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Thursday, October 30, 2014

The end of Year A (from Hosanna! magazine, 1993)

              "Lestat," she said, "it is the larger scheme which means nothing...It is the small act which means all...There are many nights when I lie awake, fully aware that there may be no personal God, and that the suffering of the children I see every day in our hospitals will never be balanced or redeemed. I think of those old arguments — you know, how can God justify the suffering of a child?...But it doesn't ultimately matter.
               "God may or may not exist. But misery is real. It is absolutely real, and utterly undeniable. And in that reality lies my commitment—the core of my faith. I have to do something about it!"
               "At at the hour of your death, if there is no God..."
               "So be it. I will know that I did what I could. The hour of my death could be now." She gave a little shrug. "I wouldn't feel any different."
                                                                                    from Tale of the Body Thief
                                                                                    by Anne Rice [Knopf, New York, 1992]
                        Born now in stillness, distant cry,
                        If you exist, if you pass by,
                        Be life within their longing.
                        If you are not and cannot be,
                        Unspoken word, resound in me:
                        No God for our adoring.
                        You know me well, you bind me tight.
                        I cry out "You" both day and night.
                        Could I forget your presence?
                        Could we be one yet still alone,
                        Be homeless, nameless, still unknown,
                        And not behold each other?
                                                Huub Oosterhuis, tr. Tom Conry
                                                "Song at the Foot of the Mountain"
                                                © 1987 TEAM Publications

            As we approach the end of Year A, what new insights have we come to regarding Christ's continuing presence in the world? "They shall call him, 'Emmanuel,' a name which means, 'God-with-us.'" These words were spoken on the Fourth Sunday of Advent, back in December 1992. Then at the end of the Easter season, we heard on the feast of the Ascension, "And know that I am with you always, until the end of the world."On the 22nd Sunday, there were these words from Jesus, taken again from Matthew's gospel: "Where two or three are gathered in my name, there am I in their midst.." Finally, coming up on the feast of Christ the King, we hear: "'Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you or see you thirsty and give you drink?'....The king will answer them, 'I assure you, as often as you did it for one of my least (ones), you did it for me.'" The year stretches from one end to the other as a meditation on the great Easter question: how is Christ alive? What does "to rise from the dead" mean? In whom or in what have we discovered the real, living presence of the Christ of God?

            There have been other recurring themes this year: the parables of the reign of God have been heard on many Sundays since July. Have they opened our imagining to any new hope, any new joys? Have we had any insight into the great love and trust Jesus had for his Abba? Have his teachings that flow from that profound faith, teachings about living together peaceably, with forgiveness, and open to the great diversity of humankind, led us to any new behaviors as a community? How have we tried to sing that community into being?

            One great danger is that we have been "just praising the Lord" for the way things are, satisfied with our status quo, and not allowed the axe of God's word to strike at the roots of our complacency. The din of our merrymaking blots out the word. I suppose that we thus tempt God to leave us to our own devices ("Turn back, O Man, forswear thy foolish ways!") or to try a less subtle approach, something in the fire-and-brimstone department. (As I reconsider these words, it seems more likely that we simply are reveling too much to hear the sound of God's axe hacking at the root, since the word does not go forth without accomplishing what it was sent to do!)

            The last Sundays are sombre, but there is a great energy underlying them. It is the energy of something-about-to-happen. Beginning with the parable of the vineyard owner and going through the Solemnity of Christ the King, the gospels are largely calls to immediate action: to respond to the son, to render to God, to come to the banquet, to serve the rest, to stay awake, to live up to our abilities, to do unto the least ones. In each case, one of God's options is spelled out in the parable: destroying their city, weeping and grinding of teeth, letting in the bystanders, locking out in the cold, committing to the fire. These are not meant to be prophecies or predictions of an exact reality, but calls to action. Jesus does not expect the listener to fall asleep or ignore the needs of the little ones or refuse to come to the feast! As he did among listeners two millenia ago in the Bronze Age, Christ looks for a new way of living from those who hear in the age of silicon.

(For Hosanna! magazine, by Rory Cooney. Excerpt.)