Every year at the German speaking Church in Montreux, there is a ‘Crib Service’. This service tells the story of Jesus with actors from the youth group, and other members of the congregation. But the text of this service is composed by Elizabeth, the pastor’s wife. Every year Elizabeth has some variation on the theme, with different characters, and musical interludes and so on. She writes a ‘new’ Nativity each year. This year is the third time that I have been to their crib service.
It struck me that although some of the characters are different, and although Elizabeth has a different text for each year, one thing stays the same: everyone ends up at the manger in adoration of the new born baby Jesus. I formulated it this way: ‘no matter where you start, everyone ends up at the manger.’
I began to think about the ‘big idea’ of ‘Journey’. For example, as children we used to play a mathematics game. “Think of a number, multiply it by X, take away the number you first thought of etc. and the answer always comes pout the same!” No matter what the ‘journey’ the destination is the same.
And then I began to think about my visit to the evangelistic rally held by Franklin Graham in Melbourne a few years ago. Having ‘gone down the front’ as a five year old in 1957, I was interested to see what the structure of these rallies was. And again, the theme of journey was paramount. The stadium has a number of entry points from the stands, to the stage and the area ‘at the front’ where people would ‘come forward.’ From each of these exits, was a red carpet, leading to ‘the front’ which was also as delineated space. When Franklin Graham began to make his call, the choir sang, and he punctuated his speech with the words ‘You can make a new start, you come!’ This happened a few times during his sermon. The words were very ‘churchy’ words full of references to the ‘blood of Jesus’ and so on. But the combination of the choir, and the call ‘You come’ meant that a lot of people did want to ‘make a new start’ and began a new phase of their life’s ‘journey’ by making the small ‘journey’ from their seat to ‘down the front.’ Again I said “It does not matter what the ‘script’ is, what is important is that everyone who ‘came forward’ ended up at the same place.”
This is true too of every Sunday in Church. Although it is not obvious, everyone who comes to church makes a journey too. This journey is the same as the Christmas one. Every one ends up before the presence of Christ: but this time, it is not Christ’s presence as represented by a story of shepherds and a journey to Bethlehem, but a journey to Christ’s presence for us in Bread and Wine.
This time the journey happens as we move ‘down the aisle’ of the Church from the Font, where we are ‘plunged into Christ’ and which is the beginning of our journey as Christians. It ends with our being at the Altar, where we participate in the life of Christ in Bread and Wine, and which will characterise the end of our lives too, as well as the ‘end’ or goal of every Sunday.
What is more, as we make this journey, we learn to live he Christian life. We hear the Word of God, and respond with belief and intercession for others. We become aware of our sin, are forgiven, express the peace with God that we wish for others, and then go to the Altar for ‘Holy Communion’ We are then sent out to ‘worship in the world’ instead of in Church.
Again, no matter where we have ‘come from’ every one ends up at the Font and Altar, and makes the journey between the two each Sunday.
In congregations too there are different kinds of Journeys that we can make. One of them is the process of making sense out of our callings by reflecting upon the events that have happened to us in the light of the Scriptures and the stories that we know that make up our tradition. The technical term for this is ‘Theological reflection.’ My favourite book on The Art Theological Reflection was written by O’Connel-Killen and de Beer. * They contrast the journey or exploring stance of theological reflection with coming at Scripture from the standpoints of Self-assurance, and of certitude. In order really to go on the journey of Theological reflection it is necessary not to know the outcome. It is necessary to trust that when the Spirit works, and we follow the process that O’Connell-Killen and de Beer outline in their book the ‘magic’ happens and often new and exciting options open up for a community which were not open before, when the thinking was done from a point of view of certainty or self-assurance. They say (p17f “Living from a standpoint of exploration draws us into community…As explorers we enter into our experience not knowing the hidden thoughts that we will discover, the feelings that will arise, the images that we will encounter or the questions that we will endure….But this conversation can only take place when we allow the questions to assume primacy and set aside our fears.” [or at least not allow them to dominate our lives to such an extent that we can only operate from a position of certitude, or self assurance.]
This is another kind of journey, where the ‘same place’ that every one arrives at is in the Spirit, yes, but where the actual destination is not stipulated.
This reminds me of some ‘false journeys’ which, under the name of ‘consultation’ are designed to get a group of people to accept a decision that has already been made. This kind of consultation is in fact a form of manipulation rather than theological reflection because the ‘end’ does not allow for the working of the Spirit, when everyone comes with a stance of either certitude or self assurance.
So there are two kinds of Journey. The one where ‘the crib’ and ‘the altar’ and ‘down the front’ are the destinations, no matter where we come from or what our script is. This is the journey to Christ that every Christian makes. But then there is the journey ‘in the Spirit’ where in any given situation, a group of Christians try to work out what to do next. This journey requires that we too open ourselves up to
God, to ‘get out of our seats and come’ but not the actual destination is sort of ‘unknown’. It is a ‘land that I will show you’ provided we follow allow the Spirit to work and trust one another.
* The Art of Theological Reflection. O’Connell Killen, P & de Beer, J. (1994) Crossroad New York.