In the last issue of this article, I shared with my readers that the Divine Liturgy is THE Sacrament of the Kingdom. The kingdom of Christ is accepted by faith and is hidden “within us.” But for those who have believed in it and accepted it, the kingdom is already here and now, more obvious than any of the “realities” that surround us.
At first glance all of this might sound like some sort of pious platitudes. But reread what has just been said and compare it with the faith and “experience” of the vast majority of contemporary Christians, and you cannot but be convinced that there is a deep abyss between what we have said and the modern “experience.” It takes work to understand the ritual and prayers of the Divine Liturgy and to truly allow oneself to enter into the “experience” of the presence of the Lord in our midst. One can say without any exaggeration that the kingdom of God – the central concept in evangelical preaching – has ceased to be the central content and inner motivation of the Christian faith. Unlike the early Christians, those of later ages came, little by little, to lose the perception of the kingdom of God as being “at hand.” They came to understand it only as the kingdom to come – at the end and after the end, referring only to the “personal” death of individual believers. “This world” and “the kingdom,” which in the gospels are set side by side an in tension and struggle with one another, have come to be thought of in terms of a chronological sequence: now – only the world; then – only the kingdom. For the first Christians the all0-encomopassing joy, the truly startling novelty of their faith lay in the fact that the kingdom was at hand. It had appeared, and although it remained hidden and unseen for “this world,” it was already present, its light had already shone, it was already at work in the world. Then, as the kingdom was “removed” to the end of the world, to the mysterious and unfathomable reaches of time, Christians gradually lost their awareness of it as something hoped for, as the desired and joyous fulfillment of all hopes, of all desires, of life itself, of all that the early Church implied in the words “Thy Kingdom come.”
We must always remember that the first words that Jesus preached, which were also preached by John the Baptizer before Him, were: Change your hearts and minds for the Kingdom of God is at hand. It can only be seen and understood, however, by faith and belief that God has come into our world and has revealed to us, through the Person of Jesus, that NOW is the TIME for us to become true children of God by the way we think and live. The Jesus WAY of living is all about understanding that the Kingdom of God is here at the present moment. He affirms this by being present with us every time we engage in the “Breaking of the Bread”. It is critical, however, that we join with Jesus in the ritual of breaking of the bread for it is our worship of the Father.