Archive for March, 2018

Easter/April Fool’s Day, 2018

Mark 16: 1-8

Fools Day vs Poetry of Transcendence

Paul R. Fleischman in his book “Wonder: When and Why the World Appears Radiant. Gives us our starting point for today when he says “The universes underpins and permits life, of which we are a local manifestation”.

‘A pinch and a punch for the first of the month’. ‘Rabbits. Rabbits. Rabbits’. Or if you are Irish: ‘White Rabbits’. Today is a ‘first of the month’ day. It is 1st April —April Fool’s Day —sometimes called All Fool’s Day. One of the most light-hearted days of the year. It has to be said also that the history of April Fools’ Day is particularly blurry, as there are several competing claims for the invention.  But whatever its origins, April Fool’s Day appears it received its name from the custom of playing practical jokes on this day. You no doubt will have either been the brunt of an April Fools joke or participated in creating one. There are also many stories of significant April Fools Day jokes perpetrated.

One such practical joke occurred in 1957. The BBC current affairs programme Panorama hoaxed the nation with a report about the annual spaghetti harvest. The report showed Swiss farmers were experiencing a record spaghetti crop and showed footage of people harvesting noodles from trees and laying the strands out to dry. Numerous viewers were fooled. Among those hoaxed included the then-BBC Director General, Sir Ian Jacob. Newspapers were split over whether this was a great joke or a terrible hoax on the public.

Our powerpoint slide alludes to one of these jokes a bit closer to home… Last year, 2017, Ikea the multinational furniture company unveiled plans to launch the world’s first non-stop flight from Australia to Sweden, as part of its plans to launch a low-cost airline,
aptly named Flikea. “Using a fleet of five custom-fit aircraft,” the media release said,
“the single-class airline will launch in 2019 and will use the five dimensions of Democratic Design unique to IKEA to reduce aircraft weight and fuel requirements, resulting in a dramatically reduced transit time, lower ticket price, and cutting out the need for any stopovers.”

Not to be outdone, Virgin Australia announced it was introducing a world-first Canine Crew service. “Hundreds of dogs have been specially trained at a new purpose built canine crew training facility over the past few months in preparation for their introduction to service on all Boeing 737, Airbus A330 and Boeing 777 aircraft in the Virgin Australia fleet.” Virgin even posted a video on social media showing the said Canine Crew in training.

And… Gelatissimo posted online they were launching the world’s first artisan gelato
“that treats sensitive teeth. The company has worked with leading Australian dentists to create a flavour that is clinically proven to relieve the symptoms caused by tooth sensitivity.”

What we do know is that April Fool’s Day is not a religious festival. However, some traditions have tried to link the celebrations to the medieval Christianity’s Feast of Fools,
which took place each January, particularly in France. Popular belief holds that the Feast of Fools was “a disorderly, even transgressive Christian festival, in which reveling clergy elected a burlesque Lord of Misrule, who presided over the divine office wearing animal masks or women’s clothes, sang obscene songs, swung censers that gave off foul-smelling smoke, played dice at the altar, and otherwise parodied the liturgy of the church.” It has to be said that such belief—even fostered by Encyclopaedia Britannica—
is highly exaggerated if not deliberately misreported.

According to more recent scholarly accounts,“The Feast of Fools developed in the late 12th and early 13th centuries as an elaborate and orderly liturgy for the day of the Circumcision (1 January). Celebrating the biblical principle that ‘God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise’ (1 Cor. 1:27), the feast allowed low-ranking subdeacons to assume leadership roles in worship, usually reserved for the bishop or the cantor.” (Max Harris)

What this does exhibit is that there were aspects of merriment, humour, and festivity ‘inside’ the church, even if people in power don’t always have a sense of humor about their power being questioned… The challenge of April Fools Day being Easter Day is an indication of just how important festivity is for faith. To celebrate is to live out “the universal assent to the world as a whole. Easter Day as April Fools Day is a special time when we affirm all of life by saying a joyous yes to part of life. Easter Day And April Fools Day is a real celebration, rather than a retreat from the reality of injustice and evil. The celebration, occurs most authentically where these negative realities are recognised and tackled, not where they are avoided, where laughter and humour challenge the piety. An antiseptic religion shies away from guilt and terror as well as eros and mirth. Its world becomes flat and anemic.”  (Harvey Cox)

Rex Hunt reminds us in his sermon for today of an article by Harvard Divinity School theologian Harvey Cox’s entitled ‘God’s Last Laugh’. He points to a paragraph that stands out that reads: “On the Christian calendar Easter is a feast of gladness. Grief turns into jubilation. Bitter defeat becomes exuberant hope. Good Friday becomes Easter Sunday, Crucifixion becomes resurrection. Even those who walk in the valley of the shadow of death know they need fear no evil.

