In our daily prayers God was every manner of image and metaphor and meaning, and always, "God the Father." We never ever prayed to "God our Mother." What were women in the economy of God? The answer was only too painful: We were invisible. I had given my life to a God who did not see me, did not include me, did not touch my nature with God's own....Joan Chittister, "Called to Question"

Saturday, May 31, 2008

The Foundation

A reflection on Matthew 7:21-29 for Proper 4A by the Rev. Terri C. Pilarski

Jan Richardson from The Painted Prayerbook offers this reflection:
“ When a friend of mine was ready to build a house on the land he had purchased in eastern Kentucky, he sent out a request to some friends. Scott invited us to offer an object, a tangible blessing that he would bury in the ground upon which he would build the house. He recalls that “Folks were amazingly thoughtful—some of the items included tea, Legos and puzzle pieces from my childhood sent by my mother, guitar strings, a bit of climbing rope, a bit of granite from my home town (Lithonia meaning roughly “rock place”), a wine chalice from my potter friends, shells from our childhood vacation spot, herbs, bits of plants and dirt from various parts of the country, and chocolate.” After all the gifts arrived, Scott gathered with some friends for a ceremony on his property. Placing the gifts in the ground, they offered a blessing for what would take root in that place. Married now and with young children, Scott and his family flourish in the house built atop the buried blessings.”

Think about it. Building a house on the foundation of gifts of others including prayers and many blessings. When I read this I thought immediately of our churches. Our churches are built on the generosity of others – the people who have gone before us and the gifts they have given the church in leadership and financial support.

Of course having a solid foundation for our finances and buildings is only part of the foundation that Jesus is speaking of in our Gospel. He’s pointing us to see that it isn’t enough to shore ourselves up, there is more to be done. There is more to be done than just hearing the word of God, which is like shoring ourselves up… What Jesus is saying in this conclusion to the Sermon on the Mount reminds us that hearing the word of God is good. Building solid stable finances is good. But it isn’t everything. There’s more…we have to do something.

In my ministry I have served two churches as the rector. In both cases I have followed strong male leaders who built up the church and left a lasting impression. These male rectors were focused, by and large, on building the foundation for financial support and church buildings. They led from a bureaucratic style that was common for that generation. But, like the world around us, the way of the church is changing and the leadership style of the past is not as effective now.

In their book, “The Web of Women’s Leadership” Susan Willhauk and Jacqulyn Thorpe discuss the impact of women’s leadership in the world and in the church. They surmise that although women’s leadership in church remains relatively low (they cite 12.3 % in 1996, and I think its now about 20%) women have had a big influence on leadership style. They use the image of a web to convey this impact. “Who has not marveled at the hair-like thinness, as well as the tremendous strength, of the strands of a web? We want to dispel the myth of the spider as an evil conniving creature. Spiders are, in fact, graceful, diligent, determined, industrious, creative, artistic, consistent and persistent creatures. Their webs can teach us about and be symbols of new, far-reaching, and inclusive ministries.”

The web as a metaphor for leadership describes a system that replaces a hierarchy with a circular system that includes concentric circles “bound together by….axial and radial lines that criss-crossed the structure in a kind of filigree.” The web as a model gives us an image for leadership from the center rather than leadership from the top down. The web also provides an image for leadership from the edge, from the margins. In essence leadership can flow in and out from the margins to the center, and from the center to the margins. This has been a distinctive mark of women’s leadership which focuses on relationships, collaboration, and a shared vision that rises up from the group rather than the leader.

In both my calls as rector I have found a congregation yearning for this style. People who no longer want the bureaucratic, highly structured style of years past, but want an open shared ministry. I think this may be why women are becoming leaders in the church. It’s partially the times we live in. But I also think it is a movement of the Spirit calling forth the gifts of women. Obviously I believe that God remains active in this world and is influencing the times we live in. Therefore the Spirit is calling the Church into a new way of being with the influence of women’s leadership paving the way.

