Tag Archives: Revelation

Mercy

Imagine if we all lived our vocation: “The Spirit of God is upon me, because “the Lord” has anointed me to bring good news to the afflicted. S/he has sent me to bind up the broken(hearted). To proclaim liberty to captives and freedom to prisoners. To proclaim a favourable year of the Lord” Just imagine if that was our view of what our job is as Christians? Good news, healing, liberty, freedom? It seems quite relevant both in light of the marriage equality debates in Australia and of the next part of the mass, the Agnus Dei.

I have had so many thoughts over the years during the Agnus Dei, usually trying to get God to take initiative to change things in some sort of palpable way. “Take away sins” I want to be freed of everything that is wrong with myself or with others or the world. I want easy answers. I want…I want…

But perhaps I will try to sit with the words a little and reflect, bringing in whatever of my tradition or experience can help me live them…

Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world….

I am in the world, I am of the world. Is it “my” sin that you take away? How do you take it away? How do you find and identify it? What is my role here?

have mercy on us…

Mercy. I went to a “Mercy” school, and the motto was “loyal en tout”, loyal in everything. Mercy then was not a condescending quality but a loyal one. I am not pleading with a forbidding authority figure for a “mercy” that simply means withholding or tempering punishment. I am asking for a loyal mercy, a mercy of friendship- be my friend despite it all, take my side.

Of course all of God’s creation has God’s loyalty, so I don’t get off the hook for having wronged whoever I have wronged. Because God is loyal IN everything and TO everything that she has made.

Lamb of God, who takes away the sins of the world, have mercy on us.

Lamb, innocent and relatively powerless part of the world. One who is raised to be eaten. One who is vulnerable. Historically used as a sacrifice. Non-human part of the beauty of the earth. Enjoyer of green pastures and sunshine. Joyful, vulnerable one.

I am sinned again in the world and by the world. I am oppressed, trapped, made powerless, voiceless, impoverished or given unacceptable choices. I am exhausted and overthinking, anxious and sleep deprived, hollow and lonely. I am the refugee. I am the queer family. I am autistic. I am too female to follow my vocation. My welfare payment has been cut off. I can’t understand the paperwork. Noone will employ me. Noone will love me. I am addicted. I am cold. I am hurting.

Have mercy on us. Once again back to my school’s version of “mercy” where we were encouraged to see individual acts of kindness as insufficient for real “mercy”. Real mercy we were told was about a transformative justice not just to bind up the wounds of the broken but to create change so that no one need be broken any more. Real mercy happens in tandem with the initial mercy, the kindness from one individual to another but becomes a movement- requires people to debate terms and have the courage to remake and renew.

Mercy not just on me, but on us. Mercy is not an individual grace but one that is lived in communities and given (in loyalty and love) to each other. Mercy (hesed) and faithfulness have met. Justice and peace have kissed each other. Truth springs from the earth and justice gazes down from heaven. Even the virtues themselves are written thus as community of love, living both within earth and beyond it at God’s wherever.

They generally forget to tell you that any of this is about kissing.

Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world, grant us peace.

Lamb of God we are entangled in the webs of sin in the world. We are privileged and blinded by it. We feel powerless to demand that oppression in our name cease. We are conscripted into sin, at times against our will and at other times without our full and comprehending consent.

This calls for the mercy that smashes down walls and breaks chains. This calls for the mercy that strikes the zealot off his horse and makes a physical blindness as an improvement on the blindness of the soul. This is a mercy that can turn the sword of our lives into the plowshare of feeding all creation. This mercy is never without resources and turns water into wine and tax-collectors into friends.

This mercy may be put to death but insists on springing up to have the last Word.

Grant us the peace of forgiving ourselves for our slowness to grow. Grant us the peace of understanding that others are insecure or ignorant rather than malicious. Grant us the peace of a message of love, an affirmation from the heart, a quiet night’s sleep. Grant it to us, and grant it to them. Grant us the peace of a ceasefire and a recognition of our common humanity, our common earthliness.

Grant us the peace of the almond blossoms that are determined to bring us into longer and balmier days. Grant us the peace of the little babies of every skin colour reaching tiny arms for their parents. Grant us the peace of knowing we have enough to share. Grant us the peace of knowing that tomorrow you will call us again into your justice, into your love. And all those kissing virtues!

Advertisements

Free to collaborate in love

“Do not let your hearts be troubled or afraid.” Can this suggestion by Jesus undercut the overall tenor of the way these readings have been combined seemingly to try to argue for an authoritarian and patriarchal (based on the 12 patriarchs of the 12 tribes) view of church authority? What then if we refused to let our hearts be troubled or afraid but stoutly look for a transgressive reading that will liberate us from the more oppressively traditional interpretations?

