Menu

Join us for the Divine Service on Sundays at 10:30 am

Shifting Of Tectonic Plates

If what Charles Bobertz writes in his book is true (The Gospel of Mark: A Liturgical Reading) it is something like a shift of tectonic plates for Protestantism, and probably for Rome and the East as well. He manifests Christian worship for what it is: "God's sovereignty over chaos..." Or said another way: the Prodigal retuning home to his Father.

Bobertz writes:

"At his baptism in Mark, Jesus resurrects (anabainō) from the waters (Mk 1:10). In ancient apocalyptic thought, a part of the religious and literary context for reading Mark, the waters of chaos/ death actively resist the Spirit of God in creation. And it is therefore sometimes difficult for the modern reader to understand the liturgical symbolism, based in an apocalyptic worldview, which undergirds Mark’s narrative presentation. From the standpoint of a liturgical practice which must have emerged prior to the writing of Mark and even Paul’s earliest letters, it may well be that Christians connected the ritual power of baptism in water to the apocalyptic defeat of demonic forces, the immersion ritual itself being the place of battle between the powers of chaos (water) and divine power. In Mark, Jesus rises (anabainō) from the river Jordan, the waters of baptism, and is declared by the divine voice to be the beloved Son (1: 10–11). He then immediately engages the forces of Satan (chaos) in the wilderness (1: 13). Only after this confrontation does Jesus begin his ministry in the Gospel, often confronting demons, water, darkness, and death (chaos) and defeating them all (1: 23; 4:35–41; 5: 41; 7: 30; 9: 17). So from the beginning of the Gospel to its end the cosmic struggle between the divine power that orders creation—the Spirit now within Jesus (1: 10)—and chaos has been joined.

"The important work of Jon Levenson in interpreting the Genesis creation narrative, utilizing comparative material from ancient Jewish and Near Eastern mythology, places this mythology of the struggle of God against chaos into its proper liturgical and ritual context. Ultimately, Levenson argues, within ancient Judaism it was the defining of ritual order within the temple cult that marked out the order of creation amid the constant assault of chaos. Ritual action in the cult, especially ritual sacrifice, literally sustained in the face of chaos the order of the entire cosmos. Further, Levenson argues that what is depicted in descriptions of the ancient Jewish temple cult is the constant possibility, a cosmic threat, of a return to chaos from the order of the seven-day creation established by ritual action. Most important for my argument in this book, however, is Levenson’s convincing argument that God’s sovereignty over chaos in ancient Judaism—which will come into the early Christian understanding of its own ritual activity—was a liturgical reality, realized and then enacted in the cultic system of the Jerusalem temple on Mount Zion. With the performance of the ritual cult the temple mount (Zion) becomes the phenomenological cosmic mountain. The order of creation itself, achieved by God’s ordering of chaos in the first six days of creation, is established on the seventh day (Sabbath) and proceeds from Zion (temple), and so Zion becomes the junction and conduit between heaven, earth, and hell. Moreover, in the cult, primordial mythical time is present as opposed to what we might describe or experience as time or temporality. The cosmic mountain is therefore also always the sacred wilderness as well as the primordial garden of Eden. It is the cultic enactment of sacred space which manifests the achieved order of the seven-day creation. Here in the ritual space is the first creation, untarnished by time, surrounded yet unaffected by threats of chaos."

If Levenson is right (and I tend to think that he is) then as often as the baptized assemble for worship the church fends off the ever-threatening, primordial chaos, which is nothing else than the powers of hell trying to sift God's good creation like wheat -- the roaring lion, who feeds on human flesh, seeking to devour us. It means that the church's worship, which is the real time proclamation and enactment of Christ's redemptive work in the world, is the world's salvation. 

Leave a Comment

Leave this field untouched:

Do not change this field:

Do not change this field: