The Advantage Being a Christian: It Has Kept Me Safe, And Given Me Some Useful Skills.

Lately I have heard about people who have had bad experiences with those whom they have met on ‘on line’ dating sites. Others have been the subject of trolling, or other bad behaviour via social media.

 

I was particularly interested in this phenomenon, because I met my present wife on the Internet. While looking, though, I restricted myself to sites, which were dedicated to Christians. Being a priest made this easier, because I needed a potential partner who would be able to share my priestly life.

 

Most of my friends in Facebook are also either Christians, or associated with the Church in some way. I have not been the subject of bad behaviour there either.

 

I might think “How Lucky” not to have to suffer such things, but I also think that there is something about being a Christian that lets me say “I do not want to go there”, which builds in a degree of safety into life.

 

This is not to say that I have not had my “Wild Days”. I have: but even in those days, I think that there were some limits, set by being part of the Christian youth scene, that protected me.

 

I can think of the fact that, although I smoked for a while, I did not start till very late, which I think protected me.

 

There is an old saying that says ‘Every young man must pluck three hairs from the beard of the devil’, but this plucking is done within safe limits.

 

I remember as a young man, I sent to see a spiritual director for a long time. He said to me that I had been living my life within too narrow a set of limits, and that I should explore more things.

 

I did do this, and I got into some trouble too, but he was always there to guide me, and to help me to live with the mistakes that I made.

 

Being a Christian does not mean being a ‘goody two shoes’ but I am glad that the natural boundaries of Christian life have served to provide some safe walls within which to live life.

 

This does not mean repressing the passionate side of life either. I remember as a young person being admonished for being too ‘wild’ by the quote from Philippians, They would say to me Paul, “ whatever is true, whatever is honourable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is pleasing, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence and if there is anything worthy of praise, think about* these things.”

 

Well I was so full of passion and feelings that had not been ‘allowed’ I did not think that these feelings represented what was ‘pure, true, lovely and of good report’, but now I do. It is of ‘good report’ to be pure in anger at injustice. It is of good report to be aware of sexual feelings. It is of good report to be ‘purely sad, it is of good report to be purely joyful, and to want to just ‘go’ as I often did on my bike. Like Eric Liddell, I have wanted to say ‘God made me, and God made me fast, and when I run I feel his pleasure!’

 

So some Christian advice serves to stop the flow of energy into life that can be ‘pure and true’, even though it might not be terribly ‘nice’.

 

On the other hand, I am grateful for some of the limits that have been set on my life by being a Christian, that have kept me out of harm’s way. I don’t necessarily want to go there!

 

And there is another aspect of Christian life for which I am grateful.

 

When I was growing up, I as part of a movement called “Christian Endeavour”. There, we would have to present ‘papers’ for our peers, from a very early age. I still have the text of one that I delivered when I was nine!

 

Being asked to do this meant that we were being trained to speak in public. We were being trained to make meaning from the bible. We were being trained how to but together the circumstances of our own lives, with the bible stories that we read, and to ask “How does the one inform the other”

These are skills that have stood me in good stead as a priest, but they are also skills that everyone could benefit from.

 

I think about the way much of modern life(like art) has been separated from the traditions of image making in the Church that give meaning to life. Now art is just about form and shape and individuality. But the great pictures connect us not only with our on lives, but also with the bigger story, of which our lives are a part.

 

The same is true of Bible stories. They provide a great canvass of God’s action, against which the smaller story of my own life can take place, and within which it can be located. I find great security on the sense that I am ‘held’ by the story of God, within which I live.

 

So being Christian has its benefits! Apart from the obvious benefit of knowing my life to be hid with Christ in God, I can also enjoy the ‘side benefits’ of having been kept safe by some Christian boundaries, and for the skills, that being a Christian teaches me, which otherwise I might not otherwise know.

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On ‘Transcendence’ and Christianity: A Philosophical Reflection

 

 

I often listen to the Radio National programme ‘The Philosophers’ Zone’.