In the first reading, some unnamed people have decided that they can speak with authority of the church and preach a rules-based slavish adherence to one part of the cultural heritage of the church. They say that you can’t follow Christ unless you are circumscised. Rather than reading this in an anti-semitic way, let us consider other church teachings over the years that have been needlessly prescriptive, oppressive or misguidedly heaped on the shoulders of the laity?

Unless you eat fish on Fridays you cannot be saved

Unless you go to church every single week you cannot be saved

Unless you are heterosexual you cannot be saved

If you use contraception you cannot be saved

If you disobey the clergy you cannot be saved

If you read and interpret the bible for yourself instead of trusting the church hierarchy you cannot be saved.

Some of these seem ludicrous to us today, but would have been the church’s common sense not so long ago. Some sadly there are still many people within the church who would subscribe. This is the prescriptive and narrow-minded side of church teaching, all of that which is dogmatic but not liberative and ignores the autonomy of the person to respond to God in free relationship rather than only through trembling obedience to the church. This compares to the circumcision argument in the first reading.

Along come Paul and Barnabbas from the apostles and elders and tell them they have no mandate to be so bossy. The wording is unfortunate “you have no mandate from us” as if Paul and Barnabbas et al run the church. The real point is “you have no mandate from God to be needlessly prescriptive and bind people into rigid, lifeless traditions”. The traditional reading here of course is that the “apostles and elders” are the proper authorities and the way we are church needs to always be guided by their authority. They are shown to be a liberative and wise authority that prevents abuses of power. OH IF ONLY!!!!

The fact is as women we know that the “apostles and elders”, or at least the officially sanctioned ones are all too often the ones doing the opressing, repressing and abusing. There are voices of abuse victims reverbating from several generations of having the courage to speak out and I think we risk a very serious sin indeed if we ignore these voices (like the blood of Abel calling for vengeance at the dawn-times of our tradition). There is also the present, ongoing prevention of women from having full participation and fair representation in how the church makes decisions about things that frankly men have amply demonstrated they neither understand nor are capable of understanding.

So the call to obey the “right authority” of the church is one that makes the hairs on my neck stand up. There is danger here, engage hermeneutic of suspicion! But the overarching agenda to reduce unnecessary burden on the believer, yes this is an important point. To do this well, I think we understand in the 21st century, needs a degree of democratic engagement (time for the catholic church to come out of its medieval cave and realise this) and a respect for boundaries and for the autonomy of the individual. That is I can have a rational discussion with you about whether contraception is good, bad or indifferent but if my life experiences are very different than yours, and I in no way (or in minimal ways) am able to support the consequences of what you decide, then I don’t really get to make that decision for you. This is called respect, it’s a side-effect of character traits like peace, gentleness and self-control which are supposed to be  fruits of the Holy Spirit. But the spirit of slavery that Paul warns about is rife in the church, in the way authority cracks down on people but also in us, in the way we accept unwise authority and do not take responsibility to think for ourselves.

Even though there is this picture in the second reading of a dazzling construction that is the “city of God” and perhaps a metaphor of the church, and it has inscibed on it the names of the Twelve, again appearing to lend credibility to patriarchal authority. There are significantly no temples or lights in the city. The lamb is enough. We do not need other rituals or lights shedding light for us, each one who comes to the city can directly look upon “the lamb” for light and for inspiration, each of us can personally worship not through the mediating influence of a temple. The Twelve are mere gates or foundations of tradition, but who says there may not be other ways to come to the lamb, to the only light.

Once again there has been enough in the reading to engage my hermeneutic of suspicion but I can respect that tradition has at times a richness without being bogged down in the tradition, I can pass on through to Godself. It would be easier and safer if tradition was reliable and if church authorities were infallible but there is light more than sun or moon for us. There is the lamb.

And so we pass onto the gospel and see what this “lamb” has to say.

Jesus here once again like last week shows that his words and deeds are identical to the words and deeds of God (here called the father). The Spirit is also brought into the discussion and we see the identical interests and work of the Spirit as one with the “father” and with Jesus. So in a sense there is grounding for trinitarian understanding here, but it is also about an alignment of interests and trusting collaboration as discussed last week. Love of Jesus is shown by keeping Jesus’ word. It sounds as if Jesus has made promises about the reign of God and if we love him we will try to keep those promises. But it is a mistake to see the vocation here as merely words, preaching in the narrow sense. The word of God is elsewhere called “alive and active” it actualises what it preaches. And that is what we do to keep the word of Jesus. So then we are brought into trinitarian action through love. I don’t say we become God, as I am not attempting idolatry here but we ARE CALLED to move toward becoming one with God in interests, intention and action. So that if our response to our vocation was perfect we WOULD be drawn into God’s identity but at least through our love for Jesus we achieve this partially (and more when the Spirit teaches us).

