Sunday, August 15, 2010

The Lamb's Supper

This post is based on Scott Hahn's wonderful book 'The Lamb's Supper' you can find a link to purchase it at the bottom of the page.

The Lamb's Supper

The book of the Revelation has long and notoriously been regarded as the "weirdest" book of the Bible. After all it has page after page of: wars, plagues, beasts, angels, rivers of blood, seven-headed dragons, and demonic frogs. As a result most Christians have either tried to politely ignore the book or have become obsessed by it. They try to force one interpretation after another onto the scriptures in a desperate attempt to make sense out of it's bizarre imagery: Premillenial, postmillenial, amellenial, pre-tribulation, mid-tribulation, post-tribulation. Each seems to explain part of this book but to many people none seems to explain it all. Recently the most popular interpretive keys seem to have been the Millenium and the Anti-Christ. But the Millenium is a concept which does not appear until Chapter 20. And then promptly disappears. The "Tribulation" likewise only occurs for a few verses and then is gone. Other favorite "end-times" ideas such as the Rapture and even the Anti-Christ himself do not appear in the book at all!

But to the early Church the book was not a mystery at all. That was because to them the key to interpreting the Book of the Revelation was the ritual ceremony which formed the center of their spiritual lives: The Liturgy of the Holy Eucharist, the Church's remembrance of Christ's Last Supper. This interpretation was universal in the early church and still is to this day in the Eastern Orthodox Churches. In the West however this interpretation has been lost especially among the Protestants who, after the Reformation, lost the liturgical background even to apply it. But even a surface reading of the book reveals that it is soaked in the words and imagery of liturgical worship:

Sunday worship 1:10
A High Priest 1:13
An Altar 8:3-4, 11:1, 14:18
Priests (prestbyteroi) 4:4, 11:15, 14:3, 19:4
Vestments 1:13, 4:4, 6:11, 7:9, 15:6, 19:13-14
Lamp stands 1:12, 2:5
Call for Repentance Chps: 2-3
Incense: 5:8, 8:3-5
Reading from a book (scroll) 5:1
Holy Bread 2:17
Chalices 15:7, Ch. 16, 21:9
The Gloria 15:3-4
The Alleluia 19:1, 3, 4, 6
"Holy, Holy Holy" 4:8
the Lamb of God 5:6 and throughout
Call and response chant 4:8-11
Silent contemplation 8:1
The Marriage Supper of the Lamb 19:9, 17

These are all elements of the early Church's celebration of the Lord's Supper and the current worship of many liturgical Churches even today. The similarities between Revelation and the liturgy of the Eucharist go deeper that merely surface imagery , they go down into the very structure of the book itself. But wait! You say, the worship of the early Church wasn't liturgical…. Wrong. Yes, in many ways it resembled a modern day charismatic worship service. But very early it also developed some set pieces such as a regular schedule of readings from the scriptures (inherited from the synagogue) and the celebration of the Lord's Supper. Evidence for this can be found in the book of Acts. The King James version of Acts 13:2a reads: "As they ministered to the LORD and fasted…" Now the word translated as "ministered" is in the Greek leitourgeon, and as the word itself suggests it means literally "to perform the liturgy" This is one of admittedly few instances where the translators of the KJV let their anti-Catholic bias get in the way of their duty to accurately translate the word of God. The New American Bible has a better wording: "as they were performing the liturgy of the LORD and fasting"

More details of John's vision become clearer if we remember whom the intended audience of his letter was: early (and still very Jewish ) Christians. As Jewish Christians they would immediately recognize the Jerusalem Temple in John's description of Heaven. In the Temple, as in John's Heaven, the Menorah (seven gold lampstands of Rev. 1:12) and the altar of incense stood before the Holy of Holies. In the Temple, four carved cherubim adorned the walls , as the four living creatures minister before the throne in John's Heaven. Revelation 4:4's twenty four priest (elders) replicate the twenty-four
priestly divisions of the Levites who served in the Temple. The "Sea of glass like crystal"(Rev. 4:6) was the Temple's large pool of polished bronze that held 11,500 gallons of water. At the center of Revelation's Temple, as in Solomon's, was the Ark of the Covenant (Rev. 11:19). This should not really be surprising since when Moses was given the instructions for building the Sanctuary in the book of the Exodus he was told to build it according to the plan of all he had seen in heaven.

In chapter 5 though we see the climax of John's vision. He is told to turn and see the "Lion of Judah" but as he turns he sees not a lion, but a Lamb "standing as if slain" Now think about that, slain lambs don't usually stand. But now remember the Christian service of Holy Communion , in that service the body of Christ is broken and His blood is poured out, and yet we believe that Christ is alive. What John sees is how the Lord's Supper appears from the perspective of Heaven. What appears to you to be bread and wine is From God's point of view the body, blood soul and divinity of His only begotten Son. Likewise to you it may seem that you are sitting in your local congregation dressed in your Sunday best, prehaps singing a hymn slightly off-key; but John shows us the scene from the view of the Almighty : You stand in the throne room of God dressed in a white robe, singing a mighty hymn of praise.To many Protestants who beleive that the Lord's Supper is merely a memorial this belief in the "real presence" is strange. The Church however was universal in this belief from the very earliest times. As evidence I give you St. Ignatius of Antioch, a man who learned the Christian faith at the feet of the Apostle John himself and who later in life was consecrated Bishop of Antioch by Peter, a position to which he had been nominated by Paul. Ignatius flatly states that the definition of a heretic is one who denies that the bread and wine really is the body and the blood of our Lord. John's vision demonstrates
conclusively that in God's eyes the bread and wine are the body and blood of His Son; and as far as we are concerned that should settle the matter.

Significantly, this eucharistic interpretation of the Revelation to John, also clears up another great mystery about the book. From the very first verse to the last Jesus talks about His coming and the things which He describes as occurring "soon". Now however it is two thousand years on and we are stretching the meaning of soon to the breaking point. Perhaps we can clear some of this up if we look at the word translated as "coming" As in "behold I am coming soon" (Rev. 22:12). The
word in Greek is Parousia. In english this word has come to refer to the Second Coming of our Lord almost exclusively. But if you look the word up in a Greek-English dictionary you will see that it's primary meaning is "presence". So It is not so much that Jesus is talking about His coming soon so much as that we will soon have His presence. When coupled with the belief of the early Church in the Real Presence, you can see how Jesus could promise His followers that he would be with them "soon". This is especially true when you realize that John's vision occurred on the Lord's Day, Sunday, the day when the Holy Eucharist was celebrated
Be sure and read my other posts and learn more about the links between the ancient, the sacred, and the modern world.

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