A particular challenge of April Fools Day as Easter Day is the introduction of humour, or the practical joke. Not wanting to even introduce a trace of irreverence, can we not also say there is something genuinely comic about Easter? Harvey Cox asks; Could it be God’s hilarious answer to those who sported and derided God’s prophet, who blindfolded and buffeted him, and who continue to hound and deprive God’s children today?”  And again, near the end of the article, Cox suggests; Rightly rendered, the comic spirit transcends tragedy. It steps outside the probability tables and enables us to catch a fleeting glimpse of what might be, even of what ultimatelyalready is.” In the end is not all this that so seriously attempts to tell the truth of it all, just a human language construct? One has to laugh at oneself in the end.

Whether any of this aligns with your personal theology or not, it has to be said that both Easter and April Fool’s humour are about affirming life. A call to be embraced by life, not scared of it. A call to its ambiguous particularity. A call to practise humour and to anchor it concretely in everyday life. A call to make ‘Faith’ a ‘way of life’.

Rex suggests some thoughts that might help us practise an Easter Faith. He says that maybe the ‘way of life’ could be a way of living shaped by the following thoughts;

  • How do we care for each other interpersonally in ways which do not suffocate and oppress?
  • How is the well-being of our neighbour pursued in the complex problem of global hunger and threats of international war?
  • How are communities developed positively around respect and care for each person rather than around a common enemy?
  • How are the systemic causes of non-love eliminated?

To live with these particularities coursing in our veins, Rex says; is to live in the spirit of the one called Jesus.

We note here that the suggestion of these thoughts is to look beyond oneself, to think of others as a way of shaping one’s own life. It is to care for each other. Concern ourselves with the wellbeing of our neighbour, care about how our communities develop and seek out the alternatives to systems that work against love.

Here we have the claim that resurrection is not a selfish event but rather a communal one. And this is borne out by Dominic Crossan when he reminds us that when we look at Eastern Christianity’s images, either for the great feasts of the liturgical year or for traditional events in Jesus’ life, they are all — save one — quite recognizable to Western as to Eastern eyes. They are in common. The great exception he says, is how Eastern Christianity portrays the “Resurrection,” that is, in Greek, the “Anastasis,” of Jesus. Across vast stretches of time, place, art, and tradition, icons and illustrations, frescoes and mosaics show always a communal and not an individual resurrection for Jesus. We can watch that magnificent tradition develop across half a millennium — from 700 to 1200 — before its varied elements and successive stages are fully established.

The call to live in the spirit of Jesus is a required practise because Easter is not just a collection of religious stories about a so-called once-only event in the past. Nor is it a story locked away in ancient cultural understandings or in medieval doctrinal or creedal form, it is an evolutionary, dynamic story of human living that is alive now.

Easter can and does happen every day when we are: “moved by sacred hope and convinced of the profound significance of each person as an infinitely precious being… Easter is the transformative, transcendent moment that happens when we dream and plan and implement positive change to enhance the well-being of self, others, and the whole of creation… It happens also while we are embracing and dealing with the reality of our imperfections and their impact on ourselves, others, and creation.” (Gretta Vosper)

On that note we acknowledge that copious amounts of ink and blood, sweat, and tears, have been spilt over ‘what is’ and ‘what is not’ considered to be the real Easter story, and of course, what is meant by ‘resurrection’. We also note that Brandon Scott the New Testament Scholar said that …the trouble with resurrection is that
conservative forces within church orthodoxy have literalized it, narrowed and constricted it, “turned it into a creedal belief, and in the process have forfeited its great claim and hope.” (Brandon Scott)

Here, Crossan reminds us that Eastern Christianity’s tradition of the resurrection of Jesus reminds our Western Christian imagination that only poetry — be it verbal or visual — speaks to our profoundest hopes, deepest dreams, and greatest insights. It also reminds us that theology is — no more and no less — the poetry of transcendence.