Lastly as a look forward to next week’s attention, if we loved Jesus we would rejoice that he was going to the “Father”. So if we selfishly hand onto the feet of Jesus and try to keep him here as a rigid idol or a fossilised token of assurance then we are not loving Jesus. Jesus asks for the same freedom and autonomy he is offering us. We become unified through the Holy Spirit’s movement and out love-response not through obedient or co-dependent toxic relationships.

And if that is Jesus’ desire then it really needs to become the church’s desire too. We the church will resemble our beloved Christ when we stop trying to control people, when we trust people’s free love-responses and movement toward the beloved. In a flawed and hurtful world that is very hard to believe of course. But this is what it measn to love God. Challenge accepted.

What resurrection?

So we have had a week of the “Easter” season and we are all transformed. Our hope is refreshed and we see everything anew. All the angst, all our sinfulness and lack of way forward is transformed and we work with renewed favour to build the just and wise reign of God!

That would be a nice scenario wouldn’t it? In actually fact the heartbreak caused by the double threat of my own inadequacy and an uncaring and unjust world, the struggle not to thrive but merely to survive with some semblance of dignity continues (and I say this realising I am more privileged and have it easier than many). After Easter I have to go back to work, open mail that adds to my pressures and deal with the explosion of an already leaky tap. I am TIRED of the real world and I would like a space to be happy and refresh hope.

“Jesus is risen” so they say. Resurrection is not real unless I experience it. Relationship is a purely theoretical thing, useful for nothing until I touch it. What does it mean to merely “believe”? Truths that have no transformative power might as well be fairytales. With Thomas I find it hard to summon up the effort to “believe” in anything, to hope anything to endure what must be endured (1Corinthians 13:1-13…. has nothing to do with this week’s readings but I really think it ought to and it would be a darn sight more relevant than the first and second reading we have been given).

Then of course there is the question of double standard. If we are going to posit Thomas’ lack of faith as a deficit (he should have trusted in the word of the other apostles who were chosen by Christ for revelation) then surely we should ask equal questions about the “Twelve’s” initial scepticism in the face of a bunch of over-emotional, perhaps hysterical women flying from the tomb on the excitement of a risen Jesus. If Christ gets to decide who is allowed to receive the touch of personal revelation then surely they(we) were chosen first. So if we have a mandate to believe everyone God chooses (and think about how irrational and impossible such a claim actually is) then they ought to have believed the women to begin with! But somehow the 12 are rehabilitated with their flawed thinking (doubt) not even mentioned by the risen Jesus.

Either Jesus here is complicit on the boy’s club mentality of the ancient and modern church (but then why appear to the women at all) or maybe the way this reading is often used breaks down. Thomas is not being reproved for lack of faith. The idea that people are “still more blessed” for blindly believing the word of others (others as flawed as the twelve constantly showed themselves to be) is a strange one, so I am not sure why Jesus is quoted as saying something like that and how reliable we can consider it theologically. There’s my doubt again, right there. I doubt very much that in this story Thomas is in the wrong. Blind faith is dangerous and often lacking in love. Thomas’ inability to believe the impossible (the continuation of the mission of Christ, the presence of the one he loved) is grounded in a deep love. Love is never a theory, it is always an experience. Even when you believe all things, hope all things, endure all things. Even when you break from your inability to believe, hope, endure.

But as for mere spiritual “gifts” they will come to the end. As for organised religion, ordained priesthood, structures and hierarchies of human origin we see them fail and crumble and short-sightedly we often shore them up instead of trusting in what is eternal. We accept the ordained “twelve” who expect us to take their word as “truth”. But when we cannot do this, when they are untrustworthy or inaccessible and we flounder in faith, I pray that Jesus will turn to us and say “touch, know, believe” without the mediation of the “someone elses” who do not speak our language.

Then as church we can maybe stop squabbling over “you believe this and I believe that” and we can stop calling people naive for what they believe or godless for what they can;t or won’t believe. We gather in a room to share friendship, support, be together despite differences (big theological differences maybe like Thomas). We gather in the name of the Risen one whatever we believe or don’t believe about it all. And the grace is that we are touched, accepted, called.

Doubt no longer but believe? I don’t know about that. But I will seek and long for and be touched by. The resurrection comes to those who love.

 

 

 

Are you a saint or a soul?

This week’s readings represent the age-old struggle to make meaning and hope after loved ones have died. This is a time of year when I naturally remember my mother and my brother anyway as well as other loved ones that were not as close to me but whose deaths impacted me or those I loved. If we follow the lead of the readings in how to interpret the concept of “All saints”, for me that is more helpful than trying to draw some line between “all saints” and “all souls” (but I will try to unpack that a little…

In the Wisdom reading, we are talking about the “souls of the righteous” whereas Isaiah has an even more inclusive “all peoples”. I want to reflect on both readings in tandem as a kind of “All saints” reading and an “All souls” reading together (I haven’t actually looked to see what the lectionary says for all souls. So if we consider our beloved who have died as “righteous” in any way, as in some way subscribed to the radical justice and utopian vision of the reign of God then we label them “Saints” and that is all that it takes. So really everyone is covered under the idea of “All saints” because there is some good in everyone and God can work with that and call more out of them (this is assuming anything happens after death, although I generally prefer to hedge my bets and try to turn to justice in this life in case it is all my individual soul gets).

