cjbanning: (The Bishop)
I'm hard at work on my post(s) about the affinity between Wittgensteinian metaethics and progressive Christian moral theology, but in the meantime I'd like to direct you to the post From Rome to Canterbury: My Journey to Anglicanism by Thomas Bradshaw over at The Empty Nave. This past Sunday--which was, of course the Feast of Pentecost--I had the pleasure and honor of witnessing Thomas make a mature public affirmation of his faith and commitment to the responsibilities of his baptism and receive the laying on hands by the Rt. Rev. Frederick Borsch. I'm proud and pleased to have been (in his words)
an inclusive, wise lay-minister and vestry member, who would later become a good friend--that pushed me to study hard and nourished my hunger of a greater theological education than what was available for me.
I should also note that some eleven hundred miles away on that same day, another dear friend of mine--Ruth Ellen of Patron of Poets, Scholars, and Nuns--was also receiving the sacrament of confirmation.

As I witnessed the confirmation of Thomas and the rest of his confirmation class, I of course remembered my own confirmation by George Councell (our diocesan bishop) in June 2008, but was also struck by the form used for the reception of candidates who have already been confirmed in another denomination:
N., we recognize you as a member of the one holy catholic and apostolic Church, and we receive you into the fellowship of this Communion. God the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, bless, preserve, and keep you. Amen.
I have frequently noted that one of the things I like about Anglicanism is that it is very clear as to the distinction between the Communion and the catholic Church, with the former only being a branch of the latter. Thomas was baptized in the Roman Catholic Church and confirmed in the Episcopal Church; Ruth Ellen was baptized in the United Church of Christ and confirmed in the Evangelical Lutheran Church of America. I myself received both my baptism and my confirmation in the Episcopal Church. But we are all members of the same, one Church:
There is one Body and one Spirit, just as you were called into one Hope when you were called. There is one Savior, one faith, one baptism, one God and creator of all, who is over all, who works through all and is within all. (Ephesians 4:4-5)
Pentecost is often called "the birthday of the Church." As I've mentioned before, I find this somewhat misleading, and prefer to think of it instead as a preliminary coming of age, one of many different milestones of maturation from the teachings of the prophets to the confession of Peter to the resurrection at Easter to the ascension into heaven to the outpouring of the Spirt on Pentecost to the great ecumenical councils and beyond all the way to the eventual instantiation of the Kindom of Heaven in its fullness. One of the authorized collects for the feast of Pentecost states that on that day God "opened the way of eternal life to every race and nation by the promised gift of [the] Holy Spirit," the other that God "taught the hearts of [God's] faithful people by sending to them the light of [the] Holy Spirit."

As an Anglo-Catholic, I believe that the Church subsists in the apostolic churches as governed by the historic episcopate, but also that the elements of truth and sanctification found outside those structures compel towards catholic unity under apostolic authority. I'm reminded of this quote from Fr. Richard P. McBrien's 101 Questions and Answers on the Church, which I previously quoted in my essay History and Christ:
[Jesus Christ] is the great sacrament of our encounter with God and God's with us. The Church, in turn, is the sacrament of our encounter with Christ and of Christ's with us. And the seven sacraments, in their turn, are sacraments of our encounter with the Church and of the Church's with us. Indeed, the other members of the Church are sacraments of encounter for us and we for them because, in the Christian scheme of things, we experience and manifest the love of God through love of neighbor.
On this past Saturday--the day before Pentecost, and the penultimate day of Easter--my family buried my paternal grandfather. One of my duties consisted of picking some of the readings to be used at his funeral mass at St. Mary's Roman Catholic Church. I chose Wisdom 1:13-15, 2:23-3:9 as the Hebrew Scripture reading and Acts 10:34-48 as the New Testament reading. I chose the passage from Acts in part because it is traditional to read from that book in the Easter season, and part of the reason I extended it beyond the suggested reading of 10:34-43 was (beyond the fact that I needed to fiddle with it and I like long readings; my cousin-in-law, who read the Hebrew Scripture reading, which I also extended, was less than thrilled at me) because the following section seemed especially appropriate for the day before Pentecost (as the priest noted in his homily):
While Peter was still speaking these words, the Holy Spirit came on all who heard the message. The circumcised believers who had come with Peter were astonished that the gift of the Holy Spirit had been poured out even on Gentiles. For they heard them speaking in tongues and praising God.

