4/11/2009

On Passion and Irrepressibility: Two Meditations for The Great Vigil

Two Meditations for this Holy Night. From Brazil and Lewes on the bay by the Ocean. The one of great merit is from the Episcopal Anglican Church of Brazil (IEAB). It is from Francisco Silva, and I have shamelessly grabbed it from HERE. He writes with English as a second language, but with faith as a first.

"When the first light of morning on Sunday enter a tomb only will be found linens gently perfumed by the hands of the faithful women.

Who was dead is no longer there. The Hades has no more power over him. Christ is risen.

All Passion is only the price and condition for the manifestation of something new and completely different.

When we look around us we can easily identify with the Passion of our Planet. Nature cries of pain caused by the destruction founded in selfishness and insensitivity.

The poor cries in pain by the shame of living by the charity of others and crumbs that fall down from the table of the rich. Children cries in abandonment and exploitation suffering in a world that fails in develop a sense of responsible fatherhood and motherhood.

Women still suffer discrimination and some of them become victims of fatal male violence seen with complacency by the society. Drugs have killed more than wars and their victims are a signal that our society is losing this fight.

This is the daily Passion of the world. It is difficult to accept this reality naturallly. But we need to remember that this Passion was fully assumed by our Lord. He wanted to take all our pain and the pain of the entire Creation.

He took in his arms our poor, our women, our men, our children, our beloved animals, and the whole nature. He carried the weight of all this with patience and deep love.

And He won. Trough Him everything is possible again. This hope must be the foundation of our lives. Life is the last word of God to us. We need embrace as he did the pain of the world. We must share this Passion everyday with so many brothers and sisters who have the same hope in new life. And never stop believing that tomorrow will be another day!

May the power this Easter bring us the joy of just seeing linens without the body. May we renew our trust in the certainty that life is beautiful and full. The Hades lost the game! Happy Easter!

The second is a small meditation I have written for tonight's Great Vigil at St. Peter's Church. The Three Days have been exactly what I have needed - days of prayer and quiet and challenge. The highlights of yesterday were a Mass of the Pre-Santified in the early morning, a Three Hour Ecumenical Service, with sermons on the Last Words by seven members of the clergy in the area, and a "Living Stations of the Cross" - done by St. Peter's Youth (SPY) with the music by the WAM (Worship with Alternative Music) group of musicians. The last was particularly moving, as WAM used World Music from Christian groups in Pakistan, France and South Africa. It was very moving. As usual the young people did a wonderful job, reading and singing with being the stations with spirit and talent. So on to tonight. The Vigil should be splendid. The only major plus to the meditation is that it is short. Here it is.

A Small Meditation at the Great Vigil, St. Peter’s, Lewes, 2009 Alleluia. Christ is risen! The Lord is risen indeed. Alleluia! You’ve heard all these lessons tonight – from Genesis, Exodus, Isaiah, Proverbs; Ezekiel, Zephaniah, Romans and the Gospel of John: Lots of words! Perhaps enough.

Still, here is a question: what is, from a Christian perspective, the Story of the Creation? The Christian account of the Creation is found in the great hymn that begins the Gospel of John…

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things came into being through him, and without him not one thing came into being. …

In just three months we have moved from Christmas, when this hymn at the beginning of the Gospel according to John was read, to Easter, when we peer into the Empty Tomb, hear the young man say, “Fear not….He has been raised,” and then flee in fear anyway. We have moved rapidly from his birth, to baptism to ministry, to trial and death. And now this, the Resurrection.

What are we to make of it all? One of the earliest understandings that Jesus’ followers had of him was that in Jesus all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell. They sensed that in Him, The Word was made real, real as you and me. But you know how it goes: If we are going to talk about God coming in human form, in life as a human, then sometime we have to deal with the fact of death. If Jesus is God present, and the light and life, and with us, then we know what will happen – Jesus will die, and it will seem that the light and life has gone out of the world, and the Word of God is known, if at all, in its absence. Jesus’ followers knew perfectly well that Jesus would die, even if they didn’t want to talk about it.

What if Jesus’ words on the Cross were all we had - “It is over” ?
It is over? Then there would be nothing to do but pick up the pieces, carry out the burial plans as quickly as possible, and get on with the common drudge, forgetting as soon as possible that strange idea that God was present in the World. We know that as it turned out, his followers did end up feeling abandoned, alone, frightened and lifeless. At least at first.

But the strange and wonderful Word of God, the Word as God, present from the creation of the world, cannot be repressed. It is irrepressible. We’ve always sensed that, but what follows the burial of Jesus affirms that irrepressibility.


In the burial office we say, “Even at the Grave we make our song, “Alleluia, Alleluia, Alleluia.” When the great arguments against the faith are mounted we have only to turn to the crowd and shout “Christ is Risen!” and the reply returns, “the Lord is Risen Indeed.” When our world comes crashing down, even in our despair, when the light is not ours and not present, we live with the wider expectation and hope – that the light has not been extinguished. That is what happened on that first Easter day. It is what happens all the time for those of us who practice resurrection, who live the Christian life, even badly.
We celebrate the irrepressible presence of the Word of God, present in the creation as Word, and Spirit and Creator, present in Jesus as Word made flesh, Spirit made present, Creator made one with us, present in each of us, and in all of us.

This Holy Night is not a time to explain the Resurrection. This is a night to celebrate the Resurrection.

There will be plenty of time to reflect on it, think on it, attempt to understand the mystery of it - in other words plenty of time to take the liberation it brings and reduce it to an idea, among other ideas, an idea which might or might not serve, or be right, or good. There is plenty of time to muck about with bad theology, and in the face of the mystery of the Incarnation and the Resurrection, all theology is pretty poor. We can drive each other crazy later.

