(What follows is the 2013 Summer Newsletter “From the Pastor” column:)
Pentecost: Responsibility for Being the Body of Christ
Christ is Risen!The Lord told the Archangel Gabriel, “Go. Find a woman in whom My Son may become incarnate that I may rescue the world. She will carry Him for 9 months; she will lovingly nurture Him, raise Him day in and day out; she will center her life on Him; and as He grows, she will be there for Him until He can carry out His mission.” The Archangel hesitates and responds, “Holy Lord God, what if, instead, the woman would fit Your Son into her schedule – maybe? And what if she would dabble in motherhood and treat Him as just one of many activities in her life?” After some silence, the Lord says, “That’s okay. We’ll conceive My Son in her and maybe, someday, she’ll take responsibility for Him.”
While the story above is fictitious, it does raise some questions. How do we understand God’s participation in our life? And how do we understand our participation in His life, which is fleshed out in the Church? St. Luke makes a parallel. In his Gospel, the Spirit “overshadows” the Theotokos, and in the book of Acts (1, 2), Luke describes Pentecost where the Spirit “overshadows” the Community of Disciples. The Theotokos was made the dwelling of God’s Son and the Community of Disciples was gathered on earth to “birth” Christ, who had risen and ascended into heaven. This parallel points to a reality. Being a Christian and living the reality of Christ as a Church are not just something one dabbles in from time to time. Church is not a bi-annual gathering of so-called “Chris-easters” – those who show up only for Christmas & Easter. For Jesus and the Apostles, being Church is essential to being Christian, just as having children is essential to being a parent, or having a spouse is essential to being married.
Being Church is more than assembling individuals who cerebrally assent to a certain dogma or morality. Like the Theotokos’ pregnancy, it is about change and transformation from the “inside out”. Church’s purpose is to organically be the presence of the risen Christ and His Kingdom “on earth as in heaven.” God sends His Word and Son from within the womb of the Virgin. As a pregnant woman’s body visibly changes and transforms, it organically centers on the developing child within her. So it is with Christians as we assemble to birth the already existing Reality present within us.
While an unborn child grows and develops in the mother, she is responsible to keep away from anything that would hinder its development and eventual birth. After the child is born, the mother’s responsibility increases; she becomes more proactive in raising and relating to the child.
The grace of God has already brought the presence of Christ and His Kingdom to earth, through His death, resurrection, and ascension. His same grace will bring this Work to completion at the Second Coming (Parousia) and Judgment where everything will be made right, like it or not.
The local Eucharistic Community is not something we simply attend, but it is integrally a part of us, just as the Lord made Himself a part of us. The word communion, in describing the relationship between God, ourselves and each other, means a lifelong lifestyle of reciprocity – like a marriage. The health of marriages that are maintained at a very minimal level is questionable. Christianity is how our lives fit into and center on Jesus and the Gospel – not the other way around. And Church is the context in which that takes place.
The challenge is great when self-determination is worshipped. Many people see the Church as a way to get their own needs met, so they can go on with their own lives. But our own lives, as the center of the universe, no matter how many “good” and fun things we may do, are not the ultimate meaning of our existence. A Christian is one who is part of the Church and who takes responsibility for the Eucharistic family, for its life. Neglect can be just as damaging as proactive hostility. Gandhi referred to “religion without sacrifice” as a danger to human virtue. This is not only true within the parish, but also challenges the hyper-congregationalistic mindset of “every man for himself” that permeates many Communities. The issue is whether we see Christ fitting into our lives or our lives into His.
Since January, we have held three seminars, one every other month, which were open to the public. The topics included Icons, Repentance/Confession, and Life after Death. The next seminar will be on the theme of “Marriage, Divorce, and Re-marriage”, with a focus on the Ancient Church’s understanding and approach. It is planned for September and you may keep updated via saintmatts.org or our Facebook page. Bible studies are continuing (Luke’s Gospel in Bethlehem and Men’s Breakfast Group in Reading) and a new study on Revelation will begin soon at the Church. Also, a new run of Catechism will begin. I gave a couple of seminars and presentations at other parishes during Lent and a presentation at Eastern Mennonite University on the “Orthodox Understanding of Miracles”. I will also be doing seminars at the OCA’s national clergy-laity meetings this July on “The Parish and Prison Ministry”. St Matthew’s has over $600,000.00 pledged to building a new facility and we are now looking into whether construction could begin on some level. At the same time, we trust the Lord for the month-to-month expenses and we are thankful to Him for those within and without the parish who give sacrificially, understanding that we are really responsible and accountable for all parishes as well as our own.
It is to continue incarnating our vision to transform the paradigm of what it means to be a local Eucharistic “catholic” Community, a relational base of the Kingdom and its ministries “on earth as in heaven.”
May the reality of Pentecost be birthed in us and may we be present in It.
In the risen and ascended King,