An Incarnational Moment

Because there is one loaf, we , who are many, are one body, for we all partake of the one loaf. The bread which we break is a sharing in the body of Christ. (United Methodist Hymnal, Word and Table Service 1, page 13)

Some of my favorite memories from my teenage years were those where I spent an entire day and night reading a book. My clearest memories of these nights involve books written by Stephen King. Once I started them, I was compelled to get to the end even if it meant spending a sleepless night and garnering my parents wrath the next day. There was either something so scary that it had to be resolved or my imagination was so taken by the narrative that I had to finish in order to rest. Either way, I would give in to the compulsion to read.

There are a lot of things on my “to do” list for today. I had hoped to finish and record my Sunday sermon this afternoon. (Not going to happen.) I still have some work to do to prepare for a Zoom Bible Study this evening. (Will definitely happen somehow.) We are recording parts of the Sunday service today so I can edit them tomorrow. (That’s scheduled…so it should happen.) And yes, I still have hopes of doing some recorded mid-week meditation for the people of First Church. (This one is still unknown.)

Some may say that I don’t know how to prioritize, and that may be the case. However, over the past couple of weeks I have had so many conversations about Communion and the “Pandemic Virtual Church Time” we are now immersed in, and I have read some thought provoking articles about the topic, that I find myself compelled to put some words down as well. Priorities or not, I’m at a point of compulsion here.

If you didn’t watch the video that I posted last week of a conversation Rev. Jennifer Williams and I had, I would recommend it as background for this. She’s an incredibly insightful pastor. I also cannot recommend enough a blog post by Rev. Hannah Bonner found here. Rev. Bonner references several other pieces that have been done about the subject of Holy Communion in this time, and if you like, read those as well. She treats them fairly from my perspective. She also gives a much deeper sense to the social justice aspects of Holy Communion than I have experience in giving.

An observation that I have taken from both the conversations and the reading is that parts of the Church have, from time to time, taken respites or fasts from celebrating Holy Communion. Sometimes for a season of discernment. Sometimes from the necessity of having someone available to serve. And sometimes, like right now, when we cannot possibly partake of the Sacrament in person without risking the spread of a disease. Granted, the disagreements about what Communion means – and whether you should even capitalize it – are as varied as the regularity it is celebrated, even within the same denomination.

One thing I can say for certain about the Sacrament – it must be a mystery because we sure as hell can’t figure it out.

Yet, despite the mystery and the problems we have right now with snow in May, murder hornets, COVID19, and the general failure of nerve among our national leaders, I am, as the pastor of a real community of faith wrestling to figure out how to lead as the one who presides over the Sacrament of Holy Communion.

With all the wrestling I have been doing in heart and mind, I finally came to the place where I have found peace about what I am going to do. During worship – both while we remain apart and until we can safely partake of the Sacrament again – I am going to set the Table with both bread and juice. It will be there as a reminder to us of the moment in which we live. It is not a moment where I believe we are “giving up” or “fasting” or “hoarding” (for those who are performing virtual communion). For me, it is a token of the Incarnational Moment for the community of faith to be the Body of Christ, broken and shared.

When I had this thought of it being an incarnational moment, I thought, “Cool! I’ve come up with something new!”

Alas.

I was beaten to this centuries ago by none other than my own favorite crazy Dane, Soren Kierkegaard. Although he is not speaking about Communion, per se, the idea of an incarnational moment seems to have originated with him as he wrestled with some of the Pauline letters. He writes:

The moment is that ambiguity in which time and eternity touch each other, and with this the concept of temporality is posited, whereby time constantly intersects eternity and eternity constantly pervades time.

and

A moment as such is unique. To be sure, it is short and temporal, as the moment is; it is passing, as the moment is, past, as the moment is in the next moment, and yet it is decisive, and yet it is filled with the eternal. A moment such as this must have a special name. Let us call it: the fullness of time. (Søren Kierkegaard, The Concept of Anxiety: A Simple Psychologically Orienting Deliberation on the Dogmatic Issue of Hereditary Sin, ed. Reider Thomte and Albert B. Anderson (New Jersey: Princeton University Press, 1980), 89ff)

I believe that we as a Body have arrived at an Incarnational Moment – where past, present, and future have come together – so that in that confrontation with the elements we are allowed the honor to live out the brokeness of both loaf and body because we cannot partake of the Sacrament that embodies them for us. In the absence of the Sacrament, we are confronted even more plainly with becoming that Sacrament. We need to be confronted by the broken loaf and be that incarnate body for the world as we safely find ways to both be the church and someday(?) gather in someway(?) to celebrate that which we have been living out. But only in the fullness of time. (And right here, I call on us to define that “world” as my colleague Rev. Bonner does with a full understanding of who is not at the Table with us.)

