Communion Matters 2: Dramatis Personae

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While the Bible offers a wide variety of genres and emphases over a millennium, it has a clear narrative, the story line of humanity with God. It begins at the beginning and ends with the end (which is a beginning of its own).  A similar metaphor is that of a drama, perhaps like one of Shakespeare’s historical plays, but with a much wider period attended to (the theologian Kevin Van Hoozer has written, for example, of The Drama of Scripture).  And others have emphasized that throughout the main actor is God Himself, even when He remains off-stage (for example in the narratives of the Israelite kings).  And of course the main inter-locutor is Israel, God’s people, both in their faithfulness and their rebellion.  They celebrate the promised land, are railed at by the prophets, go in exile, hope for their Lord’s decisive return, etc.

But there is another character (or better yet, class of characters).  They are prominent at the beginning, center, and end, though theirs is a bit part of stretches in between. I am thinking of course of us- the nations, the Gentiles. (in Anglicized Greek).  In the beginning God created the human, and soon thereafter they divided themselves ethnically. The nations are in the Old Testament raging (Psalm 2), and yet receptive to God (e.g. Naaman in II Kings 5).  They move to the margins, and yet they are never forgotten. In the exile, it turns out that disaster is actually also a divine strategy so that Israel might be ‘light to the nations.’ (Isaiah 42:6). 

In the mission of the Church after Jesus’ resurrection the nations come to the fore. Now is fulfilled the prophecy that the nations would be the prize of victory at the ascension of the Son of Man, Messiah, Jesus (Daniel 7:13-14).  Their coming is in fact a confirmation of the resurrection, of which it is a sign (so the Book of Revelation).

The point is this: the nations across the globe are not just a matter of philanthropy or curiosity to us. They are crucial to the salvation narrative of the New Covenant. And they are we.  Mission, what we are to do, and theology, who we are by grace before God, are inseparably knit together.


Communion Matters 1

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Sixty years ago, in Toronto, Canada, for the last time in our Anglican history (so far), representatives, lay and ordained, came from around the world for an Anglican Congress. It was not a convention with decision making responsibility, but a global gathering for celebration, education, and encouragement.  It took place at an interesting moment, the dawning of the rise of Anglicanism in the Global South, and the waning of influence of our Churches in the nations of the North.  In this respect there will never again be such a meeting, though in other ways it is not hard to empathize- the communique talked of living in a time of crisis with an unparalleled need for reconciliation! 

The Congress called on Churches in provinces throughout the world to think as one about the needs and resources of the mission of Christ in the world.  It pointedly, but in retrospect unrealistically, spoke of bearing in mind that a new organ in New York might mean fifteen fewer priests in Asia.  It called common fund of $15,000,000, ambitious then but modest now,  for us accustomed to reading of deficits with more zeros than that.  Neither the conference nor its manifesto bore much tangible fruit.  But the call itself remains, perhaps like the visions that awaits the time in the prophet Habakkuk (2:3). 

The conference summoned us Anglicans to think of the ‘mutual responsibility and interdependence’ which follows from our being ‘the Body of Christ.’  That way of speaking of the Church, found frequently in the New Testament, describes something deeper than discreet acts of trans-oceanic philanthropy, but rather a way of understanding what it means for us to be members of the Church. 

One of the great living philosophers is a Canadian Roman Catholic named Charles Taylor.  He speaks of the ‘social imaginary,’ by which he means the way culture seeps into and throughout us, so that we make assumptions about ourselves and the world and people around us which seem to be simply givens.  Human beings always live in some social imaginary or other, and ours includes a strong sense of each of our individuality, of own leeway to make choices as central to who we are.  Taylor is neither agreeing nor disagreeing, but rather describing.  Because this is so for us, in ways we may not often notice, the side of human life which is shared, communal, which assumes ‘mutual responsibility and interdependence,’ is something we have to recall, to be awakened to, often to be challenged by. Of course, we know more of this dimension of reality than we at first recognize. The married have entered by a covenant before God into being ‘one flesh,’ and as a result we live in families which are not simply conglomerations of individuals, which after all is why negotiating individuals needs and desires is demanding.  Communion is a dimension of our life as human beings, but takes on a greater depth and spiritual reality within and as the Body of Christ.

We are called by God in many ways in our time, but a number of these ways come back to rediscovering the being-with side of the life given to us by God. To encourage this rediscovery, this series will be considering ‘Communion’ from a number of angles. I hope you will read it in conjunction with the missionary epistles from our own Fr. Trent Pettit, whose calling to serve in the Province of Egypt also opens our eyes to that ‘mutual responsibility and interdependence in the Body of Christ.’



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Complete the Race (II Timothy 4:17)

At the end of our vacation we find ourselves in Chicago for its Marathon weekend (the fastest, I have read this morning, perhaps because it is cool and relatively level). Marathons offer many good things. You can see world-class athletes from places like Ethiopia and Kenya. There is a feel of fiesta with signs by family members, getups by some for-fun runners, and food for sale.

But as I looked out my hotel window at 7:30 a.m., I watched the race of competitors who have lost legs or their use. Wheeling vehicles by arm for 26 miles means serious fitness and determination.

Those competitors were to me, this morning, a symbol of the Church too. For each is wounded. The larger family cheers them on. Each by grace has risen up to run the race. Ahead is the goal, the prize, the welcome home. We find the companionship of Jesus the Lord, there, and along the route too.