Then Peter said, “Surely no one can stand in the way of their being baptized with water. They have received the Holy Spirit just as we have.” So he ordered that they be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ. Then they asked Peter to stay with them for a few days.
This is, of course, a story of radical inclusion. We are the Church, but the Church is God's, not ours. We don't get to set the boundaries.

cjbanning: (St. Thomas)
Just as theology of the Atonement should not treat the Incarnation merely as a necessary prerequisite for the Cross, neither should it treat Easter morning as a mere afterthought, but rather as an integral element of the story of our salvation. Does St. Paul not say,
If Christ is not raised, then all of our preaching has been meaningless--and everything you've believed has been just as meaningless. If Christ is not raised, your faith is worthless. You are still in your sins. (1 Cor. 15:4, 7, The Inclusive Bible)
Now, I don't take this to mean that we necessarily need to understand the Resurrection as a literal event within history--although neither do I deny the historicity of the Resurrection. I wasn't present at the Empty Tomb, so I cannot testify to what was there. If the Resuurection qua historical event was necessary to reconcile humanity to God, then that's how it happened. But what I can, and as a Christian must, testify to is the importance and indispensability of the bodily Resurrection of the Christ as a spiritual truth.

Because of this, I don't think it's sufficient either to "demythologize it to mean only the restitution of faith in the hearts of the disciples," a view Roger Olson ascribes to Bultmann and Tillich. If anything, we need a postmodern, postliberal remythologization of the Resurrection to avoid the dual modernist errors of liberal demythologization on the one hand and conservative hyperliteralism--in truth, its own form of demythologization--on the other. If nothing else, we need to understand the bodily (and we must retain the "bodily" as part of the mytheme, lest we risk Gnosticism) Resurrection of Christ as a profound metaphysical event which eternally alters the relationship between embodied humanity and God regardless of whether that event was instantiated within historical time and space. As the Rt. Rev. David Edward Jenkins is reported to have said, the Resurrection is "not just a conjuring trick with bones," but something deeper and far more mysterious.

And it is this understanding of the profundity of the Resurrection that I believe it is vitally important to bring with us to our understanding of the Atonement. In some understandings of the Atonement, the Resurrection seems to be little more than a divine encore--after doing the really difficult work of reconciling humanity to God on the Cross, Jesus rises from the dead as one last miraculous work to allow the disciples to go home feeling satisfied. This is problematic in many ways, not least because it focuses the moment of redemption within murder and suffering rather than in the promise of new life.

It is out of these sort of concerns that leads Tony Jones to say of the Ransom Captive theory of the Atonement that
it does have the upper hand over PSA [Penal Substitutionary Atonement] in one regard: in the Ransom Captive understanding of the atonement, Christ’s resurrection is central.

The one thing that Satan doesn’t understand is that death cannot vanquish God. That lack of understanding leads to Satan’s downfall, and to the ultimate liberation of humanity from Satan’s clutches.
This is because under the Ransom Captive understanding, the resurrection of Jesus allows God to "trick" Satan and "have his cake (the freedom of the human race) and eat it too (the resurrection of his son)." Of course, both Penal Substitutionary Atonement and the Ransom Captive theory have fairly fatal flaws which I will no doubt consider when we reach Part 5 of this series, on God's authority, but it does show the way in which the presence or absence of a Resurrection emphasis might be used as a criterion in evaluating theologies of the Atonement.

Another theology of the Atonement, somewhat related to the Ransom Captive theory, which also scores high marks in Resurrection emphasis is Christus Victor, which is of course Latin for "Christ the Victor." In this understanding, Jesus' death is not seen as any type of payment, either to Satan or to God the Parent, except perhaps in a highly figurative sense. Instead, by moving into death and embracing mortality fully, and then moving on to new life in the Resurrection, Christ victoriously breaks the hold death and sin have over all of humanity. The problem, insofar as there is one, is that, as Wikipedia notes, "the Christus Victor view of the Atonement is not so much a rational systematic theory as it is a drama, a passion story of God triumphing over the Powers and liberating humanity from the bondage of sin."

