Walking as Jesus Walked

Having the Mind of Christ

Sunday, February 7, 2010

The Epiclesis and Ecclesial Imagination

It has been a while since I have written, so forgive me! I don't know where January went, but I can tell you it went fast! Before I knew it, the month completely escaped me. The whole discipline of keeping time is not an illusion, but a necessity!

One of the reasons I have not posted a blog is because I spent a week at Southern Methodist University at the Center for Missional Wisdom. There, I spent time with "Billy" Abraham and Norman Russell, one of the world's foremost scholars of Orthodoxy. In seminars, we dealt with key texts relating to Orthodoxy as well as to Orthodoxy and Mission. We also dealt with the nature and purpose of practical theology. To be sure, it was a stimulating and challenging week.

During my time at SMU I was able to present a proposal that I hope to research more fully in the coming years. More and more, I have become interested in the role of the imagination in pastoral ministry. I have become interested in the relationship between revelation and imagination, and with the way God forms the imagination through the workings of the Spirit and church. As I will share below, I am especially interested in how our invocation of God's Spirit in the Eucharistic Epiclesis gives shape to what Craig Dykstra calls the "ecclesial imagination." I am also interested in how the Wesleys understood the Epiclesis for the life of ministry and mission.

There is more here than I can write at the moment, but I do want to summarize why I think the Epiclesis is important for the life of faith and for the formation of the imagination.

First, at the core of what I want to propose is the following: at the heart of the Christian life is a real knowledge of God and that this knowledge gives substance and form to our imagination. I want to argue that critical to the formation of our imagination is the invocation of the Holy Spirit, or the Epiclesis upon the bread and wine - and that implicit in this invocation is a communal pedagogy of transformation that is key to opening up the imagination to God's creative and sustaining work. It is in the Epiclesis, in other words, that we recall the descent of the Spirit in Jesus in the Incarnation; that is, we remember how Christ was made into God's saving instrument capable of sanctifying those who come into contact with him and how Christ is made real in the world.

Second, it is through the Epiclesis that we share in the Eucharist which gives voice to the Spirit's role in making the bread and wine into the means of grace for those who partake and which expresses the Spirit's activity upon those in the prayerful assembly. It is through the Epiclesis that we invoke the Spirit upon the church (as in Pentecost), and unite with the church through the ages. With the invocation of the Spirit God makes it possible to not only receive but also to offer Christ's forgiving grace to others. It is in the Epiclesis that the Spirit makes the church into the body of Christ for the world and brings into existence a new community of redemption and freedom.

And third, it is through the Epiclesis that we enter into the dynamic movement of the Holy Spirit, "seeing in depth" what God is doing in our lives and in the world and discerning who we are and what we need to do. In the Eucharist, and specifically in the Epiclesis, we participate in that reality which transforms human knowledge and perception - cognitively and affectionately - and helps us to envision new possibilities for being in ministry with God and others. In faith and in prayer we see anew how, through the Spirit, we are drawn into creative ways of flourishing and serving: as the bread and wine are sanctified into the vehicles of God's grace, so we are sanctified and intentionally set apart as instruments of God's love for the world.

I share these "thoughts" as seeds waiting to blossom. I don't know where I may go with what I have written, but I would like to read more about the Epiclesis and the role of the imagination in terms of seeing in depth. In the United Methodist Church, when we prepare to come to the Table, we pray that God will pour out his Holy Spirit on us and on the gifts of bread and wine. We pray that God will make the bread and wine into the body and blood of Christ, and that God will make us into the body of Christ for the world, redeemed by Christ's blood. In addition, we pray that by the Holy Spirit God will make us one in Christ and with one another, and that God will make us one in ministry to all the world until Christ finally comes and we feast at his heavenly banquet.

I am not sure people in the pews fully know what to do with these amazing statements, but I am convinced that the seeds of the church's renewal are planted deep within them, and that implicit in the practice of Epiclesis is a kind of Pentecostal-sacramental, missional-communal, vocational-practical vision of what the church is. Perhaps this is what a truly Missional Methodism is all about. I hope to write more in the days ahead.


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