Every Sunday we celebrate the Eucharist. In doing so we re-enact what we call the Last Supper. It is a celebration of the supper that Jesus had with his disciples on the night before he died. We tell ourselves this story over and over again and we participate in eating a meals together. It is a action packed moment, even if it is old hat by now. It is a story, that is not just a story. It is what some of us call a myth which is not just a story and certainly is not a lie. It contains a truth that we act upon, stake our lives on, but are unable to prove in a scientific or legal manner. Think about it. We know that Jesus is dead. Centuries dead. We do not know for sure where he was buried. But that makes no difference since he rose from the dead and appeared to people all over the place. He died on a cross which one no one knows except maybe the folks in the Middle Ages who got pieces of it as relics, souvenirs, for tourists. Yet we believe that Christ died for our sins and that we are feed spiritually through this meal. We hear the story every Eucharist. This is my body broken for you. This is my blood sacrificed for you. Take it. Eat it. Do this because you remember me. We re-enact the event, we remember it and we act on it. It is alive. We live in it and into it. Over and over, again and again. It continues to live because we are alive in it.
Religion and art are inseparable. In art we are co-creators in our efforts to find meaning in our world. In religion we search for the ultimate reality. In art we search for meaning in our world. Art may include visual or verbal searches that are abstract or mirrors of our world. This is also true of religion. What matters most is the we remain open to the change that the experience of myth or art may bring to our lives. A good myth, will tell us something about the human predicament. This is also true of a work of art. In order for religious myth to speak to us we must be able to let go of our agendas, both conscious and hidden to ourselves, and enter into the experience of the holy. This is true of art as well. I think of Picasso’s Guernica as a profound work of art that has changed the attitude of many toward war during the twentieth century. I am not sure what you might see if you were not open to the possibility of change. I know that standing before this work in the Museum of Modern Art a number of years ago, I was rendered speechless and heart broken, actually physically shaken by Picasso’s vision of our human capacity to destroy each other and our world. Are there works of art or myths that carry meaning that bring profound insight for you? Do they move you beyond yourself? What are they? How do they change you?
Prayer is “shaped to heal relationships” even the worst of oppressive relationships. Forgiveness is at the heart of the Lord’s Prayer. Our capacity to forgive is based on the knowledge that God has already been forgiven us. I was struck by the ready forgiveness by the survivors of the gunman who infiltrated the Bible study class in the Charleston church. While we say the Lord’s Prayer at least once a week, how many of us even think about the meaning of ‘forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us’? This has to do with the formation of relationships. Trespass is to cross over without permission, right? Some say debtors and debts instead of trespass and trespassers. We might say sin and sinners. All of our language here is out of date or loaded. What we mean to say is forgive us for breaking relationships with others as we forgive them for breaking relationships with us. But that sounds a bit mild until we consider extreme forms of breaking a relationship – then we recognize it can be very serious business. Murder is an extreme form of a broken relationship – there is no hope for reconciliation with the dead person. The women who were able to respond to the gunman knew about forgiveness and broken relationships.
“Sometimes I just like to sit quietly and listen.” This is a loose quotation from something that Winnie the Pooh said. I think it worth considering. Not entering into any meditation or contemplation at all, just sitting there listening. In Pooh’s world he heard his friends, the wind, the rain, he thought about his honey supply and his stomach, he thought about what he could do for his friends, he wanted to visit Eeyore, Rabbit, Christopher Robin, Piglet and all the others. Just sitting there has no agenda, topic, subject. It is open ended. Maybe it is important, maybe not. The point is that we leave ourselves open. It is important to do that once in a while. If for nothing else than to listen to the birds sing and the wind hold forth. In sitting there we might remember a friend’s sad story or their birthday and be moved to respond to their need. This becomes a message to act for someone else in relationship. On the other hand, we might just find that it is a source of renewal to just sit there. That may become an important event, or just be.
Rabbi Jonathan Sacks studied the dynamics that fed the totalitarian up risings in Europe in the 1930s and warns of the dangers of division in our societies. He is especially concerned with the dynamics which might lead to ‘sibling rivalries’ or the social equivalents of these. I think we are seeing this happening again in our time.
This week I’ve noticed three different arrests of men who posed a threat, according to authorities, because of their postings of “white nationalist” propaganda on social media( Reuters, August 16,2019). Why they feel that they have the responsibility or right to such postings in a pluralistic society is anybody’s opinion. That their postings run a danger of in division of our society is without doubt. They may feel threatened or afraid that they are being crowded out and that they no longer have a place in this society. Jobs, income, immigration, politics, education, opportunity, housing, and a host of other problems plague these folks.
Not the least of their problems is how to take in and how to love the stranger that they do not know!
That, after all, is one of our two overriding commandments–right up there with: Love God! How do you love someone you do not know? You spend the time to get to know them! Otherwise we are not likely to form a relationship of any sort with a stranger. If we cannot find a way to love the other, the stranger, when we have a group of strangers we form social groups called “us” and “them” or the “insider” and the “outsider.”
We have a division in society based on fear. That runs the risk of division of society and violence developing.