The beginning of the new Christian year is the first Sunday of Advent which, this year, is December 1, 2019. At this time that we will begin reading the Gospel of Matthew, Year A on the Lectionary Cycle. We will not hear from Luke for two more years for we will have to make our liturgical trip through Matthew and Mark (with a whole lot of John) before getting back to Luke. The theory, as I understand it, is that by doing this we will hear the story from three different authors who all share a common source. These three gospels are known as the Synoptic Gospels or the Synoptics. They are taken in the order of appearance the scriptures and not in the order of age, Mark is the oldest. Mark offers many portions of material found in the other two gospels as well as sharing a common source with them. John does not share in this material and is written for a different reason and type of audience so his gospel does not figure into the cycle of years. I have some favorite stories and a favorite Gospel. Do you? Which ones and why? Do you think that the writers told their accounts to different audiences? Do you think they were telling the same story? Why do some gospels include some very important stories and others make no mention of them?
This is the week that almost all young people and young-at-heart, no matter the age, look forward to in the fall. It is Halloween week, sometimes known as All Hallows Eve. The time that we dress up in all manner of costumes and go play trick-or-treat for candy or other sweets. In the Middle Ages, it was a time to frighten away the evil spirits before All Souls Day, the day following All Hallows Eve. Today the two days have become separated even if we remember All Souls Day (The Celebration of All the Faithful Departed) in our liturgical year. Chasing away the evil spirits would probably keep the meaning of All Hallows Eve in our minds, but I am not aware of it having the sweets that come with Halloween. Let us try to remember that the two days do belong together. We have a reason to celebrate our forefathers, and if most are like mine, a little sweetness would go well with them. Evil spirits will run in the face of kindness and love. Sweetness is not the same thing, but it does soften the heart some. Fond memories of our predecessors, let us let go of what we held against them and sets us right with them.
The monks have a form of prayer that involves the use of muscled and the production of air to make a sound. They chant prayers. That we are fascinated by this as is shown by our support of the music production business. We listen to Gregorian chants and Hildegard of Bingen or to Bob Dylan and The Beatles or David Bowie and Bruce Springsteen. We do not listen just once we listen until we know the words and music. They become a part of us. We know it so well that our muscles feel it. We are lost in it, we for the moment are suspended in our co-production of the music in to a world of mystery. Liturgically we sing our prayers when we sing the Psalm and the Amens and the Alleluias. There are other prayers that we sing throughout the year. Somehow when our bodies are actively involved in the meditation we reach a state of suspension that can be an unknowing. This state of being becomes more likely when we sing the phrases over and over again. This prayer.
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?