Wednesday, 4 April 2012

Holy Week Meditation - On the Margin (2)

Reflection for Holy Week
“On the Margins” (2)

 Now when Jesus came into the district of Caesarea Philippi, he asked his disciples, ‘Who do people say that the Son of Man is?’ And they said, ‘Some say John the Baptist, but others Elijah, and still others Jeremiah or one of the prophets.’ He said to them, ‘But who do you say that I am?’ Simon Peter answered, ‘You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.’ And Jesus answered him, ‘Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah! For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father in heaven. And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not prevail against it. I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven.’ Then he sternly ordered the disciples not to tell anyone that he was the Messiah.
 From that time on, Jesus began to show his disciples that he must go to Jerusalem and undergo great suffering at the hands of the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and on the third day be raised. And Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him, saying, ‘God forbid it, Lord! This must never happen to you.’ But he turned and said to Peter, ‘Get behind me, Satan! You are a stumbling-block to me; for you are setting your mind not on divine things but on human things.’
 Then Jesus told his disciples, ‘If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will find it. For what will it profit them if they gain the whole world but forfeit their life? Or what will they give in return for their life?

Yesterday we left off thinking about this call to go with Jesus and die with him - about how we needed to be Converted from a life which however Christian it feels and indeed looks to the outsider, is actually self centered. Not in the sense of the sort of crass selfishness that is clear to others, but something far more subtle. That we are still the centre of what we call Real. Indeed we may well look far from selfish in the eyes of others - our lives may well appear to be sacrificial, and yet still we can be self centered. In a sense this is perhaps why we so resonate with the story of Martha and Mary. We think it is about the Active OR the Contemplative life, but in reality it is not that. Martha is self absorbed. Upset and worried about many things, She sees all that needs to be done. Her perspective is central. ‘This is the way the world is!’ She is self centered. It is eminently possible for us to be like this. Yet it is also eminently possible that like Mary we might be sat in quiet devotion before the Lord, but still be self centered, for we have brought all that is on our mind, all our concerns , all our worries - we can be in prayer at the feet of Jesus and still be upset and worried about many things. Conversely we can be actively working, but our heart and mind are with Christ and Him alone. We have learned the First commandment - Love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul with all your mind and with all your strength and He is our Centre. We have come to see that in truth, ‘our only real need is God’ - we have learned what it means to only do what we see the Father doing. We can be an Active Mary, or a Contemplative Martha

What is our centre? As we walk through Holy Week with Jesus, we realise that we are on the edge, not at the centre - most fundamentally, passing from death to Life. But as we make this journey, something becomes increasingly clear, that the Scope of this Life is Far more vast than we had thought, for it is the Life of God into which we die and are born. To use Ruth Burrows imagery again - we were in a Cave that seemed to have it all, and our Christian life was to be found within its confines. ‘Our Christian life’ . . . ‘within its confines’. ‘Because of your little faith. For truly I tell you, if you have faith the size of a mustard seed, you will say to this mountain, “Move from here to there”, and it will move; and nothing will be impossible for you.’

A moments reflection tells us when we hear these words, that we are in a Cave - our Faith is Us sized, within comfortable confines - we are afraid of a faith that moves mountains.
But it is not only the scope of our faith that we discover to be confined - actually it is our whole view of this whole business of Salvation. As we walk through Holy Week and in the years after as the New People of God discover, the Work of Jesus upon the Cross goes far far far wider than mere ‘personal salvation’ - that is too small a thing

So I wish to think for a moment about a larger object for the work of Christ. The Church. And the call is the same - to leave the Cave, where all seems well, yet it is on a scale we can handle, to go out to the edge. And it seems clear in these days especially, that the Church is in that same Marginal position as we are as individuals, on the edge

Like the person facing the boundary between life and death, Stood on the banks of a river - a secure past - an uncertain future. My two former churches in a sense epitomised  these two states. One was by at least three hundred years the oldest building in the village. It had always been there. It stood on a crossroads - probably the intersection of two ancient droving roads and the village had grown up around it. It was at the heart of the community and although there were many who only came through the doors for a funeral or wedding, no one thought little of it and many in the village would lend a hand in one way or another. The other, however was different. The village although it had similarly historic roots, had not had a church, there being an ancient church only a mile away. So when the church was finally built it was not in the centre of the village, but on the edge - outside the city walls, so to speak. What was plain in both cases was how much church folk wanted to be at the heart of the village. Our view of the church dominated by the longing to feel all was well and that we weren’t marginal to the world’s story. For many this was all to do with the traditional Patrician Vicar - who would chair all of the villages important committees and generally bless and sanctify all that happened. [I was, I fear to say a little bit of a disappointment in this regard]. We craved the safety of the Cave..

Our fear of being with Jesus outside the city, on the margin of things, as I said betrayed our false understanding of where life was to be found. The idea of church at the centre of things leaves us with a great sense of security - the idea that we are Marginal, nay even worse Irrelevant to the lives and concerns of those amongst whom we live, Most disturbing. And it is all too easy for us as the Church to try to go back into the City - yet it was the city that expelled Jesus. They declared Him Irrelevant - in his nakedness and vulnerability he was thought worthy only of the Rubbish tip of Golgotha. “I will build my church” Jesus declares, here - Whoever would Be my church - must come to where I am. Where I am, there my disciples will be also.

I have spoken several times these past weeks of how we have disconnected Christ and the Church - that we deny the Glory of the Church, that we are the Body of Christ. That in False humility and through bad theology we stand apart saying ‘we are not worthy of that’ - well, how humble do we have to be, to identify with This Glory? The Son of Man lifted up upon the Cross - on the rubbish heap, outside the city walls. Perhaps the problem is that his church is not humble enough, not small enough, not sufficiently insignificant in the eyes of the world to associate with its Lord?

That we too have now been declared irrelevant to the World’s idea of life, places the Church on the bank of the river - on the margin - that we might cross over from death to life.

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