Sunday, July 25, 2010

Anticipatory Delight

In the previous post we considered “remembrance” in the Lord’s Supper, how the story of God’s love is rehearsed from Creation forward through the life, ministry, death, resurrection and ascension of Jesus Christ. In the process this Salvation History is brought again into the present, and Christ is recognized as being in the midst of those who break the bread and lift the cup.

Now we turn to the opposite direction and look toward the horizon, to the future.

When I was a little person, the mere thought of an approaching birthday or Christmas had its own measure of fun and excitement. That time was filled with promise and hope—possibilities of desired gifts and the chance to see grandparents, aunts, uncles and cousins. Lots to look forward to. And the looking forward was in itself an important experience of anticipatory delight.

Celebration of the Lord’s Supper has something of the same kind of anticipatory delight, looking forward with great expectation to the fulfillment of God’s promises and the return of the ascendant Christ to rule.

The Words of Institution set the tone with the final sentence in the voice of the Apostle Paul (1 Corinthians 11:26 – italics mine):
"Every time you eat this bread and drink this cup,
you proclaim the saving death of the risen Lord,
until he comes. "

Using the first Great Thanksgiving (Book of Common Worship (1993), pp. 69 ff.) as a model, we can see how strong this expectant mood is in the Lord’s Supper. In the middle of the prayer, the bread and wine are set apart for this holy use with these words, concluding with an expectant phrase (italics mine):
"Remembering your gracious acts in Jesus Christ,
we take from your creation this bread and this wine
and joyfully celebrate his dying and rising,
as we await the day of his coming. "

Four alternative acclamations are given, any one of which shifts from past to present and then to anticipation of the future (italics mine):
Christ has died,
Christ is risen,
Christ will come again.
Dying you destroyed our death,
rising you restored our life.
Lord Jesus, come in glory.
We remember his death,
we proclaim his resurrection,
we await his coming in glory.
When we eat this bread and drink this cup,
we proclaim your death, Lord Jesus,
until you come in glory.

At the end of the prayer we see how important our anticipation of God’s future is to our living in the present. There is longing for what God has promised, yet that yearning becomes the motivation for faithful discipleship in following Jesus (italics mine):
"In union with your church in heaven and on earth,
we pray, O God, that you will fulfill your eternal purpose
in us and in all the world.
Keep us faithful in your service
until Christ comes in final victory,
and we shall feast with all your saints
in the joy of your eternal realm."

This boomerang effect, yearning for the future fulfillment of promise and hope and living life in faith and expectation that it is on the way, is a figure of speech called “prolepsis,” referring to something future as though it’s already done or existing. Just as anamnesis re-calls the past into the present, prolepsis anticipates the future as a present reality.

This is radically different from living in the future. Some folks focus their theology on the certainty of going to heaven, seeing life as it is in the here and now as merely marking time. This is commonly ridiculed as “pie-in-the-sky-bye-and-bye.” The upshot of this approach is that we don’t have to do anything, because God will work everything out in the future the way it’s supposed to be. On the contrary, the followers of Jesus are to live lives toward the fulfillment God promises, lives that are consistent with the teaching and ministry of Jesus who will come again.

Now it becomes clear that both the anamnesis, re-calling God’s mighty acts of the past into the present, and prolepsis, present anticipation of God’s promises all fulfilled, conspire to make the Sacrament of the Lord’s Supper an essential and central rite of the Christian church. The Great Thanksgiving, the Eucharistic prayer, pulls together past and future to the present enrichment of Christian discipleship in the world.

In your church, does the Eucharistic prayer contain both anamnesis and prolepsis? What other parts of the liturgy suggest re-calling the past and anticipating the future with joy?

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