Monday, January 26, 2015

"You cannot be a Christian by yourself":

John 8.53-54  Are you greater than our father Abraham, who died?  And the prophets died!  Who do you claim to be?

[Photo: Fr. Dean Taylor, St. James' annual blessing of animals]
Can we know the living God by dead prophets?  In John's Gospel, the experts on dead prophets fail to recognize God when they see Him face to face.  "You can know the Father only by knowing the Son," Jesus tells them.  But where does that leave us, 2000 years later?  How can we today know the living Jesus except by letters from dead apostles?

Perhaps you, like me, keep letters and photos of family.  My mother and one uncle are all who survive of the grownups who nurtured and taught me.  Who will care for those family mementos when I'm gone?  To honor those who loved me, I must tell their stories to the younger generation.  I can't leave that work to artifacts.  I want today's teenagers to hear in my voice the inflections of my grandmother telling about her grandmother.  They can't know these people by words alone; it takes relationship.

Our Episcopal church passes on its traditions like a family.  You may remember when St. James' young deacon Joseph Shippen was welcomed into the priesthood.  He had studied scripture, passed the tests, earned the degree.  But then he knelt in our nave, where the Bishop in ancient regalia and all the clergy of the diocese gathered.  I'd not seen so many priests standing together, and I was struck by their obvious delight in welcoming their younger brother.  They laid hands on Joseph -- as clergy of earlier generations had laid hands on them, back to the time of John's Gospel.

To know Jesus, we don't have to rely on text alone:  Wherever two or three are gathered, Jesus is there, for we are the body of Christ.  That's what our Episcopal Church preaches.  In the words of a hymn we sometimes sing, "Here [at communion] we meet God face to face."  This is partly what Father Dean meant when he once told us, "You cannot be a Christian by yourself."  We should study scripture; we should continue private devotions in quiet time; and we should stay involved in the life of our church, where, like it or not, in ways beyond words, others embody Jesus to us, while we embody Jesus to them. 

Written for "A Pilgrimage Through Lent," printed by The Pilgrimage at St. James' Episcopal Church, Marietta, GA, 2011.  Based on readings assigned for April 2, 2011. Find links to many more of my reflections on the Episcopal church, scripture, and on others' perspectives of the same topics at my page Those Crazy Episcopalians

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