Touch, Sight, and Faith #worship

My latest column in the Christian Courier.

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A large wooden crucifix stands toward the front of the crypt sanctuary in St. Joseph’s Oratory, Montreal. While the crucifix is not central within worship, it evidently receives much attention. A striking feature of the crucifix is the worn nature of Jesus’ feet — the paint is worn away and the surface smooth from the many hands that have rested there. Over the years, thousands of hands have been placed on those feet in a posture of prayerful need, of seeking the grace of God.

For those of us in the Reformed or Presbyterian tradition, this devotional attention to a crucifix will likely raise questions — questions as old as the Reformation itself. Doesn’t every artistic representation of Jesus somehow diminish him? Why not turn to the living Jesus in prayer, rather than to a lifeless statue? Aren’t these acts of prayerful devotion tied up with the idea that a human creation (a crucifix) can dispense grace?

Our tradition has been almost entirely word-centered, which means we are suspicious of visual and sculptural representations of Jesus or of God. In terms of the questions posed above, we have wondered whether such representations (idols!) distract us from the free grace of the living God. Our Reformed tradition has created only one narrow opening for such visual representations, in the specific case of those who could not read. In such cases, images (pictures) have been seen as a way to tell the story of Jesus and to share the truth of that story. This allowance for images focusses on their educational and not their devotional use. Continue reading

Creed and Community

A sermon preached today in advance of a sermon series on the Apostles’ Creed – to begin next week.

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Community.

 

It’s a word you can’t escape today, isn’t it, both in the church and in wider society.

 

Everywhere you turn – whether in the world of politics, in the media, in the educational system, in the church, on billboards, in documentaries – the word is everywhere.

 

There are community organizers. There is the Polish community, the Black community, the farming community. There are community centres. There are community organizations. There are gated communities. There are community newspapers.

 

Everywhere we turn, it seems, we are confronted with the idea of community – everywhere we turn we are confronted with the desire for community.

 

We don’t have the time for an in-depth exploration of this explosion of interest in community – this explosion of desire for the experience of community. There seems little doubt, however, that this interest in community is rooted partly in the realization that the individualism of our culture hasn’t lead to human fulfillment – to some degree we in the west have come to realize that our identity and fulfillment is found in networks of relations. Of course old ways of living and thinking die hard, but to some extent we have realized that we cannot fulfill ourselves, cannot care for the world, cannot fulfill the human, without building meaningful communities.

 

Another general comment as we begin. It seems to me that this emphasis on community – this desire for community – also reflects its absence from our lives. We talk about community a great deal, and we try to build communities, because we do not experience it. This isn’t to say that the reality and experience of community life is completely absent from our lives, but it seems that whenever a subject preoccupies us, and whenever we reach out for something, it’s usually because we don’t possess it in the way we would like.

 

This longing is not absent from those who belong to the Church. We, as much as anyone, understand that our personal identity and fulfillment is found only in communal relationships. We too reach out for a deeper experience of community life because there is something of an absence of community life in our day to day existence, and in the church.

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