes seeing, as happened in an exemplary manner to the disciples at Emmaus.  In the breaking of bread we recognize him, and it is as though the scales fall from our eyes. In the Eucharist we behold him whom they have pierced, the bleeding head now wounded (Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger, On the Way To Jesus Christ, 1994). 

The Greek word used here for “known” is ginōskō again which denotes an enhanced level of intimacy. This is what Jesus was getting at a year before calling people to eat his flesh and doubling down with “gnaw” (trogen).  It continues as a central experience for the early church as we see in Acts  how they “devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers” (Acts 2:42). 

This comes up again with “day by day, attending the temple together and breaking bread in their homes, they partook of food with glad and generous hearts (Acts 2:46). The author did not repeat anything about apostles teaching, fellowship and prayer but mentions breaking bread.  This is central to a gospel of the kingdom with baptism as the default, material and spiritual entrance and continues with the Eucharist.

So last, we return to Paul.  He told the Corinthians that their disorder in communion offends the Lord’s body but does not say they offend the symbol.  And shortly after his comment to the Philippians about knowing Jesus in the power of the resurrection he says this for the environment of this Christian life. 

Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, Rejoice. Let all men know your forbearance. The Lord is at hand. Have no anxiety about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which passes all understanding, will keep your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus (Philippians 4:4-7). 

One should keep in mind that it was customary for the letters of Paul to be read in front of a congregation.  If the highlight of their meeting was “the breaking of the bread”, then much is taught here. 

The Lord is at hand– – If the early Christians believed in what is called the Real Presence in how the bread was Christ’s flesh (John 6), then the highlight of Christ coming in communion was substantially at hand. 

with thanksgiving– – The word here is eucharistia. This is where we get Eucharist.  The Greek translation of the Old Testament uses eucharistia for the thanksgiving sacrifice.  This could be just saying thanks, but the other words imply the more likely eucharistic interpretation. 

let your requests be made known to God– – This is connected with the ancient practice of the “prayers of the faithful” which occurs after the Eucharist and has the recurring refrain of “Lord, hear our prayer”.   

the peace of God, which passes all understanding– – This points to the mystery and transcendence of God.  In context of this passage and others, I would suggested the context of this peace was in an early but developing context of the mass. 

This is further suggested to be the case in the early church writings.  Among themes expressed by Ignatius are the Eucharist as a holy, substantial, eternal and a reference point for the on true faith. 

I have no delight in corruptible food, nor in the pleasures of this life. I desire the bread of God, the heavenly bread, the bread of life, which is the flesh of Jesus Christ, the Son of God, who became afterwards of the seed of David and Abraham; and I desire the drink of God, namely His blood, which is incorruptible love and eternal life (Ignatius Letter to the Romans 110). 

They abstain from the Eucharist and from prayer, because they confess not the Eucharist to be the flesh of our Saviour Jesus Christ, which suffered for our sins, and which the Father, of His goodness, raised up again. Those, therefore, who speak against this gift of God, incur death in the midst of their disputes (Ignatius, Letter to Smyrnaeans, 110). 

And this food is called among us Eucharistia [the Eucharist], of which no one is allowed to partake but the man who believes that the things which we teach are true, and who has been washed with the washing that is for the remission of sins, and unto regeneration, and who is so living as Christ has enjoined.

This is also reinforced as a holy work by Justin Martyr. 

For not as common bread and common drink do we receive these; but in like manner as Jesus Christ our Saviour, having been made flesh by the Word of God, had both flesh and blood for our salvation, so likewise have we been taught that the food which is blessed by the prayer of His word, and from which our blood and flesh by transmutation are nourished, is the flesh and blood of that Jesus who was made flesh- – (Justin Martyr, First Apology, 66, 154 AD).

And finally with Ireneus we see Eucharist as the summit of faith that brings together the Cross, The Resurrection and the judgment to come. 