Now of course the ability to lead as a web is not limited to women. Men are growing into this style of leadership too. And the church will benefit from this new round of leaders be they clergy or lay. The outcome for the church, I think, will be a renewed focus on ministry to the world. We see this in the importance of the Millennium Development Goals and the many other ways churches are responding the needs of this broken world. As we do this we will move from a focus on building finances and church buildings to a focus on seeing the Other in our community and world.

We need to have a solid foundation, stable finances, and relatively comfortable buildings. But Jesus reminds us that it is not enough to hear the word, it is also not enough to just build for ourselves. In my experience churches that are struggling financially benefit when they put their energy into helping others in the world, even in a small but consistent way. Each of us, small church or large, needs to do something that impacts the world around us. This kind of work, moving out from ourselves and into the world, also needs a strong foundation. It needs to be grounded in the belief, that no matter how little we have we can still be a generous people. The foundation for this work needs to be grounded in prayer and collaboration and innovation. Perhaps it is a foundation that looks less like the concrete slabs we build our homes on and more like a spiders web. Perhaps its strength needs to come less from its hardness and solidity and more from its flexibility and roundness.

Like the creative foundation upon which Scott built his house in the Jan Richardson reflection may the foundations we build be a blessing to us and all we meet.

The Rev. Terri C. Pilarski serves as rector at St. Francis-in-the-Valley Episcopal Church in Green Valley, Arizona.

Thursday, May 22, 2008

Pentecost 2, Proper 3

A Reflection on the Matthew 6:24-34 by The Rev. Dr. Kate Hennessy

In the Gospel for this Sunday, Jesus repeatedly says “Do not worry, do not worry do not worry.” Have no anxiety. Not about your money or your life, or your food or drink, not about your clothing or even your tomorrows. You cannot accomplish anything with worry, we are reminded. It does not give us control over anything, and worry and anxiety can only make us slaves to the false gods we think will give us the fast fix. As a therapist I am intimately acquainted with the wages of anxiety. Worry and stress, allowed to run rampant through our bodies narrows our arteries, swells our waistlines and shortens our lifespan. It is hard to quell those anxious thoughts, especially when they come calling in the wee hours, taunting us with worry about life, finances, health, and the future. All things that seem so very important. All things that we can do nothing about by worrying over. All things that we am sometimes tempted to evade by doing what one of my therapist friends calls the “spinning behaviors” of things like spending or gambling or drinking or working to exhaustion. All things that can easily become our masters if we allow them to.

I am a worrier by nature. I was raised to be one by the combination of an anxious mother who, in striving to protect me from all things that might possibly harm me, completely unintentionally gave me the message that the world is a really scary place and my religious upbringing and it’s metaphors for God. When I think back on the God-metaphors of my very strict Roman Catholic upbringing, they are much more related to the idea of a God as judge who kept track of sins. The God of my upbringing who was not a God of comfort but one of judgment. If there was a “father” God, he was a stern and exacting father, not a gentle one, and certainly no “mother” metaphors for God himself would ever have crossed my mind. Fortunately for my tender soul, I did have Mary for that. She was the one who nurtured me, the one to whom I took my fears, cried my childish tears, begged intercession with her son Jesus and even with God on my behalf. If there was any soft place to land in those days, it was with the God-bearer, who was also the bearer of most of the religious warmth I experienced as a child. “God is love” was a term I had heard, but at best it was a corporate kind of concept, and had no bearing on me personally. I had no sense of myself being beloved of this stern and distant God. And unlike my Protestant friends, I lacked the mitigating influence of “Jesus loves me this I know, for the Bible tells me so.” Our Catechism studies were focused more on the knowledge of making sure we did not disobey God’s laws by sinning. The metaphors were less about a loving relationship than they were about pleasing an exacting taskmaster. Learn the rules, do things right and He will be pleased. Mess up and you have to do things to earn your way back into favor. When we did pray for God to intercede in our lives it was from the mindset of a God that was outside of time and space and nature.

