Remember me, O Lord, when You Shall come into Your Kingdom (Pt 1)

Remember me, O Lord, when You Shall come into Your Kingdom (Pt 1) June 22, 2009

And let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in the one body. And be thankful” (Col 3:15). The Divine Liturgy brings the people to this peace, the peace of the kingdom of God. We start the liturgy praying for it, and throughout the celebration, it is proclaimed upon us, showing us that we are in the presence of God. To experience it, we must open ourselves up, overcoming all selfish egosism, so that we can know Christ as the Prince of Peace. Having purified our hearts and minds in this manner, we are ready to partake of the body of Christ. And in that communion, we find ourselves united, one with another, as Paul reminds us: “The cup of blessing which we bless, is it not a participation in the blood of Christ? The bread which we break, is it not a participation in the body of Christ? Because there is one bread, we who are many are one body, for we all partake of the one bread” (1Cor. 10:16-17). As when we receive any great gift, we, who recognize what we have been given, are grateful. In our worship we show that thanks. We are sinners who have consistently turned our back upon God, and yet, each time we falter, he is more than willing to forgive us and welcome us back to his presence because of his all-encompassing love. What more can we do but thank him? Indeed, this act of thanks is such an important part of our response that one name given to our celebration of communion is eucharist, that is, thanksgiving. This is what our liturgical celebration should be: an expression of our thanksgiving and praise.

Yet, communion is a great mystery – the mystery of mysteries. How can we who are sinners receive the all-holy one? We are called to approach with the fear of God and in faith – both of which are proclaimed in our prayerful confession:

O Lord I believe and profess that You are truly Christ, the Son of the living God, Who came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am the first. Accept me as a partaker of Your mystical supper, O Son of God; for I will not reveal Your mystery to Your enemies, nor will I give you a kiss as did Judas, but like the thief I confess to You:

Remember me, O Lord, when You shall come into Your kingdom.

Remember me, O Master, when You shall come into Your kingdom.

Remember me, O Holy One, when You shall come into Your kingdom.

May the partaking of Your holy mysteries, O Lord, be not for my judgment or condemnation, but for the healing of soul and body. O Lord, I also believe and profess that this, which I am about to receive, is truly Your most precious body, and Your life-giving blood, which, I pray make me worthy to receive for the remission of all my sins and for life everlasting.

Amen.

One who prays these words in sincerity is on the path of salvation. The individual, when independent from Christ, is a sinner in need of grace. The “I” needs communion. We must realize that communion is impossible as long as egotistical sin blocks its activation. “Whoever, therefore, eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty of profaning the body and blood of the Lord. Let a man examine himself, and so eat of the bread and drink of the cup. For any one who eats and drinks without discerning the body eats and drinks judgment upon himself” (1Cor. 11:27 – 29). Unworthy reception of the eucharist does not bring us into this communion; it is the attempt of the ego to grasp the Lord for itself as a means of preserving its unhealthy existence instead of giving itself over to the Lord. When the ego rules, and we do not try to overcome it, we place it before God and tell him that it is what we will follow; God tells us in return that our will will be done. He cuts us off, as it were, from the body of Christ, so that we can be given over to ourselves as the lord of our own life. For this not to be, we must judge ourselves, denounce our sin, denounce all that would separate us from Christ, and plead for mercy if we do not want the Lord’s judgment to be upon us.[1]

Our prayer before communion is a personal prayer, one which identifies the speaker as a subject opening themselves up to the Body of Christ. Before the I participates in the we of Christ, it must be ready for the we, to recognize that the I cannot be whole without that we. We must recognize that it is in the I we have sinned – and that sin properly leads to  perdition. Thus, we call out to God for help. “O Lord I believe and profess that You are truly Christ, the Son of the living God, Who came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am the first.”

We first identify who Jesus is by repeating the confession of Peter – he is the Christ, the Son of the Living God (Matt. 16:16). In such few words, Peter expresses so much; the words, of course, were loaded with a meaning in the time and place when Peter said them which no longer holds sway over us. Peter was accurate in his identification of Jesus as the Christ (or anointed one), but he had yet to recognize what this identification meant. As the expectation of the Jews, the Christ had taken on the connotation of a warrior-king who would come into the world, take Israel out of its bondage from Rome and rule over Israel in such a way that Israel would become the center of all earthly power.[2] While Peter was right in seeing Jesus as the Christ, he, like the rest of Israel, was wrong in what he thought this was to mean. For this reason, after affirming Peter’s confession, Jesus told the disciples not to repeat Peter’s words (Matt 16:20), because he knew what the people would make of the confession – he would be too quickly placed in opposition to worldly authorities, and his ministry would not be able to be completed. He had to prepare the way for the disciples and all his followers to understand what his mission was about, and only then his messiahship could be openly affirmed.[3]

