– by Don Schwager
The expression “Maranatha!” was a key watchword and prayer among the early Christians. It is an Aramaic word which is a combination of two words “marana – tha” which literally mean “the Lord comes” or in the imperative case “Come, Lord!” Paul the Apostle used this Aramaic word at the end of his First Letter to the Corinthians, chapter 16, verse 22: “Come, Lord!”
Be watchful, stand firm in your faith, be courageous, be strong. Let all that you do be done in love… If any one has no love for the Lord, let him be accursed [anathema]. Our Lord, come! [Maranatha]! The grace of the Lord Jesus be with you. My love be with you all in Christ Jesus. Amen. – 1 Corinthians 16:13-14, 22-24
Many Christians today use this expression during the Advent season. The word “advent” comes from the Latin word “adventus” which literally means the “coming” or the “arrival” of someone or something. The traditional Advent song begins, “O Come, O Come, Emanuel.”
While many Christians today celebrate Advent in the weeks preceding Christmas, the early Christians used the expression “Maranatha! “Come, Lord” as a regular prayer throughout the year, especially during their weekly celebration of the Lord’s Supper or Eucharist. The Didache (also called the Teaching of the Twelve Apostles) which is an early Christian manual which dates from the mid or late first century, includes the following prayer and admonition for the weekly celebration:
May your grace come and may this world pass away. Hosanna to the God of David! If anyone is holy, let him approach. If anyone is not, let him repent. Maranatha! Amen.– Didache 10,6
Why did Paul and the early Christians regularly use this watchword – “Maranatha! [Come, Lord!]? This prayer is related to the prayer Jesus gave his disciples: “Your kingdom come” (Matthew 5: 10; Luke 11:2). When we pray for the Lord’s kingdom to come we ask God to send his Son, the Lord Jesus to come and reign over us as King and Lord of All. We pray for him to come and fulfill his work of redemption – to unite all things in Christ and to make all things new.
How does the Lord Jesus reign over us here and now? Through his Word and Spirit. God’s kingdom comes to those who submit their lives to him – who obey his word and yield to the purifying work of the Holy Spirit who transforms us into the likeness of Christ. The distinctive mark of the disciples of Jesus – his body here on earth – is their love for one another.
“By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another” (John 13:35).
The Advent season reminds us that we are a sign of God’s kingdom – his redeeming presence and merciful love. Christ wants our love to be not lukewarm but hot and intense (Revelation 2:4 and 3:15-16) The fire of Christ’s love will enflame us – if we allow our hearts and minds to be ruled and empowered with the love of Christ – “let all that you do be done in love” (1 Corinthians 16:14).
Let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near. – Hebrews 10:24-25
He who testifies to these things says, “Surely I am coming soon.” Amen. Come, Lord Jesus! – Revelation 22:20