I've been thinking about the turn to Lent that is under way: The Glory of the Transfiguration is this Sunday, and then after a few parades in far Louisiana or a pancake supper in the Parish or whatever playful last dance we do, Ashes Ashes all fall down. And then the long road to the Cross. So it got me to thinking:
After the Meeting is over on Monday and the final communiqué is written and all the luminaries are interviewed by all the journalists who have been hanging around waiting, the Primates will each get back on airplanes and leave to return to their own Provinces. Bishops and others who have been waiting in the wings for one last chance to make a statement will have to fess up to having responsibilities at home. The sides of the tent will be folded, and everyone will go home.
Everyone will return to Lent, and the glory of these forty days. Whatever any of the Primates thought was going on, they will return to whatever their actual Lent brings them. It is true for them and it is true for us. The time of the long lengthening is at hand and it is springtime in our souls. This is not a matter of the latitudes on which we live, but the spiritual space in which we have our being.
The question is if there is resurrection in us, or did the discontents of our various spiritual winters finally do us in. It is time to see what comes of all this, and indeed what comes of all of us. There is work to be done, and no rest for the weary. There is a whole world out there in which life abundant is a hope that is nearly lost. Will the Primates, and indeed will we, be agents of that hope, or have we died to it all? Compared to the heart breaking needs of the world the needs of the Communion are the heartbreak of psoriasis. We may all have to find ways to live with the itch and move on.
Several English journalists, among them Jonathan Petrie, are already thinking ahead and telling us what the Archbishop of Canterbury faces on return. He returns to a Synod meeting where ordination of women as bishops, the civil partnerships laws, blessings of gay relationships, and internal splits in the Church of England will all find their way into the conversations and motions. There are those carping about how much time the ABC is spending on international affairs as opposed to tending the store at home. And of course, the messiness of the Anglican Communion is not going away. He has still to determine if to have Lambeth, who to invite, and how to include the Primates concerns (however expressed) into the mix.
Archbishop Akinola returns to Nigeria, where elections will be held and his pleas for a fair election, an end to corruption and a peaceful democratic process will fall on ears that may or may not be ready to hear. The Legislature is considering a bill that will criminalize any actions or talk in support of, and certainly any proclamation of the reality of, gay or lesbian partnerships or marriage, and any gathering in support of such relationships or even the consideration of such support. As President of the Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN) the Archbishop is supporting this legislation. He will also, of course, have to pick up the pieces of work concerning the Convocation of Anglicans in North America (CANA), the work of the Conference of Anglican Provinces in Africa (CAPA), all of which will have to regroup following this Primates Meeting.
Presiding Bishop Jefferts Schori returns to a church ready to move on, with a new administration for mission and a vision for the church, but with the millstone of cross and litigious parishes and dioceses making life complicated, and a sizable group of dissenters determined to shape the church up or spit it out. At the same time she will need to try to make sense of it to one of the most diverse gatherings of Anglicans in the world. There is no way that she will not disappoint at times and delight at others.
The Archbishop of Canada returns to a Synod that in turn will produce a response to the Windsor Report that may or may not satisfy whoever it is meant to satisfy.
The Presiding Bishop of the Episcopal Church in Jerusalem and the Middle East returns to chaos and a Christian community in great stress.
Some, who could not come – the Primate of the Sudan and the Primate of Myanmar – face into devastation and isolation that will make their work both all the more important and all the more difficult.
All these things and more face the Primates on their return. So it is not surprising that they will see this Primates Meeting with eyes already partially focused to home issues and the long days ahead.
The statement that accompanied the refusal to be at the Lord's table yesterday is not the last one. There will be more. Certainly immediately following the end of the Conference there will be statements for home consumption. All of which is more or less to be expected. After all, home is where the heart (and the gainful employment) is. Home, however, is also where the grapes of wrath are stored.
John Dominic Crossan says in The Essential Jesus, "We walk in the shadow of the Cross." We sometimes forget that in electing, contributing to the affirmation of, or giving allegiance to, the ministries of these 38 heads of churches we conspire in their path that leads to their Cross. And in our collaboration in their walk we will find ours as well.
A more cynic and stoic parallel to this sense of impending crucifixion is found in the writings of Epictetus, referenced by Crossan: "If you want to be crucified, just wait. The cross will come."
As Christians perhaps we meet the matter half way - We don't have to want to be crucified, but just wait. When it is time, there will be a Cross just our size. Not the most cheerful thought on a bright crisp day in Lewes, the village by the bay, but true enough for Lent.
While the Primates continue to meet we might wait and remember that we help put them there, and that they each have to go home and deal with whatever else will transpire in their long road from Glory to Glory.
Just as will we.