There were spatial-relational metaphors as well Humans were “down here” on earth and God was “up there” in heaven, a vast distance away, not only in time and space, but in the sense of interrelationship. God that “swooped in and swooped out” arranging things to His purposes. God was in charge, giving or not giving you what “He saw fit.” Like the master of the machine, He could alter your little life at any moment by throwing a new switch. If we complained too much that things were not going well, we were reminded that this world was really not to be our focus, because everything that mattered was going to take place in the next, anyway. Suffering here, our own, and others, was for some greater good, “earning our crown in heaven” and thus could be offered up to this God who “counted our sufferings as stars in our crowns.” It seemed there was a vast gap between man (sic) and God. Those who breached that gap were special, set apart, saints and martyrs, certainly not ordinary mortals like me. Other than the lives of those saints and a few Bible stories, I was not exposed to a lot of Scripture growing up, so I didn’t really get to hear the rest of the story until a whole lot later. Given that I felt that God was far from me, judging me and or moving impersonally in and out of my life to arrange things to His own almighty purposes (missing the almighty grounding in love factor) is it any wonder there was a rather significant amount of spiritual anxiety! Of course we know that those limited metaphors for God that I was raised with are not in tune with the biblical view of the divine nature. The idea that God is in complete control of everything, with creation having no power, plays into the idea that God is outside creation and misses the point of just about everything that we learn in scripture about the dynamic, loving and absolutely relational nature of God.
This view of God that I grew up with is problematic far beyond the production of spiritual anxiety in small in Catholic girls. As the Rev. Rick Marshall writes, “If God is omnipotent, and the nature of that divine power is coercive, it leads to metaphors of a unilateral “strong” God, a Dictator, a Warrior, an Emperor, one who uses force, even violence, as a means to divine ends. If one is called to represent and emulate this God in the world, it then means to embody this kind of coercive power that leads to wars and rumors of wars. An ultimate religious act can then be often an act of violence. Waging a war in God’s name, or harming another in God’s name is often justified as an act in tune with God’s nature. Of course this is a caricature of male power. The traditional theology view of God has become part of the problem of our world. Bullets and missiles and phalanxes of troops “inserting’ themselves, “dominating” the enemy, “penetrating” into hostile land; “Shock and Awe” is the measure of success. It is a patriarchal world where domination is the rule. Male over female, master over slave, adult over child, rich over poor, human over creation, Father God over the world. It creates a world filled with fear and anxiety.”
These stories and the emotions they engender can become our masters. We can so easily become their slaves. The metaphors we live by, the stories of our lives are what feeds them. So very far back in time God was telling a story of love and faithfulness, of covenant and relationship. Not a God who is far from the Beloved people, but of one who has “inscribed you on the palms of my hands.” Not a God who is outside of human life, distant and detached but who holds us closer than a mother. A God who is intimately connected to us in love, “closer to us than we are to ourselves.” These metaphors change things! These metaphors make it possible to consider the lilies and the birds and the grasses. They make it possible to consider that I, that we, are beloved, are called, not in spite of some sinful human nature, but because our humanness is so wonderful that God in Jesus desired to become part of it, into relationship with a God who has loved us from all eternity. The one Isaiah knew, and Moses and David. The one known by Ruth and Naomi, Rebecca and Leah. And Mary, my own comfort in the scary years, all along, she knew too, that the other story was the real one. This is the story that Jesus, too, knew, the God with whom he was intimately joined and could tell with unique authority. As for us, sometimes we need to remember, to take time to stop and remember to breathe and heed the wisdom in Jesus’ words to us today. It’s healthier that way for our bodies, our minds and our spirits.

Marshall, Rick, Process and Faith Lectionary Commentary, Proper 3, 2008

The Rev. Dr. Kate Hennessy serves as one of three priests (all women) on a Total Ministry Team in a small congregation in rural Minnesota, where she also works as a clinical psychologist at the community mental health center. She has taught as an adjunct faculty member in the Psychology department at the local University. She enjoys being active in the Diocese, serving on the Commission on Ministry, as Secretary for her Region and as Communications Coordinator for the Diocesan MDG Team. She is a self-defined “liberal, evangelical, feminist, mystical, mindful, slightly Anglo-Catholic leaning Episcopalian-by-grace.”

Thursday, May 15, 2008

Trinity Sunday Reflection

A Reflection on the lessons for Trinity Sunday by Janine Goodwin

Over the last eight months or so, I’ve done some of my best praying while looking at pictures on, a remarkable effort started by astronomers who work on images from deep space. They have discovered the best possible instrument for the task of distinguishing galaxies from other celestial phenomena, and for distinguishing spiral and elliptical galaxies from each other, is the human brain. Building on that discovery, the scientists put up a website and invited volunteers to look at galaxies. A web forum began, and a community emerged, as communities do any time there is something for people to share. There are threads where people can post especially beautiful objects and puzzle together over what the strange ones might be. There are now social scientists who are doing research on the GalaxyZoo phenomenon. When I log on to GalaxyZoo under my pseudonym, I am part of a galaxy of minds moving around a task as stars move around a galactic core. We are all connected.

I always begin a galaxy-classifying session with the opening sentence from Evening Prayer on page of the Book of Common Prayer, modified for inclusive language: “Seek the one who made the Pleiades and Orion, and turns deep darkness into morning, and darkens the day into night; who calls for the waters of the sea and pours them out upon the surface of the earth.” When a particularly beautiful object flashes onto the screen, I am amazed by the glory and the immensity of the universe. I am astounded at the creativity of the one who made the Pleiades and Orion. It doesn’t surprise me that I can tell a spiral from an elliptical better than a computer can, even in fuzzy images from deep space, but it delights me. God made us both. As St. Francis might say, the galaxy is my sister. It is a joy beyond measure to remember that anything we can perceive is only a fraction of the greatness of God, the God who has become known to me, as to Paul, as a God of grace, love, and communion, a God who creates lavishly. That God is both personal and beyond my comprehension: personal because I am part of creation and thus a recipient of grace, love, and communion, and incomprehensible because the more I learn, the less I can be certain I know exactly what God is doing. I am more inclined to praise, to trust, and to listen, less inclined to insist that I can speak for the Creator. Is the spectacularly beautiful collision of two galaxies a tragedy for worlds we will never know? What is God doing? How are we connected?

In today’s readings, we find the same insistence on the connection between the cosmic and the human. The first reading is the story of creation, one of the two stories that were chosen to be passed down as authoritative in our tradition, one of the many creation stories in our world. We human beings have a talent for making such stories, just as we have a talent for identifying galaxies. Creation stories always link the cosmic and the human, and the Creator is always in touch with human creatures in these stories. It is worth remembering that our tradition has chosen to put more than one story into the anthology of God stories that we call the Bible. There may be more than one right way to tell any given story, and our tradition tells the stories of God in a wide variety of voices, in stories told more than once and with differing emphases. The Bible is not a monolith, but a conversation made up of centuries of individual and group voices, and when we read it, we join that conversation. We are connected, through time and space, with the others who have shared our faith. We must listen with respect, study with care, and beware of making those voices sound too much like our own.

The psalm puts the human and the cosmic together, asking who we are and where we belong in creation. We have been given the power to change the earth. The psalmist, living in a world that did not yet bear the scars of large-scale human destructiveness, can celebrate human dominion; we may not have that ability anymore. When we confront what our dominion has done to the earth, we are more likely to lament than to rejoice. Our increased knowledge of how the world works and of what our heedless actions have done gives us an increased responsibility to do better. Many of us are beginning to believe that the God who made us as part of a good world is calling us out of our wasteful ways and toward repentance and change of direction in the ways we deal with the earth. Our connection with the fruitful earth has not always brought forth good fruit.

The way God deals with us is the way we should deal with each other. In an early example of Trinitarian thinking, Paul invokes “the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God, and the communion of the Holy Spirit.” God contains grace, love, and communion. God is a conversation, a phrase I first found in the works of Martin Smith. God wants to include us in that holy conversation. This passage comes at the end of a tough letter, and contains words of challenge and warning. The life of faith is not easy, and the way to live it is not self-evident. It is not always easy to find the grace to show love, the way to live in communion. When we fail to see how we are connected, or when our connections become unhealthy, we begin to lose the presence of the Christ who refuses to break connection with any of us. Are we showing grace, love, and communion to each other?

