Thursday, July 13, 2006

Now and Later More

This is my new way to think about eschatology. Not "already but not yet," which can end up sounding like Jesus left the job half-finished. I like "now and later more," which is what I gathered from Alexander Schmemann's explanation of early church eschatology. I'll post my notes below. It's dense stuff, but really mind-blowing. Maybe I'll also post my review of his entire book, if you think that would be interesting.

Alexander Schmemann, Introduction to Liturgical Theology
(p 68-80)

Background: Schmemann has explained that previous scholars have asserted that the “liturgy of time” (that is, recognition of special times for worship and prayer) arose only in the monastic era (fourth century). He says they are missing a huge connection from Jewish to Christian prayer at the very outset of the church (“liturgical dualism”). As Prof. Todd Johnson says, “Christian prayer didn’t fall out of the sky at Pentecost.”

But why would someone even make such a claim? Schmemann says it “is based on the supposed impossibility of the combination of such a liturgy with the eschatological content of the Eucharist” (68). If eschatology refers only to future events that signal the end of time (not just the “end times” but the actual end of time), then the current cycles of time and indeed history in general are negated in favor of a coming era freed from the constraints of time. Thus, any prayer pattern that relies upon time (morning, evening, weeks, etc.) would be sanctifying a part of nature that will one day pass away, and could not be connected to an “eschatological” act such as the Eucharist. Many liturgical theologians simply assume that the eschatology of the early churches denies any daily prayer cycles, turning a blind eye to the evidence of an organic evolution out of the Jewish cult of prayer. Schmemann says this is a mistake drawn from a misunderstanding of eschatology and the “sanctification of time” (69).

“Eschatology does not signify a renunciation of time as something corrupt, nor a victory over time, nor an exit out of it.” In the Hebrew understanding, time is a process directed “not toward that which would render it meaningless but toward its consummation in a final event revealing its whole meaning.” The eschaton is not the end but the fulfillment of all history. Everything moves in this direction, but to be fulfilled, not erased or ended. Thus God is a God of history, of incarnation, of action in time. God sanctifies time. And all the liturgical acts of time have “an ‘eschatological’ significance, as reminders of the ultimate and great ‘Day of the Lord’ which is coming in time” (70, emphasis added in last quotation).

And so when Jesus came, his message was that the Kingdom was “at hand.” “The Messiah has come, that event has been accomplished toward which the whole history of Israel…was directed.” The eschatological orientation of the early church could not have referred to expected future events or to some “end times,” because for them, eschatological fulfillment had already been accomplished in Christ! And so Christians differ from Jews in that Jewish eschatology is still “directed toward the coming of the Messiah,” but for us, this has already happened. Christianity is not unique from Judaism in its conception of time, but rather because it believes the Jewish “center” of time – the coming of the Messiah – has already happened. The Christ event is “eschatological” – “since in it is revealed the ultimate meaning of all things – creation, history, salvation.” So eschatology is “not something which is coming in the future, but that One who has already come!” (71, emphasis added). Eschatology simply means fulfillment of God’s plans for and in history – it does not mean timelessness nor future events or “the end.”

Obviously, we are still existing in time – the advent of the Day of the Lord did not abolish time nor render it absurd. Schmemann in fact claims that “the whole meaning, the whole point and uniqueness of early Christian eschatology is just this, that in the coming of the Messiah and the ‘drawing near’ of the messianic Kingdom…time becomes truly real, acquires a new and special intensity. It becomes the time of the Church: the time in which the salvation given by the Messiah is now accomplished” (71-72, emphasis added).

The messianic Kingdom, the new aeon, becomes real in the assembly of the Church. When the church gathers that is the reality of the Kingdom (it is not subordinate to the Kingdom as per Grenz). Further, because the gathering centers around the Eucharist, “the Eucharist is the manifestation of the Church as the new aeon”– the presence of Christ in the Eucharist is the parousia, and the Church participates through it in Christ’s heavenly glory. Eucharist is not a repetition of Christ’s death or incarnation but rather the evidence of the reality of the Kingdom among the Church, of the entrance of the new age into this world (72).

There is a temporal dualism because from the world’s perspective, the Kingdom is still in the future. But in the Eucharist, the new aeon is actualized within our current age, just as in Christ, the Kingdom has entered this world and continues to exist in the world as the Church. Rather than thinking of the New Age as “already but not yet,” as is typically Evangelical, I interpret Schmemann to speak in terms of “now, but later more.” In other words, the Kingdom is already here and there is nothing that is not accomplished. Later, everyone will see and understand this (note, however, that this is my terminology, not Schmemann’s).

