Saturday, September 13, 2008

Another Weird Idea

Posted here with her permission. Originally appeared on the email list for the Hise of Bishops and Deputies of The Episcopal Church. I asked Liz for permission to post this here because I feel very strongly that we Christians all too often overlook Mt 5:23-24. Modern society has taught us that to offer an apology is to demonstrate weakness. But as usual, what God wants from us turns society' standards all upside down. We need to engage Scripture in such a way that Scripture changes us. That's why God gave Scripture to us.

Another weird idea by Liz Cole

I have this non-Episcopalian Christian friend with whom I do a Bible study on Tuesday evenings. My friend is quite a bit more fundamentalist in approach than I and when the issue first came up, I thought God maybe hadn't been paying attention. However, it has been my experience that God often does know what God is up to even when it seems there must have been a mistake. So I gave it a chance and we've both learned amazingly wonderful things and each deepened our relationship with God in profound ways over the last almost two years since we started.

Anyway, recently we've been reading the Gospel according to John, but somehow we took a little break a few weeks ago to study and pray about Matthew 5:23-24 "If when you are bringing your gift to the altar, you suddenly remember that your brother has a grievance against you, leave your gift where it is before the altar. First, go and make your peace with your brother, and only then come back and offer your gift."

A familiar passage, but as we prayed about the passage and the issue of forgiveness and the people each of us needed to ask forgiveness from and the people we needed to forgive, the passage began to seem more and more strange to me. Notice that it doesn't require you to leave your gift at the altar (and why "leave your gift at the altar"?) if YOU are angry with a brother or sister or even if you realize that you have done something wrong to the brother or sister. Instead, the command is if you "suddenly remember" that someone has a grievance AGAINST YOU.

Maybe I am missing something obvious, but this seems to me to be a very strange and counterintuitive way of dealing with the need for forgiveness within the community.

Then Peter shared his sermon with us (thank you again Peter) on Matthew 18: 15-18, noting that Jesus' admonition to treat an unrepentant sister or brother as a "pagan or a tax-gatherer" (I have the New English in front of me at the moment), maybe isn't what it at first would appear to be. After all, as Peter pointed out, Jesus was somewhat notorious for consorting with "pagans" and "tax-gatherers."

That got me to thinking upside down again as I tried to imagine what this weird Matthew 5 admonition would look like in our current situation in TEC and the Anglican Communion. At first, I didn't want to go there because it seemed too obvious that the analogy would be that, knowing my conservative brothers and sisters think I am a wild-haired heretic, I'D be the one who had to go bear the burden of reconciliation, which seemed unfair. But there is that wonderful question - maybe in Ezekiel? - God asks: Is it my ways that are unjust? Is it not yours?

So armed again with a bit of spiritual courage, I tried it out. I remembered that some of those who are opposed to full inclusion are already unwilling to kneel at the same altar rail with those who advocate for full inclusion. It struck me that, if some have already ceased coming to the altar, and if others leave to go reconcile with the first group, maybe eventually there is no one at the altar.

So what does that mean? The Roman Catholic position seems to be that "if you don't agree with us you can't take communion with us because then we might look like One when we are not," and the Anglican dissident position seems to be that "we can't take communion with you because you disagree with us and we can't look like One when we are not."

Perhaps the logical conclusion of taking Matthew 5: 23-24 seriously (and note this comes in the middle of a passage in which Jesus seems to be saying, "You think you know how strict the Law is, but I'm here to tell you it is even stricter than you think! Not just murder, but enmity will result in your damnation; not just adultery, but a lustful thought/glance will result in your eternal separation from God, without the opportunity for parole.") - is that Jesus' position is this:

"You are already One because of my sacrifice, but if you are unwilling/unable to live into that reality, then no one takes communion because it would blaspheme me. Until you are willing to accept what I have done on your behalf and kneel together at the altar, leave your gifts here (they'll be toxic to you otherwise) and go make peace with each other."

Why do we receive communion? Why do eat the Body and drink the Blood of Christ? In what way does it sustain us? In what way is it "food" for us? I suggest that when we receive the Body and Blood, we are in a sense entering into a contract - perhaps covenant is a better word. Just as the ancient community was sprinkled with the blood of the animal sacrifice as a pledge of faithfulness to the covenant, we drink the blood and eat the Body as an affirmation that we believe that what Jesus has told us about God is true and that we are committed to following Jesus - even though we understand that this will lead to our own metaphoric death - and to continuing the work of forgiveness and healing he began.

If this is true, and we receive communion and then refuse to manifest the Unity that Jesus has already accomplished, we blaspheme him. We act in contravention of the very covenant we have just affirmed. We have deliberately and knowingly acted in contravention of God's express word. We have violated the Law of Love. We are liars, cheats, and thieves (seeking to gain eternal life without paying the cost which is the death of self).

Perhaps God loves us so much, God would even forgo intimate relationship with us to spare us the natural consequences of this unforgivable blasphemy against the Holy Spirit that we commit when we either exclude each other from the altar rail or refuse to kneel at the same altar rail or receive the Body and Blood from some hands. In other words, perhaps God wants us to leave our gifts at the altar until we are willing to be reconciled with each other, and perhaps there should be no communion for anyone in the meantime.

So what do you think? Extreme perhaps, but then the luke-warm is apparently abhorrent in the Kingdom of God.

That's my crazy two cents for the day.

God's Peace, Z