And just as a cutting from the vine planted in the ground fructifies in its season, or as a grain of wheat falling into the earth and becoming decomposed, rises with manifold increase by the Spirit of God, who contains all things, and then, through the wisdom of God, serves for the use of men, and having received the Word of God, becomes the Eucharist, which is the body and blood of Christ; so also our bodies, being nourished by it, and deposited in the earth, and suffering decomposition there, shall rise at their appointed time, the Word of God granting them resurrection to the glory of God (Ireneus of Lyon, Against All Heresies, Book V, Chapter 2, 180 AD).

This work of the salvation begins and ends with God.  It is on the terms of Jesus and not religion that man makes up on the fly.  The articulation of it is intimate but also is always in development.  Therein lies the patience of faith. 

See, Stay and Go

sun-moon-northpole

In the heat of the day, a woman of one ethnicity meets a man from another ethnicity at the well.  She gets the water then because she is an outcast socially from her people.  This stranger just called her out on her current life of emptiness but she chooses to stick around anyway.  She is challenged but intrigued.

 

See

This woman just got served by Jesus.  Unfortunately for her she was served in the sense of her sinful past being laid to bare.  But to her credit, she rolls with it pretty well all considered.  He challenged her on the issues of living with a man unmarried and having 5 husbands so he could propose to her for something better. 

The woman said to him, “Sir, I can see that you are a prophet. Our ancestors worshiped on this mountain; but you people say that the place to worship is in Jerusalem.”  Jesus said to her, “Believe me, woman, the hour is coming when you will worship the Father neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem. You people worship what you do not understand; we worship what we understand, because salvation is from the Jews. But the hour is coming, and is now here, when true worshipers will worship the Father in Spirit and truth; and indeed the Father seeks such people to worship him. God is Spirit, and those who worship him must worship in Spirit and truth.” The woman said to him, “I know that the Messiah is coming, the one called the Anointed; when he comes, he will tell us everything.” Jesus said to her, “I am he,the one who is speaking with you.” At that moment his disciples returned, and were amazed that he was talking with a woman, but still no one said, “What are you looking for?” or “Why are you talking with her?” The woman left her water jar and went into the town and said to the people, Come see a man who told me everything I have done. Could he possibly be the Messiah?” (John 4:19-29).

Sir, I can see that you are a prophet— A turning point in anyone’s conversion is recognizing Jesus has at least some valid authority. As a Samaritan she had an imperfect formation by Jewish standards in what to hope for but she does see something big is going since a prophet discerns truth.  Her perspective is broadening. 

…this mountain; but you people say that the place to worship is in Jerusalem— This woman is centering on spiritual mysteries that seem to have no discernible purpose and doing that based on her own cultural lens.  Jesus responds with a coming agenda, a kingdom, that would not be bound to her culture or his and has a broader purpose.  Jesus acknowledges the foundation on how salvation history through the Jews but points to importance of blessing the world.

I know that the Messiah is coming, the one called the Anointed— She points in hope how somehow someone will be anointed by God. It is implied the Holy Spirit will do the anointing. In further developed articulation of Christianity one can see an abundant life full of the Holy Spirit. Such a life is informed by the work of Christ on the cross drawing one to a fully formed life the Holy Trinity.  Below are dynamics of the persons of the Holy Trinity that we can understand in fully articulated Christianity that is, again, of spirit and truth. 

The One whom the Father has sent into our hearts, the Spirit of his Son, is truly God. Consubstantial with the Father and the Son, the Spirit is inseparable from them, in both the inner life of the Trinity and his gift of love for the world. In adoring the Holy Trinity, life-giving, consubstantial, and indivisible, the Church’s faith also professes the distinction of persons. When the Father sends his Word, he always sends his Breath. In their joint mission, the Son and the Holy Spirit are distinct but inseparable. To be sure, it is Christ who is seen, the visible image of the invisible God, but it is the Spirit who reveals him (Catechism of the Catholic Church para. 689). 