“All souls” is not an implication that some people don’t qualify for some sort of entrance exam to be “saints”. Instead it is a move from talking about the “righteous” to talking about “all peoples”. In the end God’s radical inclusivity and hope will challenge all our notions of justice and deserving. Justice is a starting point for aligning ourselves with God but God is everything and can afford to be reckless. God even loves and saves and gives bountifully to those who don’t deserve it. I used to see this as good news when I was young and naïve, but the more I have read about politics and economics in the world the more I wish God would call all the oppressors to account more than she does.

“Even you?” asks God, “will you still like me calling them to account when I show how you are implicated?” We who participate in society, especially we who benefit from inequality must work for the justice we thirst for. The dead are the “righteous” in so far as they worked for justice and kindness with God; but God isn’t ultimately interested in whether we judge them as worthy, before we begin the pious tradition of “praying for their souls” god has already swept them up in whatever hospitality is possible in whatever reality looks like after death.

So then having anxiety about whether God would accept as “saints” my brother, my mother, my good friend who suicided or anyone else is also beside the point. If I can feel this love and feel this loss then that soul that is lost from my presence had value and God sees that value more clearly than I do and welcomed them into Godself with more love and passionate longing than I could ever begin to ask for.

This is not to say that their deaths are God’s will or something that I should celebrate. God consistently has that longing to be one with us, but gives us many opportunities in this life to begin to move into that union. Life is a great blessing, it is not cheap or trivial and even when we think about the meaning of eternity and the “what comes after” we do it within a framework of our bodily and conscious experiences of this life. We simply can’t imagine any way of being apart from alive. We tend to cling to childish hopes of “Another world” or a perfect place called “heaven”. I don’t know what “happens” really, I just hope that God’s love means something and I try to trust that.

The psalm seems at first glance less inclusive than the picture I have just painted. In the psalm it is those with clean hands and pure hearts who haven’t soiled themselves with lies and falseness. This seems to speak into my fear that evil is allowed to simply thrive no matter its effect on others. In this psalm God in some way honours the efforts of those who do make the effort to be sincere and honest. This psalm is less reassuring because in a word of capitalism, commodification, performativity can any of us really claim not to have lied and cheated out way into things? Do any of us have hands unsoiled by market goods that are made by exploited labour in sweatshops and are part of the denuding of the earth for trivial reasons such as to match decorations.

The King imagery at the end puts me off somewhat and I was going to steer clear of it, but what if the “ancient doors” and gates need to brow higher and bigger to let in this “king of glory” because of the radical inclusivity, the infinity of his entourage. Just as recently we had the reading about the eye of the needle, those of us who cannot under our own merit “climb the mountain of the Lord” need to rely on the endless possibilities of the infinite love of God. We seek to be what God wants us to be, but the movement is not one person, it is all of us with God- with the King of glory. To become the radical justice we dream of we must connect with others. Our love keeps those who have died within the reign of God and our love can also reach out to take more of the earth with us into God.

There is more idealistic imagery in the second reading, about a future time of consolation. The caution here is not to use it as an escapism from the immediacy of all that is wrong with this world. It is wrong to read an implication here (as some do) that this life and this earth are disposable commodities and that God will give us a new one just like that. There is something unique and precious about this life on this earth and we need to be better stewards of what we have been given.

Instead this reading is a call to hope that somehow God’s presence will be “among mortals” that the grace and possibility of the reign of God will be made somehow accessible to us. It doesn’t say how and it doesn’t tell us to passively wait for it, but God is the beginning and end of all that we are and strive for and become and love. Whatever happens in this world and in this life God will be with us, reaching out to give us possibilities and solace. I refuse to be a Pollyanna about it, the things that are happening to some of God’s beloved (eg entire families of refugees) are painful and real and hard to find hope in (likely even harder for them than for me). Grief and loss are real. Human sins such as exploitation, envy, bullying, unkindness, greed are also real. We can’t erase that. What we are called to do is stubbornly cling to a radical hope (in the context of Jesus having had to carry and die on a cross…and the real crosses we see and build and suffer on around us).

I am going to consider the gospel separately, because to me it speaks of a completely unrelated issue. But as we remember and mourn and celebrate our beloved family and friends around all saints/souls days let us cling to radical hope. Let us use this life to orient ourselves ever more firmly toward God’s justice, kindness and faithful presence. Let us never let go of our loves (though our mission is still to live fully and with joy).