Between the Lines: Edith Humphrey Responding to Critics of Grand Entrance

Edith M. Humphrey (PhD, McGill University) is the William F. Orr Professor of New Testament at Pittsburgh Theological Seminary in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. She is the author of several books, including Grand Entrance: Worship on Earth as in Heaven and Ecstasy and Intimacy: When the Holy Spirit Meets the Human Spirit. She has also authored numerous articles on the literary and rhetorical study of the Bible.

In today’s post, Edith Humprey responds to critics of Grand Entrance.

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Though Grand Entrance made its appearance two years ago, I continue to get feedback, both positive and “suggestive,” for which I am grateful. One of my dear friends in the Anglican/Episcopal world called it “refreshment for a weary church” (Dan Muth, The Living Church [February 2013], 16–17), and Roman Catholics have appreciated its description of worship in other contexts as “most intriguing” (cf. Timothy O’Malley, Church Life: A Journal for the New Evangelization [Winter 2012], 86–87). I am so glad, for this is exactly what I hoped the book would accomplish!

The constructive criticisms have, however, been even more welcome, and I would like to respond to two of these here.

First, there is Grand Entrance’s minimal consideration of the Ascension, which “struck” Tim Perry, for example, “as odd” (http://anglicanplanet.net/tap-review/2011/12/30/grand-entrance-worship-on-earth-as-in-heaven.html).

The second concern is the book’s lack of critique concerning worship in my own liturgical (specifically Eastern) tradition—a weakness registered by Lutheran pastor Clint Schnekloth (review in Word and World Theology for Christian Ministry, summer 2012). I am thankful to both Tim, who is a friend, and Pastor Schnekloth, whom I would love to meet, for these insights.

So, what about the Ascension? I agree entirely with Tim Perry that this climax to the life of our Lord has a significant bearing on worship. This is why, in one of the study questions, I ask, “Why does Peter’s speech in Acts 2 refer to the Ascension . . . when he talks about Christ’s ‘entrance into glory,’ rather than referring back to the Transfiguration?”

At the height of the Divine Liturgy, Orthodox Christians remember not only Jesus’s passion and death but also his resurrection, ascension, and coming again. (Yes, we remember his coming again! But that is the topic for another day.) As a result, whenever I speak of salvation history in my books (as in Grand Entrance), I list all the key moments, including the Ascension.

The premise of the book, that worship is something into which we enter—a greater company, a greater action, a greater space—depends on the fact that Jesus has gone before us, through the veil, so that we can indeed worship with that great host, as he intercedes on our behalf.

And so we “lift up” our hearts, in a spiritual ascension, while God catches us up mystically to his throne. We “mystically represent the cherubim,” taking on the role of those angels who are God’s throne, just as holy Mary was historically and particularly and especially the God-bearer, the Theotokos, enthroning him in her womb and in her arms. The Church exemplifies the worshipping posture of holy Mary, offering Christ to the world and exalting Him.

A closer consideration of how Jesus’s Ascension is related to the scene in Hebrews, where we are described as approaching the holy mountain and the great assembly of angels and firstborn, would be very worthwhile. On the other hand, I want to leave some room for the unimaginable ecstasy to come, when we will see Him as he is, because we shall be like him.

Truly, our worship both joins us to the cross and brings us forward to the New Creation and the heavenly banquet, where we will be truly glorified. In another sense, we look forward in hope and cry out, “Come, Lord Jesus!”

In stressing our spiritual ascension as part of our worship, I do not want to forget that there is a good deal more to come—then, our bodies will be raised and glorified with His, and the Entrance will be ever further in and further up.

And what about my seeming naiveté concerning my new ecclesial home? Can I simply plead here the reserve of a newcomer? It is not fair to ask a newlywed still in love to expose her spouse’s faults! Indeed, during the writing Grand Entrance, I was ineluctably drawn to Orthodox worship, not only positively, by its beauty, but also because it avoids the very pitfalls that I document in chapter six. As Tim Perry puts it, the book demonstrates “deep personal investment.”

Ironically, I have been criticized by some for being too irenic towards contemporary worship in the West. Further, there is a challenge latent in my book for Orthodox who are so enamored with the Eastern liturgies that they discount the long tradition of, say, the Gregorian Western rite—though they ought not to, since this is approved for use in ROCA, the OCA, and my own Antiochian jurisdiction.

However, for those readers who want to see a new insider’s gentle critique (not of the principles but of the practicalities) of Eastern Orthodox worship, I recommend my newest book, Scripture and Tradition: What the Bible Really Says (Baker Academic), in which I attempt to make some careful distinctions between Holy Tradition and mutable traditions in the Church, which can be clung to in a deadly traditionalistic fashion.

As Jaroslav Pelikan of blessed memory quipped, “Tradition is the living faith of the dead; traditionalism is the dead faith of the living.”