The work of the Holy Spirit is partly to point to Jesus as the visible member of the Godhead.  Working as “Breath” (the word for spirit and wind is the same in Hebrew), there is a relational context that the believer is invited to of unity (John 17:21).  This intent of breathing the Breath of God has to have consequence on earth in a new agenda.  This is the gospel lived out.  This woman in her simplicity points to a foundation for this hope. 

Stay

will worship the Father in Spirit and truth- Jesus is contrasting her presumption that the new faith would have to be anchored by a singular geographical location.  For Jesus to say this had foundation from prior scripture.  “From the rising of the sun to its setting, my name is great among the nations;Incense offerings are made to my name everywhere, and a pure offering; For my name is great among the nations, says the Lord of hosts” (Malachi 1:11). How is this supposed to work if God’s people are bound to only offer sacrifice in the temple?  In the rabbinical narratives between the Old and New Testament they wrote with the Messiah to come the sacrifice to remain would be of bread for thanksgiving; it was called todah in Hebrew,  translated eucharistia in Greek in a translation of the Old Testament and is Eucharist in English. 

the Father seeks such people to worship him- Those people are sensitized to the joint mission of the Son and the Holy Spirit.  The spirit spoken of is a reminder of the Holy Spirit being the Breath behind all spiritual wind which reveals the son for which there is no discrimination. 

God is Spirit-  Exactly articulated later with these words in the Nicene Creed of 325 “I believe in the Holy Spirit, the Lord, the Giver of life who proceeds from the Father and the Son and with the Father and the Son is adored and glorified.    

those who worship him must worship in Spirit and truth – For those who know the call after conversion to be true worshippers they are introduced into partaking of this divine nature, sensitized to true worship and will worship the Father in Christ. The rituals that are absent the spirit only point to a greater reality but are not in themselves that greater reality.  But Christ is and he is to be experienced in matter and faith. 

I who speak to you am he  This is the dividing line.  She can go backward from Jesus but not in ignorance.  Or she could go forward and continue to be changed in perceptions and lifestyle with a full conversion.  She has been proposed to and not imposed upon. So we can be in the moments of turning around and giving our own testimony to the world about this mysterious Other.   

Go

“Come see a man who told me everything I have done. Could he possibly be the Messiah?”— Good evangelism sometimes is knowing the right answer to the right question.  She had her answer: Jesus is Savior and she needed saving.  Each day one chooses to walk in friendship with Jesus is an opportunity to be whole.  Not all dynamics of conversion are meant to be figured out.  But if we open our eyes Jesus will meet us in the common wells of our lives. The subsequent transformation compels us to a proclamation of the comprehensible and the mysteries in Christ.   

The Lord’s missionary mandate is ultimately grounded in the eternal love of the Most Holy Trinity: “The Church on earth is by her nature missionary since, according to the plan of the Father, she has as her origin the mission of the Son and the Holy Spirit.” The ultimate purpose of mission is none other than to make men share in the communion between the Father and the Son in their Spirit of love (Catechism of the Catholic Church para. 850). 

Simple Words, Simple Faith

simplefaitharchiveDebates can have at times “drop the mic” moments where one points out an irrefutable fact that the other side is defenseless on.  The other side may be seem like they should just pack up and go home. 

When I see some debates between Catholics and Protestants it is sometimes said that Catholics do not have the gospel.  But if the rhetoric is simple and the audience is an average American Protestant one then that could be stalled whole as a central point.  As a former Protestant who is now a very grateful Catholic, I can use examples of the contrary with the mass and more.

First, there is a reading from the gospels in every mass with no exception.  On Sunday mass the priest or the deacon lifts up a book that only has the gospels, walks to the ambo (podium) and is accompanied by a lit candle.  In that walk the congregation sings allelulia. Reverence is definitely given.

Second is the homily (sermon).  The priest or deacon teaches off of the scriptures (on Sundays a minimum of four passages area read).  In my experience there is something shared for initial or ongoing conversion for the hearer. 

Third is the recitation of the Nicene Creed. It includes the doctrine of the Holy Trinity, the Incarnation, the Atonement, the Resurrection, doctrine of the nature of Church and the end times return of Jesus with the final judgment.  This ends what is called the Liturgy of the Word. 

Fourth is in the Liturgy of the Eucharist.  The priest lifts up and consecrates the host saying, “Behold the Lamb of God.  Behold him who takes away the sins of the world”.  Someone reading this may not believe that the host is any more than a piece of bread nor that Jesus was any more than a good man.  That is your choice.  But for those who read this and believe that it is just a piece of bread but Jesus is indeed everything that he said he was, I have a question.  If we were to go back in a time machine, snip some hair from Jesus and put it under a microscope what would we find?   Would it be shown to be something that knocks our socks off?  I would doubt it because that could be means of us being coerced into faith.  There is no true free will in that.  Likewise a Catholic or Orthodox can see the Real Presence of Jesus in the Eucharist. 

The last one has some distinguished beauty to it.  At the end of mass we are dismissed.  The etymology of this is being sent out.  In fact, one of the common things a deacon will say is “The mass is ended.  Go our and share the gospel with your life”. 

This bears light if one reads the scriptures.  Part of the priesthood of all believers’ calling is remembering that they are also sent into the world to proclaim the gospel. 

“Through him we have received the grace of apostleship, to bring about the obedience of faith, for the sake of his name, among all the Gentiles, among whom are you also, who are called to belong to Jesus Christ (Romans 1:5-6).

Portrait of An Assembly

Mountain TempleI used to love a show on CBS called “Picket Fences”.  It was set in a small town in Wisconsin.  It had drama and comedy with lots of social issues covered that represented the cultural dialogue at that time.  One TV critic at the time referred to the small town of Rome, Wisconsin as a “microcosm” of a larger culture.  One might compare it to a lab except there were real feelings involved.

When people think of church in a small level, for better or worse, they may see it a microcosm of the common culture but lose sight if they see it only as a social gathering. This is a mistaken approach because what is missed is the true “cosm” that the “micro” is based on. It is based on a beautiful fellowship in God and we are invited to participate in that which is heavenly and holy.

The truest Holy Family is the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Three in One. Three Who’s and one What. It is the highest experience of a community of persons we can presently point to.  In those three persons are initiating love, responding in love and a personhood of the love between. 

Church, as founded by Jesus, is meant to be an extension of this divine fellowship where heaven and earth meet. Not because it looks nice nor gives the members goosebumps.  A gathering of people ias Christians is always to point to Jesus and his higher purposes whether it is set of two or three gathered in his name or something even more deliberate.

The normative of such a gathering for higher purposes in the Old Testament was considered a solemn assembly.  One who said they loved God did not want to miss the event.  It was their everything.  It was the qahal.  When the Old Testament was translated into Greek in 200 BC an assembly was translated as ekklesia.  That Greek word was then used again in the New Testament to what we translate now as church.

Which brings us to another theme about church by the time the New Testament events occurred: church was about being called out to something.  The Greeks would refer the a small democratic town leaving the village to a nearby forest for a vote on what we might call a ballot measure.  the “ek” was the out of.  This comes to mind where we read in the Bible where God tells his people to come out and be separate for the world.  The highest point for an assembly is to be consecrated in some way. This was needed because it was a sacrifice. 

There were many sacrifices to be made.  As for the aspects of consecration and reason for a group to have the called out characteristics,  one would need to broaden their perspective to know what to look for.   Such a perspective would be informed by how the New Testament is concealed in the Old, and the Old is revealed in the New (Augustine).

Below are some of the broader elements of church in God’s eye that are worth considering. Consider it a “Picket Fences” but of the community of God to look for.

 No, you have approached Mount Zion and the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, and countless angels in festal gathering, and the assembly [church] of the firstborn enrolled in heaven, and God the judge of all, and the spirits of the just made perfect,  and Jesus, the mediator of a new covenant, and the sprinkled blood that speaks more eloquently than that of Abel (Hebrews 12:22).

