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A Retake On 1 John 3:16-24 - Zig Before You Zag

We know that liturgy is Scripture, but do we also realize that Scripture is liturgy. Sometimes Scripture is liturgy in that it is lectionary: God’s narrative spoken in the presence of men. But sometimes it appears to be liturgical form as well. This is what I think we encounter in Sunday’s epistle lesson 1 John 3:16-24. An indicator that we are reading actual liturgical form in Scripture is that it is easily set into versicles and responses.

It’s hard to say if said versicles and responses were prayed between clergy and laity, or between antiphonal choirs or cantors. Either way the form is ancient and divine, the one we learn from Isaiah chapter six, which describes the liturgy of heaven.

Also, remember that there are two ways to interpret Scripture: in the abstract, and in the concrete. The abstract interpretation disregards the fact that the grace of God comes to us in liturgy, in the assembly of the baptized gathered together for Holy Worship. The concrete interpretation of Scripture understands everything in liturgical and sacramental terms. I refer to these two methods as zigging and zagging. To zig is to take the liturgico-sacramental route of interpretation. To zag is to interpret Scripture in the abstract.

If I am correct in my understanding then Sunday’s epistle is part of a Eucharistic liturgy. As you read it, however, try zigging before zagging, and see what you get.

The love of God is not only the love displayed on the cross, but the love given sinners in baptism, absolution, preaching and Holy Communion. And so the love of God is perceived by us (v. 16) in the Eucharistic assembly of the baptized. It’s not only information there, factoids about Jesus and what he did for us. Blessed factoids to be sure. But this Love is factually distributed to us in Holy Worship.

If one zags in v. 17 he has a true moral teaching in the abstract. However if one zigs, he understands that Brother is not a collegial term in the New Testament, but a sacramental one used of the baptized who participate in the flesh of Christ together. And that the relief spoken of is not a vague admonition to have charity. But speaks of the Eucharist, an essential part of which was to bring this world’s goods to the church. Bread and wine for the Sacrament, and other gifts, commodities and currency for the support of the church, and for distribution to the poor.

If we zag in v. 18 we are admonished that actions speak louder than words. True enough. But if we zig, loving by Word and Tongue can easily enough apply to the Eucharist in which we receive the Word of God incarnate on our tongues, literally. And so to participate in Holy Communion, but withhold your Offerings is to hear John’s does the love of God abide in that person?

If we zig before we zag we can understand “Beloved” in v. 20 as a Eucharistic term since love is definitional of the Sacrament per John chapters 13ff. Further, is the prayer John refers to the various prayers that God’s people raise when in need? Or is it the Eucharistic prayer which is part and parcel of the Sacrament from its inception? Does this verse mean God will answer the prayers of those who obey his commandments? Only if one zags. But if one zigs, it refers to the Eucharistic prayer that God would keep his promise here and now, and consecrate this bread and cup so that it might become (“in, with and under”) the Body and Blood of our Lord Jesus Christ.

And what are the “commandments” here spoken of? The Decalogue? Doubtful. But Jesus gave two commands at the first Holy Communion on Maundy Thursday: though really they are one. To love one another, and to “Do this in remembrance of me.” These are inseparable, as we learn in this text.

Zigging in v. 24 gives us a different understanding than gained in the English translations that I have seen. 

V: and by this we know that he abides among us,
R: by the Spirit which he has given us.

The “abiding among us” here referenced should not be taken in the abstract, that is to zag instead of zig. But should be seen as our Lord’s Eucharistic, bodily, real, factual and actual presence among us. In which case the explanation: by the Spirit which he has given us, would indicate what the Eastern church has always contended, that the Spirit is also essential in the consecration. (A discussion for another day, but not to be dismissed by Western Christians in facile manner.)

V: Hereby we perceive the love (of God),
R: in that he placed his life for ours;
All: and we, too, ought to place ours for our Brothers.

V: Whoever possesses this world's goods, and sees his Brother in need,
R: and closes the door of compassion for him;
All: how does the love of God abide in him?

V: Dear children let us not love in Word, nor by tongue only,
R: but by genuine action.

V: This is the proof that we belong to the Truth,
R: and gives us conviction in his presence;

V: so that even if our own hearts should condemn us,
R: God is greater than our hearts,
All: and he knows all things.

V: Beloved, if our heart does not condemn us,
R: we have confidence before God;

V: and whatever we ask, we will receive from him,
R: because we observe his commandments,
All: and do the things that are pleasing in his sight.

V: And this is his command,
R: that we should believe in the name of his Son Jesus Christ,
All: and should love one another; even as he (Jesus?) commanded us.

V: And whoever observes his (Christ's?) commands abides in him,
R: and he (Christ) in him (the Communicant);

V: and by this we know that he abides among us,
R: by the Spirit which he has given us.

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