Working with this week's apocalyptic Gospel text evokes
memories of childhood experiences and teachings in a Mennonite congregation
with a fundamentalist understanding of Bible and life. Within that setting,
however, my family was solidly Anabaptist in outlook and rooted in social
justice concerns. My public school was, for a community in the middle of rural
Illinois, a virtual hotbed of ecumenicity, with all the major and many of the
minor denominations represented. All this made for some interesting tensions,
especially in a family with an ethos of discernment rather than rules.
As a child, I remember hearing in church about the second coming and Jesus returning. Long before the Left Behind series arrived, I heard the mournful strains of "I Wish We'd All Been Ready" around our church campfires.
Reflecting on the Benedictus gives us an opportunity to
reflect on the place of memorization and repetition in our formation as people
who read the Bible as if our lives depended on it. Ellen Davis calls reading
the Bible as if our lives depended on it confessional reading. She does not
mean reading the Bible in light of a denominational confession. She means
reading the Bible as an "indispensible word."
For the healing we need, we cannot do better than to rely on the ancient assurances of Zechariah's hymn. Written in a time of occupation and economic disarray that eclipses our own in its uncertainty, the hymn proclaims that we are indeed free, whatever our brokenness, to worship God without fear.
One of the strengths of my Anabaptist tradition is that it takes the Bible and biblical authority seriously but also expects believers, particularly younger people, to argue and raise questions about the text. The parable of the shifty steward in Luke 16 was a delight to my friends and me in our coming-of-age years.
Christians tend to compare their personal conversion experiences to Saul’s encounter on the road to Damascus. Not all of us, of course, talk freely about what happened in us and to us on the way to becoming Christian. Our levels of comfort with such talk vary widely depending on our congregational culture, our notions of evangelism and our ability to be self-revelatory. But when we do think about that journey, and when we’re willing to talk about it, we say that our conversion was—or was not—a Damascus Road. We tell our young people that their experience does not need to be a Damascus Road experience, although it can be. There are many paths of Christian transformation—and the light from heaven is only one of them.
Although the images of shepherd and sheep wind their way through these lectionary texts, they are difficult images for the contemporary church to embrace. I recall many of the adults in one congregation cringing during a children’s time a few years ago, when a well-intentioned volunteer tried to teach the children a song that had them “baa-ing” for Jesus. What are we teaching our children, some of us wondered: To follow the crowd without question? To have no mind of one’s own? To expect someone else to take care of us?
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