October 6, 2013: World Communion
"Many Mansions" W. Zeitler
In modern times we have one set of characters to form numbers (the digits ‘0’ through ‘9’) and another set for letters to form words (the alphabet ‘A’ through ‘Z’). In ancient Greek and Hebrew and other ancient languages this was not so – the letters of their alphabet were used for both numbers and words. So their numbers looked like weird words, and their words looked like weird numbers. Regardless, every word had a numeric value, and the ancients put this to use: the name ‘Apollo’ has the numeric value of 1061, and Zeus 612 – funny how these are two dimension of the Parthenon.
This idea that the numeric value of an ancient word has significance (because the letters are also numbers) is called ‘gematria’ (geh-MAY-tree-uh). Gematria was rather popular in the ancient world. This included the early Christians, and gematria arguably appears in the New Testament. For example, the Book of Revelation says that the number of ‘The Beast’ is 666 – which also happens to be the gematria value of ‘Nero’. (Hmm...) Interestingly, the gematria value of ‘Jesus’ is 888. (Hmm...). And gematria shows up in Church history over the millennia as a fringe but recurring idea – some have even suggested that gematria explains the dimensions of European cathedrals. (Hmm...)
Meanwhile, the point of World Communion is to remember that regardless of our differences, the greater Christian Community world-wide has very much in common. I personally find it valuable to remember that this commonality doesn’t extend just across SPACE (around the globe), but also TIME – to Christians who have been celebrating Communion Lo these millennia, everywhere from jungles in nowhere, to grand cathedrals, to right here in the wilderness called ‘San Bernardino’. I can’t begin to imagine how the Church, or Communion, will look yet another millennium or two from now.
So I wrote this morning’s prelude with all this in mind. It’s based on the text “in my Father’s house are many mansions (rooms/dwelling places)” (John 14:2). The gematria value of ‘many mansions’ is 392, and that informs various aspects of the piece. Also, since it is about ‘many rooms’, the piece is essentially a series of variations (rooms) on the same underlying theme. I presume there are an infinite number of rooms in the Father’s house, but the limits of time allotted to the prelude constrain me to a much smaller number.