It was only after reflection in the light of Pascha that Christ’s  followers could understand what Jesus had meant during his ministry when he said he came into the world to save sinners.[4] They heard him say it many times. He offered the forgiveness of sins; they even had experienced it for themselves. They thought this was just to show the kind of authority the messiah-king was to have on the earth. But Jesus challenged them as much as he challenged all when he said, “My kingship is not of this world; if my kingship were of this world, my servants would fight, that I might not be handed over to the Jews; but my kingship is not from the world” (John 18:36). Most of the disciples, of course, had already fled when Jesus said this. Yet, as we should expect with him, Jesus continued to minister and said those words which were needed to be said so that in hindsight, his disciples would be able to properly proclaim who and what Jesus was.[5] The work of Christ is the restoration of all things by his humble conquest of death. Sin has no place in his kingdom, for sin is of the kingdom of death; those held in the bondage of sin can have their sins forgiven, so that death need not hold any claim over them. This is especially true for us. We must recognize that we are sinners, indeed, we are to see ourselves as “the first among sinners,” the first and greatest sinner, in the most need of God’s mercy. Only then shall we be open to love. If God is so loving and merciful to us, the greatest of sinners, then how can we not follow God and show love and mercy to all? And if God is willing to save us, this should lead us to hope that, just like us, any sinner can encounter Christ and say yes to him: there is hope that all might be saved, if we, the greatest of sinners, have been offered salvation.[6]

Accept me as a partaker of Your mystical supper, O Son of God — having proclaimed our sin, we now await on God, asking to be received at the eschatological feast of the kingdom of God, so that we can “become partakers of the divine nature” (2Peter 1:4). The liturgy participates in the eschatological kingdom of God. “The Kingdom is still to come, and yet the Kingdom that is to come is already in the midst of us. The Kingdom is not only something promised, it is something of which we can taste here and now.”[7]Christ’s message about the kingdom is realized in the eucharistic feast. All of creation is brought to this eschatological event, for, as Alexander Schmemann says, the eucharist “is a passage, a procession leading the Church into ‘heaven,’ into her fulfillment as the Kingdom of God. And it is precisely the reality of this passage into the Eschaton that conditions the transformation of our offering – bread and wine – into the new food of the new creation, of our meal into the Messianic Banquet and the Koinonia of the Holy Spirit.”[8] The parables about the kingdom of God can be and should be interpreted by the eucharistic meal, just as the eucharistic meal can be and should be interpreted by those same parables: they are interconnected and bring insight into each other.[9] It is in this way we can understand it when we say, “for I will not reveal Your mystery to Your enemies,” because the only ones who are at the banquet feast will be those who humbled themselves before Christ and have become his friends. We must understand that these enemies are those who knowingly set themselves against Christ, that is, those who have joined themselves to the powers which lie behind sin.[10] We know death and its kingdom will not have a share in the eternal kingdom of God.[11] Christians must turn their backs on death and the ways of death if they want to be followers of the living God. It is in this way we are to read our vow to Christ: nor will I give you a kiss as did Judas – for we promise that will not feign love to Christ in order to expose him or those united to him in the Church to the powers of death.[12] We are to come in thanksgiving to the great eschatological agape; we are to receive the love of God, and not spurn it for things of the earth (such as 30 pieces of silver).[13]

Footnotes

[1] St John Chrysostom sees a moral imperative in Paul’s words. “Do you see how fearful he makes his discourse, and inveighs against them very exceedingly, signifying that if they are thus to drink, they partake unworthily of the elements ? For how can it be other than unworthily when it is he who neglects the hungry? Who besides overlooking him puts him to shame? Since if not giving to the poor casts one out of the kingdom, even though one should be a virgin; or rather, not giving liberally: (for even those virgins too had oil, only they had it not abundantly:) consider how great the evil will prove, to have wrought so many impieties?” St John Chrysostom, Homilies on First Corinthians in NPNF (1)12: 161-2. Here we must remember how Jesus described the last judgment: it will be based upon how we treated the poor, the stranger, the needy, for this will be seen as our response to Christ. If we mistreat them, we have rejected Christ; if we treated them kindly, we have welcomed Christ.  (cf. Matt 25:31 – 46). In this way the unworthy reception of communion is tied to how we treat the other – we eat unworthily if we have not opened ourselves up to love (agape). Communion is not attained if we turn away from charity, because it is charity which unites us to Christ. And if we eat unworthily, it is against Christ, for we have been actively working against Christ, and we show how little we think of him by our careless reception of the eucharist.

[2] Israel, in other words, would become a new Rome.

