It must be Lent! A few days ago this year's edition of the Church Prayer Rug (exactly the same as last year's and the year before last's) arrived in the snail mail. My remarks during Lent 2005 still stand but I need to say more. For the past week I've been reading Walter Brueggemann's Texts That Linger, Words That Explode: Listening to Prophetic Voices. I've read enough of what he's written to consider myself both moderately Brueggemann-ized and close to Brueggemann-ian, but in this blog, which includes permutations of my own ideas influenced by and/or combined with WB's, I won't refer to any particular books, passages or chapters, since it'd be difficult to separate out one of his books from another and almost impossible to differentiate my ideas from his.
The scandal of baptism! I've blogged so very much about the sacraments, though possibly(?) more about baptism than about the Eucharist, and as months and years hasten by, I've arrived at an increasingly sacramental worldview, but still I'll go on record with the protestant "two only" formally liturgical aka dominical sacraments. Baptized, we no longer belong to ourselves or to a simply nuclear biological family of origin, but rather God and the church claim us in covenant...baptized, we live reborn into the water of Jesus' birth and we are alive in the fire of his death—the transforming, rebirthing power of the cross. Baptized, we no longer live under the reign of death, its idols and its artifacts, but we thrive in, with and under the sovereignty of Life. Baptized, we live together as an alternative community countering the individualisms of covetousness, greed, commoditization, consumption, superfluity, satiation, and (ultimately) despair. How do you like my Pauline list?! :) ;) Living baptized, we need to remember the story of God's people, our story, and our mutually covenanted identity, leading us to the joyful responsibility of...
Remember, remember: tell the story, relate the history, recount the narrative. WB points out that proclaiming and teaching Heilsgeschichte memories is not mainly for the outsiders but primarily for us insiders, who easily, quickly and guiltlessly forget the liberating desert experiences that forged and continues shaping our identity, which, after all, is living in the freedom and responsibility of covenantal community, gathered in the shadow of the cross around Word and Sacrament. He also suggests that most likely during the deuteronomic period of Assyrian dominance Israel first began celebrating the Passover liturgy with its sacramental reenactment of deliverance from Egypt...and he mentions Deuteronomy's intensely covenantal theology. These days the powers-that-be also are violently (and sometimes deviously) brutalizing ones that we cannot avoid coming in contact with. How, then, will we respond? Will we remember who we are?
Brueggemann always is huge on obedience! In at least one of his books I've read, he describes the Church as the assembly that observes the Commandments, the Sabbath and the Tithe. Again I'll mention his reminding us Luther begins his Small Catechism, traditional preparation for First Communion, with the Ten Commandments—Sinai Covenant, specifically. After all, says WB, it is the God of the Commandments with whom we commune! And he observes that Holy Communion is "pre-Eucharist," though our receiving Communion is but one facet of the Eucharistic liturgy...Sabbath: not only an aspect of our in-God-created-ness, but Sabbath-keeping reminds us we are human beings and not human doings. The Tithe: who owns us? To what Lord do we answer? Of whose property and assets are we stewards? It's about caring for the gifts we have, about sharing and using them in service to others—Church Prayer Rug and its ethos notwithstanding, the way of the prophets and the way of Jesus of Nazareth is not exactly about petitioning heaven and getting a windfall in investment capital, real estate or social position! Yahweh of Shalom sufficiency is the God of Jubilee Justice, Lord of commonwealth, not a deity of superfluous particular wealth. Jesus' God is the One who gifts with extravagant mercy and boundless love and whose Spirit draws us together in Pentecostal fire. Now really, does that sound like the tawdry emptiness of the Church Prayer Rug god's casino-style payoffs?
Reverting to the here and the now, a phenomenon (an abomination, an anathema such as the Church Prayer Rug) explicates the fact that overall, at this time in history, the church does not have the well-educated laity that was such a Reformation hallmark. Last Saturday evening I participated in another session(!) of Presbyterian Bingo (notice I'm not linking to the church that sponsored it?!)...a friend in attendance, who also is theologically inclined, told me Martin Luther loved games and since we were playing for prizes rather than trying to spring souls from timeless torment, the activity qualified as big "P" Protestant. That's the church where the youth held sidewalk sales during Sundays in Advent a few years ago! Sales on Sundays!?
To paraphrase Cornel West, "We are people of hope. Why do we party on Friday night? Why do we go to church on Sunday?" People of hope! A living hope set on the Living One Whose final Word always is resurrection. Those Friday night parties? Payday in the inner city, sustenance for living beyond subsistence existence once again, but not just for a single solitary person—for everyone! How do we party? With dance, song, talk, by laughing, celebrating together with savory food, the fruit of earth's harvest. Together, because everyone has gotten a slice of the wages, a piece of the common-wealth: an irresistible foretaste of the feast to come. Many of us observe Sundays as our Sabbath and worship day. We worship together, because we hold God's promises in common and, after all, every Sunday is anamnesis of Resurrection, of Easter, realization of the fullness of salvation and also a foretaste of the promised feast to come. This isn't a proprietary "personal Jesus" an individual might imagine they could own—it's the crucified and risen Christ Jesus who is our Lord, who has bought us and owns us, and to whom we owe allegiance, responsiveness and our very lives.
Remembering and belonging? When you remember, you will know you do belong!