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Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Back to Cana and Corinthians for a second


You might think, after reading what I wrote last week about Cana and the transforming power of God, that I somehow have my eyes closed and just wander around in some kind of euphoric fog thinking about how wonderful things are in the new creation. If you know me, you know that nothing is further from the truth, that I’m as crabby as anyone else you know, just as trapped in the idolatrous economics of “the world” as everyone else, selfish and self-absorbed. But enough about me. My point was just that I believe the gospel; I’ve had enough experience in my life to know that love does change water into wine, and causes other smaller miracles too. 

Since I can connect with the truth of the miracle, I tend to believe in the whole message. Making the jump from tentative belief to complete trust is a little harder, I guess, but in some ways that are economic as well as spiritual I guess I have, over the years, found ways of giving my life over to the reign of God. All of them have been because of my vocation to a community. No private revelations, no secret bank accounts, no televangelist’s program of riches and blessings in return for faith; it’s just been that, generally, when I've done the work I've been called to by baptism, I've been generally happy, my life has meaning, and my needs have been met. Sandwiched between the reading from third-Isaiah on Sunday and the gospel was the beginning of the marvelous passage from the middle of 1 Corinthians in which St. Paul lays out his revelation about the body of Christ, the Church, called together and organized by the Holy Spirit of God, the same Spirit that called Jesus and made him Messiah. The transforming power of God not only rescues shabby nations from exile and chooses them for marriage, not only changes water into wine, dispensing with rite in favor of hospitality and celebration, but turns the atomized, alienated, idolatrous gaggle of humanity into nothing less than the incarnate Logos of God. Not through any merit of our own, God has chosen us to be so intimately joined in Christ that we become one body, cells in an organism, each with gifts that are needed for the health of the whole, the whole giving a sense of belonging and identity to the individual. 

Here we get the real depth of transformation hinted at in the gospel of Cana: in Christ, humanity is called to share in divinity, and it’s wonderful, and the word of Christ can do it, and it starts here and now, in this world. Of course, this process (it’s a process as we experience it in spacetime, but as God’s work it is outside of time, always now) unfolds gradually in the life of the Church; sometimes corporately and as individuals we act as anything but divine beings. The paschal mystery unfolds in us as it unfolded in Christ; sometimes it takes the form of hospitality, or healing, or a shared meal, shared pain; it may be the foregoing of one’s rights or opportunities that the life of others may be bettered; it could be the spending of one’s life-time for the good of others, time which cannot be retracted and spent in any selfish pursuit. What baptism does is save us from the pointless pursuit of counterfeits and phantoms that merely pose as goodness; it points us away from self-direction and places us in the apprenticeship of the gospel and the community which the gospel has called together. 

St. Paul tries to clarify all that with the “body” metaphor in 1 Cor 12 and in Romans 12, though in a way it seems to me what he’s actually exhorting them (and us) on is the role of the Spirit in salvation, the unifying, empowering, missioning Spirit that is the life of the Body of Christ, the Church. I was fortunate, as a young man in the novitiate at age 18 or so, to have spent an intensive week with a Vincentian scripture scholar by the name of Bill Lynch whose sole purpose was to open us up to the mystery of the Body. For an entire week, in a format that was part retreat and part class, he “opened up the Scriptures to us” and I caught the fire from him. I’ve never lost my passion for that cluster of scriptural images around the Body of Christ. That metaphor surely pervades everything I’ve ever written, and to me it’s as fresh and true as it was when it first came to Paul as he wrote to the contentious, fledgling community in Corinth. 

The psalm for this past Sunday, whose purpose is ostensibly to help us chew on the words of scriptures heard even as we proclaim them in our song, invited us to “proclaim his marvelous deeds to all the nations” in the words of one of the Hallels, Psalm 96. Unlike human rulers, God rules “all the peoples of earth with constancy,” faithful and equitable treatment to people of every race, creed, and time. Importantly, we have learned that God "rules" by service, by humbling Self, by putting godliness aside. But how will they know, if no one tells them? The Church, through its preaching of the gospel and the celebration of the sacraments, particularly baptism and eucharist, as ritual symbols of its life in the cities, towns, and countrysides of the world, is charged with awakening us to our divine calling, to our divine origin, and energizing us to live in an organism called community that is made in the image and likeness of God himself. We are a body, with Christ as head, whose life is the very Spirit of God. Again, let me invoke the words of the sacred liturgy as I leave you for another day and time, with a prayer that we may "come to share in the divinity of Christ, who humbled himself to share in our humanity."