Monday, March 29, 2021

Reliving the past. . .

In every congregation there were (or perhaps are now) glory years in which the pews were full (or fuller), perhaps a school existed (or was full), there were loads of confirmands, lots of new members, and more than enough money to pay the bills (even to build new buildings).  But for most, these are a memory and may not even be a memory experienced -- a memory learned from others.  We want to live in these memories and try to relive our glory years.  It is easy to make those not necessarily golden times into golden memories, to glorify the times beyond what they were.  All of this often results in depression and despair as one surveys the world around us -- a world we are called to serve (not our memories).

There were those during and after the Reformation who sought a golden era to re-create.  Some leaders feared the church was so corrupt that it could not reformed and should be buried and something new created.  Usually that something new was an attempt to recreate a pristine moment from the past.  Often that moment was the early Church.  Who would not want to relive the experience of the early Church?  After all, it is vividly described in the Acts of the Apostles as a people and leadership flaming with the fire of the Spirit and burning with a passion for mission. They had eyes on Jesus and on His death and on His resurrection or they lived with those who had seen and heard.  The “good news” of Jesus death and resurrection seemed poised to turn the world upside down.  There seemed to be no questions of the reliability of the witness or the apostolic record and, more importantly, no conflict within the Church over who she was and what she was to be about.  Or is this idealized picture of the early Church accurate?

How convenient it is to forget that this dream was only a dream.  In the reality of Jesus' death and resurrection, there were moments of great glory.  But St. Paul writes of conflict and itching ears for other gospels and St. Luke tells us a church convention severely divided between personalities and positions.  The grand experiment of things held in common is not heard of again and deacons are invented because of fights over how the widows were being served.  Not to mention the fact that apostles were martyred, exiled, and dismissed.  This replicated itself pretty well all the way to Nicea and the end of the early Church with the Council that produced a creed to end all conflicts.

We are pretty good as idealizing moments and forgetting the struggle.  This week is all about conflict.  Conflict between Jewish leaders and Jesus.  Conflict between Jewish leaders and the Roman governor.  Conflict among the disciples.  Conflict that ended with a cross.  Conflict is the fruit of sin and there is no peace except for the peace that comes from forgiveness.  But until this world is passed and the new heaven and earth are come, conflict will confront us, along with the temptation to seek out some idealized moment in history and want to replicate it today.  There is one moment which can never be replicated but which is pivotal for the conflict within us and among us.  That is the cross.  Today we are one day closer to the day when we commemorate how Christ had to be raised up in order to draw all people to Himself.  Lord, have mercy on us.  Grant us peace.

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