Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Easter in the Episcopal Church (sigh) ... again

Yes, it's that time of year again -- when Episcopalians who simply want to celebrate their faith have to come to terms with the Presiding Bishop's Easter message, and not let it impede their own joyful participation in marking the meaning of Christ's resurrection.

In past years, the Presiding Bishop has had difficulty relating her Easter message to Jesus Christ the risen Son of God. (Some may still remember the egregious low she reached in March 2008, thankfully not equaled since.) Others may carry a memory of her struggling to relate her Easter messages to Jesus Christ at all, as though the mention of His name might detract from what she wanted to say.

Well, no such problem this time: the 2014 message is all about what our Presiding Bishop calls "the Body of Christ" -- meaning the Church of Christ, which is the traditional reading of those words (not always, according to her; only "often").

But somewhere along the way, the metaphor becomes confused, and confusing. The "Body of Christ" is both risen and rising? (Here the Presiding Bishop recycles, using capital "B" in place of a small "b", the same confusing metaphor she used in her 2010 message -- as though we could have forgotten.) The Church -- capital "B" this time -- has not "risen", and it is debatable whether (in the West, as she herself later notes) it is even "rising."

Jesus Christ has certainly risen, but we do not speak of him as still "rising", as though he were bread not yet out of the oven. This time, the Presiding Bishop's message tries to use the capitalized word "Body" to refer to the Church, and the uncapitalized form to refer to Jesus' resurrection body, but then she still is not consistent:
What does that resurrection reality mean for the Body of Christ of which we are part? How does the risen Body of Christ – what we often [sic] call the church – differ from the crucified one? That Body seems to be most lively when it lives closer to the reality of Good Friday and the Easter mystery. In the West, that Body has suffered a lot of dying in recent decades. It is diminished, some would say battered, increasingly punctured by apathy and taunted by cultured despisers. That body bears little resemblance to royal images of recent memory – though, like Jesus, it is being mocked. The body remembers and grieves, like the body of Israel crying in the desert, “why did you bring us out here to die?” or the crucified body who cries, “My God, why have you forsaken me,” or “why have you abandoned us?” In other contexts the Body of Christ is quite literally dying and spilling its lifeblood – in Pakistan and Sudan, in Iraq and Egypt – and in those ancient words of Tertullian, the blood of martyrs is becoming the seed of the church.
So in the same paragraph, we have the Church that has suffered in the West "a lot of dying in recent decades." (Oh, and just who or what might be responsible for such "a lot of dying"? -- Mum's the word.) And then we have the battered, punctured and taunted "body" of Jesus before he died and rose again, which shares "little resemblance to royal images of recent memory" -- what in the world could those images be? Could she be referring to pictures of HRH Prince George??

Which is immediately followed by the "body of Israel" in the desert (no capital "B"), equated with the mortal body of Christ on the cross -- both of whom complained of God's abandonment, followed immediately again by the Church (capital "B") that is persecuted in Pakistan, Sudan, Iraq and Egypt. Is this a confused and confusing metaphor, or what?

The Presiding Bishop seems comfortable in dealing only with abstractions, which are impossible to pin down. The Church is "rising"? Only "where it is growing less self-centered and inwardly focused, and living with its heart turned toward the cosmic and eternal, its attention focused intently on loving God and neighbor." (As in the Church of Perpetual Litigation, Depositions and Purges? Do you see the disconnect between the messenger and her Easter message?)

If I were her spiritual advisor, I would diagnose the Presiding Bishop as having a more or less severe case of "the Easter willies," which is a malady suffered at this time of the liturgical year by clergy who, not firmly anchored in the faith that comes from certainty in the Resurrection (viz. St. Paul), have no idea what they will say for their Easter sermon, while knowing that they have to deliver it. They have learned in seminary all of the verbal formulas associated with Easter, but they have no idea how they relate to one another, or how to tie them together in a life-giving, coherent message of Easter gladness and joy.  

And though it might not be entirely successful in curing the malady (we might have to go to St. John Chrysostom for a final and permanent cure), I would start with some shock treatment, and prescribe for the Presiding Bishop a good dose of no less than that erstwhile Episcopalian, John Updike:

Seven Stanzas at Easter
Make no mistake: if He rose at all
it was as His body;
if the cells’ dissolution did not reverse, the molecules
reknit, the amino acids rekindle,
the Church will fall.
It was not as the flowers,
each soft Spring recurrent;
it was not as His Spirit in the mouths and fuddled
eyes of the eleven apostles;
it was as His Flesh: ours.
The same hinged thumbs and toes,
the same valved heart
that — pierced — died, withered, paused, and then
regathered out of enduring Might
new strength to enclose.
Let us not mock God with metaphor,
analogy, sidestepping transcendence;
making of the event a parable, a sign painted in the
faded credulity of earlier ages:
let us walk through the door.
The stone is rolled back, not papier-mache,
not a stone in a story,
but the vast rock of materiality that in the slow
grinding of time will eclipse for each of us
the wide light of day.
And if we will have an angel at the tomb,
make it a real angel,
weighty with Max Planck’s quanta, vivid with hair,
opaque in the dawn light, robed in real linen
spun on a definite loom.
Let us not seek to make it less monstrous,
for our own convenience, our own sense of beauty,
lest, awakened in one unthinkable hour, we are
embarrassed by the miracle,
and crushed by remonstrance.


  1. Not that her sermon makes any sense at all, but I got the impression that she sees the Western Church as having been beaten, pierced, and crucified, and it is now "risen", and people have a hard time recognizing it in its present risen form much like the Resurrection appearances of Jesus except when it is engaged in acts of charity.

    I am sorry to tell her that the Church is unrecognizable because it has been vainly trying out new bodies rather than wearing the skin that God has given her.

    1. Well, I didn't make any sense of it at all. But, maybe it's just me