Tag Archives: Church
I could not help but be struck at how small we’ve allowed this rite to shrink. How much of an inconvenience or an embarrassment it can become, stashed away in a private hour or squeezed in reluctantly between the Hymn of the Day and the prayers of the church. How rote and formal the process of question and answer, how routine the process for replicating cells in the Body of Christ. More mechanical than mystical. All the significance is still there, in the words and the actions—you are being drowned and raised up to new life, you are putting off the old self and putting on Christ, you are being brought into the Ark of salvation, but let’s be sure to schedule it on a weekend Grandma can be there and let’s make sure it doesn’t run longer than seven minutes because we have a stewardship update today.
But in Luther’s thinking, and in the life of the church, the cross is much more than that. The cross is the way we know God. The cross is the way God chooses to be revealed in the world. We do not know God by our own wisdom, by our own good deeds, or by our perception of God’s mysterious power and glory. All of those things become idols. When we chase them, when we look for God in greatness or power or glory, we only run into a magnified version of ourselves
And because we find ourselves when we look for God, God chose to hide his glory where we would never think to put ourselves: in suffering.
It was so drastic and all-encompassing, which is I guess what people say about cults they’ve left. All-encompassing but not closed off, not provincial or hysterical. It was, as we’d have said about a band or a labor project at Deep Springs, “hardcore,” but in a way that expanded rather than contracted my idea of humanity and human sympathy. I guess I wanted it to be true, to the point of not minding the risk that it would prove not to be.
We grow accustomed to each other in a peculiar way, beyond excellence or inadequacy or anything else. God brought us together in the exemplary and characteristic way God acts in the world–through the ministry of the Church–and that forges a unique bond. Rupturing it, and forming it anew with new people, is a much weightier task than I’d been able to imagine when the bishop laid his hands on me and I knew only the pure and shiny farewells of the perennial student.
On Sunday you paid very moving tribute to my work here. For the last six weeks, in fact, you’ve been telling me what I’ve meant to you, in cards and conversations and kind messages on Facebook. It’s been overwhelming. So it’s only fair that I acknowledge what you have meant to me. Not just that you were gracious and kind and receptive, to me and to my family, but that you were, in fact, the difference between continuing to answer my vocation to ordained ministry and quite possibly washing out of that ministry altogether.
So something really strange started happening to me after the birth of our daughter. I would be out with her somewhere, usually with one or both of the boys, and I would become obsessed with the thought that I had left her in the parking lot before we went home. And it was crazy, because I had just buckled her in. But your mind plays tricks on you.
But either way, Jesus tells his disciples, rejoice that your names are written in heaven. Rejoice that you were sealed in baptism. Rejoice that when your name was called, you answered; you came up, you used the weakness of the moment to seize God’s promises for you. That’s the miracle. That’s the defeat of Satan and his empty promises and his power.
Meals make us human. But this meal, that you are celebrating for the first time today, is the most important of all. Every meal shared around a table connects us to each other. This meal connects you to Jesus. Every meal creates community. This meal creates you anew in Jesus. Every meal gives us part of the world. This meal gives you heaven. Meals make us human, but this meal makes you one with God.
It’s good to have projects. It’s important to expand oneself with tasks that go beyond the boundaries of daily needs. And it’s hard to live with only the exigency of the moment. Closer and closer it comes–the meal, the sermon, the meeting, the Wednesday night Lent worship talk, the coughing that pierces the night, the shopping for baseball gear–like the secret police, narrow escape after narrow escape until the knock comes before you’ve had the chance to slip out the back door.
Everything is falling down, but we try to preserve it, to build back, to add our own layer, to add our own wall to the project that is never finished. We pass what we love along, hand to hand, in a great chain whose links all die before the treasure ever reaches safety.