Thursday, March 20, 2008

I have called you friends

[The following remarks were made in the context of the Maundy Thursday celebration at St Mary's Anglican Church, Vancouver BC.]

+ My friends in Christ, I speak to you in the name of God the Weaver, who through the shuttle of the Holy Spirit weaves us into the pattern of the Word made flesh. Amen.

On a visit to UBC Urgent Care three days before I was to leave Vancouver to travel to Myanmar, the physician who examined me asked, “Why would you or any one travel to a military dictatorship like Myanmar?” One of the members of the rugby executive I serve on wrote to the parents of our rugby team, “Please keep Dr Leggett in your thoughts and prayers. As you know he is an Anglican priest and a professor at Vancouver School of Theology. He’s off on a trip to Myanmar, a country where the military persecutes Christians and jails intellectuals. We’d like him to come back to us.” A member of my congregation expressed his concern that I was not adhering to the request of some members of the democratic opposition in Myanmar that foreigners avoid travelling to the country. Our own foreign affairs web-site advised against ‘non-essential’ travel.

So why did I go? I have come to realize that there is only one reason. I went to visit friends. I went to visit friends whom I had never met but friends nevertheless. These friends needed to see and talk to me in the flesh as much as I needed to see and talk to them. It was, with due respect to our foreign affairs travel advisory, ‘essential’ travel.

On this night two millennia ago in a secure location Jesus met with his friends. The different gospel accounts do not agree as to what kind of festive meal they were sharing. Matthew, Mark and Luke describe it as the Passover meal, while John describes a chaburah, a fellowship meal where a rabbi met with his disciples and conducted what I would call a graduate seminar. What is clear, whether the meal was the Passover meal or a chaburah, is that the community of disciples gathered around Jesus had reached a climactic moment.

The controversy that began with Jesus’ teaching ministry of the past three years had led to conflict within the Jewish community throughout Judea. The Jewish authorities, concerned with the integrity of the Jewish tradition and with maintaining some semblance of political autonomy under Roman imperial administration, had begun to take more active steps to solve ‘the Jesus problem’. As Jesus had travelled to Jerusalem, even some of those who had followed him began to abandon him, some simply walking away, while one, Judas, for reasons that have never been clear, decided to betray Jesus to the authorities.

In this environment Jesus girded himself with a towel and performed one of the basic duties of a domestic servant. When he had finished, he spoke words that I believe are among the most significant in the New Testament.

I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.[1]

Love cannot be disembodied. Love demands incarnation, whether of the eternal Word of God in time and space or the lives of men, women and children who have been grasped by that Word in their own times and places.

Love is not primarily an emotional state. It is the choice to live out the call of the prophet Micah to do justice, to adore covenant loyalty and to walk humbly in the presence of God. To love is to choose to share in this eucharistic feast knowing that to do so is to re-commit oneself to the baptismal covenant which we shall explicitly renew at the Easter Vigil but which we implicitly renew each time we reach out our hands and take the bread of life into our hands.

Will you continue in the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, in the breaking of bread, and the prayers?

The eucharist, as one of the Christian community’s dependable ‘sign-acts’, participates in the myst─ôrion, “the revelation of God’s saving self-giving that finds expression in Jesus’ death and resurrection”.[2] We grow into our baptismal faith and identity for as often as we ‘eat this bread and drink the cup’.[3]

The consequences of baptismal faith lived out in eucharistic fellowship for Christians are several. First, Christians understand their relationship to be public rather than private. Our covenantal relationship with God and with each other, forged in baptism and renewed in eucharist, has communal and societal dimensions. Our claim to be members of the Christian community causes our lives to come under special scrutiny, especially if we claim that our life as members of the Body of Christ represents, in some spiritual way, the life of God as expressed in our trinitarian faith.

We seek companionship, people with whom to break bread. Later in the gospel of John, Jesus will say this:

This is my commandment that you love one another as I have loved you. No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends. You are my friends if you do what I command you. I do not call you servants any longer, because the servant does not know what the master is doing; but I have called you friends, because I have made known to you everything that I have heard from my Father[4]

At the heart of all genuinely Christian relationships is a self-giving and self-revealing friendship where we permit ourselves to become more and more transparent to one another.

Christians understand the need for a community of support that shares both values and hopes. When red-hot charcoal briquettes are separated from one another, they quickly lose their heat and burn out. If they are kept close together, their heat increases and, in a counter-intuitive fashion, lasts longer. In many ways the Christian life functions similarly. When we find ourselves in the midst of a supportive community, our faith is reinforced and deepened, enabling us to live out more faithfully our baptismal commitments to one another.

