Tuesday, October 26, 2010

The Sticky Side

Now here’s the sticky side of the bumper sticker,

“Why should God bless us when we’ve kicked HIM out of our schools?”

Orthodox priest Alexander Schmemann wrote, “Just as Christianity can– and must–be considered the end of religion, so the Christian liturgy in general, and the Eucharist in particular are indeed the end of a cult, of the ‘sacred’ religious act isolated from, and opposed to, the ‘profane’ life of the community.” (Alexander Schmemann, For the Life of the World (Crestwood, NY: St. Vladimir's Seminary Press, 1982), 25, 26.)

We Lutherans may not agree with our Orthodox friends at all points, but on this Schmemann is correct. When Jesus says He is the door, He did not mean He was a plank of wood. He means He is the only way to the Father; the only entrance to heaven. Thus, the religion that bears His name and rests only in Him is the “end of all religion.” It is in the Eucharist, the blessed Meal of Christ’s Body and Blood in the bread and wine where Christ is Incarnationally present for His people. The liturgy leads forward to that event, setting the congregation apart from what is common and secular in the community, to  where heaven and earth meet.

Such ritual and soul-feeding prepares God’s people for their vocations in their lives. It is door-to-door vocational education. We enter the church door hungry and depleted, starved from our week long struggles in our vocation; we leave the church door fed and prepared to face our week long vocation once more.

The struggle is tougher and tougher, whether in school or the workplace. The entertainment industry inundates us with its messages that constantly pull us away from Christ’s Gospel.

I attended a workshop on the liturgy several years ago. We were reveling in how the liturgy is constructed to draw the heart, mind, and soul to the pivotal event, Christ’s giving of Himself in His Supper. The question of Contemporary Worship was ever on the mind. What of it? What was CW doing to this structure since it has none? And what would happen to this treasure of the liturgy we have now if we so callously misuse it? “Well,” said one pastor, “it’ll go out in the dust heap, where some one else will pick it up, and by God’s grace, and make use of it.” In other words, what is not used or what is not used properly is eventually taken away.

We have found that very situation happen to us in the use of Individual Confession and Absolution. For whatever history behind it, that practice fell out of use. Now it is difficult to re-instate—and for some people its use will never be acceptable.

So God has been kicked out of the schools? The marketplace? The arena of ideas? So why should God bless us if we don’t bless Him?

On the one hand, God blessing us has nothing to do with whether we bless Him or not. On the other hand, God will “bless” us in a manner we do not expect when we do not pay heed to the Giver of all Good Things.

When my children were rude and surly to me, their father blessed them with discipline. They were his children, and he loved them. He wasn’t about to set hellions loose on the world, and hasn’t. Even more to the point, I am his wife whom he swore to honor and love. That’s a promise he hasn’t broken, even with his own children.
So it is with God and His people, Christ and His Bride. When the Children of Israel, God’s wife as He called them, behaved badly, He sent them into Babylon as captives. Now there is some heavy-duty timeout! We are not beyond God’s reach as a church body or as a nation.

When Katrina hit a good many pundits claimed it was God’s way of exacting repentance on a sin-filled city. Those with clearer vision rightly pointed out that if it was so, then why is it the center of all the action, the French Quarter, was left standing? We need to be careful of pointing fingers, saying “Here is God’s retribution, there it is again.” Rather, we have enough of our own repentance for which to be concerned.

 And we can also rejoice in God’s calls to repentance. God disciplines those whom He loves, His sons (who are made so by Baptism in His Son!), to be called back to the Absolution of the Gospel in Christ.



David Garner said...

Father Schmemann also wrote: "We can only worship in time, yet it is worship that ultimately not only reveals the meaning of time, but truly 'renews' time itself. There is no worship without the participation of the body, without words and silence, light and darkness, movement and stillness - yet it is in and through worship that all these essential expressions of man in his relation to the world are given their ultimate 'term' of reference, revealed in their highest and deepest meaning."

The notion that God can be "kicked out of" anywhere is problematic in the first instance. In the liturgy, we are given God's gifts in eternity. Father Schmemann is referencing here what the Orthodox refer to as "the sanctification of time." Put more simply, we receive the same body and blood given and shed at Calvary, and yet we receive it "in time," and yet it transcends time, which is the only way we could possibly receive it. This is a mystery, to be sure, but it is a mystery that tells us something about how God operates in this world. Similarly, Christ is the Son in eternity, and yet He came down from heaven in time, and yet He Himself transcends time. So how can we then exit the liturgy and pretend the world exists only in its own time and on its own terms, apart from the eternal God? Kicking God out of the world would have the world cave in on itself. It is nonsensical for any Christian to have such a notion.

Revelation gives a picture of the Church in her worship. That is yesterday, today and always. It transcends time and space. The world cannot remove what pre-existed and will also outlast it. Rather, the world depends on God's sustaining hand for its very existence.

David Garner said...

I should add -- whether we recognize this or not is quite another question. I surely don't mean to suggest one cannot reject God and His mercy. Only that one's rejection of God does not succeed in "kicking Him out" of anywhere. Instead, it succeeds only in having Him present toward our judgment rather than our salvation.

And as you rightly note, God's temporal judgment can be among the greatest blessings of all.