Sunday, April 08, 2007
Yet again I am in that lonely place called the small hours of the morning, just trying to stop the child-like fear of the night, and maybe figure ‘it all out’.
Have tried to write for days now but nothing comes, we have been through the two most holy and precious days and all I feel is numb. The Thursday we call Maundy and the Friday we call Good usually evoke deep feelings but this year I just don’t feel part of the Easter story
I guess I’m looking for connection – sadly it’s elusive.
Still, in a few hours I will enter the mystery of faith once more. Ask most thinking Christians what the most important part of their holistic worship is and they will simply say, the Eucharist. It is about the only action Jesus asks of us to remember him by. I would say it is the last great mystery of faith. The whole transubstantiation debate will go on and on. Frankly I don’t mind either way, and the more time we give to that argument the more we will continue to miss its point.
What’s my point? Well, on Easter Sunday last year a Eucharistic initiative caused both the Catholic and Anglican to unite in condemnation. Why? Fr Iggy (couldn’t have been scripted better) O’Donovan and the Revd Michael Graham celebrated a special mass to commemorate the ninetieth anniversary of the 1916 Easter rising. Fr Iggy said that his intention was not to ‘flout’ church rules, but rather to be ‘inclusive’. And here’s the thing. I believe that the Eucharist is many things and one of those is that it is a missional tool - I have heard too many times that, 'if you are in a right relationship with Christ you are welcome at this table' - frankly (and i use a hebrew word here) that's bollocks! Where does Jesus say that? ALL are welcome....ALL no matter what!
Jesus made it absolutely clear that Christians who love one another in unity are capable of proving to the world the divine nature of Christian fellowship and the deity of Jesus Christ, and I think the mass plays an important role in revealing this. I would suggest that mission is the communication of grace, both verbally and non-verbally, lived out in community but always in the direction of others and away from ourselves.
Writer Brennan Manning has an interesting slant on what we may have to be, to play our part well in effective mission. He makes an analogy between John the Baptist and Jesus, then parallels this against task driven churches and graced ones, remarking that ‘Jesus feasted while John fasted. Whereas John’s call to conversion was essentially linked to penitential practices, the call of Jesus is fundamentally connected to being a table companion, eating and drinking with Jesus in whom,’ and I think this is important in explaining Fr Iggy’s initiative, God’s merciful manner with sinners is made manifest in the family meal.
In other words we need to accept the blunt acknowledgement that we owe our lives, our very being and salvation to Another if we are to allow grace to resonate in us, before we can allow that to then permeate into those around us – in a way God, by Her Spirit provides. This fundamental act lies at the core of our response to a missiological Eucharistic life. I think we need to learn to distinguish between crucial Biblical truths and secondary preferences of cultural practice, which unfortunately have been so prevalent when a good story has been told so badly. Asceticism was not only inappropriate but also unthinkable in the presence of the Bridegroom. If we could only live this instead of theologising it the communities we are part of would be radically different. Communities where although ‘we see dimly’, enough light comes through the glass to enable the shape of the story to be discerned.
Ecumenism is badly understood if it is reduced to inter-church co-operation. The ecumenical movement doesn’t simply ask that churches learn to get along, but that their churches must be renewed and transformed.’ When the World Council of Churches met in Canberra in 1991 they revealed that the nature and vocation of the ecumenical movement was to call generations of people to commit themselves to the unity and renewal of Christianity, existentially to an ecumenical pilgrimage. This movement has its roots in one particular, and it can be argued, unanswered prayer of Jesus recorded in John 17:21 that: ‘…they may all be one. As you, Father, are in me and I am in you, may they also be one in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me.’
To be ecumenical is, of course, to embrace the whole inhabited earth and to reach into those difficult conversations and relationships where faiths often clash but where God’s clarity can be found. Yet how can we realise unity when it is still uniformity that Churches are more comfortable with and continue to nurture? The late M. Scott Peck suggested that: ‘we shouldn’t put the cart before the horse. True unity starts at home…perhaps it should start small.’ Perhaps even in an Augustinian priory in Drogheda, Co. Louth.
It is wisely taught at Alcoholics Anonymous that the only person you change is yourself – it is a good place to start. Unity has to do with people living together in freedom and love. These are simple words, but they are not simple actions. Genuine Christ-like love requires some very hard decisions and unity neither comes naturally nor is it purchased cheaply. This will (in the case of both ecumenism and the Eucharist) involve dropping our ‘them’ and ‘us’ categories, and greeting people as equals. When we do we continue to learn what God is doing in a changing world. Unity surely has to be a two-way street. As writer Mike Riddell says ‘to go with the expectation of having all the answers for other people’s questions is a form of arrogance. It is among ‘them’ that we learn who God is, and why they remain part of ‘us’.
Fr Iggy concluded last year, that he had ‘no regrets’ and he can expect to have the support of many who do not see the relevance of theological niceties. The wisest conclusion I remember hearing was that if the ceremony breached the letter of Church law, it celebrated the spirit of Christianity.
I for one am grateful that there is wideness in God’s mercy that I do not find in my own…really, I am.