4th Easter

Monday, 26 April 2010 03:19 pm
cjbanning: (Bowed Head)

Acts 9:36-43
Psalm 23
Revelation 7:9-17
John 10:22-30

"The Lord is my Shepherd," the psalmist writes, "I shall not want." These words may not seem to describe our lives today: we are constantly wanting. The new video game console which is faster, better, with better graphics and cooler games. The pair of shoes on half price at the mall. The fast food cheeseburger which all by itself constitutes half your recommended calories for the day. We are a culture which is constantly wanting, but--as the immortal Rolling Stones song tells us--we "can't always get what [we] want, / But if [we] try sometimes well [we] just might find / [we] get what [we] need."

So unless the psalmist lived a much luckier life than any of us here--where "luck" is measured by a standard of egoistic hedonism--we have to assume the psalmist meant the statement "I shall not want" not as a description of an operative state of affairs but as a moral imperative, the "shall" in "I shall not want" being the same "shall" as in "Thou shall not bear false witness against your neighbor." The psalmist, like the Rolling Stones, is reminding us that we get what we need.

God provides for our needs. To explain how God provides for our needs, though, the psalmist turns to the metaphor of a shepherd. Jesus expands on this metaphor in the Gospel of St. John the Evangelist (as well as in the synoptic gospels), and St. John the Divine references back to it in his account of the apocalyptic Revelation provided to him. When we consider the metaphor further, we might gleam some further understanding of why and how we live in such a crazy world where our desires so often run counter to the reality which we find.

Think of the life of an ordinary shepherd. She wakes up early, takes the sheep from wherever it is the sheep might spend the night, in stables perhaps, and she leads them to the "green pastures" where they are set loose to graze. And that, my sisters and brothers and siblings in Christ, is where all the trouble begins.

Because grazing sheep get into trouble. They need to be protected from predators, but also they need to be kept from wandering off and getting lost. Think of the sheep in Jesus' parables; they're constantly getting lost or otherwise in trouble, so that the shepherd must leave the flock behind and search for them. It's enough to drive our poor shepherd insane. But sheep need to be free to graze.

And as it is for sheep, it is even more so for people. God is raising a flock of free-range souls; the freedom of our wills is a gift from God, but so too is it a consequence of our being a reflection of God, the imago dei, created in the divine image.

God could, in God's divine omnipotence, order the universe such that our desires and our daily bread were always in harmony; God could run God's Creation like a well-oiled train station. But God chooses instead to allow us to exercise our freedom, recognizing in God's omnibenevolence that as the greater good. As Baptist theologian Roger Olson notes, "God is in charge of everything without controlling everything." Such are the actions of a good shepherd, or for that matter a good parent--or a good God.

The Second Vatican Council of the Roman Catholic Church affirmed the importance of the doctrine of free will thusly:
Only in freedom can [a person] direct [themself] toward goodness. Our contemporaries make much of this freedom and pursue it eagerly; and rightly to be sure. Often however they foster it perversely as a license for doing whatever pleases them, even if it is evil. For its part, authentic freedom is an exceptional sign of the divine image within [a human being]. For God has willed that [humans] remain "under the control of [their] own decisions," so that [they] can seek [their] Creator spontaneously, and come freely to utter and blissful perfection through loyalty to [God].

Hence [a person's] dignity demands that [they] act according to a knowing and free choice that is personally motivated and prompted from within, not under blind internal impulse nor by mere external pressure. [A person] achieves such dignity when, emancipating [themself] from all captivity to passion, [they] pursue [their] goal in a spontaneous choice of what is good, and procures for themself through effective and skilful action, apt helps to that end. Since [humans'] freedom has been damaged by sin, only by the aid of God's grace can [one] bring such a relationship with God into full flower. Before the judgement seat of God each [person] must render an account of [their] own life, whether [they have] done good or evil.
This is simply a reaffirmation, in somewhat--ahem--nicer terms, of the doctrine as articulated at the Council of Trent:
If any one shall affirm, that [the] freewill [of human beings], moved and excited by God, does not, by consenting, cooperate with God, the mover and exciter, so as to prepare and dispose itself for the attainment of justification; if moreover, anyone shall say, that the human will cannot refuse complying, if it pleases, but that it is inactive, and merely passive; let such a one be accursed.

