Liturgical Dynamics, Part VI: Incarnational = “Both/And”

“God has visited His people.”

Some years ago, I had a short but recurring good-natured banter with a godson over the nature of the Divine Liturgy, in which we celebrate the Eucharist and participate in Holy Communion. The “substance” of the give-and-take was, whether we were taken up to Heaven in the liturgy or God came down to us. This is ridiculous talk, of course, much like arguing how many angels can dance on the head of a pin! (At least they’re dancing.)

In a mystery, a sacrament, a rite in which we really do believe that we ask God for something and He meets our request in His grace and mercy, one oughtn’t analyze what cannot be analyzed. One receives the gift. It’s a bit like asking someone who’s given you a present how they managed to afford it. It’s rude and misses the whole point. Accept with thanks, know that your relationship is renewed, and move on, hopefully changed (for the better) by the encounter.

The mystery of the Incarnation assures us that, forever and “unto the ages of ages,” we will be plumbing “the depths of the knowledge of God” “to know what is the heighth, and the length, and the breadth, and the depth.” It has been made known to us: “of his fullness we have received, and grace for grace.” One gets the idea of layer upon layer, level upon level of grace discovered, revealed, experienced, made known – a never-ending supply. C. S. Lewis wrote “farther in and farther up.” St. Paul said of it, “ever-increasing glory.”

This mystery – “Christ in you, the hope of glory” – is revealed and renewed in the Mysteries of the Church, most especially the Eucharist – the “participation in” the Body and Blood of Christ. The prayer which the Church makes asks that God send His Holy Spirit “on us and on these gifts” so that they may become that Body and Blood of which St. Paul speaks, referring to what our Lord said, “This is My Body…This is My Blood.”

In the Mystery of the Holy Communion, the Incarnation of Christ is renewed, made manifest again on earth in “these gifts here set forth,” the bread and the wine. As the Holy Spirit hovered and brooded over the primeval waters, and as He hovered and brooded over the immaculate womb of the Ever-virgin, so He hovers and broods over the Holy Gifts. (One must not forget the waters upon which we call down the Spirit at Theophany and at Baptism, as well as the Holy Oil of Unction and Chrismation. And the reading of the Gospel.)

But in the Divine Liturgy, we do not believe that the Spirit only shows up at the “consecration” of the Gifts. No, indeed. We pray before we begin, “come and abide in us.” And we bless “the Kingdom of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.” We read from the Holy Scriptures, “God-breathed,” or “inspired by the Holy Spirit.” The hymn we sing on Palm Sunday, which is sung before major councils, applies to any of our meetings “where two or three are gathered in My Name,” and where “two on earth agree about anything you ask for, it will be done”: “Today the Holy Spirit brings us all together.”

It is this ministry of the “other Paraclete” which our Lord promised to send after His glorification – His Spirit of Truth – which is revealed in the common greeting amongst the Orthodox: “Christ is in our midst! He is and ever shall be!” This greeting is the fulfillment of the Paschal greeting, “Christ is risen!” In the Spirit which He has given, He is present in His Body, the Church.

In our Eucharist, the Presence and Body are revealed. And we know the line of the prayer, “You have taken us to Heaven and endowed us with Your Kingdom which is to come.” Our common humanity was taken into the very depths of the Undivided Trinity in His Ascension, and that Kingdom was bestowed upon us in the Spirit which He sent “from the Father.” Paradoxically, He never left. We’ve already left. And we meet in that timeless place of grace, the time of God’s acting, the place of God’s visitation.

About Rdr. John

I'm a musician: I teach piano and am a professional Accompanist (University of Portland). I'm also a music director. I direct the St. Nicholas Orthodox Church choir (Portland, OR), the Francis Street Singers (Community Music Center) as well as for Mock's Crest Productions, which puts on an operetta at the U of P each June. I care deeply about the music and worship in the Orthodox liturgy, and most of my postings will be concerned with that.
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