Monday, October 23, 2006

The Christian Life

The Christian life is seen as a priestly self-sacrificial offering, a worship in the Spirit in which each believer, beginning in baptism, participates personally in Christ’s paschal sacrifice (Rom. 6:3, Gal. 3:27). As envisioned in the New Testament, the service to be rendered by the "holy priesthood" of all the faithful is one of offering "spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ" (1 Pet. 2:5). Believers are to "present [their] bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God" (Rom. 12:1). In other words, they are to dedicate their whole selves to God, to surrender their wills totally to the will of God. Speaking in the sacrificial vocabulary of the Temple, Paul urges the Philippians to live as "children of God without blemish" (Phil. 2:15) and exhorts them in the "sacrifice and liturgy of [their] faith" (Phil. 2:17). Life itself is here seen as liturgy (leitourgia), with Paul adopting the Septuagint word for the ritual worship of God– latreuein– to define the Christian way of life.

The highest expression of this liturgy of life is seen in believers’ participation in the cosmic liturgy, the worship in heaven mediated by the high priest Christ. The Eucharist was the "heavenly gift" tasted by those who have "once been enlightened" in baptism (Heb. 6:4). Hebrews describes the Eucharist as a "festal gathering" celebrated by the "church of the firstborn" with the angels on "Mount Zion... the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem." In this liturgy in the heavenly sanctuary, the true celebrant is "Jesus, the mediator of a new covenant" made in his "sprinkled blood" on the cross (Heb. 12:18-24). The language here again is thick with references to the Old Testament, most pointedly to the covenant theophanies of God at Sinai.

The liturgy of the new covenant, the Eucharist, forms the pattern of life for the firstborn of the new family of God. Like the liberated Israelites, they no longer serve as slaves but as sons. By joining themselves sacramentally to the sacrifice of Christ, the sons and daughters were to offer themselves "through him" as a continual "sacrifice of praise" (Heb. 13:15). The offering of spiritual sacrifices is not only something that Christians do– it is of the very substance of their being; it is who they are. Nowhere is this more evident than in the frequent descriptions of the Church as a spiritual house or temple and of believers as living temples (1 Cor. 3:16-17; 6:19-20; Eph. 2:21-22; 1 Pet. 2:4-6). The symbolism expressed here marks an unexpected fulfillment of the old covenant’s liturgical anthropology– where once God dwelt in a tent, an ark, and a temple, now he has made his dwelling place in the hearts of all who serve him in the liturgy of their lives.

-Scott Hahn, from his essay, Worship in the Word: Toward a Liturgical Hermeneutic.

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