I learned from Jon Levenson in his Creation and the Persistence of Evil this wonderful German phrase, “Endzeit gleicht Urzeit” (the end resembles the beginning). Or, better, the end repeats or even mirrors the beginning, the ancient foundations. This phrase represents a kind of anthropological given: any eschatology, any account of last-things, will more or less follow the contours of its matching cosmogony, that is, its matching account of how the world came to be. It is no surprise that this turns out to be the case in the Abrahamic traditions and in Christianity.
Now my particular interest in this concept comes from my angle as a scholar of liturgical theology. For some time now, scholars of liturgy have asserted the eschatological nature of liturgy in general and the Christian Divine Service in particular. The liturgy is a ritual enactment of the Last Day, a corporate enactment of our collective hope.
This sometimes comes as a surprise to folks, so I will lead us through this. (Here follows a brief mystagogy: a “leading into the mystery.”)
What happens on the Last Day? Trumpets are blown and the dead in Christ rise and gather together in one place. God sits enthroned upon the earth. Books are opened. The martyrs pray for the Church and the world. All are judged. Sheep and goats are separated. The faithful are then invited to the marriage supper of the lamb.
What happens at the Divine Service? Christians are called to worship and gather in the name of the Lord. Those who are baptized are invited to commune. God meets his people. Scripture is read and interpreted. The Church on earth joins the Church in heaven in prayer for the world. We confess and receive absolution. We offer ourselves, our souls and bodies. We celebrate the Supper of the Lord.
But “Endzeit gleicht Urzeit,” the end of things mirrors the beginning of things. “Behold, the new creation” (2 Cor. 5:17). Christ himself tells us, “Behold, I make all things new” (Rev. 21:5). Christ is the new creation, and we are the new creation in Christ. If the end is a restart that repeats God’s original manner of creating things, and if the Divine Service ritually enacts and shares in this end of things, then the Divine Service also enacts the beginning of things as well. The Divine Service manifests a Christian cosmogony.
Therefore the Divine Service places us in contact not only with the end, but also with the beginning. God calls together the morning stars to shout for joy. The angelic hosts live in safety because the God of gods parts the waters above from the waters below, providing a safe place for them to live within the heavens, upon the firmament (Gen. 1). The Lord sits above and yet among the council of his holy ones (Ps. 89:7). God gives the Law of Heaven to his Holy Ones and reveals that Law — in a form accommodating their mortal nature, of course, his mercy endures forever — to one holy people on earth (Ps. 19). The angels make their cases for and against the inhabitants of the earth (Job 1). Some of these hosts fall away and die like any mortal, like any prince (Ps. 82). But the others remain to wonder at the unveiling of the plan hidden before the ages in God but revealed to the hosts of heaven in these last days through the church (Eph. 3), that is to say, through the last gathering of the faithful – those gathered to worship on earth according to the Divine Service of the Faithful One: even Jesus Christ our Lord.
So mortals eat the bread of angels – the Lord provides for them food enough (Ps. 78:23ff.). Who can fathom so great a mystery? “And the angels were amazed” (a common refrain in Eastern hymnody).
To which we can only say, Amen.
The featured image is William Blake’s “When the morning stars sang together,” held at the Morgan Library and Museum. It is in the public domain.