Monday, March 10, 2014

"We would see Jesus"

I don't know if it actually happened this way, but I have heard that, on the very day the October Revolution was ignited in Russia, the Holy Synod of the Russian Orthodox Church was engaged in a passionate debate over the colour of liturgical vestments.

I consider myself something of a liturgist, and I can quite understand getting passionate about aspects of liturgical minutiae. (Ask my colleagues about my passionately held opinion about thumbs in the liturgy.) But for a Church that was about to embark on a seven decade long pilgrimage of persecution and captivity, the colour of vestments seems a rather esoteric distraction. 

The internal affairs of any institution are bound to seem trifling and irrelevant to outsiders - and often even to many insiders. They certainly need to be dealt with, but the process of dealing with them can make the institution itself seem an anachronism.

The Church seems to be particularly good at making a bad impression of ourselves as we deal - passionately - with matters of greater or lesser importance in our common life. Those whom Christ died to save look at us and see, not a community showing forth the love of a merciful saviour, but rather a dyspeptic band of curmudgeons raging on against what we (presumptuously) assume is the dying of the light.

We argue over structures. We argue over liturgy. We argue (at least in places) over the role of women in the life of the Church. We argue (constantly, it seems) about the place of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgendered folk in the life of the Church.

And all too frequently, we don't argue with much grace or charity.

It is not surprising that Tertullian's great aphorism, "See how these Christians love one another," is so frequently referenced in sarcasm. It is even less surprising that, as many studies have shown, young people with little direct Church experience perceive us (yes, all of us) as angry, hypocritical and obsessed with sex (and not in a good way). Ghandi's view is entirely understandable: "I like your Christ. I do not like your Christians. Your Christians are so unlike your Christ."

Yes, the things we contend over are important. (Well, some of them moreso than others.) But what witness does it give the world when we look like a third period bench clearing hockey brawl?

In John's Gospel, we have the story of the Greeks who approached Philip to say, "Sir, we wish to see Jesus." Surely the world, looking at the Body of Christ, should be able to catch at least a fleeting glimpse of Jesus.

It's not all doom and gloom, of course. I think we do show forth Jesus in much that we do: in liturgy done well, in ministry in times of crisis, in ministries to those in greatest need.

Prior to our last diocesan synod, I was asked to give a brief to new members of synod about how it worked. While we weren't expecting any particularly contentious issues to arise (the longest debate was about a resolution that looked like motherhood and apple pie to me), I made it a point to close with this piece of advice.
I encourage remember that the person who disagrees with us on whatever issue we happen to be debating at the time loves Jesus just as much as you do. And even more importantly, I encourage you to remember that Jesus loves that person just as much as he loves you.
I forget that at least as often as anyone else. But I rather suspect that all of our disagreements would be less disagreeable if we tried to do a better job of remembering it.


Alan said...

Well said Father Malcolm.

Alan said...

Well said Father Malcolm.