When I talk with Christians about their struggles in faith, the question of evil invariably surfaces early on. When I talk with those who have come to faith as adults, very often I hear stories of how God or one of God’s angels in human form has been very present to them in times of suffering.
Woody Allen famously pointed out that the problem is not that God doesn’t exist, but that he is an underachiever. The philosophical tendency for at least the past three centuries has been to assume that the human estimation of God is more significant than the divine estimation of humanity.
The writers of great hymns were deeply aware of the relationship between God and the forces of nature. “Time, like an ever rolling stream,/Rolls all its sons away.” The rolling stream has certainly rolled a few good sons away this week.
The last stage of the worship liturgy clothes the congregation in the practices of faith so that its members make the whole world a Eucharist. Making the whole world a Eucharist means bringing all the practices of worship into a regular pattern of discipleship. It means extending God’s invitation to all, bringing all to repentance and joining in creation’s praise.
All the elements of worship have led us here, to the Eucharist, or communion table. Now a reshaping of human society begins. Just as the bread and wine are offered, transformed and received, the congregation—and through it the whole creation—is offered, transformed and received by God.
When the books of the Bible are read in the context of worship, they become the scripture of the church. Just as the greeting turns an assembly into a church, so the proclamation of Old and New Testament passages turns words into the Word.
Imagine that Congress has set up a committee to report on the disquieting events on the Jerusalem-Jericho road and their aftermath. Here are some excerpts from its findings: “The Inquiry is satisfied that the priest acted in a thoroughly professional manner. We are aware that he is a man of high profile in Jerusalem society, and that his first priority is to conduct his temple duties in a proper manner. Getting involved in self-indulgent gestures of solidarity is not recommended: such projects are invariably underresourced, nonstrategic and open to media misinterpretation."
We were at the lake, my daily walking spot. I had brought a friend who needed to talk. Her head was down as if she were searching for meaning, hope and traces of God’s ways in the ruts of the muddy path. My head was down too, in silent solidarity. We walked. Suddenly I missed a familiar pitter-patter—my dog was nowhere to be seen.
Most people think of politics as a regrettable but necessary business. Necessary, because we live in a world of scarce resources, there are many of us, and our needs, interests and desires conflict. We need agreements as to the fair distribution of these limited goods, and an established authority to ensure the policing of those agreements.In the fight over these scarce resources, each of us fears being revealed as greedy, insecure, envious and deceitful. But imagine a different kind of politics—a politics of love.
Vacation time grips the imagination of Westerners. In Britain, it is now possible to buy an airline ticket on the Internet for a few pounds, then land in a European city for a quick break, boosted by the elixir of novelty and the thrill of just being able to do it. A different language, a different currency, a different climate and adventures await. And why not? The best way to understand your own culture is to live in another.
Easter morning is the defining place and moment of Christian space and time. It is the Christian Genesis: male and female in a garden, darkness becoming light. The first day. It is the Christian nemesis: death and despair displaced by life and hope. The last day.
Mark’s Gospel is some kind of joke. It announces itself as the story of the Son of God, but it doesn’t begin with glory. Instead it starts in obscurity in the wilderness. It portrays the disciples—surely the leaders of the church in Mark’s day—as bungling fools. They watch Jesus perform one miracle, then doubt his ability to do the next.
The one who voices Psalm 51 is on the floor before God, utterly ashamed and as dust before glory: “My sin is ever before me.” The symptoms of sin are gradually displaced by the greater reality of God: “Against you, you alone, have I sinned.” The speaker does not look outside for an oppressor to blame, but inside, to the “inward being,” for a heart to be renewed.
It was Boxing Day 1989. Romania was in turmoil. The previous day, President Nicolae Ceausescu, unable to quell the tide of dissent in Bucharest, had been tried and executed. Now no one was in charge. Western reporters flooded into the country from the south, searching for someone who could speak English.
Imagine being crucified. Imagine, first of all, the physical torture. Brutal hands forcing your body into a contorted shape. Hammer and nails piercing whole frontiers of agony in hand and foot. Sagging lungs dragging your thorax down, so that every breath is an increasing effort, a fight against suffocation.
The religion of Israel is a great theater. Moses goes up on the mountain and the clouds close underneath him like curtains. He brings down the commandments, and the children of Israel are unimpressed. Solomon builds a huge temple. Inside, behind a great curtain, is the Holy of Holies, where the high priest, like Moses before him, communes with the Lord.