Mount Zion—  When there is Zion, there is David who made that mountain a standard for covenant.  Jesus was called the Son of David because he has a kingdom that is modeled after David and how his dynasty was established and flourished.  His dynasty in the sense ended eventually but his line is fulfilled in Jesus.

..the living God— God is alive and not an idol.  He is not subject to man’s desire to make him in man’s image.  We know from Adam and Eve, however he did it, we are formed unto him.

..the heavenly Jerusalem—– Heaven is where you go to for Jesus the King and Jesus the High Priest.  And going there one does to some extent when they are in prayer with other believers.

countless angels in festal gathering—- Angels are God’s way of delegating heavenly power and authority to those who will inherit salvation.  The are a part of Christian fellowship whether one can seem them with the carnal eye or not.  I can add my own anecdote that my first time as an adult going to mass there was not a doubt in my mind that there were angels there.

the assembly [church] of the firstborn enrolled in heaven— This would be called the communion of the saints.  Those who are in heaven and witness to our running the race of faith and also who intercede for us under the merits of Jesus (Revelation 5:8).  The Church Triumphant is who we are “surrounded by a cloud of witnesses” (Hebrews 12:1).

and God the judge of all— This is not a bad thing.  God is a judge who gives us a chance to reap the benefits of discipline.  This was covered earlier in Hebrews 12 on how much we can submit in discipline to the “father of our spirits and live”.  God is judge and father.  It appears to be a paradox but not a contradiction.

and the spirits of the just made perfect—  This state is referred to as the Church Suffering or Purgatory.  To speaks of salvation for the members of God’s people as only an imputed, or legal designation, righteousness falls short for all of the grace that God the Father has for his children.  The gospel has for the converted the opportunity to accept “the engrafted word of God which can save your soul (James 1:21).  For further scriptures on this I recommend the fire references of 1 Corinthians 3 and the prayers for the dead shown in 2 Maccabees 12:24.

and Jesus, the mediator of a new covenant, and the sprinkled blood that speaks more eloquently than that of Abel—  An important distinction in Greek is that “and” often can be translated as “with”.  I would point out that this description of church ends on the highest note:  pointing to the saving nature and work of Jesus that is ongoing in our temporal reality but planted in eternity. That salvation in Jesus is in the context of joining. To join with Jesus is to receive him on his terms.  Jesus said he was the bread that came down from heaven and that the one who eats his flesh and drinks his blood receive eternal life (John 6). 

The important thing to note is that the advancing kingdom of God has an aspect that transcends what we can measure with our senses but still is true. As one looks at the passages of the New Testament before Jesus one can appreciate who he was by those who knew him in a manner of the senses and beyond. The traits are there.  This is why for them then and in modern times we need eyes to see and ears to hear and all the while without fear. For this family God stared is supposed to walk in that “perfect love [that] casts out fear, because fear has to do with punishment” (1 John 4:17). 

Feeding Line, Dividing Line PART V: One Proposal, Two Answers

Marriage-proposalThe conversion of the heart and a paradigm shift is no small thing.  Changes converts make are radical to the core of how they live, love and hope which happen only in total surrender.  The preceding moments of  tension may be a setting of ones choosing, God’s choosing or a bit of both.  When one is about to convert, the tension comes in the understanding of life as we have known and not knowing the details of what we are getting.  When Jesus told the Jews one day that to have eternal life they had to eat his flesh it was time to leap forward or backwards.

Unlike your ancestors who ate and still died, whoever eats this bread will live forever.” These things he said while teaching in the synagogue in Capernaum.

Then many of his disciples who were listening said, “This saying is hard; who can accept it?” Since Jesus knew that his disciples were murmuring about this, he said to them, Does this shock you? What if you were to see the Son of Man ascending to where he was before? It is the spirit that gives life, while the flesh is of no avail. The words I have spoken to you are spirit and life.   But there are some of you who do not believe.” Jesus knew from the beginning the ones who would not believe and the one who would betray him. And he said, “For this reason I have told you that no one can come to me unless it is granted him by my Father.”

