When we think of the church year, Christmas and Easter loom very large, as do Advent and Lent. Pentecost is significant, too. This way of approaching the church year is not uncommon. But it is also by no means the only approach. In Orthodoxy, Jesus’ baptism looms very large. In most lectionary-following churches, Transfiguration and Ascension are emphasized more than at COS. And in traditional CRC churches, Ascension Day was emphasized as much as (if not more than) Pentecost.
What would it be like to think about the Christian year in a way that more equally took notice of 7 key moments in the life of Jesus: his birth, baptism, transfiguration, death, resurrection, ascension, and sending of the Spirit?
These 7 events also have something remarkable in common. In each, there is an “opening” or “interpenetration” between heaven and earth that is astonishing. These “thin places” help us realize that the boundary between earth and heaven is always porous: the Son sends the Spirit from heaven to us and our prayers go from earth to heaven all the time, crossing that boundary. But in these events, that boundary, that opening is blown wide open, so to speak.
- At Jesus birth, the angelic choir was heard by shepherds.
- At Jesus’ baptism, God’s voice pronounced a benediction.
- At the transfiguration, the benediction returned in a vision of glory.
- At Jesus’ death, the curtain was torn.
- At Jesus’ resurrection, the bonds of sin that separate us from God were broken.
- At Jesus’ ascension, human flesh takes a seat at God’s right hand.
- At Pentecost, tongues of fire descend from heaven empowering all believers to taste and see that the Kingdom of God is near.
In a post-Kantian world, in the world described by Charles Taylor, these heaven-earth openings test us and stretch us. They change how we visualize heaven, and how heaven connects with earth.
When most people hear the word heaven today, they think of something quite different than the writers of Scripture did. Greeting cards often depict heaven as full of clouds and people playing harps, and Hollywood movies sometimes depict heaven as a perpetual spa. Young children sometimes think of heaven as a place that exists just beyond the solar system. Enlightenment philosophers depicted heaven as essentially unknowable, certainly disconnected from the empirical world we can see, touch, and feel.
But none of these ideas reflect the Bible’s view. The Bible describes heaven as the place where Jesus’ ascended body is, the place from which the Holy Spirit moves freely into the world to accomplish God’s ongoing redemptive work. It is a place from which the praise and prayers of God’s people and of all creation can be heard (Rev. 5). Summing up the Bible’s teaching, N.T. Wright refers to heaven as “God’s dimension of reality,” which intersects the world (a recurring theme in many of his books, including Simply Christian). Dallas Willard challenges us to think of heaven as a dimension of reality as close to us as our breath (a recurring theme in his book Divine Conspiracy).
As we gather for worship to
celebrate each of these 7 “Thin Places” we pray that you will
experience the nearness of God, where the veil between heaven and earth becomes
thin…or torn completely!
The liturgy cover art on each of these 7 days will be the artwork of COS member, Mariah West, created specifically for this purpose and entitled “Encounter.” We will also sing a song newly written by David Campbell to help us capture the paradox of Christ’s humanity and divinity that we see highlighted in each of these 7 events. Julie Yonkers, along with Miriam and Celia Kort, choreographed the dance to go with this song.
The bulk of this liturgy lesson is written by John Witvliet. Portions were taken from a column John wrote for “Reformed Worship” (https://www.reformedworship.org/article/september-2009/worship-foretaste-heaven-jesus-baptism-and-transfiguration)