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The Church as Apocalyptic Event, Baptism, Eucharist, and Discipleship

Continuing this series of responses to Steve Long‘s queries about “filling out” some of the details of what conceiving of the church as apocalyptic might mean, here is his third question:

Would [an understanding of the church as apocalyptic event] acknowledge the necessity of the relation between baptism (and thus a commitment to a life of discipleship) and the Eucharist?

The first point–which has been made in other ways in regard to the first two questions–is that an apocalyptic conception of the church places its primary emphasis on the centrality of God’s prior action in Christ singular historicity. What is central about an apocalyptic conception of the church is that it seeks to consistently bear witness to the radically interruptive and transformative action of the Trinitarian God in and for the world. As such, the supreme characteristic of the church is its struggle to adjust their vision, as it were, to the radical new world that God has wrought in Christ. And apocalyptic conception of the church requires us to think the church in distinctly responsive and active terms, because the church lives “after the event”, seeking to discover what it means for us to live in light of the great transformation that God in Christ has effected.

So, bearing that in mind, baptism and Eucharist name gifts of the Christ’s Spirit to the church, through which the church shapes its life in a manner fitting to the great transformation of the world in the apocalypse of Christ. Baptism is a sign of the new world that has been created in Christ, through the singular outpouring of God’s Trinitarian agape. Baptism is the gift of Christ’s Spirit who, in the midst of our own contingent histories, translates us into Christ’s own singular historicity by drawing us, in baptism, into God’s own radical love. From an apocalyptic perspective, the strongest possible connection between baptism and discipleship is drawn. For, baptism names the Spirit’s action of drawing us into Christ’s own apocalyptic victory over the powers, effecting liberation for slavery and death. As such, baptism is fundamentally our pneumatological induction into what Christ has apocalypsed–the transfigured creation in which God comes to dwell with humankind and be their God. Being such an induction, baptism translates us into a whole mode of life, the life of being engrafted into God’s radical love. The admonitions of the New Testament often follow these lines: “Welcome one another as God in Christ has welcomed you” (Rom 15:14).

Now, in regard to the connection between baptism (and the life of discipleship) and the eucharist, there is much to say indeed. The first thing to be noted is that from an apocalyptic perspective, the Eucharist’s quality as anamnesis is of the utmost importance. The Lord’s Supper is fundamentally an act of remembrance of Christ’s historical action for our salvation. The Eucharist is the constant embodied remembering of God’s singular apocalypse which is our salvation. As such the  Eucharist remembers and reenacts Christ’s own dispossessive love for us unto death, the same love into which we are inducted in baptism. The Eucharist constitutes our continual reimmersion into the agapeic pattern of Christ’s life into which we are called as disciples.

Moreover, the Eucharist is also to be understood as a modality of Christ’s presence to the church. As such it recalls Christ’s promise to be with his disciples to the end of the age (Matt 28:20) in their missional vocation to proclaim the gospel. Thus, Christ’s Eucharistic presence is helpfully understood as his empowering accompaniment, in the Spirit of his missional church. In the Eucharist, Christ abides with his church through the Spirit, leading the church in its missional vocation to embody the radical love of God. From an apocalyptic perspective, Christ’s real presence in the Eucharist is not separable in any sense from his promise to, through the Spirit, accompany and empower the church in its missional encounter with the world.

So, what, in a nutshell is the connection between baptism and Eucharist? In baptism we are inducted in the radical love of God, in which our lives are reshaped according the cruciform image of Christ. In the Eucharist Christ we remember the agape of Christ into which we have been inducted in baptism, and Christ himself, through the Spirit is present to us in the sacramental act, accompanying us in our missional vocation to embody the irruptive and transformative agape of God in all the world. There is certainly a great deal more that should be said about the sacraments and their relation to apocalyptic, but for now, I hope this at least begins to shed some light on how we might understand some key aspects of their connection.

One Comment

  1. Thank you for this. (That is all I have to say right now due to time).

    Saturday, February 28, 2009 at 9:28 am | Permalink

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