 

The other week, they had two programmes on the topic of ‘Transcendence’. The first programme dealt with ‘Transcendence and the Ancients.’ (Mostly meaning Plato).

 

So the idea goes “The world that we can see is a shadow of the ‘real’ world. The trees that we can see are copies, as it were, of the ‘idea of tree-ness’. This mans that the idea of ‘tree-ness’ is more real than any given tree. It is good then to ‘transcend’ the individual examples, and connect with the ‘real’ tree.

 

There was also a related set of ideas that came from the Gnostics. They said that our true natures (our souls) were a spark of the divine that were trapped in a human body, and that again, it is a good thing to ‘go beyond’ the body as a mere shell, so that we can live in our true selves: the soul, or divine spark. Again, the idea of ‘going beyond’, or transcending is an important part of the process.

 

When it came to the modern ideas of transcendence, most of the programme dealt with our mental states of being ‘in the zone’ when we experience ourselves as ‘taken out of ourselves’ and into another reality.

 

Sports people talk about this, as do mystics.

The idea in both programmes, that lies behind the word ‘transcendence’, is that there is a ‘here’ and a ‘there’, and that there is something not quite right about ‘here’ so that we want to go to ‘there’.

 

So here is my problem. The focus of ‘transcendence’ in both cases is on us. It is we who have to do or achieve something. The other problem I that in the relationship between the ‘here’ and the ‘there’ it is always the ‘there’ that is preferred.

 

In Christian thinking, these problems do not arise because when talking about Jesus, the Christ, the Word of God, the two elements of ‘there’ and ‘here’ are already unified in him. As the creed that was worked out at the Council of Chalcedon says Jesus Christ is ‘True God, and True Humanity, without division, but without separation and without change.’ This unity does not have to be achieved by us, but in Christ we participate in it already. There is nothing to ‘transcend’ because the unity between ‘there’ (God) and ‘here’ (us) has already happened.

 

St. Augustine was a Neo-Platonist in the beginning of his life. He was looking for a way to ‘transcend’ the demands of his body. He says words to the effect of “Well it is nothing new to know about the Word (Logos) of God who made the world and so on. Everyone knows that , but what everyone does not know, and hat no one ever told me till I read it in the Bible, is that the Word became flesh and dwelt among us”. Now that is new, and solves my problem of the relationship of me (as human) to God.

 

The thing to do now is to participate in this united reality (Christ). How? By participating in the sacrament of the Eucharist.

 

Here the bread and wine, representing ‘here’ becomes Christ for us (the ‘there’). So the unity of ‘here and there’ is re-presented for us every time we celebrate the Eucharist. We say ‘…through your goodness we have this bread and wine to offer. It will become our spiritual food and drink.’

 

Just as Jesus Christ was God and Humanity, so the bread and wine are both ‘Bread and wine and Christ for us.’ Our job is to take part in this unity of God and us by participating in the Sacrament of the Eucharist. We don’t need to look for further transcendence than that.

 

I think that this argument was missing from he Philosophers’ Zone radio programme. It is not so that Christianity only deals with morality, or that it is ‘personal and private’. Christianity lives in the same philosophical world ass do the people who are worrying about transcendence, and it has something to say about it.

 

In this sense Christian Philosophy is not ‘religious’ but a description of reality that we cant spin out of our own navels, but which adds something to our picture of ‘the real’ via the Bible and the revelation contained within it, which could easily be contributed to the Philosophers’ Zone. St. Augustine would have approved, because his account of the Faith was also a discussion with and critique of Neo-Platonism. I’m a bit sad that they did not ask a theologian to come to make this point on the show.

 

This is not to say that the idea of our transcendence is not part of Christianity. The word we use is not ‘transcendence’ but ‘transformation’ or ‘sanctification’. As St. Paul urges us in the letter to the Romans ‘Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing o your minds’. Or as the letter to the Philippians urges us ‘Have in you the same mind that was in Christ Jesus’. The change that Christians want to see is the change that we become more like Christ, who has already united all ‘here’ with all ‘there’

As the hymn goes ‘Changed from Glory into Glory till in heaven we take our place, casting down our crowns before thee, lost in wonder love and praise.’

