Thanks to Bishop Spong, Marcus Borg, Rob Bell, and others, there seems to be a growing universalist trend among moderate to liberal Christians these days. I’m a long-view universalist, in that I tend to believe that at the final judgment, when everyone has the chance to experience the overwhelming love of God, no one will be able to choose to walk away from it. As Bell more succinctly put it, “Love Wins.” While universalism isn’t a new theological concept, there has, over the past 100 or so years, been subtle liturgical changes which have invited it into our common prayer.
A recent example can be found in Enriching our Worship I where in Eucharistic Prayer I it substitutes the word “all” for the more traditional “many” in the Institution Narrative. “Drink this, all of you: This is my Blood of the new Covenant, which is poured out for you and for all for the forgiveness of sins” (p. 59). In the notes, the SCLM explains their decision, “The use of ‘all’… in the institution narrative emphasizes the forgiveness of sins is made available to all through Christ’s sacrifice. While the Greek word is literally translated “many,” biblical scholars have pointed out that in the context of the passage it means that the sacrifice is made not just for a large number of persons, but for all humanity… New eucharistic prayers in both the Roman Catholic Church and the Lutheran Church us ‘all’ rather than ‘many'” (p. 77).
The prime example,and one timely to this Sunday’s Gospel lesson, is the third Prayer for Mission in Morning Prayer:
Lord Jesus Christ, you stretched out your arms of love on the hard wood of the cross that everyone might come within the reach of your saving embrace: So clothe us in your Spirit that we, reaching forth our hands in love, may bring those who do not know you to the knowledge and love of you; for the honor of your Name. Amen.
This prayer was written by the Rt. Rev. Charles Henry Brent and published while he was Bishop of the Philippines. It certainly doesn’t assume that everyone is getting into heaven simply because God loves them, but it does take Jesus’ promise in John 12:32 very seriously. “And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself.” Unlike the gymnastics the SCLM has to do in their notes, the underlying Greek word here is very simply the word for all or everything or in common parlance: all the things.
As we approach Holy Week, the magnitude of Jesus’ death will come into focus. We should take time to consider that Jesus died for me, and for you, but more so, he died for all (2 Cor 5:15). As Bishop Brent’s Prayer for Mission suggests, this realization should be our motivation to share the good news far and wide, to let the whole world know of God’s saving love for all people, everywhere.