If anyone shall affirm, that since the fall of Adam [and of Eve], [the] freewill [of human beings] is lost and extinguished; or, that it is a thing titular, yea a name, without a thing, and a fiction introduced by Satan into the Church; let such an one be accursed.

If any one saith, that it is not in [the] power [of a human being] to make [their] ways evil, but that the works that are evil God worketh as well as those that are good, not permissively only, but properly, and of [Godself], in such wise that the treason of Judas is no less [God's] own proper work than the vocation of Paul; let [them] be anathema.
If a person's dignity demands on their part a free choice not forced by external forces, however, then any attack against their freedom--whether by church, government, or culture--is an offense against that dignity, a sacrilege against the imago dei itself.

Our duty, then, is to oppose those structures in the world which would act to undermine the agency of our sister and brother and sibling human beings: sexism and racism, transphobia and homophobia; poverty and hunger; totalitarianism and fascism. We must stand in solidarity against that which would diminish the autonomy of the oppressed and downtrodden, against ideologies of fear, of hatred, and of control. We must not allow the voices of any people to be silenced. For the most fundamental freedom of all is the freedom to simply be who we are, who we are called to be by Christ: female and/or male and/or intersexed and/or genderqueer; gay and/or straight; white and/or of color; Jew and/or gentile. "I am woman, hear me roar"--the first line of the 1972 Helen Reddy song "I Am Woman" which became an iconic catchphrase for liberation and empowerment-- is a phrase we make fun of nowadays, but it bespeaks the truth that this freedom is not always easily won, and its exercise often transgressive. Sometimes merely demanding the right to be ourselves, and to speak with our own voices, can be radical in itself.

I am reminded of the radical freedom commended to us in the homilectic exhortation of Saint Augustine: "Love, and do what you like." The truth is, it is not possible to do one of these things without the other. Authentic freedom is always necessarily rooted in love, and authentic love is that which fosters freedom. And that being the case, it should be no surprise that it is within the love, which is boundless and abundant, of Christ the Good Shepherd for the flock which is humanity, that we find our most perfect freedom. Freedom from sin, freedom from fear, even freedom from death itself, but most fundamentally the freedom to be ourselves--all of these are the consequences of God's grace, of we and our robes being washed in the blood of the Lamb and made stainless.

Alleluia.

3rd Easter

Sunday, 18 April 2010 09:45 pm
cjbanning: (St. Thomas)
Acts 9:1-6, (7-20)
Psalm 30
Revelation 5:11-14
John 21:1-19

"And one was a doctor," goes the hymn, (#293 in the 1982 Hymnal, full lyrics) "and one was a queen, and one was a shepherdess on the green; [. . .] And one was a soldier, and one was a priest, and one was slain by a fierce wild beast." There are many different Saints in today's readings, too, and in many ways they are as different from each other as the Saints in the hymn.

There's Saint Paul, who started out as Saul of Tarsus, persecuting Christians, but was transformed when Christ appeared to him on the road to Damascus to become not only the writer of the largest chunk of the canonical Christian Scriptures, but to make voyage after voyage planting new churches and uniting the existing ones in the message of the Good News of Christ.

There's Peter, the Rock of the Church, who dropped everything when he saw Christ, put on his clothes--because he wanted to look his best for the Risen Christ--and swam to Jesus. Today's Gospel reminds us that Peter was called to martyrdom, hung on an upside-down cross, that it was an essential part of his vocation as the Rock of the Church to be at odds with the powerful in his society

There's Nathaniel, whom you have to feel sorry for. Who here can tell me anything about Nathaniel? (Wikipedia tells me he is identified with Bartholomew, one of the Twelve who is, really, not really any less forgettable.) I'll have forgotten he was even in this story by next week. I have the deepest respect and admiration for the Nathaniels of the world, those people who do the hard work of just being where they are called to be, doing the hard work, and getting none of the glory.

There are the sons of Zebedee and the other disciples, who are not even given names.

Once again this week, I find that I am a Thomas.

Thomas looks around at what he has on hand; he finds himself in a fishing boat. Rather than viewing the fishing boat as a distraction to the path in Christ he is called to follow, he uses the boat to bring himself to Christ--and he brings with him fish to eat, given to him through Jesus' power, so that he and Nathaniel and Peter can share a meal with Jesus, to break bread and share this time together as a Church, and to partake in the goodness of creation.