So… here we are on this April Fool’s Day and Easter Day, faced with a choice to consider, either for the first time, or yet again:

  • Does Easter remind us that we are called into deeper community?
  • Does life invite us to be challenged by Easter or scared by it.
  • Is Resurrection an escape from death, or an invitation to live life with zeal?
  • Are we alone in this life of faith?

And remember when you answer that;

  • Life is renewable.
  • The human spirit is indomitable.
  • A loving, caring existence is stronger than death itself.
  • Amen.

Notes:
Cox, H. “God’s Last Laugh” in Christianity and Crisis, 6 April 1987. Reproduced on Religion Online.
—————, The Feast of Fools: A Theological Essay on Festivity and Fantasy. Cambridge. Harvard University Press, 1969
Fleischman, P. R. Wonder: When and Why the World Appears Radiant. Amherst. Small Batch Books, 2013.
Harris, M. Sacred Folly: A New History of the Feast of Fools. Ithaca. Cornell University Press, 2011.
Johnson, D. & S. Ross. “The Uncertain Origins of a Foolish Day.” <https://www.infoplease.com/calendar-holidays/major-holidays/april-fools-day-origin-and-history>  Accessed 13 January 2018.
Laskow, S. “The New Year’s Feast that transforms Fools into Popes and Kings”. 29 December 2017. <https://www.atlasobscura.com/articles/feast-of-fools-medieval-tradition> Accessed 14 January 2018.
Pieper, J. In Tune with the World: A Theory of Festivity. Translated by Richard and Clara Winston. New York. Harcourt, Brace and World, 1965.
Real Life. “The Best April Fool’s Day jokes around Australia”. 2017. <news.com.au>
Scott, B. B. The Trouble with Resurrection. From Paul to the Fourth Gospel. Salem. Polebridge Press, 2010.
Vosper, G. “Easter Day Liturgy”. Direct from the author, 2004.

rexae74@gmail.com

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A New Covenant

Posted: March 17, 2018 in Uncategorized

A New Covenant

Jeremiah 31:31-34

The promise of the new covenant in Jeremiah 31:31-34 contains dimensions that typically pass unrecognized, but which provide a rich description of an ideal polity. This prophetic vision can serve as a powerful counterpart and companion to more conventional expectations and idealized societies. This leads me into St David’s aspirations to transform itself into a school. The questions that undergird the school vision is how do we honour the minds of children? How do we provide an environment where it is safe to ask questions and not expect answers or at least expect only answers for now or answers that will change? And how do we empower our children to seize the opportunity to become more fully human.

The days are surely coming, says the Lord, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and the house of Judah. It will not be like the covenant that I made with their ancestors when I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt—a covenant that they broke, though I was their husband, says the Lord. But this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, says the Lord: I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts; and I will be their God, and they shall be my people. No longer shall they teach one another, or say to each other, ‘Know the Lord’, for they shall all know me, from the least of them to the greatest, says the Lord; for I will forgive their iniquity, and remember their sin no more.

The new covenant foretold in Jeremiah 31 is the dawn that will pierce the grueling night of a shattered people. As they face the destruction of their nation and the prospect of a long and bitter exile, God presents his people with assurance of restoration, lodging the seed of a glorious future hope in the cold, hard soil of Israel and Judah’s winter.

Walter Brueggemann identifies a number of elements to the new covenant promised here. First, there will be a new ‘solidarity’: the separation occasioned by Israel and Judah’s sin will be overcome and YHWH will identify himself as their God and them as his people. By implication, the division within the kingdom itself will end and Israel and Judah will once again be united as a single people (cf. Ezekiel 37:15-28).

Second, there will be a new ‘knowledge’ of YHWH. Brueggemann maintains that this is a reference both to the people’s knowledge of the saving tradition within which YHWH revealed himself (cf. 2:6-8) and to obedience to his ‘commands for justice’ (cf. 22:15-17). The reconstituted nation evinces both a new acquaintance with YHWH’s identity and memory of his work and displays a new loyalty and obedience to him.