 

 

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Dissonance In Reciting The Great Prayers of Thanksgiving at the Eucharist

During the Great prayer of Thanksgiving, I find myself saying some very strange things. Mostly I have overlooked them, but now I think it is worth sharing with you what strikes me as odd about the range of Thanksgiving Prayers which we have been given. These prayers make claims about the nature of God, and of Jesus, and of us, so I think it ids time to have a look at them.

 

The first thing that I notice across the five prayers is how often the word ‘sacrifice’ is mentioned. The phrase ‘one sacrifice of himself once offered for the sins of the whole world.’ Is repeated a number of times. This sentence is strange to modern ears, until you remember that this is a direct quote from the 1662 prayer book.

 

The wording of the 1662 book represents the Reformation’s battle with the Roman Catholic Church, which taught that the Eucharist is a re-presentation of Christ’s sacrifice. The Reformation wanted to say that ‘No, there is only one sacrifice, and that is Jesus’ offering of himself upon the cross.’

 

Now here is my problem. The whole language of sacrifice sounds alien to me. We once believed that God’s wrath needed to be propitiated or turned away from us, and that in order to do that something, or some one had to be sacrificed, that is, put to death in our place, so that God would not kill us instead. This means that Jesus’ death, as a way of stopping God from killing us for our sins, is right and proper!

 

But that is not the picture of God the Father that Jesus gives us! Look at the Father of the Prodigal son. Is he demanding someone’s death so that the son can come home? No. To read the Gospels is to break away from this idea of sacrifice for sin, and to do what Jesus says ‘Go and learn that ‘I want mercy, not sacrifice!’, says the Lord.

 

Jesus was sacrificed, not by God, but by the authorities, who did think that they had to get rid of Jesus in order to restore the world to the order that they thought that God wanted. Jesus offers himself to that death, trusting in the God whom he calls Father. Jesus dies as their sacrifice, in order to put an end to the whole sacrificial system.

 

These words about sacrifice were put into our prayer book by those, mostly in Sydney, who believe that Jesus’ death is a substitute for our deserved death, made as the perfect sacrifice to appease God’s offended holiness.

 

Now they don’t use this book much, but in order to get any book at all through General Synod, where this group has a lot of representatives, this kind of theology had to be included. In this respect, prayer number 5 is the best, because it simply says “Jesus took away our sin, all that keeps us from each other and from you”, without describing the mechanics of how this happened.

 

So much for that: But there is also a lot about sin in these prayers. It seems that the only thing that the death of Jesus did as to take away our sin.

 

That is not such a bad thing, but there are other metaphors that might describe the objective change in our relationship with God that happened over that first Easter.

 

Some in the early Church saw Jesus as ‘redeeming us’. That is, they pictured us as being in thrall to other realities other than God. As Jesus was crucified by these ‘other realities’ but lived to God, so too, we who are baptized into his death also die to all other realities apart from God’s love for us. We are bought back (redeemed) from the power of all else, so that we might live toward God.

 

So the image of Jesus death is one of liberation and redemption, not so much of removal of sin.

 

The other thing that strikes me as odd now is the phrase in prayer number 2 that says ‘You formed us, male and female, in your image.’ Prayer number 4 by contrast says ‘and made us in your own image”

 

In these days when we are being asked to vote for marriage equality, the binary description of ‘male and female’ is being questioned.

It is true that most of us are either male or female, but we know now that between the strong binary anatomy of male and female there is a wide range of possibilities, ranging from what has been called ‘intersex’ or ‘indeterminate’ sexuality.

 

More, there is a range of gender self-identification, both in the West, and in many other cultures, which do not require such a sharp distinction between ‘male’ and ‘female’. I think that every human being, regardless of anatomy, who is baptized into Christ is capable of ‘imaging’ God in him, and that we do not need any more to shoe horn everyone into a binary set of categories. In fact, like ‘handedness’ I think that sexual and gender identities are more like an infinite series. Looking across the profusion the natural world, and at other cultures, it seems to me that God, as creator, is more into profusion than into binary categories.

