Reign of Christ – Proper 29 (34), Year A
22 November 2020
Ezekiel 34:11-16, 20-24
To have our doors closed is a new experience for us.
It is true, except for outdoor services, we have encouraged you to join us from home, and that’s how it has largely been since the end of March. But it was nice to think that the church wasn’t closed, which it isn’t now either, except that no one can come.
I think that it also made conducting worship easier for Alex, Bev, Calla, and I to have a few people in the pews and not just look at a camera.
I have no issue with the new orders from our Chief Provincial Health Officer. We need to do what it takes to get the situation under control. After all, this is about loving our neighbour. Those whose health is vulnerable and those whose economic existence is fragile.
And yet I mourn that we cannot gather. We belong together, we need each other, and as thankful as I am for technology, our relationships aren’t virtual, they are real and embodied.
And as true as this is for us as church community, as the body of Christ, so it is true for other communities.
For now our love of neighbour must help us through this time of drought.
It has been remarked that our generation has had it pretty good. It’s our first pandemic. I have never lived through a war, and while I wouldn’t say that my life has been easy, it’s been relatively secure.
My maternal grandfather was born in 1884. Before WW I he sailed with the Merchant Marine. But the point I want to make is that he lived through two world wars, and when he finally retired at age 70 he and my grandmother lived on a modest pension in an apartment in my parents’ house with a shared bathroom.
It wasn’t until I moved to Canada and met people who had come here after the second World War that I realized that it was rather remarkable that not more people had left Europe. But of course, in 1945 my grandfather was 61, too old to begin a new life elsewhere and likely counting himself lucky to be alive.
Those aren’t the only hardships I can think of, but they are part of my family history and come to mind easily. You can add your own stories, or those of people living in countries with fewer economic means, or perhaps of those living on a reserve in our own land without drinking water and with multi-generational trauma.
I don’t think that one hardship erases the other. These times are still challenging for us. But it helps to put things into perspective.
The Book of Acts tells us about Paul’s visits to Ephesus. The letter from which our second reading is taken builds on that relationship.
The church in Ephesus was a young and fledgling church in Asia Minor, long before Constantine made Christianity acceptable. It is a church composed of Jewish and of Gentile believers, made into one body through the cross of Jesus.
We who are one body have also been brought together from many different places, with different experiences, and different dispositions. While humans like spending time with people they perceive to be like them, what bring together the church is not that we are like each other but that we belong to Christ, and that, it turns out, is more important than everything else.
We know little about the situation of the church at Ephesus, but what is clear from our passage is that whatever fear or uncertainty the church experienced, Paul assures them not with platitudes that everything will be alright, as heartwarming as those may be, but with something far more profound.
Paul tells us that God put this power to work in Christ when he raised him from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly places, far above all rule and authority and power and dominion, and above every name that is named, not only in this age but also in the age to come. And he has put all things under his feet and has made him the head over all things for the church, which is his body, the fullness of him who fills all in all. (1:20-23)
Or in Eugene Peterson’s translation, All this energy issues from Christ: God raised him from death and set him on a throne in deep heaven, in charge of running the universe, everything from galaxies to governments, no name and no power exempt from his rule. And not just for the time being, but forever. He is in charge of it all, has the final word on everything. At the centre of all this, Christ rules the church. The church, you see, is not peripheral to the world; the world is peripheral to the church. The church is Christ’s body, in which he speaks and acts, by which he fills everything with his presence.
There are two things in here. One is that Christ is present in us the church. Even when we can’t come together in this space and cannot receive the sacrament of the altar, Christ is still present in us his church, as his body. Nothing can change that.
The other thing is that in Christ the world has changed. What happened in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus is not a matter only for pious souls but is of cosmic relevance. The world has been rearranged, all things have been put under Christ’s feet, including our currant crisis.
Walter Wink writes that it would be tempting to take these events as heavenly only and the text as proclaiming that in Christ the affairs of heaven have been set straight, yet nothing in heaven can happen without profound repercussions on earth; indeed, he says, that is the way true change on earth is brought about.1
We may say that Christ’s victory does not take away our feeling of powerlessness in face of the pandemic. Yet, of course, we are not exactly powerless. The whole point of stricter measures announced by health officials is that we are not powerless.
And yet, our Christmas services will be pre-recorded (and we will make them the very best we can) and no one will gather here on Christmas. But God’s power is made perfect in weakness and Christ’s victory is won on the cross.
The truth, the challenge, and our promise is that by living into Christ we see God’s victory and are freed from dread and from fear and join the confession of Thomas: “My Lord and my God!”
1Walter Wink, Naming the Powers – The Language of Power in the New Testament, Philadelphia, PA: Fortress Press 1984, page 60