Finally, there is the Gospel. Here, again, is the formula that the Church later recognized and developed as our understanding of the Trinity grew. Here, also, is the beginning of a mixed and painful history. The Gospel of Matthew ends with this charge to “make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.” This is a passage that breaks my heart because of what Christians have done with it. Too many times (and once would be one time too many), Christians have used this passage to betray the Jesus who said, “Come and see,” the Jesus who questioned and listened, the Jesus who was always willing to look outside his own group and his own tradition for evidence of the reign of God. Those who claimed to act in his name have often replaced conversation with coercion, respect with contempt, openness with violence. This is a passage that has been used by empires to justify the conquest and destruction of cultures. Jesus, who would not allow his disciples to use violence to defend him from death, has seen his name used falsely to make war seem holy; used for the destruction of lives in inquisitions and witch hunts; used to justify slavery and oppression.

Christians in history, and Christians now, have too often gone forth with the loving intention of spreading the Good News and then tried to coerce rather than to converse. Some missionaries (not all) have assumed that the culture in which they learned the Good News and the way that news was given to them is the only way that Good News can be told. They have not entered into conversation with the cultures they encountered, seeing what God has done there, but have tried to impose their ways. They have confused the medium of their particular culture with the message of Jesus, and the results of that confusion have caused tremendous destruction.

This is true in everyday life as well. We can all name instances in which “gospels” of hatred and exclusion have replaced the Good News of inclusive love. “Christian” has become a word that turns people off because they see it as synonymous with bigotry and hostility. I have friends who cannot discuss their faith with me because of the damage done to them by Christians who tried to force them to believe, or, worse, who acted abusively toward them and used faith as a tool for that abuse. I have learned to wait in silence until they ask a question, and then to answer briefly and listen to their stories. Some of them may never be able to ask and talk. I pray that God’s love will find them, and I must accept that that may happen in ways I cannot understand and might not recognize. Loving relationships cannot be forced or manipulated, and the very people who thought they were bringing others to faith have brought about distrust, anger, and fear.

The God of grace, communion, and love has been obscured by the actions of those who would dominate, and so end, the conversations of faith. Too often, evangelization has not produced disciples who follow willingly and with creative joy, but subjects of a reign that is not God’s wild and vivid creation. Once again, there is repentance and repair work to do before we can recognize our connection to each other and reach out to each other in grace, in love, and in communion. The damage runs deep; sometimes is so great that it would be easy to despair, but the God who made the Pleiades and Orion waits to bring us all back into the loving conversation that is the beginning and end of creation, the basis of all that is.

Janine Goodwin is a freelance writer, editor, and proofreader who lives with her husband, dogs, and cats. She holds a B. Mus. and an M.S. Ed. in Special Education from the University of Oregon and an M.A. in Theology from Barry University in Miami Shores, Florida. When she is not working with words, she makes jewelry and rosaries.

Saturday, May 10, 2008

Reflections for Pentecost - Mothers Day Year A

I like preaching on Mother’s Day. And even better that it falls on Pentecost. The combination of these two celebrations meet in an incredibly Gospel (dare I say Holy Spirit) moment.
Pentecost happened when peoples of many different nationalities who might well have been at war were able to understand one language as if it were their own and were able to receive together the gift of the Holy Spirit. Mother’s Day ( beyond Hallmark and a nice brunch) was born out of a deep yearning for peace in a war filled world or perhaps in theological language for a great desire to return to a place of Holy Spirit and common language of peace.

Pentecost and Mother’s Day also have in common that they each often suffer from the kind of sentimentality that hides the real message. We are encouraged to wear red—like the tongues of fire and celebrate the birthday of the church with Happy Birthday and and giant sheet cake. I like red and depending on the amount of butter, sheet cake can be pretty tasty too!

