Summary: God separated Israel from Egypt to make that people a beacon; in the Church, that beacon is a reality to draw all men and women to true worship in Christ.
Feast of St Luke
October 18 2010
Spirit of the Liturgy
It is important to our study of the spirit of the Liturgy that, when arriving at a new place, the disciple of Jesus is to give the occupants a liturgical greeting–Shalom aleichem, or “peace to those who dwell here.” The disciple is a missionary, one sent by the Father as Jesus was, and is to practice a kind of humble poverty of spirit. It bodes well for our Archdiocese that our new Shepherd, Archbishop Gustavo, is vowed to poverty as a member of a religious institute, and, according to one blog, is known for hanging his pectoral cross on a shoestring.
Last week we saw that the seven-day work to create the meeting tent, the holy tabernacle of the people of God, mirrored exactly the seven-day work of creation. God’s Shekinah, the cloud that designated His presence, then covered the dwelling. “Heaven and earth are united.” The original comradeship that Adam and Eve experienced with God in the garden is in some way restored, as God makes his “dwelling in the world.” The covenant between God and man is restored. “Creation looks toward the covenant, but the covenant completes creation and does not simply exist along with it.” (27) “Now if worship, rightly understood, is the soul of the covenant, then it not only saves mankind but is also meant to draw the whole of reality into communion with God.”
It is important to see that a vital part of this restoration is the notion of separation. The Hebrew verb bara has just two meanings. First, it is the verb used to denote the creation of the world from primeval chaos–the separation of the elements that orders the universe. But it also “denotes the fundamental process of salvation history, that is, the election and separation of pure from impure, and. . .the inauguration of the history of God’s dealings with men. God calls what the Bible describes as a “mixed multitude” out of Egypt. Please note that the separation there was not racial. The people of Israel identified with twelve origins more than with one. The identity of Israel is moral, not racial. Their identity as a people stemmed from their call by God, not their DNA. God made them into a people–hopefully one people–so that they could fulfill their human longing for union with God. God did not need them any more than He needs anything. He wanted them, as He wants us. We fulfill our longing and our destiny when we worship Him as He wants us to, and when we act morally. We need to do these things because we are most human, and most divine, when we do.
The Holy Father continues by asking “what is worship? What happens when we worship?” Here the anthropology of worship is tied up with the notion of sacrifice. “In all religions, sacrifice is at the heart of worship.” Moreover, sacrifice is tied up with that notion of separation. We hand over to God some reality that is precious to us. “This handing over presupposes that it is withdrawn from use by man, and that can only happen through its destruction, its definitive removal from the hands of man.” (28) But this also presupposes that God takes some “pleasure” in an act of destruction. “Is anything really surrendered to God through destruction?” No. A mechanical act cannot serve to glorify God.
“True surrender to God looks very different. It consists. . .in the union of man and creation with God. Belonging to God has nothing to do with destruction or non-being: it is rather a way of being. It means emerging from the state of separation, of apparent autonomy, of existing only for oneself and in oneself. . .That is why St. Augustine could say that the true ‘sacrifice’ is the civitas Dei [the city of God], that is, love-transformed mankind, the divinization of creation and the surrender of all things to God: God all in all. . .that is the purpose of the world. That is the essence of sacrifice and worship.”
The separation action, then, is ordered toward a unification action. God separated Israel from Egypt and the nations so that Israel could be a beacon, drawing all mankind to true worship in spirit and truth. Israel failed in that mission, so Jesus came to recreate the city of God as the Church–the new Israel–and, moreover, Jesus gave up His life so that, in His resurrected Body and Blood shared as nourishment, the Church might draw us together and fulfill our deepest desire to be one, and one with God. That is why we must be that beacon, that city on the hill, a place of goodness and beauty and truth. We must in Christ draw all men and women together to worship God as He made us to.