We celebrate now, and we celebrate always, by living a Christian life of every moment awareness of Resurrection as irrepressible.

We cannot keep God from being present in the creation for God and the Word of God and the Creation are one. And Jesus, irrepressibly present, is the Christ, and death had no dominion.


Sometimes this way of being in the world, the way we call Christian is easy. Easy as having our eyes open to the world around us, easy as love freely shared. Sometimes it is so hard to hold that we come close to drowning out the Word of God with our words of despair, but no matter. Resurrection comes whether or not we are ready for it: The Word of God is irrepressible. It cannot be kept down.

William Stringfellow, theologian, lawyer, and Episcopal layperson, wrote, “The practice of the Christian life consists of the seeing and hearing, the reckless and uncalculating reliance upon, and spontaneous enjoyment of the presence of the Word of God in the common life of the world.” Seeing and hearing, reckless and uncalculating reliance, spontaneous enjoyment of the irrepressible presence of the Word of God."

Sounds good to me.

Alleluia. Christ is risen. The Lord is risen indeed. Alleluia.

8 comments:

  1. Both meditations are beautiful. You are very fortunate in that very enterprising parish in Lewes.

    I agree that these holiest of mysteries are there to be walked through and lived through. Explanations will never be adequate. Of course we should think about and discuss them, but with the knowledge that our understandings will always be provisional.

    I've never believed that people could be argued into faith, no matter how persuasive the argument. In the end, such arguing and explaining becomes another form of compulsion. I like the model of the wedding of Cana, a great feast with more wine than the party can possibly drink, needing help with the celebrating and the drinking. And especially, the Host of the banquet needs help inviting more people to the table.

    Happy Easter Fr. Mark!

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  2. Again, many thanks for this. I especially like your point about how this night is for celebrating; we'll think the resurrection to pieces over time. And then return to be resurrected again. Thank God the resurrection is irrepressible.

    Happy Easter!

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  3. Dear Mark,
    Thank you for sharing both these reflections. I think you are spot-on. "Explaining" the resurrection serves only to negate the experience. I encountered a truly wonderful moment last year just before the Vigil began. A member of the community was sitting in exactly the same seat he was in the night before for the reading of the passion. He whispered to me, "The air is different in here tonight." YES. Exactly.
    I read Tom Wright's column in the London Times Saturday morning. I usually quarrel with his theology, but he wrote that Christians are guilty of trivializing the resurrection, often reducing its meaning to "Jesus went to heaven." One of my favorite lines of Scripture reads: "Behold, I make all things new!" My heart cries "Yes!"

    Thanks again,
    Lou, from Sunnyvale CA

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  4. I don't believe a word of it.
    Prove it.

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  5. That is OK, Michael. You need not believe.

    Most of us are not in the business of proving it. We believe it. It is that simple. That is enough.

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  6. Lou,

    I found Bishop Wright's column to be such a "trivialization", as he condemned.

    Jesus, as all Christians believe, DID "go to heaven." I am far, FAR less concerned with whether there was an actual "eating fish on the beach" interval, than in the "makes all things new for Us" Reality.

    [I swear, with enough battering over the head re "Jesus was physically resuscitated---it's a FACT, and don't you forget it!" (as so many Big Cheese Christians seemed to be doing this Easter), I could be converted into someone like Michael, above. FACTS can be proven. FAITH doesn't need to be---and is only "trivialized" in the attempt. IMO.]

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  7. Dear JFC,

    I very much appreciate your position. At a very personal level, years ago I was pulled back from the brink of abandoning church and faith completely by Jack Spong's book WHY CHRISTIANITY MUST CHANGE OR DIE. He reeled me back in to the fold, and that version of progressive Christianity sustained me for some years. But gradually it began to dawn on me that Spong is, in his own way, a literalist, always working at rationalizing the text. Lent by Lent, Easter by Easter, I discovered that what sustained me was not rational explanations, but prayer and reflective reading of scripture. I found that I fell in love with St. Paul (utterly surprising me!).

    Paul is right. The Cross is "folly to the Greeks." I discovered that I no longer needed to rationalilze the texts. Like Michael said, it can't be "proven." And like David said, that's not the point. The miracle in my life is that my journey away and back home again brought me to faith. I believe in the resurrection. I believe that the Event of Jesus has changed everything, and in Christ all things are new. I do not care about "whether the tomb was empty" or "did he 'really' (i.e., physically) rise from death?" I respect that those are issues for lots of folks. (Obviously including NT Wright) I've been there, and past that. I believe that He lives. I believe that God's spirit enlivens the assembly of believers, which are the Body of Christ in the world.

    So I think I am saying, in my own wordy way, JCF, I completely agree with you!

    Easter Joy,
    Lou

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  8. Lou,

    I've never read Spong (I've never really wanted to---though I do have a borrowed copy of "Why Christianity Must..." on my bedstand, for me to get to, one of these days ;-/).

    However (full-disclosure), when I took NT101 at UTS, I was tremendously impressed by Prof. Robin Scroggs' claim that Stephen's Final Confession in Acts 7:56 was probably THE oldest Christian post-Crucifixion understanding.

    I still keep an open mind, on the resuscitation aspect (given that said resuscitation is of a "more than mere" type---what w/ the appearing in locked rooms, sudden vanishings, etc!)

    But if Christ were ONLY risen to "the right hand of God", that would be more than enough for me, y'know? ;-) [I understand that for the ABC, it isn't---that's his right, and choice]

    Easter Joy back atcha! :-D

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