Last week, Thomas insisted on being able to see and touch the physical body of the Risen Christ. This week, he brings Jesus fish to eat. For Thomas, the Risen Christ is a not a spiritual ruler of a distant land, but someone who is always and already deeply enmeshed in the physical world of Creation. Tradition tells us that Thomas was a builder by trade; he was a man for whom the physical was never unimportant, who would have known intimately about the goodness of creation.

Tradition tells us that Thomas, like Peter, was also martyred, dying as he lived, immersed in that physicality.

Scripture does not adjudicate between these approaches. It is a good and rightful thing for St. Peter to put his clothes on and swim to Jesus; it is a good and rightful thing for Sts. Thomas and Nathaniel and the others to take the boat to Jesus and bring the fish with them. The Church in its earliest beginnings has thus been called to be a Broad Church, to encourage a diversity of worship and a diversity of mission. There is room in the Church for Pauls and Peters and Nathaniels and Thomases, for both Marys and Marthas.

It takes all types to make a Church.

The Church takes all of these approaches and fashions them into something greater than any of them individually: something which is, in its unity, holy, catholic, and apostolic. Think of the image from the Revelation to St. John the Divine: millions and myriads singing together for the greater glory of God. I don't imagine they all would take the melody line. That would be a weak sort of song for so many voices--sort of like singing "If You're Happy and You Know It" when you have the resources for Handel's "Alleluia Chorus"--or rather for something which would be to the Handel as the Handel is to "If You're Happy and You Know It." No, that level of beauty requires harmony, difference complementing itself. Harmonies within harmonies, even, exploiting the fact that we are all different: we are sopranos and mezzo-sopranos and contraltos, tenors and baritones and basses.

Jesus' command to Peter is, "Feed My Sheep." Jesus' command to Nathaniel and Thomas and the unnamed disciples is, "Bring some of the fish that you have caught, and come and have breakfast." Jesus' command to Saul is "Get up and enter the city." Jesus' command to Ananias is, "Get up and go to the street called Straight, and at the house of Judas look for a man of Tarsus named Saul. Go in and lay your hands on him so that he might regain his sight."

What is Jesus' command to us? How do we discern where we, individually, fit in within the Church?

We know that any command we might receive will only be a futher refinement and elaboration of the two greatest commandments: "Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind" and "Love your neighbor as yourself." So we must ask ourselves how, given our unique skills and abilities, our own unique temperaments and interests, our own unique connections to the world around us, how best we are able to live out a love for God and for each other and for ourselves. What is it that we love to do? What are we good at? What do we care about?

Of course, sometimes we are called to things we are not very good at--so that we may become better, or that we may learn humility, or just because somebody needs to do it and there is no one else. Often we are called to do things which we don't necessarily want to do, exactly, as Ananias at first did not want to heal Saul. But we recognize, at those times, that there exists a need, and that God has put us there,

What needs do you see in the world around you? How can you work with your sisters and brothers and siblings in Christ to fill those needs?

If we each live out our lives in full response to the answers to these questions, answers which will in all likelihood be different for each and every one of us, then the Church's mission will be complete--not complete in the sense of finished, not yet, but in the sense of being full, having no lack in its present-day efforts to build a just and peaceful Kingdom. This is not a fairy-book fantasy: with the power and inspiration of the Holy Spirit, with God's prevenient grace, it is not only possible, but imperative. It is the mission of the Church, and each of our own individual vocations acts to support it.

And so, my dear sisters and brothers and siblings in Christ, I return to the words of our hymn: The Saints loved their Lord so dear, so dear, and Christ's love made them strong; and they followed the right for Jesus' sake the whole of their good lives long. And there's not any reason--no, not the least--why we shouldn't be saints, too.

Alleluia.

