Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Reflections on Section 2 of the Anglican Covenant

Our convocation has organized a two-part study of the Anglican Covenant, so that members of our local churches will have corporate opportunities to read the Covenant with friends and so engage the document as the larger Church has asked us. Four area clergy meet on a rotating basis, with two of them covering one section, and with two sections covered each night at each site. These are my notes for my section (2), which I’ll be presenting at St. Mark’s and All Saints tonight and tomorrow, respectively.

Communion as a gift of God

A brief reflection on section 2 of the Anglican Covenant focusing on the following affirmations of 2.1:

  • communion as a gift of God
  • its gratitude
  • in humility our call to constant repentance
  • the imperative of God’s mission
  • to the full visible unity of the Church in accordance with Christ’s prayer that “all may be one.”

These are not five distinct affirmations, but aspects of one affirmation, that

Our communion with God and one another is only made possible by the forgiveness we encounter in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus.

Paul in Ephesians 2:14

“For he is our peace; in his flesh he has made both groups into one and has broken down the dividing wall, that is, the hostility between us.”

From Pope Benedict XVI:

“It is impossible to detach morality (what we do) from Christology (who Jesus is), because it is impossible to separate [morality] from expiation and forgiveness” (Called to Communion, 152).

This is another way of getting at what Archbishop Rowan Williams has already said: “God’s Church doesn’t have a mission; God’s mission has a Church”; we are part of the mission of God by virtue of God’s forgiveness of us in Jesus. (see also 2.2.2.)

The Church is the first fruits - the first healed, broken bits - we are exhibit A - communion is a gift we receive, yes, to share - but only because we receive it. So our mission includes our constant thanksgiving and constant repentance - as much as anything else - as we constantly seek and joy the forgiveness of God, that alone makes it possible to be friends of one another.

Communion is not something we can take for granted.

Dietrich Bonhoeffer quote:

“It is not simply to be taken for granted that the Christian has the privilege of living among other Christians. Jesus Christ lived in the midst of his enemies. At the end all his disciples deserted him. On the Cross he was utterly alone, surrounded by evildoers and mockers. For this cause he had come, to bring peace to the enemies of God. So the Christian, too, belongs not in the seclusion of a cloistered life but in the thick of foes. There is his commission, his work. “The Kingdom is to be in the midst of your enemies. And he who will not suffer this does not want to be of the Kingdom of Christ; he wants to be among friends, to sit among roses and lilies, not with the bad people but the devout people. O you blasphemers and betrayers of Christ! If Christ had done what you are doing who would ever have been spared?” (Luther).

“So between the death of Christ and the Last Day it is only by a gracious anticipation of the last things that Christians are privileged to live in visible fellowship with other Christians. It is by the grace of God that a congregation is permitted to gather visibly in this world to share God’s Word and sacrament. Not all Christians receive this blessing. The imprisoned, the sick, the scattered lonely, the proclaimers of the Gospel in heathen lands stand alone. They know that visible fellowship is a blessing. They remember, as the Psalmist did, how they went “with the multitude...to the house of God, with the voice of joy and praise, with a multitude that kept holyday” (Ps. 42:4) (Life Together, 17-19).

How are gratitude and repentance and the ability to be for others connected?

“In the Eucharist I can never demand communion with Jesus alone. He has given himself a Body. Whoever receives him is Communion necessarily communicates with all his brothers and sisters who have come members of the Body. Communio includes the dimension of catholicity by virtue of the range of the mystery of Christ. Communio is catholic, or it simply does not exist at all” (Called to Communion, 82).

The Church is mission; and the Church is always for others.

Section 2.2 can be read as expanding the imagination of the baptismal covenant from the context and foundation of Communion and Mission as inseparable gifts of Christ, especially as 2.2.3 and 2.2.4 exhort the Church to always challenge herself and grow in her faith in the work of mission, and 2.2.5 recalls us to the starting point, naming “Christ [as] the source and goal of the unity of the Church and of the renewal of human community.”

This summary has appeared to some (including my wife) as much longer than seems necessary, taking time to dwell on “obvious things”. For many folks, with respect to Christian mission, Nike seems apropos: “Just do it.” My counter is that the empirical history and recent of the Church with respect to mission is replete with examples of the Church engaging in unreflective mission for the sake of doing good. The problem with this approach to mission is that the good becomes separable from the character of the doing. That is, it becomes possible to presume to do good things apart from becoming godly. This is a recipe for self-deception because it presumes to know the good abstractly, apart from the stubbornly particular God who died on a cross for us.

Another way to name this challenge is to consider what life would be like if there was no one left to convert. Would this be the end of Christian mission? For Christians, the answer must be “no,” because our mission is inseparable from the praise of the God who makes communion with God and one another possible:

When we've been there ten thousand years,
Bright shining as the sun,
We've no less days to sing God's praise,
Than when we first begun.

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