The Eucharist does not renounce the world – we don’t go to church to flee the world – but rather affirms the presence of the Kingdom and Christians partake in its reality. The eschatology of the Eucharist is “above all the affirmation of the reality, the certainty and the presence of the Kingdom of Christ…which is already here within the Church, but which will be manifest in all glory at the end of this world” (now and later more) (73, emphasis added).

“The Church is set in the world in order to save it by her eschatological fullness” (74). It is not salvation from the world. “The early Church could not have been ‘world renouncing’ as a whole, because the Church has been set on a mission to ‘proclaim the Lord’s death and confess His resurrection,’ to which the Eucharist bears witness. The sacrament consecrates Christians to the mission within time, but it is actualized in the parousia, outside of time” (quoting Prof Tibb's notes on this reading). The Sacrament is the manifestation of the new aeon, the new life, the parousia, in our era. The Eucharist is not of time but is performed within time and fills it with new meaning. Thus the liturgy of time was preserved by necessity – without it, the Eucharist would not have meaning nor sanctifying power for the world. The new cult, as eschatological, “required for its real fulfillment inclusion the rhythm of time,” and in this it affirmed the reality of the world (74-75).

Next Section: The Lord’s Day and the Sabbath

Christians have mistakenly substituted the Lord’s Day for the Sabbath, turning the seventh day into “a kind of ‘prototype’ of the Christian day of rest” (75). But this was not so in the early Church. “The Sabbath was to commemorate the rest of the Seventh day. It commemorates the natural life of the world in the cycles of commemorates creation” (Tibbs). It also acknowledged the sickness of a world in rebellion against God.

The idea of the Day of the Lord arose as an “overcoming” of the week, as stepping outside its boundaries: thus it became known as the “Eighth Day.” “The week and its final unit – the Sabbath – appear as signs of this fallen world, of the old aeon, of that which must be overcome with the advent of the Lord’s Day. The Eighth Day is the day beyond the limits of the cycle outlined by the week…this is the first day of the New Aeon” (77). Thus the Eighth Day was not associated at all with Sabbath by the Hebrew apocalypticists who invented the term. It was not about rest – it was about salvation. The Eighth Day is “the beginning of the world which has been saved and restored” (78). Our equating of the Sabbath and its directives with Sunday is contrary to the original meaning of the Day of the Lord.

Schmemann goes on to help us understand the work of God in Christ through the lens of sanctified time. First we recall that “Christ rose not on the Sabbath but on the first day of the week” (78) – he rested in the tomb on the Sabbath, completing “His task within the limits of the ‘old aeon.’ But the new life…began on the first day of the week. This was the first day, the beginning of the risen life.” The Christians adopted the Hebrew term “Eighth Day” to signify not only the conclusion of the history of salvation, but also the beginning of the New Aeon (up to and including the time of Basil – 4th c. – it was called the Eighth Day).

And this day became the day of the Eucharist for the early Church – an established, fixed day, revealing “a connection with and [setting] in the framework of time.” But at the same time, because the Eighth Day is associated with fulfillment and the New Age, setting it as the day of Eucharist “emphasizes the eschatological nature of the Eucharist” (79). Again, we see the manifestation of the New Age through the Sacrament.

“The eschatology of the new Christian cult does not mean the renunciation of time” – if it did, they would not have fixed a day for Eucharist. “A fixed day denies the suggestion that early Christianity was a world-renouncing cult – otherwise the Eucharist could have been celebrated any time, but it was the Sacrament of the Lord’s Day,” the Eighth Day. “The Church is not of this world, but it is present in the world for its salvation. So also the Lord’s Day, and the Sacrament of Eucharist, are outside of time, but joined with time” – “the time of the Church, the time of salvation” – “so that time itself is sanctified.” (80 and Tibbs)


septuagenarian said...

"Time" - An ordered sequence of events. The order is irreversable from cause -> effect. "End of time" infers total, complete and utter stasis. Eternal, mouth gaping, unthinking, non- comtemplating awe.

The Feminarian said...

Oh, I really hope not. That is my biggest fear in the universe - that eternity will be a trap of stasis, unmoving, unthinking, unable to escape. I've always dreaded that since I was a child.

That's why I don't think that the "end of time" means end like finishing or making obsolete but rather end like completing, fulfillment. The fulfillment of God's action in history (and creation and us) shouldn't be stasis, but rather a renewed earth and heaven in which we DO. If we do, that means there IS time. And from the first moment God DID anything, God has been working IN time. Time is an extremely simple concept - as you stated, an ordered sequence of events - yet most people don't understand. If we DO anything in the afterlife, then we necessarily continue to exist in time.