2nd Easter

Sunday, 11 April 2010 12:32 am
cjbanning: (The Bishop)
Acts 5:27-32
Psalm 118:14-29 
Revelation 1:4-8
John 20:19-31

The second Sunday of Easter is my favorite Sunday in the entire liturgical year. Part of the reason is because the message it gives us is not simple to decipher or easy to hear; it challenges us, invites us to engage the story of St. Thomas just as Thomas engaged the physical body of the Risen Christ: fully, critically, and reverently. Even now, years since I've come to terms with this Gospel story (although my relation to it is still changing, never static), the challenges which it gave me in the past serve to enrichen and deepen my response to it in the present.

These are the words of Jesus the Christ to the doubting St. Thomas: "Blessed are they who have not seen and yet believe."

In a world where ignorance and uncritical thinking are commonplace, where religious intolerance is rampant and fanaticism begets horrific violence, these are challenging words. It seems, after all, like the absolutely last thing this world needs is more uncritical belief without evidence.

But as I've reflected over this Gospel passage over the years, these are also words that have come to bring me much hope and joy. Imagine all the things Jesus could have said, but didn't. Jesus could have cursed St. Thomas, just as Jesus had cursed the fig tree which had not born fruit out of season. Words of reprimand, of condemnation, of anger or disappointment, could have followed. Jesus could have berated St. Thomas for his lack of belief.

But none of those things happened. Instead: "Blessed are they who have not seen and yet believe."

But the truest, deepest source of joy isn't just that we aren't, say, damned to hell forever for our doubts, for our unbelief--as if we could ever possibly imagine such a thing of a loving and just Creator. It's this: that when Thomas reached out for a deeper, relational connection with Christ, to see and touch and feel Jesus, the Risen Christ appeared. We are not required to hold blind faith, to believe without seeing. When we need Jesus, when we ask for Jesus, Jesus shows up. Every time, without fail, just like Jesus did for St. Thomas.

Well, maybe not just like. If you expect Jesus to show up bodily in front of you, to give you a chance to put your fingers in Jesus' side, you're probably going to be disappointed--probably. I suppose I can't rule out the possibility completely--but if it happens to you, you're probably best off not telling me about it. If you're looking for some grand supernatural violation of the natural order of God's creation, you're going to be disappointed; at best, you'll get a violation of the established rules as we currently understand them. And if you expect "proof" for some set of propositional truths, to the exclusion of some other set of propositions, some final demonstration that you're right and everyone else is wrong, you're almost certainly going to be disappointed. Faith, at least as I understand it, doesn't work like that.

"First of all," writes the liberation theologian Leonardo Boff in his book Liberation and Ecology, "comes the experience of mystery, the experience of God":
Only afterward does faith supervene. Faith is not primarily adhesion to a teaching that gives access to revelation and the supernatural. Then faith would be tantamount to ideology, in the sense of an idea or belief inculcated in someone from outside. This extrinsic character of so-called faith can give rise to various forms of fundamentalism and religious warfare. All groups tend to affirm their own truths to the exclusion of all others. Faith is meaningful and possesses truth only when it represents a response to an experience of God made personally and communally. Then faith is the expression of an encounter with God which embraces all existence and feeling--the heart, the intellect, and the will.
This may well be the purest description of my personal theology as has ever been written; I know that ever since I first read Boff's words, in 2004, they have been written on my heart. And I cannot think about the story of St. Thomas without thinking of them.

Jesus' appearance to St. Thomas did not put an end to the possibly of doubt or disbelief. Imagine what we might wonder were we to find ourselves in Thomas' shoes. Is it really Jesus--and not, say, Jesus' identical twin? Could it be a trick with mirrors, or a delusion of the mind? Can we be sure that Jesus really died, and wasn't resuscitated by some scientifically-explainable process (and never underestimate the ingenuity of scientists in constructing explanations, it's what they do)?

Jesus' appearance to St. Thomas did not make these questions impossible. Instead, it made them irrelevant. Because in that moment, the reality of Christ's presence transcended all necessity to explain how or whether or why.

But if we cannot expect the Risen Christ to show up bodily in our living rooms and instruct us to touch Christ's wounds, then how, then, can we experience Christ in the modern world as twenty-first century postmoderns? How do we have the type of experience St. Thomas did? Where do we find this sacred mystery? Primarily, we can do this through the Sacraments, the outward and visible signs of inward, invisible grace--and most especially the Eucharist, the sacrament of Christ's Body and Blood, where we receive Jesus Christself into us in order to strengthen and renew our identity as Christ's mystical Body. We encounter Christ communally and relationally, through our relationships with others, our work for justice and works of mercy: we see Jesus in the face of the stranger who is the least of our sisters or brothers or siblings. And also in solitude and contemplation, through prayer and sacramentals--but like with Thomas, our engagement with Christ must necessarily begin with our engagement with our community, in our challenging and being challenged by our sisters and brothers and siblings in Christ.