But the deep underneath of Pentecost is about the hard work of reconciliation and what my friend Melanie May calls “Bonds of Difference”.

Pentecost, it has been said is the reversal of the tower of Babel--- that time when the one language of all was confused and different peoples could no longer understand each other. The story told in Acts, of Parthians and Medes and Elamites among others coming together, all understanding the Gospel message in their native tongue, while it was a reversal of the confusion of Babel, it was not a return to the one language. The wonder of that day was that the differences remained yet each had the ability to speak and understand the language of the other. The tongues of fire and the spirit which descended upon those gathered was not the creation of some celestial and inunderstandable word , or a new Esperanto, spirit which allowed the those in the marketplace to hear the Gospel in their own tongue.

If this day was the birthday of the church-- God’ Spirit made real not only to that small band who had followed Jesus but to the diverse crowd, then the picture of the Church of Parthians, Mesopotamians, Judeans, Phyrigians, Cappodocians, Egyptians, Libyans, all worshipping together is certainly a place for The Episcopal Church in the US ( and indeed most mainline churches) in its Sunday morning segregation, to return to.

The writers of the Gospels understood multi-culturalism before it became an overused word, lived the diversity of gifts and the unity of the one spirit before it was fashionable, knew that it takes many voices, many different sounds to create the harmony we continue to seek today. The Church when it became the Church contained the variety of human beings which made up the world the disciples knew. It went from being a small band of homogenous disciples into the marketplace, into the midst of daily life, full of the differences and similarities that culture and language can bring.

The church (and this country! I would say) was not meant to be a melting pot but a place where all human nature and creation is sought and celebrated. Paul, for once, gets it. In speaking of unity of the Body of Christ he understood well: There are many gifts, the same spirit, many parts, one body. There is no unity, he implies, unless the diverse parts are present. The groundwork of our unity or our common life in Christ is neither conformity nor uniformity but the richness of difference coming together for a common purpose. Our differences are not overcome but rather celebrated even as we do the hard work of truly trying to understand the language of the other. We are not all alike under the skin or on top. Thank heavens. The gift of Pentecost on that day, and I hope on this day is that of reconciliation.

We have a long way to go of course. Which is why each year we remember these texts. And today, beyond Hallmark, we are reminded of the yearning for peace by Julia Ward Howe ( of Battle Hymn of the Republic Fame). As Jone Johnson Lewis in About. Com wrote: “Seeing war again on the horizon, Howe called in 1870 for women to rise up and oppose war in all its forms. Hoping to get a formal recognition of a Mother’s Day for peace, she issued a Declaration to gather women in a congress of action:

Arise then...women of this day!
Arise, all women who have hearts!
Whether your baptism be of water or of tears!
Say firmly:
"We will not have questions answered by irrelevant agencies,
Our husbands will not come to us, reeking with carnage,
For caresses and applause.
Our sons shall not be taken from us to unlearn
All that we have been able to teach them of charity, mercy and patience.
We, the women of one country,
Will be too tender of those of another country
To allow our sons to be trained to injure theirs."

From the voice of a devastated Earth a voice goes up with
Our own. It says: "Disarm! Disarm!
The sword of murder is not the balance of justice."
Blood does not wipe our dishonor,
Nor violence indicate possession.
As men have often forsaken the plough and the anvil
At the summons of war,
Let women now leave all that may be left of home
For a great and earnest day of counsel.
Let them meet first, as women, to bewail and commemorate the dead.
Let them solemnly take counsel with each other as to the means
Whereby the great human family can live in peace...
Each bearing after his own time the sacred impress, not of Caesar,
But of God -
In the name of womanhood and humanity, I earnestly ask
That a general congress of women without limit of nationality,
May be appointed and held at someplace deemed most convenient
And the earliest period consistent with its objects,
To promote the alliance of the different nationalities,
The amicable settlement of international questions,
The great and general interests of peace.

