Archive for October, 2005
You can’t take it with you, they say. And they’re right. We come into this world naked, defenceless and dependent. And that’s the way we leave it. Our barns can be bursting but we can’t carry a single loaf across death’s threshold to save our hungry souls.
I like the way God says ‘Fool!’ today. ‘Idiots’ he calls us, ‘dunderheads’, because we never quite kick the habit of barn-building. We never quite give up the hope that there is something we can take with us—loot might be out … but there must be a way, a way to pay for our lives, a way for them not just to be wasted, whether its good works or piety or perfect faith. Aren’t our days for something? We are born, we die but surely the time in between is worth something?
There’s a sentimental saying that we live on in the hearts of those who love us. But of course we don’t; only a few memories remain. Even if we leave this world a better place we leave it empty handed.
Now, there are those who celebrate the fact of our fleeting flame and are satisfied to burn brief and brightly before the darkness – but to me it’s a puzzle.
I found the echo of the same puzzle hiding in the first reading too—that last line, the description of Jesus as the one ‘who was put to death for our sins and raised to life to justify us’. There’s a lifetime of theology books and holy wars in that phrase that I want to ignore. What I do wonder is this: why is it Jesus’s death that makes the difference? Why his leaving this life rather than his living it? Could he have had a long, rich life, with grandchildren at the knee and barns full to bursting with a good life’s bounty? Would that have worked? Would we have had a resurrection? Would that death have brought us life?
I’m not sure where to go with that … except this: even God has to die if ever he’s been born. And even God can’t take it with him. So what’s the difference between God and we barn-building fools?
If I could crack that one I suspect it would make all the difference in the world … and in the next.
October 17th, 2005
‘Put the sickle in, the harvest is ripe’, says Joel. It’s a common prophetic theme: the end-time, the restoration and reprieve of the chosen people. And all the imagery yokes harvest and judgment: the sickle, the threshing floor, the winnowing fan. It’s even there in the gospels. My New Testament teacher liked to point out that John the Baptizer comes with prophecies of end-time, of judgment, of reaping and winnowing and bonfires burning—all the sense of smoke and autumn and ending—but that Jesus speaks instead of seeds and shoots and green things growing. The good news of Jesus is a beginning and not an end, a fresh start and not a wearing out, spring not fall. I like that. I like the open possibility of … anything, of potential, of hope.
But today, with Joel, I found autumn redeeming itself for me. The winepress did it. Joel imagines the harvest of judgment, the cutting down of the wicked, the violent end of the violators. But he’s possessed of a strange glee that seems to go beyond ordinary vindictiveness, because the greater the wickedness, the mightier the harvest. The winepress is full and the vats are overflowing. This isn’t just a bonfire of stubble and weeds and waste. Joel is rejoicing that great wrong is being transformed into un-containable good. When God squeezes hard enough even the wickedness of the world runs with juice and joy and flows with wine. A wedding’s worth of wine.
This is the fulfilment of all those green promises of spring. It’s the ripening of those summer fields of wheat and weeds. It’s at last a true judgement on the world—a promise that nothing will be wasted, that even horrors we can’t encompass can and will in God’s creativity be redeemed, reworked, remade.
It’s the Eucharist in reverse: broken bodies reborn as bread and blood once spilled re-poured as wine.
We live between the times. But every Eucharist we share is a taste of that mystery, a hint of that glee, a promise of it, pledged in the body and blood of one who held back nothing and invites us to the same gift.
October 8th, 2005
There’s something almost comforting about dear old Malachi. It could be a Conservative Party conference in Blackpool. ‘Look at the state of the world. Look at what we’ve come to. Look how things have gone to the dogs.’ It seems things haven’t been the way they used to be for at least a few thousand years.
Malachi’s complaint is that you can’t tell the bad from the good any more. In two senses. The bad guys aren’t getting their comeuppance any more. In fact we rather admire them—the arrogant, the go-ahead, the ruthless—and covet the blessings they inherit.
Malachi’s solution is appropriately apocalyptic. The day is coming, burning like a furnace and all the arrogant and the evil will be burnt up like stubble. But the others, the good guys—let’s hope that us—well, God makes allowances for us like the good sons and daughters we are.
Malachi wants to call a spade a spade—he wants clear labels sown on our clothes to mark the evil out from the good—he wants no ambiguity, no shades of grey. No more embarrassment when bad guys prosper and good guys suffer. The day is here when God gets tough on crime and we get a ringside seat at the show.
Jesus on the other hand is asking us to take a step back and a step inward. He’s asking us to entertain two awkward truths at one time. It’s this: we, who are evil, know how to give our children what is good. Malachi’s division runs right through us. We are good guy and bad guy all at once. In here.
In here we know ourselves cruel and kind, compassionate and callous, arrogant and humble. And somehow God looks upon our divided hearts, puts away the furnaces and fires, and brings out the eggs and fish and bread. God finds himself a father and mother of exasperating kids. Wicked and delightful brats with all the potential to be a Mother Teresa or another Hitler or just another loved sinner. And what does God do? She feeds us. She brings out the bread and wine and waits to see how her children will surprise her.
October 6th, 2005
Another powerful post from waiterrant: read it.
October 6th, 2005