All of these things sustain us and make possible the type of holistic faithful response Boff talks about. They don't prove some truth claim and disprove some other; they don't have to, because what they're doing is far more important. That we know Christ is so much infinitely more important than that we know that Christ exists. That we know the Caretaker-God is so much more important than that we know the Caretaker-God exists. That we know the Spirit is so much more--well, I think you get the idea.

I don't always know what to do with all the belief-language in the Bible, especially the New Testament. I may never come to terms with it all completely. I don't speak or read Greek, and I don't speak or read Hebrew. So I don't know which words the Bible authors were using when my translations use a form of "faith" or "belief," and I don't know what those words would have meant to them, what nuances of meaning might be present, when what is being discussed is belief--which is to say, trust--in a person, or propositional belief in a fact, or perhaps even some other type of belief in something else entirely. I don't know to what degree belief and faith would have been thought of as synonymous or differing concepts. These are interesting questions, not because we must necessarily remain bound to the the understanding of the saints of two thousand years ago, but because they provide resources upon which to draw in our attempt at constructing, in enriching and deepening, a theology which is liberatory for all people today while rooted in our shared history.

I have no doubt I will one day learn at least some of these answers. Already I know more than I did a year ago, which is more than I knew five years ago. But in the end, I don't think that really matters, because in my heart I know that mere beliefs don't have the power to save, and never could. Christ, the person whom every one of us has the opportunity to know and befriend, is the One who saves.

Thomas rejected holding a truth claim about Christ in favor of knowing the Christ, feeling and touching and seeing the Christ. And Jesus showed up. Jesus always shows up. Jesus tells us that Thomas' type of faith isn't the only type of faith which is valid or acceptable to God: "Blessed are they who have not seen and yet believe." This is no doubt an important corrective to the temptation to judge the faith of others, to declare it too uncritical, too simple, too uninformed or unenlightened. But I firmly believe--I cannot but believe--that those of us who are called to the faith of St. Thomas are blessed, too. How can we not be, when Jesus always shows up?

I love the second Sunday of Easter because it is this truth--that Jesus shows up, that Jesus always shows up--which fills me with joy like no other New Testament message can. The story of St. Thomas speaks to me so powerfully on a personal level, it is his story which fills me with hope like no other New Testament story can, because in Thomas I find a vision of a mature, questioning, critical faith which is not thwarted, but rather manages to find its fulfillment in Christ's Presence.

Jesus shows up. Jesus always shows up.

Alleluia.

1st Easter

Sunday, 4 April 2010 07:44 am
cjbanning: (Palm Sunday)
Elizabeth is going back and writing her unpreached sermons for all the Sunday's she's missed ever since we both fell off the ball back in Advent. I'm not quite that ambitious, but I do want to get back into the habit, even if this sermon is only about 2/3 of the length I wanted it to be. :(

Acts 10:34-43
Psalm 118:1-2, 14-24
1 Corinthians 15:19-26
Luke 24:1-12

1st Easter

We are a resurrection people.

Note the plural, and just as importantly the collective form: we are not resurrection persons, a "resurrection me" plus a "resurrection you" plus a "resurrection her." It is only communally, in the collective, in the unity of our identity as the Body of Christ, that we are able to fully respond to the resurrection of the Head.

The Scripture passages today speak to this truth. The Easter story is, at least superficially, of course a story about Jesus Christ, about Christ's resurrection. Yet it is a curious fact that, post-Crucifixion, the Gospels spend relatively little time on Jesus Christself. Jesus has already done the job which the Christ was sent to do. It is the Church's job now to continue the work Jesus has already put into motion.

The focus of the Gospel narratives thus shifts dramatically to the experience of the disciples. In today's Gospel passage, we receive the reaction of the women to the empty tomb, experience their confusement, their bedazzlement, and their ultimate understanding, as we relate to them and, later, to the male disciples as the stories' new protagonists.