[3] It is even trickier to understand what Peter meant when he said, “the son of the living God.” Clearly Jesus is right in asserting that “flesh and blood has not revealed” (Matt 16:7) this to Peter, because Peter affirms a truth which he does not understand. Jesus, we know, declared himself in his ministry to be the Son of God. So it is either Peter affirming what he had heard from Jesus, or it is from Peter that Jesus begins this assertion in his ministry. In either case, it is likely that the Jews (and therefore Peter) would have seen this in the same way as Adam was seen as a “son of God.” But there is something different here. The way Peter expressed his confession shows the unity between messiahship and divine sonship, suggesting that this sonship is something different than what was seen in Adam. He is not just “a son of God” in the adoptive sense of Adam. He is given a definitive status, he is “ό υίος” the son in a proper sense. The Church, of course, has come to terms with these words through her teaching of the Trinity, and in our repetition of Peter’s confession, we too are to add this greater context to our proclamation. For us, therefore, when we declare Jesus is the Christ, the Son of the Living God, we declare him to be the incarnation of God the Son.

[4]The saying is sure and worthy of full acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners. And I am the foremost of sinners” (1Tim 1:15). In this verse said to be from Paul, we read that the work of Christ is  to save sinners. But, more importantly, we learn the Christian attitude towards sin: we are to see ourselves as foremost among sinners. Paul writes it for himself, but it is a sure and worthy saying for all of us to follow, so as to humble ourselves and to realize our own imperfection.

[5] These words must not be used, as some do, to reject the world; the authority and power and domain of the kingdom does not come from the world, though the world is to find its place in the kingdom of God. The world is affirmed consistently by Jesus as good and beloved of God. It will receive its share of the kingdom of God as it is transformed with us in Christ’s grace.

[6] But we must not presume salvation, either for ourselves or of others; the outcome is to be revealed in the eschatological judgment. Instead, for both ourselves and the rest of the world we are to live in faith and hope that the lover of us all will find a way to save us all.

[7] Alexander Schmemann, “Liturgy and Eschatology,” pgs. 89 – 100 in Liturgy and Tradition: Theological Reflections of Alexander Schmemann. Ed. Thomas Fisch (Crestwood, NY: St Vladimir’s Seminary Press, 2003): 94.

[8] Alexander Schmemann, “Theology and Eucharist,” pgs. 68 – 88 in Liturgy and Tradition: Theological Reflections of Alexander Schmemann. Ed. Thomas Fisch (Crestwood, NY: St Vladimir’s Seminary Press, 2003): 82.

[9] Matthew 22:1 – 12 is a case in point. The parable is about the wedding feast of a king in which those who were originally called not only did not come, but mistreated the king’s messengers who called them to attend. “But they made light of it and went off, one to his farm, another to his business,  while the rest seized his servants, treated them shamefully, and killed them. The king was angry, and he sent his troops and destroyed those murderers and burned their city. Then he said to his servants, `The wedding is ready, but those invited were not worthy. Go therefore to the thoroughfares, and invite to the marriage feast as many as you find.’ And those servants went out into the streets and gathered all whom they found, both bad and good; so the wedding hall was filled with guests”  (Matthew 22: 5-10). Christians who serve God are called to bring in as many as possible to the eschatological banquet, to communion, sharing the love of God with others. St John Chrysostom’s injunction makes perfect sense when one understands the eschatological significance of the eucharist. Will we go out and seek the poor as Christ commanded, and let them share in the bounty of God, side by side with us, or will we ignore them and their plight, like the rich man with Lazarus?

[10]For we are not contending against flesh and blood, but against the principalities, against the powers, against the world rulers of this present darkness, against the spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenly places” (Eph 6:12). Obviously, we also see an element of the era of the martyrs in this prayer. When the Church was in hiding, these words made considerable sense – I will not reveal this ecclesial community to those who would do us harm. But, as with other passages of the liturgy, new insight is possible, despite the praxis of the past; this insight neither denies the value of its previous meaning, but nonetheless shows us that we, who live in a new context, are not limited to it.

[11]Then Death and Hades were thrown into the lake of fire. This is the second death, the lake of fire; and if any one’s name was not found written in the book of life, he was thrown into the lake of fire” (Rev. 20:14-15).

[12] Pious tradition remembers that Judas betrayed Jesus by giving him a kiss on the lips, and so we do not kiss the icon of Christ on the lips.

[13] That old moneybags, Judas, shows us why the love of money is the root of all evil; he was called to be the Lord’s disciple, to give of himself for others, for the sake of the kingdom of God – instead, he took what was offered by others and confiscated it for himself. In his habitual desperation for money, he sold out the Lord of all for such a small price. Even if he had an ulterior motive (which is more than likely), his habit got the best of him; his actions as a thief became the means of his downfall.


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