It Is Time for the Lord to Act!

[The title, if it’s unfamiliar, is the very first thing the Deacon says in the Divine Liturgy (the Sunday eucharistic service) of the Eastern Orthodox Church.]

As I have mentioned ad nauseum in recent weeks, I’m re-reading Hunsinger’s The Eucharist and Ecuminism. I have felt not unlike poor Alice falling down the rabbit hole. It is a reductionist analysis of a handful of particularly contentious issues surrounding the Eucharist. There is nothing wrong with reducing a complex issue to its constituent parts in order to better understand them – that’s why I read authors like Hunsinger – but this time around I’m finding the book to be tough sledding precisely because it is so reductionist.

I decided to turn off the Kindle and go back to The Divine Liturgy of St. John Chrysostom, the particular eucharistic service we pray on a weekly basis in the Eastern Orthodox Church. I didn’t disect it or analyze it. All I did was read it through from The Great Doxology to the Dismissal and took a few notes along the way.

I was once again reminded that Sunday morning is quite simple. It’s “here and back again” (to steal a subtitle from Tolkein); it’s a journey to heaven where

We who mystically represent the Cherubim and sing to the life-giving Trinity the thrice holy hymn … lay aside all earthly cares … That we may receive the King of all, invisibly escorted by the angelic hosts. Alleluia!

Much of the ecumenical debate surrounds the question of sacrifice at the Eucharist. Is it a re-sacrificing of Christ, a participation in the eternal sacrifice of Christ, a sacrifice of praise by the Church to Christ? The Liturgy skips all the quibbling and gets to the heart of the matter by combining a paraphrase of Jesus’ words on the cross with the Eastern version of a kyrie:

Forgive, O God, those who hate us and those who love us. O God be gracious unto me a sinner, and have mercy upon me.

Note the sublime order: forgive others first (even my enemies!) and then in due time, forgive me. And then as the Elements are lifted high, as if in sacrifice, these incomparable words turn that sacrifice argument on its head:

God hath gone up in jubilation: the Lord with the voice of the trumpet.

It’s a journey (and a Victory Lap for Jesus Christ) … it’s a feast … it’s a forgiveness-fest of those who hate us (and once our priorities are in order, a forgiveness-fest from God to us) … it’s sustenance for the days ahead … It’s battle with the evil one.

Sorry, George Hunsinger, but it’s waaaaay better than your book. (And I suspect you’d agree 100%.) Spoiler alert: Here’s the very end of the service … it seems a good place to stop.

Priest: The blessing of the Lord and his mercy. Christ is in our midst!

People: He is and ever shall be!


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