During the Easter season, we read from the Acts of the Apostles, the only book in the Bible aside from the Gospels and Revelation to actually include Jesus as an explicitly present character. I know that come the Easter season, I always experience a moment of cognitive dissonance when I hear a lay reader read "And Jesus said. . ." from the pulpit. Isn't that the sort of thing which gets read by the priest, from the pulpit or after a Gospel procession? I forget that the Risen Christ has a story to be told, too, and--appropriately enough--the Risen Christ speaks through everyone.

Yet in the passage from Acts assigned to this Sunday, the holiest day of the Christian year, Jesus does not speak. It is St. Peter, the rock upon which the Church--one, holy, catholic, and apostolic--was established, who speaks. We've jumped ahead to a point past the Ascension, past Pentecost, as St. Peter reaffirms the commision of the Church. Once again, the important part of the Easter story isn't what Jesus is doing, but what Christ's Church is doing.

Pentecost is often called the "birthday" of the Church. The truth is that the building of Christ's Church is a process which spans all of human history and which still has not come to its fullest fruition. Pentecost is an important milestone in the history of this community--more of a coming into adulthood than a birth--but it is laughably obvious that Easter is, too. Easter transformed the Church from simply being the disciples of a man, each with her or his own individual loyalties to Jesus, called by Jesus one or two at a time, to a single community united in joint celebration.

And so we gather here today. Like the disciples who hurried back to Jerusalem after meeting Jesus on the road to Emmaus, we gather together with our sisters and brothers and siblings in Christ to proclaim the Easter promise.

This is Easter: this gathering, this congregation (remember "congregation" is merely a noun form of the verb "to congregate"), this reunion of friends, this in-coming of family.

This is the paschal mystery: that having suffered a painful death on the Cross and descended into hell, Christ is risen and present with us here and now, and every day and everywhere, wherever two or more disciples are gathered in Jesus' name.

Three years ago--Easter Even 2007, to be exact--I was baptized into the Christian faith, in this church [or: in a church like this one], before this congregation [or: before a congregation like this one]. Obviously, it was a momentous occasion in my personal faith journey, but it was also a momentous occasion in the life of the Church, as the Body of Christ grew by--well, by more than just more one new member, as across the world new Christians were being welcomed into the Church through the sacrament of Baptism at Easter Vigil services, following the traditions of the early Church in the second and third centuries of the common era. Last night the process was repeated across the world.

"Through baptism on Easter," the Reformed writer Harvey Smit writes, "the new convert participated in the consummation of the Lord's passion and entered into the new life as a Christian sealed in Jesus' resurrection." Let me say that again: "participated in the consummation of the passion." Easter is not a passive day, something which happens simply because the Sunday following the full moon following the first day of spring has finally rolled around on our calendar. Easter is our active engagement and full participation in the life of the Body of the Christ. It is coming to church, reading and listening to holy scripture, receiving and being sustained by the Body and Blood of Christ. It's having a conversation with other members of our parish family in the coffee hour afterwards, and welcoming newcomers and visitors. It is reconciling oneself with God and one's neighbor. It is loving others as oneself. It is working for peace, and for justice. Outside of this context, the story of the Resurrection of Jesus becomes simply, to use the controversial words of Bishop David Edward Jenkins, "just a conjuring trick with bones."

If that were the case, we would indeed be (to use St. Paul's words from today's Epistle reading) "the most pitiable of the human race" indeed! But, St. Paul tells us, "in Christ all will come to life again": we who have been crucified with Christ share equally in Christ's resurrection.

And so, with the Blessed Virgin Mary, with St. Mary Magdalene, St. Peter, St. Paul, the evangelists, and all the saints; with the matriarchs and patriarchs, angels and archangels, and the entire company of heaven, we proclaim, as one Church and with one voice: "Alleluia! Christ is risen." [Congregation, if they're paying attention: ""The Lord is risen indeed. Alleluia."]

Alleluia.
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My Prayer

"This is my prayer: that your love may overflow more and more with knowledge and full insight to help you to determine what is best."
-- St. Paul's Epistle to the Philippians 1:9-10

All entries copyrighted © 2009, 2010, 2011, 2012 by Cole J. Banning


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