Tuesday, April 04, 2006
Eschatological Significance of the Sacraments
I am currently working on a doctoral dissertation project which will look at the way the New Testament describes the realization of Jewish eschatological hopes through sacraments and liturgy. One key book in this area is David Aune's, The Cultic Setting of Realized Eschatology in Early Christianity (Leiden: Brill, 1972). Here's an excerpt (regrettably, without his many footnotes):
In early Christianity, the rite of Baptism was universally regarded as the indispensable means of incorporating the individual believer into the Christian community. Since the locus of the present experience of eschatological salvation was the Spirit-endowed community, Baptism rendered the individual participation in the salvific benefits of the age to come a present possibility. Baptism was therefore the ritual means of re-presenting the salvific events of the past, and anticipating the future consummation of salvation in the present experience of the believer. The celebration of the Lord's Supper formed the central act of the worshipping community, and was regarded not only as the affirmation of the reality of the historical events upon which the church was founded, but also as the anticipation of the eschatological completion of the history of salvation. The intimate connection between eschatology and the Eucharist is underscored by the early Christian use of the Aramaic forumla marana tha (Didache 10:6; 1 Cor. 16:22; Rev 22:20) in a Eucharistic setting. The Eucharistic liturgy contained in the Didache reveals that the cultic assembly for observance of the Lord's Supper was regarded as an anticipation of the final assembly of the church: "As this broken bread was scattered upon the mountains, but was brought together and became one, so let thy church be gathered together from the ends of the earth into thy kingdom" (Didache 9:4, cf. 10:5). Therefore the unity of those who participate in the Eucharist anticipates the final eschatological unity which will be fully and permanently realized at the Parousia.