Gathering and Eschatology

On Sunday 21 August, many of us heard this passage from Isaiah 66:

“Thus says the LORD:
I know their works and their thoughts,
and I come to gather nations of every language;
they shall come and see my glory.
I will set a sign among them;
from them I will send fugitives to the nations:
to Tarshish, Put and Lud, Mosoch, Tubal and Javan,
to the distant coastlands
that have never heard of my fame, or seen my glory;
and they shall proclaim my glory among the nations.
They shall bring all your brothers and sisters from all the nations
as an offering to the LORD,
on horses and in chariots, in carts, upon mules and dromedaries,
to Jerusalem, my holy mountain, says the LORD,
just as the Israelites bring their offering
to the house of the LORD in clean vessels.
Some of these I will take as priests and Levites, says the LORD.”

Here and elsewhere in the Bible, God speaks of the divine plan to gather all of Israel—indeed, all nations of “every language.”  The Pauline Letter to the Ephesians indicates that this ingathering is cosmic in scope:

“Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places, just as he chose us in Christ before the foundation of the world to be holy and blameless before him in love. He destined us for adoption as his children through Jesus Christ, according to the good pleasure of his will, to the praise of his glorious grace that he freely bestowed on us in the Beloved. In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace that he lavished on us. With all wisdom and insight he has made known to us the mystery of his will, according to his good pleasure that he set forth in Christ, as a plan for the fullness of time, to gather up all things in him, things in heaven and things on earth.”

From these passages, it is evident that something eschatological is symbolized every time Christians gather for worship.  Gathering is an indication of what God has in store for humanity.  Hence, gathering frustrates the designs of the Evil One.  In the words of St. Ignatius of Antioch: “Take heed, then, often to come together to give thanks to God, and show forth His praise. For when ye assemble frequently in the same place, the powers of Satan are destroyed, and the destruction at which he aims is prevented by the unity of your faith.” (Letter to the Ephesians, 13)

How often do we and our assemblies view gathering as a mere sociological happening?  Or perhaps as a mere prelude to worship?  How often do we reflect on our gathering as playing a role in a / the eschatological drama?

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4 comments

  1. As is my wont, I try to read the readings in their fuller context before Mass (it’s nice to have the RSV on a tablet, for quick searching). I was struck by context I was pretty sure would be omitted by the homilist, which context is relevant to yesterday’s Gospel pericope; it’s the last chapter of Isaiah, and those four verses (vv 18-21) are part of a longer eschatological vision that contains much grimness, shall we say in the 17 preceding verses and the ending of the 3 following verses. It’s quite a drama; not sure how I imagine gathering at church to pre-present it.

    http://quod.lib.umich.edu/cgi/r/rsv/rsv-idx?type=DIV2&byte=2836756

  2. How about next Sunday from Hebrews 12:18-19,22-24 – the ultimate eschatological congregation:
    You have approached Mount Zion
    and the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem,
    and countless angels in festal gathering,
    and the assembly of the firstborn enrolled in heaven,
    and God the judge of all,
    and the spirits of the just made perfect,
    and Jesus, the mediator of a new covenant!

  3. One of the most influential books I have ever read in my theological education was Geoffrey Wainwright’s Eucharist and Eschatology. It changed my whole perspective on what our celebrationn of Eucharist was all about — past, present, and most importantly, future.

  4. Thank you, Timothy, for this excellent post.
    There was view of our eucharistic celebrations as “rehearsal” for the heavenly banquet that held sway for a good stretch of time. It short-sighted us to the reality that our eucharistic celebrations are immediately and intimately occurring with the heavenly banquet already in progress – saints vigilant and saints radiant offering thanks and praise simultaneously. It was an impoverishment, and definitely connected, I believe, to limiting our understanding or awareness of the eschatological dimension of eucharist.
    I’m also wondering, in a world increasingly de-carn-ated by technology, will the mere act of gathering face-to-face in the “carne” become a counter-cultural act? (Along with public, corporate singing.)

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