In this world and in the age to come

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A Prayer of St. Chrysostom

Almighty God, you have given us grace at this time with one accord to make our common supplication to you; and you have promised through your well-beloved Son that when two or three are gathered together in his Name, you will be in the midst of them: Fulfill now, O Lord, our desires and petitions as may be best for us; granting us in this world knowledge of your truth, and in the age to come life everlasting. Amen. (BCP 102)

Knowledge of God’s truth

In this morning’s reading from 1 Maccabees we have the story of the rededication of the Temple — the event celebrated at Hanukkah each year. Judas Maccabeus and his followers have liberated the Temple and labored to rebuild it, replacing the desecrated altar and all of the vessels and fittings for the sanctuary.

Early in the morning on the twenty-fifth day of the ninth month, which is the month of Chislev, in the one hundred forty-eighth year, they rose and offered sacrifice, as the law directs, on the new altar of burnt offering that they had built. At the very season and on the very day that the Gentiles had profaned it, it was dedicated with songs and harps and lutes and cymbals. All the people fell on their faces and worshiped and blessed Heaven, who had prospered them. So they celebrated the dedication of the altar for eight days, and joyfully offered burnt offerings; they offered a sacrifice of well-being and a thanksgiving offering. (1 Macc. 4:54-56)

The rededication of the Temple is part of the story of salvation history — the understanding that God continually acts on behalf of his people, bringing them back again and again from their sin and neglect of his covenant with them.

Life everlasting

The rededication of the Temple echoes through the Christian story, too, but is transformed in the visions recorded in the Revelation to John. He pictures a heavenly city, the new Jerusalem, with no more need for a Temple because of the presence of the throne of God and of the Lamb.

Then the angel showed me the river of the water of life, bright as crystal, flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb through the middle of the street of the city. On either side of the river is the tree of life with its twelve kinds of fruit, producing its fruit each month; and the leaves of the tree are for the healing of the nations. Nothing accursed will be found there any more. But the throne of God and of the Lamb will be in it, and his servants will worship him; they will see his face, and his name will be on their foreheads. And there will be no more night; they need no light of lamp or sun, for the Lord God will be their light, and they will reign forever and ever. (Rev. 22:1-5)

Even the lampstands of the Temple will no longer be necessary, “for the Lord God will be their light” for ever.

When two or three are gathered

These stories have been a source of hope and encouragement for Jews and Christians alike, visions of heaven and reminders of God’s continuing care for those who follow him.

Our hope for life in the age to come, however, should also govern how we act here and now. Today’s teaching from the Gospel of Matthew underscores that fact.

Jesus addresses the question of disagreements among believers, outlining a sort of progressive response — first speak to the person alone, then with two or three, then with the whole assembly. If they still don’t agree, he says, “let such a one be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector”  (Matt. 18:17).

This is a critical point that we usually miss. What does Jesus do with Gentiles and tax collectors?

He seeks them out, talks with them (men and women alike), dines with them, has his mind changed by them, comes into their households, and proclaims that the kingdom of God has come near to them.

Our hope for life in the age to come should create in us the same urgency for reconciliation that Jesus demonstrated, seeking out the one lamb that was lost from the hundred, even giving up his own life in order to break forever the separation of death.

“When two or three are gathered together,” Christ who is in the midst of us sends us out to fulfill our mission: to restore all people to unity with God and each other in Christ (BCP 855).

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Fulfill now, O Lord, our desires and petitions as may be best for us; granting us in this world knowledge of your truth, and in the age to come life everlasting. Amen.

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