As a result of this, many [of] his disciples returned to their former way of life and no longer accompanied him. Jesus then said to the Twelve, “Do you also want to leave?”  Simon Peter answered him, “Master, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life.  We have come to believe and are convinced that you are the Holy One of God.” (  John 6:59-69).

Unlike your ancestors who ate and still died, whoever eats this bread will live forever—  This could be the payoff if they get it.  The people in the time of Moses had manna from heaven which was the word for “What is it?”  Jesus comes as the way, the truth and the life (John 14:6) in a visible, sacramental context.

These things he said while teaching in the synagogue in Capernaum— This is not an incidental statement by John.  John made a point here that the very scene where the Law is read is where teaching happens that brings interpretation of the first five books of the Bible.

This saying is hard; who can accept it?— In my experience as a Christian in post-modern America moral relativism has often sneaked into how people make decisions on truth.  If they are grounded in the divine, truth is discovered and obeyed.  If they are grounded by the wisdom of this age then it is up for a subjective vote and the pope is in the mirror.

Does this shock you?-  This is like a spiritual soundcheck.  He then asks if they would be ready to know the big picture.  This may have been rhetorical.  The answer was no for most but Jesus is out to propose and not to impose.

It is the spirit that gives life, while the flesh is of no avail.— For those that read this verse and say it proves the Eucharist is not efficacious then they misunderstand what is being said.  Notice Jesus said here “the flesh” not “my flesh”.  In the Garden of Gethsemane Jesus sees the disciples sleeping when they were supposed to pray.  He says there that “the spirit is willing but the flesh is weak” (Matthew 26:41).  The flesh is weak for the disciples in the garden because they were not engaging their flesh in obedience to the Holy Spirit in their hearts.  His flesh is spiritual life for the world because Jesus was 100% divine and 100% human.

As a result of this, many [of] his disciples returned to their former way of life and no longer accompanied him— This is the moment of decision.  They declined the invitation of Jesus for a communion that is oneness with God: a divine proposal.  They were along for a great ride and got free bread the day before.  Jesus proposed more.  As an addictions counselor working with clients in treatment I tell them their “addiction is outside that door doing pushups”.   In the same way the former life for even those that are complete converts is always wanting reunion.  To leave Jesus is to look at truth in the eye and say “No. Not going to do it”.

“Do you also want to leave?—  When I became a Catholic I had much joy but I still knew that following Christ still is a continual process.  At Easter Vigil the congregation reaffirms the faith that is “one, holy, Catholic and apostolic” (Nicene Creed 325).  Even for those that are baptized and confirmed there is an annual decision to make where one reaffirms the Catholic Christian faith.  And for my Protestant brothers and sisters, to leave the same Lord, faith and meaning of baptism is always up to you as well. We all have free will.

Master, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life.—  The disciples are humble and thus tied to the wisdom of eternity rather than the wisdom of that age.  There is an objective truth, and they know Him as the all consuming reality (alethia).

We have come to believe and are convinced that you are the Holy One of God-  They have come to a conversion point and for each of them it has come gradually in how they came,  saw and were conquered. This is the nature of discipleship.

Each disciple of Jesus has a DNA in the church that Jesus started.  Together the Body of Christ is meant to be a bride to whom Jesus is returning. Jesus is The Bridegroom proposing marriage in the context of faith and reason sacramentally.

The first announcement of the Eucharist divided the disciples, just as the announcement of the Passion scandalized them: “This is a hard saying; who can listen to it?” The Eucharist and the Cross are stumbling blocks. It is the same mystery and it never ceases to be an occasion of division. “Will you also go away?”: the Lord’s question echoes through the ages, as a loving invitation to discover that only he has “the words of eternal life” and that to receive in faith the gift of his Eucharist is to receive the Lord himself (Catechism of the Catholic Church, para. 1336).