Tuesday, March 21, 2006

Worshipping Mary

I found this elsewhere. On another blog...but I can't remember which one.

Be forewarned. It's frightening stuff...totally pagan. Yet, for some reason, they feel like they have to have all this Catholic imagery as a part of it. I don't understand why people who believe that church is not "big enough" or good enough for them would still want to dress and act like us.

Pray a Hail Mary for these folks that, despite their ignorance, they will find Mary who will lead them to her Son.

Luther would be so pissed...

Sunday, March 19, 2006

We worship Christ crucified

This past week, I had the privilege of accompanying five students to two Benedictine Monasteries in Northern Missouri. After dropping the one woman off at the Clyde Sisters of Perpetual Adoration, the remaining four guys and I traveled the mile and a half to Conception Abbey. As I walked in, in some ways it felt like I was being transported back to the best aspects of past generations. Some of it was familiar for me. I’d been with different communities that chanted morning and evening prayer, my seminary being the most influential in my life. Yet some of it was entirely unfamiliar. The particular chant tones, for instance, were very unfamiliar. Imagine trying to sing the words to “On Eagles Wings” to a different tune. It was hard. But, eventually, even I became accustomed to the differences. We were also invited, this past Monday and Tuesday, into the part of the monastery where most people do not get to go, the cloister, to eat with them and pray in their choir stalls. It was in these two sacred places that we noticed many times where we didn’t know what was happening because traditions had been built up about when to stand, sit, and kneel that we didn’t know. When we asked the brothers why we did such and such action we would usually get two answers. The first was a profound theological statement about reverence and letting your posture reflect that reverence. The other was something like, “We think they brought this tradition with them when they came to this country 150 years ago. And, we think they were doing that in the monastery in Switzerland.” But, it wasn’t empty piety, doing things because it’s the way we always have done them. They passed on the meaning from generation to generation and continued many of the practices that were handed onto them. In the end, it was hard for me to leave this place because the holiness was so profound and the faithfulness so genuine.

I can’t help but contrast this with what Jesus is dealing with in the gospel. In order to understand what probably made Jesus so upset, you have to understand what the Temple symbolized when King Solomon built it. It was a place that farmers would come to bring one of the best of their animals to give some of it to the priests and offer the rest to God. There would have been a certain attachment to the animal since the farmer had raised it and it would have been terribly difficult to sacrifice the best animal you had. Over time, this simple act of sacrificing one of your animals, became a sacrificial system wherein people would come to the temple mount that would have been filled with animals. Instead of bringing along an animal to sacrifice from your herd, you would travel to the Temple and purchase an animal to which you had no connection. And, since you couldn’t use that idolatrous currency with the picture of a false god on it, the emperor, there were moneychangers that could take your denarius and exchange it for an Israelite shekel. And, since you were there with money, you could pay for your temple tax to support the priests. Jesus must have asked himself how this had developed from the simplicity of the time of Solomon. And, the real problem that Jesus has is that there was supposed to be development from the original theology of taking your prize bull to the temple to be sacrificed, but it was supposed to be a change from animals to him. In other words, instead of sacrificing the animal they loved so much, they were supposed to be sacrificing him for their sins. But, their changes have distorted the original meaning so much that they may not be able to recognize the fulfillment of the Old Testament sacrifices in the one sacrifice of Christ on the cross.

I started to think about this in our present day context and I asked myself: what we expect from our churches. Do we expect our church experience to be entertaining? If you do, I imagine we are sadly disappointed each week. Or, do we expect it to be a place to make friends and have social experiences? Or do we expect it to be a place that affirms our own beliefs and practices and never challenges us? Or, do we expect our church to be a mega-church that supplies all this and many more programs like exercise, childcare, and a coffee shop? If so, I would suggest Jesus’ actions in the temple are just as pertinent to us as they were for the Jewish temple priests. We need to remember that, at our heart, we don’t come here to worship laughter or conversation. We don’t come here to worship our own beliefs. We come here because we have become part of the body of Christ (just as these elect hope to do at Easter) and we come to eat the body and blood of Christ. Yet, we can’t lose the heart of this worship and allow it to change into something Jesus never intended it to become. Especially during this season of Lent, we take time to slow down, to pray, fast, and give alms. We do this to remind ourselves of the saving power of God through which we become holy. Or, to use Paul’s terminology from the second reading, we worship Christ, a stumbling block to some and foolishness to others but to us who were baptized and believe he died on the cross and rose three days later, we worship Christ, the power and the wisdom of God.