Will you persevere in resisting evil and, whenever you fall into sin, repent and return to the Lord?

A popular movie from the 1970’s contained the line, “Love means never having to say you’re sorry.” No falser statement has ever been made. Love means forever being willing to acknowledge one’s faults and to seek reconciliation and renewal.

An adequate theology of community must take account of sin. Love in community is not exempt from hurt and injustice. Thus the religious dimension of community involves redemption and reconciliation. Without grace, without the gift of healing and renewal and forgiveness, no community will reach its fulfillment. Indeed, it would be come a stifling idolatry.[5]

We come from a tradition that understands the necessity of forgiveness if old hurts and new wrongs are ever to be laid aside in order for the new creation to be revealed in and through our relationships. Furthermore, our tradition empowers us to a greater commitment to a world in which reconciliation takes place between peoples and nations. How the Christian community conducts itself when in the midst of controversy and conflict can be a witness to the larger human community.

Will you proclaim by word and example the good news of God in Christ?

Every Christian is called to embody the good news of God in Christ in whatever vocation or social setting he or she is found. Our life as Christians is a sharing of our commitment to live in the hope and love of God as made known to us in Jesus of Nazareth. It is a shared endeavour to shape our lives according to the vision of the Gospel.

All the baptized are meant to guide, inspire, and support each in this pursuit. Our decisions about priorities in our life together or about shared activities or about personal activities are meant to be grounded in our proclamation of the good news.

Will you seek and serve Christ in all persons. loving your neighbour as yourself?

In the letter to the Ephesians the writer makes a powerful statement within the context of discussing the relationships between men and women: “Be subject to one another out of reverence for Christ.”[6] Here there is no distinction between male and female. All Christians are called to consider themselves slaves to all in order to be free for Christ.

The call of the gospel to love one’s neighbour as oneself is the corollary to the commandment to love God. When we fail to treat one another as God’s beloved in whom the image and likeness of God is present, then we fail in our baptismal vocation.

Will you strive for justice and peace among all people, and respect the dignity of every human being?

In Galatians 3.27-28 Paul writes the charter of the baptismal vocation of all Christians:

As many of you as were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus.

In this statement Paul is not necessarily dispensing with the ethnic, social and gender realities of his society, but he is dispensing with any privilege that any of those realities might claim to the grace and knowledge of God. He is proclaiming a new reality in Christ which has the power to overcome all the arbitrary restrictions and obstacles that human beings have erected to inhibit the freedom of God’s grace.

Justice-making and peace-making are, for Christians, dependent upon the removal of such arbitrary restrictions and obstacles in order to free all God’s children to experience the fullness of God’s grace made known to us in creation, redemption and sanctification. For Christians, this baptismal commitment is made known by the domestic justice and peace of our relationships with the Christian community itself. Our domestic justice and peace will inevitably lead us into work towards justice and peace in our communities and, to the degree that we are able, our world, breaking down the ethnic barriers that perpetuate sectarian violence and political discrimination, the economic structures that perpetuate the bondage of workers and home and abroad, and the continued disparity of opportunities and power available to women and people of colour throughout the world.

So, my brothers and sisters, let us be friends tonight. Let us embody that love for one another as friends which we have come to know in Jesus of Nazareth. Let us be friends tonight to prepare ourselves for the work that still lies before us. Let us be friends tonight to remember those of our brothers and sisters, our friends, who struggle each day for bread, for water and for human dignity.

Let us pray.

Eternal God, in the sharing of a meal your Son established a new covenant for all people, and in the washing of feet he showed us the dignity of service. Grant that by the power of your Holy Spirit these signs of our life in faith may speak again to our hearts, feed our spirits and refresh our bodies. We ask this in the name of him who called us friends and who, with you and the Holy Spirit, lives and reigns now and for ever. Amen.

[1] John 13.34-35.

[2] Bernard Cooke, “2. Historical Reflections on the Meaning of Marriage as Christian Sacrament,” in Christian Marriage, ed. Bernard Cooke, Alternative Futures for Worship, no. 5 (Collegeville, MN: The Liturgical Press, 1987), 43.

[3] 1 Corinthians 11.26.

[4] John 15.12-15.

[5] This is a re-casting of comments by substituting ‘community’ for ‘marriage’ in comments made by Cynthia S. W. Crysdale, “Christian Marriage and Homosexual Monogamy,” in Our Selves, Our Souls and Bodies: Sexuality and the Household of God (Cambridge, MA: Cowley Publications, 1996), 96.

[6] Ephesians 5.21.

No comments: