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Sunday Letter: The Only Divine Service
George MacDonald Commentary.
The last act of our Lord in commending his spirit to his Father, at the close of his life, was only a summing up of what he had been doing all his life. . . . Every morning when he went out ere it was day, every evening when he lingered on the night lapt mountain, after his friends were gone, he was offering himself to his Father, in the communion of loving words, of high thoughts, of speechless feelings; and, between, he turned to do the same thing in deed, namely — in loving word, in helping thought, in healing action, towards his fellows; for the way to worship God, while the daylight lasts, is to work; the service of God, the only “divine service,” is the helping of our fellows; I want to show, that this is the simplest, blessedest thing in the human world.
– George MacDonald (emphasis added)
Following the last post: if all we have is God’s, then when we offer ourselves back to God, we also must let go of where God himself would like that offering directed. This is the substance of a Tithe, or offering to a church: it is not investment: non-profits are not investment properties. It is not building of righteousness or merit, as the plain reading of Scripture is against such things. Rather, it is a letting go and giving back to God in thankfulness for what he has given.
Once given, it is not our responsibility, but those to whom it is given. Give money to the church? It is now the church’s responsibility to steward what God, through you, has provided. That may be a sabbatical for an over-worked rector, or rent assistance to a single mother, or printing fees for booklets.
And so with that we turn to the example of Christ. As MacDonald says, every day he worked in a constant offering—submission to the Father—for the needs of the world. Christ’s offering was himself, for us. We have been given a great gift of life, the forgiveness of sins, and the victory over the sting of death, partakers in the Resurrection itself. With this great gift what are we to do? For the sake of our souls, it is our responsibility to steward—to share—the life we have been given. This is the Great Commission:
All authority has been given to me in heaven and on earth. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all the things that I have commanded you. Behold, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.” Amen! (Matthew 28:18-20, EOB)
It is also the substance of the teaching of Christ (emphasis added, above):
Then they will answer him: ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry, or thirsty, or a stranger, or naked, or sick, or in prison, and did not help you?’ Then he will answer them, saying: ‘Amen, I tell you: as much as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to me.’ (Matthew 25:44-45, EOB)
Christ’s last act: surrendering himself to the cross, and giving up his spirit (it is finished), is for the least of these, which is us. Christ instructing us to serve for the “helping of our fellows” is not just a command, but us giving back as we have been given.
What is more interesting in MacDonald’s framing is the eschatological nature of the rhythm of Christ’s life:
[Christ] turned to do the same thing in deed, namely — in loving word, in helping thought, in healing action, towards his fellows; for the way to worship God, while the daylight lasts, is to work
Christ’s rhythm of outward focus and retreat to the mountains for restorative communion with God, as MacDonald frames it here, is what we have to look forward to. We are following in the example, while the day is at hand, to help others—in prayerful intention, thinking charitably of others, and tangibly helping others—as our way of worshipping God. But there will be a time when the work of the day has ended, and the night is at hand. We may not live in the 11th hour, but it is well for us to work as though we are. When the night comes (which anticipates the New Heaven and New Earth) it is for us who have given as we have received to retreat to the mountain, rest, and enjoy the feast of communing with Glory of God:
I saw the holy city, New Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared like a bride adorned for her husband. I heard a loud voice from heaven saying, “Behold, God’s dwelling is with people! He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them! He will wipe away every tear from their eyes! Death will be no more; neither will there be mourning, crying, or pain any more. For the first things have passed away.” (Revelation 21:2-4 EOB)