Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Why "Eighth Day Dawning?"

As I was reflecting on what it will mean to teach theology for a year in Haiti, a certain image came to mind rooted in the early Christian sacramental tradition: the iconic Eighth Day. The Eighth Day is a metaphor for the inbreaking of the Kingdom of God, for the reign that Christ extends over the whole world through the supreme victory of his resurrection over death, and all the powers of death. The Eighth Day is born out of a divine promise to never give up on creation, to do whatever it takes to restore, to reconcile and to breath new life into a dilapidated, broken order. It is a testament to God's unwavering commitment to redeem and to uplift us in this present age, and to stop at nothing to resuscitate our hope in the age yet to come.

The late first/early second century text, The Epistle of Barnabas, makes reference to the Eighth Day as the new sabbath, closely identifying it with the Sunday worship of early Christians. If God created the world and its multitude in six days and rested on the seventh, then in Christ's resurrection, early Christians reasoned, God opened up a proverbial 'eighth day' in the created order (and in some estimations replaced the sabbath altogether with it). In fact, for any liturgy buffs out there, this is where the tradition of the Easter Octave (and really all other similar octaves) comes from: Easter Sunday is the prototypical 'eighth day,' culminating the liturgical cycle which begins on Palm Sunday. In this sense, the Eighth Day is also infused with a processional quality: as the drama of creation, death, and redemption unfolds we are moving toward a new reality. Early Christians experienced this new reality by being successively submerged in the mysteries of Christ's death and resurrection on the Holy Vigil of the Feast of the Resurrection. On that night, the night of Easter Vigil, the new catechumenate was ushered into the Eighth Day with water, fire, incense, bread and wine.

Early Christians professed that through baptism we become new creatures in Christ freed from the powers of sin and death, participating in Jesus' victory over them. Paul is the primary and perhaps earliest recorded source of this theology, which he expounds through several of his letters, most notably in Roman, Corinthians and Ephesians. He suggests in 2 Cor. 5:15-21 that God calls the Church to see the whole world in a different light--in the cool light of a bruised dawn breaking over an empty tomb. To see one another as Christ. To identify our whole persons with his mission and life, and to defer to one another with the honor due that identification. Paul declares, "From now on, therefore, we regard no one from a human point of view; even though we once knew Christ from a human point of view, we know him no longer in that way. So if anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation: everything old has passed away; see, everything has become new!"

In a certain sense, within this theological framework there is no need to wait for the Apocalypse, or Christ's Appearing, to experience the fullness of God's new life in this world. Time itself collapses into a singularity around this new created order and self-identification with Christ in baptism. Everything has already become new. Really, then, the Eighth Day is an invitation for us to see the world through post-eschatological eyes, even while recognizing that God's work in this present age is not yet complete.

Indeed, the Church has long proclaimed that the Resurrection of Jesus has profound consequences for the way we understand our world, for how we relate to it, to God, and to one another in the present, and for how we orient ourselves toward the future hope of "the glorious appearing of the children of God." My goal while in Haiti is to be thinking about and praying for the advent of that Eighth Day, about how I might live more authentically into its promises, responsibilities and joys. I'm curious to find out how we, as Christians from very different contexts, ask God into our lives--especially into the broken places--so that the renovating work of the Spirit might bring us together into the light of a new day. Of course, all days also have a particular shape and texture; distinct sights, sounds, and smells. I hope to share many of those things with you as well through images and through words--to be your eyes and ears and hands and feet in Haiti. So let's journey together toward that Eighth Day, a long and winding road to Emmaus, passing for a time through this country of so much challenge and so much promise.

Grace and peace,

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