Monday, March 11, 2019

Blessed Is The One

When we say or sing the Sanctus ("Holy, Holy, Holy Lord, God of power and might..."), we (almost) always include "Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord." In the expansive-language texts approved by General Convention this summer, that shifts to "Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord." But who is the one who comes in the name of the Lord? Is it Jesus? Is it the presider? Is it all of us?

As I read this coming Sunday's Gospel lesson (Luke 13:31-35), my first thought is gratitude for the Old Testament lesson (Genesis 15:1-12, 17-18) because it has more fodder to offer a preacher than the strange, short passage about a momentary encounter between Jesus and the Pharisees. But my second thought is to wonder what Jesus had in mind when he said to his hearers, "And I tell you, you will not see me until the time comes when you say, 'Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord.'"

The NRSV, CEV, and CEB use "Blessed is the one," but the NIV, WEB, ESV, and RSV all use "Blessed is he." What's the difference? Who is the one who comes in the name of the Lord? Does Jesus mean Jesus? Is this a reference to himself--that they will not see him again until they acknowledge his own blessedness as the one who comes in the Lord's name? Or is this a reference to another--perhaps to all the others who come in the name of the Lord, which is, perhaps, his name?

The Greek word that is rendered as "the one who comes" is a participle: ὁ ἐρχόμενος. It is a form of the verb ἔρχομαι, which, not surprisingly, means "to come." In this form, it means "the coming-one." It is a singular masculine nominative present middle participle. So singular and masculine is arguably right. Notably, Jesus doesn't say, "Blessed are the ones who come." But does the singular masculine coming-one mean Jesus himself or, in that gender-ambiguous way, anyone who comes?

Historically, the presider at the Eucharist has crossed himself (gender-specificity implied) when that part of the Sanctus is proclaimed. Back when all priests were male and "Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord" was spoken, it was easy to associate the coming-one with the priest at the table. In many congregations, everyone crosses herself or himself when the presider says those words, implying that everyone gathered at the table is coming in the name of the Lord. But that interpretation, although a valid expansion of what Jesus said, would seem to be a plural concept that is missing in his words. Instead, he keeps it singluar. Who is the one?

Rightly or wrongly, when I am standing at the altar and saying the Eucharistic prayer, I say those words not thinking about myself but about Jesus. I find myself answering Jesus' invitation by identifying him as the blessed one who comes in the name of the Lord, and so I look for him to be present with us in that moment. I don't cross myself, but, then again, I don't cross myself very often anyway. Also, because of that, I don't mind the use of the singular masculine pronoun "he." But I also don't mind the expansive-language version of "the one" because I trust that Christ's identity is bigger than his gender.

As you can tell, I'm picking at the gospel lesson for any sort of foothold. There's not a lot to go on for a sermon this week. As I wrote above, I'm more interested in the Genesis lesson, but, for what it's worth, I am interested in how we hear Jesus' words this Sunday. We gather at the altar and repeat them week after week, and it seems we're not really clear what we mean when we say them. I don't think clarity is coming anytime soon, but I appreciate the opportunity to think about it at some point other than the passing moment when the words are said or sung at the altar.

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