We know that Anna Jarvis, remembering her own mother’s work for peace during the Civil War, is the one who later was successful in celebrating a day for mothers in churches and finally in 1912 the day was declared a national day by President Woodrow Wilson.

Lost throughout the years, as Hallmark and sentimentality have ruled, has been the activist origin of this day of remembrance. Many however have not forgotten. And even among those who have, the language of mothers whose sons and now daughters are sent increasingly to war has been to seek another way. And this year more than ever we repeat the call of Julia Ward Howe to Arise and seek peace.

I wonder, could not that Holy Spirit somehow be returning to us. I see my own young adult daughters uninterested in the racial and cultural divisions which so divided us in the past. We have only to look at the current Presidential political campaign to know that a new language and public discourse is attempting, however slowly and with many bumps, to emerge. Perhaps this is what Easter or indeed Pentecost hope is all about: One more time: Let us heed the call of the spirit to understand the language of the other, to celebrate the Gospel calling us together to seek peace and pursue it!

Margaret Rose
Mission Leadership Center
The Episcopal Church


Saturday, May 3, 2008

The Lion of the Deep Magic

A reflection on Easter 7 by The Rev. Jacqueline Schmitt

Year after year, the church sets a stage for us to act out the great drama of creation, sin and redemption. Now this drama moves at a snail’s pace, so you might have missed the flow along the way.

We’re coming to the end of the second act, which began with our acknowledging on Ash Wednesday just how far we have gone from God. Dust we are and to dust we return. The climactic scene was, of course, the crucifixion and resurrection – was it because of our sin and complicity, or was it the cosmic struggle between good and evil? (That depends on which Gospel you read.) And now we approach the end of this act: Jesus has ascended into heaven. Gone back to God. Turned the corner and out of sight. Forty days from Ash Wednesday to Easter, 40 days from Easter to Ascension. This story that began badly, and got worse, now ends in triumph.

One could read the Easter story – this second act of the great Christian drama – in a personal way. I, and my sin, die with Jesus, and I am raised with Jesus. But I think this drama is really about the bigger picture. This is not just about righting individual wrongs, but righting the whole world.

On the Feast of the Ascension, we celebrate who won. Do you remember Aslan? The Lion, of The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe? This is what he says to Lucy and Susan after they see that he has come back to life:

It means, said Aslan, that though the Witch knew the Deep Magic, there is a magic deeper still which she did not know. Her knowledge goes back only to the dawn of Time. But if she could have looked a little further back, into the stillness and the darkness before Time dawned, she would have read there a different incantation. She would have known that when a willing victim who had committed no treachery was killed in a traitor’s stead, the Table would crack and Death itself would start working backwards.

What Aslan then set about doing was righting all the wrongs of Narnia, and establishing his righteous rule. If one temptation with the Easter/Ascension story is to get too personalistic, the other temptation is to get too triumphalistic. Both interpretations tend to downplay free will and responsibility. Either Jesus died for my sins and so I’m saved, or through Jesus’ death, evil is vanquished and darkness put to flight, and so there is nothing left for me to do.

You can imagine, then, where I come out: the Anglican middle, and the Doctrine of the Incarnation. It’s really both. Jesus died for my sins, and Jesus is on the throne establishing a new reign of justice and mercy. Our welfare is now inextricably wound up with what God has in store for creation. William Temple, 20th century archbishop, urged Christians to live our lives in a way that our “self-interest prompts what justice demands.” This is what our good friend and historian, Fredrica Thompsett, says about how William Temple furthered our understanding of the Incarnation:

We are, in other words, truest to “Christ within us” when we perceive all of daily life – at work, at home, at church, in the public sphere – as means of expressing God’s will. “Christianity,” Temple … noted, “is the most materialistic of all the world’s great religions.

Aslan can conquer the White Witch, the Lion of Judah can sit upon the throne of God, the Force can defeat the Dark Side, but it is still up to us to take this truth into the world. It is up to us to live as though we really believed that good triumphs over evil and love is stronger than death. It is up to us to conform our wills to God’s will, to shape our lives to the way we know God wants the world to be.