Monday, October 18, 2010

All Saints Year C

All Saints C
(Revised Common Lectionary)

Daniel 7:1-3,15-18; Psalm 149; Ephesians 1:11-23; Luke 6:20-31

Taken from what is usually regarded as the touchstone of all biblical apocalyptic writings in both Testaments (the seventh chapter of Daniel), this excerpt "interprets" Daniel's nightmare.  His dream includes four "winds," "great beasts," which are somehow linked to "four great kings... out of the earth.  Together, they represent natural and human-made chaos, which is inevitable.  "But the holy ones of the Most high..." shall know God's reign "forever-- forever and ever."

The psalmist provides a "new song," which is to be sung to the accompaniment of percussion and set to dance because the Lord favors "the lowly" and "the faithful."  Now the lyric turns militaristic, encouraging violence-- "Exultation of God in their throat/and a double-edged sword in their hand."  The goal is "to extract justice...."

This "letter" to Ephesians in the tradition of Pauline letters opens with an emphasis on the church as the locus of God's praise for those "who were the first to set our hope on Christ... and "marked with the seal of the promised Holy Spirit...."  This is your "inheritance," into which, God willing, you will grow.  God put this power to work in Christ when he raised him from the dead and seated him on his right hand in the heavenly place...."  From there God also "made him head over all things for the church, which is his body, the fullness of him who fills all in all."

Luke's version of Jesus' manifesto is presented as four "blessings" and four "woes," or warnings.  The blessed include the poor, hungry, mourners and the vilified "on the account of the Son of Man."  Those who are currently rich, satisfied, laughing it up and enjoy the approbation of others are warned that their fate can be reversed.  Jesus then goes further than conventional notions of moral behavior: " Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you...."  If you get hit on one check, offer the other.  If anyone steals your coat, give him your shirt, too.  Do not ask for stolen goods to be returned.  "Do to others as you would have them do to you."

These readings and gospel are anything but meek!  The interpretation of Daniel's dream of natural and human-made chaos and destruction border on annihilation but also promise that "the holy ones of the Most High" will survive.  Luke's version of Jesus' manifesto uses black and white language: those who are currently poor or pay a price for their loyalty to the "Son of Man" are/will be "blessed;"  those who are lost in their own self-indulgence now should brace themselves to lose it all.  The admonition that follows is stated in absolute language: return hate with love and take any offences passively and even offer yourself up for more offences!  This is not human language that accommodates human nature.  This is divine language that shows no concern for 'practicality' in everyday life.  We can easily ignore such language or respond in some way.

Jean-Louis Chretien considers such absolute language an expression of pure "beauty."  A pure expression of "beauty," he writes in The Call and the Response, "calls us to ourselves, to truly become ourselves." (p.13)  He also acknowledges that when this "beauty" is understood as God, who is also creator, i.e. "Uncreated," we creatures always fail "utterly" because "there is no possible correspondence between the finite and the infinite." (p.17)  This discrepancy issues a "call" to us, a call to "become truly ourselves."  The call is completed in our response to it.  "That to which we respond gives itself to us only in the response that we give to it.  Whoever fails to respond simply does not hear and has not heard.  But whoever responds is exceeded by that which calls forth his (sic) response." (p.25)  Therefore, such black and white, absolute language as Luke's rendition of Jesus' "beatitudes"  issues a "call" which we can ignore or respond.  Chretien finds a potential we discover in no other way, however, when we do respond.  He writes: "Whenever we start to answer the call, we have already answered; when  we embrace it as a call it has already embraced us and circumvented us." (p.12)

The church came into existence in response to such absolute language from the Christ that invites human beings to be more than they wold be otherwise.  The church keeps that language going, in her liturgy and the pronouncement and interpretation of Scripture in words and deeds, despite its goals will never be fully achieved while human powers dominate.  Baptism includes all baptized --"marked with the seal of the promised Holy Spirit"-- in this peculiar narrative.  Chretien describes the two-way dynamic between hearing and responding to narrative this way: "The act of listening, insofar as it is a belonging, and speech, insofar as it is a retelling of what we have let ourselves be told, means that every utterance... responds and corresponds."  (p.28)  

The church, and all baptized, "inherited" this outlandish language of white and black absolutes.  It issues a "call" to be more than we would have imagined ourselves to be on our own.