amen in context

Open the Oxford English Dictionary to the word “context” and you find it sitting right next to the word “contestation”. How appropriate! Naming the context in which we live is always a risky contest of competing truths. The word context comes from the Latin meaning “to weave together”. It describes the warp and weft within which our lives, congregations and communities are located and find their purpose. Worship that is contextual seeks to locate Christian life in the real world where we live. But how do we know the truth about what is real and what is an illusion? This is the contested argument in which every worship service dares a surprising answer - an answer that evokes the courageous response: “Amen”.

“Amen” is the Hebrew word “Yes”. It is the word spoken by the jury when it believes that a witness is telling the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth. It is the church’s response to the new reality that we discover in Jesus Christ. As Paul writes: “All the promises of God find their Yes in [Christ]. That is why we utter the Amen through him to the glory of God” (2 Cor. 1:20). When, in the book of Revelation, the curtain is pulled back and the real world of God’s kingdom is revealed all creation is heard to respond with a great affirmative “Amen!” (Rev. 5:14). In other words, the Kingdom of God revealed in the crucified Messiah re-contextualizes every local and global context. It turns out that the powers that be are not the powers that be at all. This is the radical claim that Christians voice whenever they join in saying the Lord’s Prayer: “For yours is the kingdom and the power and the glory. Amen.”

Yet, over time, the power of the word “Amen” has been lost for many Christians. Sung at the end of hymns and said at the end of prayers its meaning has been transformed from a daring “Hell, Yes” to a gentle “The End”. The first generations of Christians struggled to find the right word to use in translating the Hebrew word “Amen”. They tried the Greek word “aleuthinos” - meaning “that which is not false” - but gave it up as too weak. They also used and dropped the Greek word “genoito” - “would that it were so”. Very quickly the church agreed that “Amen” captures the daring nature of the Christian claim that the God we meet in Jesus Christ is making all things new - Yes! (see “Reversed Thunder: The Revelation of John and the Praying Imagination” by Eugene H. Peterson, Harper San Francisco, 1988, pp. 68-69).

At University Hill Congregation we have been reclaiming the word “Amen” in our worship life. The actions that accompany our singing of the Lord’s Prayer conclude with making a fist with the left hand and placing it firmly in a cupped right hand as we sing “Amen”. This embodies our corporate “Yes” to a prayer which has re-contextualized our neighbourhoods and workplaces and classrooms as zones where God’s kingdom is coming “on earth as it is in heaven” and where we are committing ourselves to living as agents of God’s scandalous forgiveness. It is becoming commonplace to hear spontaneous shouts of “Amen” in the midst of the preaching or in response to the singing. No longer does this spontaneity feel awkward. Instead, it is now a sign of the Holy Spirit’s encouraging presence. After a celebration of the Eucharistic feast we stand arm in arm for a closing prayer. Then a solo voice invites us to join all of creation in song with the words: “Sing Amen”. The congregation replies: “Amen, we praise your name, O God ... Amen, amen, amen, amen, amen, we praise your name, O God.” In the context of so many competing claims upon our lives we sing a bold “Yes” back to the God whose “Yes” in Jesus has claimed and redeemed us into new life. This gospelled life is the real world in which we work and serve and play and live. Amen!

                                                                            (from "Telling Time" by Edwin Searcy)

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