Third, the new relation will no longer be characterized by intermediation and the distance that maintained between YHWH and the majority of the people. Middle men with privileged access and knowledge, brokering relations between God and his people, will no longer be necessary. Rather, from the poorest to the richest, the youngest to the oldest, all will enjoy access to God and be acquainted with his truth. ‘All know the story, all accept the sovereignty, and all embrace the commands.’

All of these elements of the new covenant relation are founded upon a great act of divine initiative, an initiative which breaks the ‘vicious cycle of sin and punishment’ within which Israel had become trapped and opens a new page. This initiative takes the form of forgiveness. This involves a re-membering of the people’s broken history, made possible by the fact that YHWH will no longer bring their sin to mind. To this point the people’s history has been a bitter burden, a tale of squandered blessings and the fear of a forfeited birthright. The popular proverb of Jeremiah’s day, ‘The parents have eaten sour grapes, and the children’s teeth are set on edge,’ describes the fatalist sense of a people imprisoned by their past. To this demoralized people, YHWH declares a release from all debts, reigniting their guttering hope. Within the past to which they once were shackled—whose weight had threatened to drag them down to the abyss—they will now discover the liberating realization of the promised new covenant knowledge of the forgiving God.

Christian appropriations of this prophetic passage have often been inattentive to its political dimensions, exhausting their applications of it within discussions of the spiritual renewal of individuals and vocational ecclesiologies. The new birth of the individual and the rebirth of the church have used up our energies to no avail.

I want to show you a short video featuring John D Caputo a Roman Catholic Theologian and philosopher. I hope that you might see this clip as an introduction to the idea of what a new covenant might look like for us today.

Video 1.                      https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3xBMYzPuDtQ

The covenant introduced by Jeremiah addresses the situation they find themselves in and the promise extended to those within its sphere of influence. The prophecy is declared to a riven polity, the history recalled is one of national constitution and declension; not unlike our globalization and the decline of our societies, the predicament answered is national judgment and exile, the sins forgiven are those of kingdoms, and the promised new covenant is to be made with political bodies—the houses of Israel and Judah. This new covenant is about nationhood, about society, and about the people’s future.

I want to show you a second video now and this one is about the value of education and about what a new look at its purpose and the vision that lies behind it might look like. I invite you now to see what St David school might look like as a new covenant example.

Video 2.          https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KY5v2lyycfs

Embedded within the Jeremiah prophecy is a fecund vision of a sort of utopian polity, a polity where social and political authority is the possession of all, where each person is the trusted bearer of the national identity, where our past is restored to us and we are furnished with a future, released from the crushing debts accumulated through past failures. It presents challenges to certain prevailing political and educational notions, not least those which present an antipathy between law and freedom, control and choice: in Jeremiah’s new covenant, the fullness of freedom arrives through the internalization of the law. The placing of the law in the heart and mind equips and empowers us freely to provide appropriate responses to God’s world, expressing his rule within his creation in loving wisdom and delight.

We have honoured the mind of our children, we have established the environment that is based on the generation of questions and we are ready to explore the adventure of humanity.

One, David Bentley Hart in an article, describes the difference between two sorts of political visions that we encounter as we look back on our human history.’ The first vision he says, ‘hovers tantalizingly near on the horizon, like inviting mirages’ and in the futile pursuit of them we can all be led to our deaths. The second, visions, however, are like ‘cooling clouds, easing the journey with the meager shade of a gently ironic critique, but always hanging high up in the air, forever out of reach.’

Jeremiah’s vision of the new covenant requires the addition of a further category to this and it is that of an espied promised land. As in pursuing Hart’s mirages, our premature attempts to enter into the reality of such a vision in our political life are doomed to perish deep within the wilderness of human weakness and wickedness unless we handle them carefully. Handled carefully, such a vision can provide benefits such as seeing the limitations of our realities, and thus protecting us from misrecognition of the relativities within our polities with more absolute ones, in other words we can critique our aspirations and discard the unhelpful directions, while being inspired to aim higher. Unlike, unlike both of Hart’s visions, this third way, this espied promised land declares the temporariness of our history and, to those with faith to receive, a rich burden of the new alterative affords a foretaste of that future hope. Amen.

[1] Walter Brueggemann, A Commentary on Jeremiah: Exile and Homecoming (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1998), 293-294

[3] Oliver O’Donovan, Resurrection and Moral Order: An Outline for Evangelical Ethics [Second Edition] (Leicester: Apollos, 1994) 24-26.