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Jesus, Zeus, Thor and the Kraken

In Rants, Worldview on December 23, 2013 at 12:22 am

FootballOne more thing about the Bill Maher video.

Consider this my Christmas post.

In the video, Maher equates faith in Jesus Christ with belief in Zeus, Thor and the Kraken and all the other “stuff that is not evidenced based.”

I love it when he gives us the circumstances by which he would become a believer. He challenges, “Show me a God and I will believe in him. If Jesus Christ comes down from the sky during the half time show at the super bowl” and starts doing miracles, then he will believe in God. Confidently he concludes, “But that’s not going to happen.”

But it did happen.

It is only in timing that God’s plan diverges from Maher’s. Other than that, the Incarnation of God on earth was exactly the sort of proof that he demands. If the Incarnation is what Christians proclaim, I don’t think that even Maher would insist that there ought to be some repeat performance just for his sake. The issue for Maher is that he doesn’t trust the first century Jews and Romans who saw, first hand, the events as recorded in the Gospels. For some reason, he doesn’t trust their testimony. Perhaps he doesn’t think they were as smart as he is, or at least rational–too easily duped.

A good argument can be made that first century Jews were less likely to believe that Jesus was the son of God than modern day atheists. They proclaimed every day that God is One–they refused to give up this tenet even in the fact of the most horrendous persecution by the likes of Antiochus Epiphanies. Still, they were convinced. Christianity started with a significant number of these very people willing to die equally horrible deaths at the hands of the Romans proclaiming what they had seen with their own eyes.

Granted, there were some who saw and did not believe. I wonder if Maher would be convinced even with his Super Bowl miracle. Then as now, to accept that God exists and that Jesus Christ is his son necessarily leads to submission to this God. For many, it’s this submission that is the issue, rather than the evidence.

Within Maher’s cynicism is an incredible testimony of how incredible an event the coming of Christ was. What actually happened, and convinced so many of the inconvincible, was much more wonderful than the trick of changing “nachos into loaves and fishes” at a football game. Instead of changing a modern snack food into the ancient equivalent, he fed the hungry, healed the sick, gave sight to the blind and made the lame to walk again; he offered forgiveness to all–shady businessmen, prostitutes and me. 0

Evidence aside, this is a God of a different category that Zeus or Thor or the Kraken?

“Just a Symbol?”–Communion in a Cathedral

In False Dichotomies - the lines between, Worldview on September 12, 2013 at 4:58 am

St. Augustin, ViennaThe Hapsburgs were christened, married and buried at St. Augustine in Vienna.  This cathedral has seen a lot of pageantry and ceremony and the mass still reflects a polish and flair consistent with this history.  I particularly noticed this in the treatment of the elements of the Eucharist. 

In all Catholic services, the host is treated with a great deal of respect.  When congregants enter the door, they make the sign of the cross, and they genuflect before entering the pew.  Both these actions are directed toward the host.  After the Eucharist, the priest is careful that to gather and consume all possible remnants of the host.  Water is swirled in each vessel and consumed so even the residue is collected.   The plate and cup are then wiped with a cloth and this is folded and wrapped in an embroidered envelope and later taken to, what I imagine, is a ceremonial cleansing.  This reverence for the host is seen in every Catholic service. In the mass at St. Augustine, all this was done with particular precision and flourish. 

This elaborate treatment of the Communion elements is easily explained.  Catholics believe in transubstantiation, that is, the conversion of the communion elements into the body and blood of Christ.   They are treated accordingly–even the last crumb.

Because, in Protestant services, the elements are not seen as the actual body and blood of Christ, the sacrament has become less profound a ritual than is the Catholic Eucharist.   In Protestant churches, Communion is a solemn event, but while I watched the celebration of the Eucharist at St. Augustine, I wondered if we could do more, especially in the language we use in our Communion services, to increase the significance and mystery of this sacrament. 

I’ve had Communion in a variety of Protestant churches across North America.  On more than one occasion, I have heard the officiating pastor explain that the bread and wine are “just a symbol” of the body and blood of Christ.

I do not contest that Communion is symbolic, but the use of the word “just” indicates that the speaker has fallen into a very limited understanding of both symbol and sacrament: a Modern understanding.

The Modern mind is a rationalistic mind, and as such, it likes to establish clear categorical boundaries–nature/grace, faith/reason, spiritual/physical.  To say that communion is “just a symbol” is to accept these modern dichotomy and suggests the physical elements in sacrament merely point to an intangible spiritual reality. 

The Christian ought to understand the limitations of this approach and see the fundamental unity in all of reality.  The ultimate expression of this unity is the Incarnation; when the Word became flesh, “the eternal entered the temporal, but without ceasing to be eternal” (Zimmerman 265).   God’s redemptive work in the death and resurrection of Jesus occurs in both the physical and the spiritual realm.  The sacrament by which we remember this work is not simply a physical symbol, but also profound and literal spiritual event, for here, divine Grace intersects with nature, and the rational human agent partakes in faith and so is brought up to the divine.  And through it all, God remains fully God.    

Does that sound a little confusing?  It ought to be.  While I watched the Eucharist at St. Augustine, I was impressed with the mystery and wonder of it all.  I thought I could bring some of this this wonder to my own participation of the Lord’s Supper.  The Communion meal is symbolic but it is not “just a symbol.”  And although we don’t believe that it changes into the body of Christ, the bread is far more than just bread.  And should never be referred to as “gluten free Rice Chex” (even if that’s exactly what it is).