Thursday, April 25, 2013

Are you being served?

When I had a television set, I used to watch a very silly British sitcom by this title. It took place in a department store staffed by inept, argumentative, pompous, vainglorious boobs. Other than sharing its name with the topic of this post, it has almost nothing in common with it. I said ‘almost’ and, unfortunately, I mean it.

Last Sunday I was startled by something in the preacher's homily, something I'd heard and read hundreds of times in my life, but not like it was put that day by Fr Alban. We Christians think of ourselves as servants of God, and how we should serve Him. He is sovereign Lord, and we His creatures and subjects are here to serve Him.

Fr Alban paraphrased the answer of the Baltimore Catechism as to why we were created: to love, glorify and serve our Creator. Listening to his words, I thought of another answer from Judaic tradition, that we were created because ‘Face desired to look upon face.’ I'd always liked this idea from the moment I first read it.

Contrasting the Baltimore Catechism which, he said, had influence on Christian thinking far beyond the borders of Roman Catholicism, even to Orthodoxy, he offered a different answer to the question of why we were created, drawn not from any tradition, but from the Word of God Himself: ‘For the Son of Man came not to be served, but to serve.’

This is the saying of Jesus I was thinking of when I wrote, I'd heard and read it hundreds of times in my life. We all know it, and we even know some of its invasions into the common culture. We know, for example, that the pope is called 'Servant of the servants of God,' and if we know our bible, we understand it comes from this saying.

We all know the servant mentality that a Christian is supposed to have. Some of us even have that mentality, though not always in combination with cheerfulness. Duty dies hard in hearts that make it their god, but love knows no limits, lives without liability, because He is God who says He ‘came not to be served, but to serve.’

Here is what startled me. To hear that God created us not because He wanted servants, but rather, so that He would have someone to serve! This, I notice, is at least akin to the Judaic wisdom, that ‘Face desired to look upon face,’ that the Divine loneliness—even though the One as undivided Triad is not alone—wanted ‘someone to love.’

But wait a minute! What about those sayings of Jesus about being servants that we find in His parables? And the apostles too. They were nothing if they weren't servants, right? Servants of God, and—yes, even more—servants of the people. Isn't it a saying time out of mind that we are ‘to love the people and serve them’ if we are truly Christ's disciples?

Well, yes, of course. Just because God created us so that He could come among us and serve us doesn't at all mean that we are not to serve Him and each other. On the contrary, service is the pattern of all things. Taken a little deeper, sacrifice is the pattern of all things. One dies that others may live. Nature itself is renewed this very way.

So it shouldn't surprise us, I shouldn't have been startled, to hear the preacher say, ‘God created us so that He might serve us.’ It's just that we are not used to seeing things this way, maybe we've never even thought of it like this before. I know I hadn't. But like every other revelation, once apprehended, it's obvious. How could I have missed it?

It can certainly put many things in a different light. Once we understand this, that we were created for God to serve us, yes, to serve even me, we have to believe something else about ourselves. Though we know how bad we can be sometimes, that we are sinners, or at least believe ourselves to be, and that ‘God hates sin,’ we see again the pattern.

The pattern behind all things. That pattern of love, even of sacrifice, before anything else was created. It reminds us of ‘the Blood of a Lamb slain before the foundation of the world.’ It tells us unspeakably why the Son of God would have purposed to become Man and live among us, why He also came to die for us, so that we too could enter.

Enter what? Enter into joy? Well, yes, but not before we enter the presence of His heavenly Father as He does on our behalf, offering not the blood of lambs and goats but His own Blood, so that seeing Him by faith, we too can enter the Holy Place, we too can come before the Mercy Seat pleading His Blood, and ours, as we die for each other…

…following Him. Yes, following Him as He creates us, living for Him so that He can serve us and we can serve each other. When I go to church and look around, now, I see the Bride of Christ for whose sake the Bridegroom slept in the tomb. I see the creatures that God the unearthly but holy Triad created out of nothing, so He might serve us.

So that we too might ask Him in our brothers and sisters,
‘Are you being served?’

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