 

So although Thanksgiving Prayer number 5 is the simplest prayer, most often used with young people, I think that it is the best, because it avoids both Penal Substitution and sacrifice language, and does not prevent a diversity of gender expression from imaging God.

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Tears, Authenticity and Authority in Prayer

So you remember that I have been thinking about what it mans to live before the face of God. Now one of the ways that this happens is during prayer times at morning ad evening. Sometimes during prayer I am moved to tears (like this morning). I was recalling before God a situation that is a particular burden at the moment. Thinking about all hose involved, and the difficulty of not knowing exactly what to do, I was crying, and saying, “God, this is serious. I hope that what we have decided to do will work!!!” One of my definitions of prayer is ‘to come into contact with my deepest self in the company of God.’ So these tears were certainly a way of coming into contact with a significant part of my self, and so I think that this prayer was an authentic prayer for me.

This is especially so when I think about praying in the light of the book ‘The Drama of the Gifted Child’. This book describes how we are taught to lose contact with our true selves, because we need to be fed, and we need to please others in order to get fed. So we gradually forget how to come into contact with our deepest self, or any ‘true’ self at all.

I remember as a young child saying very adult sounding prayers that impressed everyone else, but which were too precocious for a four year old!So the years of spiritual direction that I had taught me to cry again, and to come into contact with my true self.

But I remember some times when tears have not been as welcome. One friend of mine says that when she is in meetings where important decisions and strategy is discussed, she does not want to cry, because at those times it is important to stay focussed, and not to distract from the debate or conversation be injecting tearful emotion into the debate. It is true that this person was ‘in touch’ with something, but is it true that all forms of being ‘in touch’ need to be expressed in tears? She thought not.

There was also a time when our prime minister was speaking about drugs policy. His own daughter had been addicted to heroine, and so his speech went, ‘You don’t cease to be a father [when making these policy decisions]. He began to cry.

Now the media thought that this was a stunt. That is, that he was using his ability to cry as a tool to get his own way politically. This happens sometimes I guess, but I am prepared to own that my and other people’s tears are signs of being genuinely ‘in touch’, and that this is a sign of the authenticity of the thoughts that go with the tears.

It is also true that after the tears it is important to have a look at the ideas that accompany them, and to put some plans into action as a result. Tears by themselves are like other emotional states. They accompany thoughts, and give added power to our thinking. But it is what happens after that is equally important.

Sometimes I have been told that it is the very act of praying about a thing, which validates the decision that has been announced.

I have been wanting something from a particular person for a long time. They have refused my request. One of the things that they said to me, as a justification for their refusal, was ‘I have prayed about this matter.’

My response is “Well so have I, and I have come to a different conclusion to you. Just because you have prayed about a thing, does not necessarily make your decision right.”

Saying “I have prayed about this’ is a rhetorical move which is designed to establish the superior authority of the speaker, over the one who is spoken to. It is designed to close down a disagreement by saying, “Well because I have prayed about this, that should be the end of the matter because I have access to a better source of advice about our disagreement than you do: God! What is more, I can rely on the genuineness and rightness of my decision because I have prayed about it”

I think that just as tears tell me something about the authenticity of my ‘in-touch-ness’ but need then to be set aside as a discussion about what to do happens, so prayer about a matter is an indication of the seriousness with which a person takes something, but it does not automatically make them right.

This is the same as people saying, “You should accept my point of view because I have made a big study of this matter.” Just having made a study of a matter gets me the right to a respectful hearing, but it may not make me right. If I have made a study of a matter, then I can make the case! But I cannot rely on the silencing of my opponents simply on the basis of saving ‘made a study of a thing’.

So having learned to be inauthentic in prayer, I am glad to be able to be authentic again, via my prayerful tears. I am happy to ‘flow’ in this way in the company of God.

But there is a moral dimension to being ‘authentic’. Praying or study alone are not guarantees of being right, and I do not think that either should be used as a way of justifying my actions, in the face of another’s claim. I should be able to ‘make my case’, no matter how I have arrived at it.