Well, that compulsion is done. It’s not the most scholarly assessment, but hey, that’s not my way. I’ve put some thoughts out there, folks, and you are welcome to comment. I’m just on the journey home and would love to have your company.

 

A Week for Children… Tuesday – Let’s Talk About Abortion

Yesterday I shared with you a fairly non-controversial video that I found on YouTube to start the week off looking forward to a Children’s Sabbath on Sunday. That video was safe. It didn’t take much to put it together and it certainly didn’t share much about me – beyond the fact that I truly do care about what violence is doing to our children today. But once again…that’s pretty safe. No risk involved there.

Today, I want to venture into territory that is at least a little more worthy of conversation if not downright risky and yet still has everything to do with children. At best, I hope I can spark some Christian conversation on a topic that seems to me has been captured by our culture. I really hope that this conversation is what begins here today because I don’t pretend to have all the answers about a very difficult issue…I just think that we are going about our conversations about it in all the wrong ways. So, it is my hope that you will read these words with care because they are shared to start a conversation…not to end any relationships!

So, with that lengthy introduction allow me to say that I am not a “Right-to-Life” person as many people define it. At the same time, I want to equally declare that I am not “Pro-Choice” either.

I cannot recall all the conversations, teachings, and books that led me to the discovery that both of these cultural definitions of abortion are wrong. I just know that it has been a long journey for me and one that is filled with as much personal agonizing as a person can have about the issue of abortion. I know that I was greatly affected by the teaching of Stanley Hauerwas on this issue. The book, The Church and Abortion, along with the “Durham Declaration” included in that book has also shaped me. But I have also been shaped by my own journey, my own story, and the stories that have been shared by many friends – both Christian and what I like to call pre-Christian. Whatever the sources of these beliefs, I know that this is where I am today.

I do not hold to the “right-to-life” position on abortion because I do not believe that we, as Christians can claim that life is somehow linked to some legal sense of “rights.” I think when we begin talking about this issue in that way – a way that starts with “rights” – we are forgetting that we are a people who have placed our very lives in the hands of God. In a very real way, we gave away our lives when we were baptized and to claim that anyone has a “right” to life ignores the fact that this is actually God’s domain. God is the one who gives life. God is the one who takes life. It is not a right that we grant to anyone – even ourselves – it is a gift that we receive and a loss that we mourn.

Now, I am not saying that life is not important. It is VERY important. But it should also be shaped by the way we see the world as Christians. In the very earliest days of Christianity, there were Christian parents who would prefer to see their children martyred rather than let then be brought up outside of the Christian faith. THAT is hard for me to imagine and almost impossible for me to imagine doing – and yet it is part of the history to which I am bound as a Christian. Life, and the way we live that life is so very important that there are some things for which we are willing to die. Yet, life is not a right that we have.

At the same time, I find the whole idea of “Pro-Choice” to be equally distasteful to me as a Christian. The very words assume that we live in a world in which all the people share the same playing field, the same backgrounds and the same possibility for their future. If the video in yesterday’s blog post proved anything, it proved that our world is not full of choices – at least not for everyone.

Unfortunately, in the broken world in which we live, some women have to choose between not having a child they conceived and facing a very violent future for themselves and their child. That violence may come in the form of economic hardship or it may come at the hands of an abuser. Either way the violence is real in the way it affects the life of the woman and the child. This is not a real choice…or at least it is not the same choice that someone has who is in a place in life where they are “safe” economically or physically.

For us to say that abortion can truly be a “choice” for any one person is to claim that the world is treating each and every person the same. I am not sure when that ever happens.

So…I don’t like “Right-to-Life” and I am certainly not “Pro-Choice”…where does that leave me exactly?

I think it leaves me looking at this whole issue as one of “hospitality” rather than legal battles and legislation. I believe that as Christians we will only eliminate abortion when we truly begin living out our calling to welcome everyone as Christ welcomed us. This means embracing every child – from a planned or unplanned pregnancy. This means embracing every woman – those who cannot have children but desperately want them as well as those who have had an abortion and are living with it and those who are mothers in any stage of life. This means embracing every man – those who turn out to be good at fathering children but not so good at parenting, as well as men who are great fathers and those men who are suffering from having aborted a child – and yes, you can trust me that this last group of men exist.

I know that I read somewhere that Mother Teresa once said to a group of Americans, “Do you really want to end your fighting about abortion? Then give me your children. I will take all of them…no matter what.”

I think that once WE get to the place where we are able to say those very same words of welcome to every child, woman and man around us – and live those words of welcome with our actions and even the use of our time, money and other resources – then, we can really talk about ending abortion.

Once again, if you have read this far, I pray that you realize that I am not making light of a very real issue. I am simply trying to help us all see it and talk about it in different terms, especially during the week that we celebrate gift that children are to us. I pray that you will give me the grace I need to find the words to get it right.

Wanna join the conversation?