 

 

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What “Pale Rider” Told Me About Violence, Non-Violence and Trusting God

The other week I happened to see the Clint Eastwood movie “Pale Rider”.

 

This movie follows the pattern of all Westerns. A small group of people is oppressed by big business. Along comes a ‘stranger’ who saves them.

 

Sometimes there is a variation on the theme, which is also present in Pale Rider. The hero is, in the beginning, committed to ‘non violence’. In Pale Rider, Clint Eastwood is a king of travelling preacher, who then goes to his safe deposit box, takes off is collar and gets out his guns.

 

These movies are a replay of the Myth of Redemptive violence, which, sad to say and despite rhetoric and coins to the contrary, is the main mythology of the United States.

 

An interesting feature of the movie is its use of scripture. In the beginning, the young woman who falls in love with Clint Eastwood, is praying. The baddies have just ‘shot up’ their settlement, and have killed her dog in the process. She brings these issues to God in prayer. She is praying psalm 23 as she buries the dog. She says ‘The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want…..but I do want! Though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death I will fear no evil…but I am afraid. We need a miracle. I will l dwell in the house of the Lord forever…but I want more of this life first. If you don’t help us we are all going to die.

 

Everyone has asked these questions of God at some stage. At times when I have felt most alone, I have asked, “If the lord is my shepherd, and there is nothing I can lack, then why do I feel so needy?”

 

The young girl gets her miracle in the form of Clint Eastwood, the Pale Rider (preacher). Here is another Biblical reference. It comes from the book of Revelation,(6:8) and the ‘Pale Rider’ is one of the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse’: death, followed by Hell.

Here is the miracle that the girl was asking for. The pale rider does indeed kill all the baddies.

 

So what can I make of this. Is it so that what the movie suggests is true? Do we in the end need to depend on violence to establish peace?

 

This question is again pressing upon me because of the way that living before the face of God has become a big theme for me recently.

 

You know, it is possible to pray, and to do church, and not really think that God is real.

 

It’d like the old adage ‘Say your prayers and keep your powder dry’. This is a bind. Everyone knows hat the meaning of the ting is: If one has dry powder, one does not need prayer. If one needs payer, one does not need powder.

But the message of the martyrs is clear. They were not prepared to exercise violence. But they were prepared to endure, even to the point of their own death, because they believed that God would bring about the end of Time, and God’s rule without the intervention of a Pale Rider, or a Lone Ranger on earth.

 

They really believed in God’s power to do what God promised, in his own time. “It may just be” says the martyr, “that I will be killed beforehand.”

 

So for me the question that arises from the movie Pale Rider is then not so much about violence or non-violence as such, because I have not yet had to face this question in a very sharp way. But for me, the question highlights another one: would I be prepared to suffer violence because I believed in God, and God’s justice in a way that allowed me to trust God more than I do now? This issue highlights for me how it is possible to be a priest, and theological thinker, but be lacking in the ‘simple faith’ that says, “Just follow me.”

 

I think that this issue comes to a head in the context of being retired, and so not really responsible any more for the future of the Church in the place where I am priest.

 

When this responsibility is lifted, then the questions that take up the space are no longer the ones about how is the congregation going to survive financially, or who has got their knickers in a not over something I have said or done, or not done.

 

Instead the questions become more personal again. They are the ones like the one I have been asking about violence and non-violence. “So I really trust in God’s future. Can I put my life into God’s hands and not worry about what retirement will look like?

 

I would love this to become true for me in a way that is not the case just yet. Perhaps the fact that this question is coming to consciousness, and that I can say something about it means that this is in fact the direction in which life is going. I hope so.

 

I know that the proper answer to he young girl in the movie is this: The psalm goes “BECAUSE the Lord is my shepherd, I an lack nothing.” The Shepherd-hood and love of God for us is the starting point, not the consequence of something of which I am the judge. That is the kind of simple faith that I would like to have come true in me.

 

 

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Do you remember that the Oxford English Dictionary announced that for 2106, the word of the year was ‘Post-Truth’? Since then with the rise of ‘alternative facts’ and ‘fake news’ something is happening!

The Enlightenment Project elevated Reason to a very high place in human affairs, and so we have, since then, been committed to finding out the ‘Truth’ by means of ‘facts’ and the application of reason.

The scientific method, by relying solely on what our senses can perceive and on what can be measured has given us a means to discovering reliable (true?) formation for a narrow band of human experience.

But as the phenomenon of climate change denial shows, no matter what the science says, there are many people who prefer to believe something else.

Mostly, the research tells us, we have a ‘gut feeling’ about something that needs decision, and then go looking for the facts that support our view.

The phenomenon of being ‘in denial’ is one, which the psychiatrists tell us is alive and well, and is a defence against harsh truths!

No matter what the ‘truth is’ however, we are all compelled into making a commitment to something or other. Even the phrase ‘not to decide is to decide not to’ shows that no one can avoid commitment, even if they do not want to make up their minds.

So I think that rather than speak about the ‘truth’ in a way which implies that simply to know the truth will be enough, I think it is more productive to have a think about what leads to commitment.

Here I am in good company with the ancient Greeks and Romans. In those days, a young man’s* education was designed to prepare him to take his place in the councils of the city. He was being educated in order to speak convincingly, in order to persuade his hearers that he was right, and that their commitment was best placed on his side. To do this, the main subject that they learned was rhetoric, being the art of persuasion.

These days the means of persuasion have multiplied, but the aim is the same: wherever the truth may lie, the persuaders want us to commit ourselves and what ever we have at our disposal, to their cause.

Lawyers do it in court, advertisers do it on Television, Tele-evangelists do it, Presidents and Prime Ministers do it.

The art of persuasion is to enlist our commitment while bypassing as much as possible our capacity to make judgements about what is being said.

Listen to the catch-phrases. Brexit had ‘Take back control’. No matter what else Brexit would mean, for those who felt as though their lives were ‘out of control’ in some way, the thought of ‘taking back control’ was attractive.

For those who felt ‘not great’ about being an American, the call to ‘Make America Great Again’ was persuasive, if not true.

The great playwright, Bertolt Brecht understood the power of theatre to persuade his audiences before they had a chance to think about an issue. In order to make his audiences aware of this process, he deliberately introduced into his plays a device that he called ‘alienation’. [Verfremdungseffekt] These devices, like directly addressing the audience, had the effect of By “disclosing and making obvious the manipulative contrivances and “fictive” qualities of the medium, the actors alienate the viewer from any passive acceptance and enjoyment of the play as mere “entertainment”. Instead, the viewer is forced into a critical, analytical frame of mind that serves to disabuse him or her of the notion that what he is watching is necessarily an inviolable, self-contained narrative.” **

So the attempt by a theatre piece to elicit my commitment by bypassing my critical faculties is to some extent thwarted.

This is exactly the advantage of being a Christian. When we read last week “Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your minds so that you might know the will of God” (Romans 12:2) is advice to do the very same thing that Brecht was trying to do.

Christians have a different ‘take’ on the world from other people. We are not just ‘society at prayer’ but an alternative version of what society looks like. We do not play the same game as others, so that we are able to see and be aware of those places where we are being hoodwinked, or where the persuaders are trying to get at us before we know it. We know we are loved, so we do not have to respond to the advertising that makes us feel something ‘less’ if we do not but this product. We know that nations are temporary, and that our allegiance is to the Reign of God, which transcends national boundaries. This is a very powerful set of tools to have in our Christian tool-box.

I am not decrying emotion. Having committed ourselves to the Christian way, then let us gather up everything we can muster to let this Way come to expression with our whole being. But let us stay awake, so that our commitments are not manipulated by those whose purposes are not in accord with the God who is Father of Jesus.

*Women were not educated then.

** <https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Distancing_effect&gt;

Your companion ‘on the Way ‘

 

Paul Dalzell.

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The Vestiges of Gladiatorial Combat and the Eucharist

While I was in Brisbane, I went to the ‘Gladiator’ exhibition at the museum.

 

Part of the description of the life of a gladiator was a description of how a day at the coliseum might go. First came the fighting with wild beasts, then came the execution of criminals before lunch, then gladiatorial combat in the afternoon.

 

I started to think, “What has happened to these practices? Do we still fight wild beasts? Well yes! All you have to do is to go to the modern day ‘circus’ (not the olden day one, in Rome), to see ‘lion taming’ and elephants doing very tame things and sometimes dancing bears.

 

We are still fascinated by the relationship of power between humans and beasts, but nowadays, instead of killing them we ‘tame them’ with whips and chairs.

 

In our ‘circus’ we have the vestigial remains of what was once a blood sport.

 

Once you have ‘seen’ how this works, then you can also see how this kind of ‘left over’ activity is present everywhere.

 

In mediaeval times, the knights used to ride toward each other on horseback, with a lance, in mock battle. Of courser the ladies could not participate, but they wanted to be a part of the show, so they made wooden horses for them to ride, going round and round. All you have to do is to go to any fun park to see what is left: the ‘merry-go-round’.

 

It is easier to see the gladiatorial origins of boxing and most team sports.

 

So in some ways, society has become more genteel in its sensibilities, as a result we allow certain parts of our selves a ‘run’ from time to time, but in an attenuated fashion.

 

Now the Eucharist shares with these activities the fact that it is also a vestigial something. It is a vestigial meal. No one is going to be physically sated with the amount of bread and wine available on a Sunday morning.

 

Just as it is hard to get the idea of a fight with a wild beast from a lion tamer, so some people have thought that it is hard to ‘get’ the idea of Jesus’ last supper from the Eucharist, as we currently do it. So they have made attempts to have more and ‘real’ bread instead of wafers and so on.

 

But for my money, the power of the Eucharist is that it depends for its power, not on whether there is ‘real’ bread and wine, but on whether or not the movements of the soul that are embodied in the Eucharist in a concentrated form, actually give rise to the same movements of the soul in a less concentrated form, after the liturgy is over.

 

I am thinking for example of the story in John’s Gospel, chapter 21 where Jesus meets Peter on the shores of the sea of Galilee. Peter has been unfaithful to his Lord three times, when he meets Jesus, he is given the opportunity to re-do this unfaithfulness with his statements of ‘Of course, you know everything Lord, you know that I love you’. The laying bare of the truth of Peter’s life, the three-fold forgiveness, followed by a task is a classic example of Eucharistic living. And so it is not surprising that it happens in the context of a meal.

 

What is important that we know how to confess our sins and that we know how to be vulnerable to one another. This is how the Eucharist tells us to live.

 

The same is true of Clopas and his companion of the road to Emmaus. It was the breaking open of the Scriptures that opened their eyes to the presence of Jesus, and made their hearts burn within them. It as the breaking of the bread that made them recognise him. So the processes of hearing the Word of God and sharing in the breaking of the bread (the movements in the Eucharist) are here shown to us as the way in which, during the normal course of life we come to recognise the presence of God among us.

 

This is the value of the older custom in the Anglican Church where the priest would announce that on the following week the Eucharist would be celebrated, and that the members of the congregation should use this time to do in in their everyday lives what they were about to embody in their liturgical lives. The words of invitation then went “All you who earnestly repent you of our sins and are in love and charity with your neighbours and intend to lead a new life following the commandment of God…draw near with faith and take this holy sacrament to your comfort.’ The implication is ‘everyone else, go home!’

 

These days, I think that the way that this can happen is that if Christians meet, not only on Sundays, but on other days of the week as well (at least once) so that there is a chance that this kind of mutual accountability can happen.

 

At other times (like a weekday Eucharist) there is a more informal atmosphere, and so there, the concerns of members of the congregation for the prayers of the people can be expressed. It is also possible that in this kind of a celebration, a more informal ‘breaking open of the Word’ may be a part of the Eucharist.

 

 

 

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