Friday, April 29, 2011

Beyond Pascha.

This is the world's largest Easter egg, a two-ton sculpture of a Ukrainian pysanka located in Vegreville, Alberta. The image of an enormous Easter egg may seem odd and perhaps even disturbing; then again, the same might be said of Easter if one takes seriously the meaning of the feast and the faith behind it. The Feast of the Resurrection is disturbing in the truest sense, for, as Father James Martin wrote recently in a piece that I shared on Pascha, "on Easter Sunday everything changes."

Christ's resurrection from the dead should disturb us profoundly. If we take this event seriously, it should shake us from our complacency and disrupt the subtle compromises that each of us makes with the world we inhabit. In short, Pascha should challenge us to live in a new and very different way.

Even if we truly believe that the resurrection changes everything, the euphoria that we feel when we proclaim that "Christ is risen" may soon wear off. Returning to our 'ordinary' existence, it may seem that nothing has really changed. Father Stephen Freeman reflects on this dilemma in this post from his blog Glory to God for All Things, excerpted below:
Forty days of Great Lent having been completed, along with Holy Week, and the Great Feast of Feasts, Pascha, having been marked in the Church, it is very easy to take a deep breath and say, "Now, that’s done!." And with the exhalation we take our leave of a liturgical feast and return to our daily routine and schedule. Just as the modern world has little understanding of the meaning of fasting, so, too, does it fail to understand the meaning of liturgy. Liturgy is not a means of marking time on a calendar – liturgy is a means (and mode) of existence.

. . .

Liturgy and the Feasts of the Church are . . . not mere calendar events which mark the annual remembrance of occasions now lost within history. What we celebrate are events within the Kingdom of God – now manifest in our midst. The liturgy continually initiates and renews us in the life of the age of come.

The opposite approach (one which dominates our modern world) is to see liturgical events as simply things among other things. They mark historical events, now past, and, as such, are reminders not of God’s presence, but His absence. Thus the modern Easter easily becomes a feast of the Christ that was (who can barely compete with the chocolate and bunny rabbits).
As Father Stephen explains, part of the challenge for contemporary Christians living in the cultural West is to overcome the modern mentality that suggests that we live in a "two-storey universe" in which our conscious existence is confined to the "first floor" while God and transcendence are confined to an unseen "second floor." This emphasis on God's removal to the "second floor" - can lead modern Christians to locate themselves in an "in-between" present where God is absent:
This historical sense of living “in-between” adds a twist to the two-storey experience: it is rooted in our modern understanding of history and time. It is easy, almost obvious, to think of ourselves as living between major events in the Christian story. Two-thousand years have passed since the resurrection of Christ. Christians continue to wait for His second-coming. How do we not perceive ourselves as living in-between?

. . .

To speak of ourselves as living “in-between” or to think of liturgy as mere remembrance, is to place history in the primary position, relegating the Kingdom of God to a lower status. It is the essence of secularism. The Kingdom of God is not denied – it is simply placed beyond our reach (as we are placed beyond its reach). The Kingdom, like God Himself, is reduced to an idea.

Living "in-between" is part of the loneliness and alienation of the modern Christian. Things are merely things, time is inexorable and impenetrable. There is an anxiety that accompanies all of this that is marked by doubt, argument and opinion. Faith is directed towards things past or things that have not yet happened.
In passing, I should note that the above paragraphs from Father Stephen's post helped me to better understand why talk about how Christians should help to 'build the Kingdom of God' often leaves me cold. For me, the difficulty with the notion of 'building the Kingdom' is that it can seem to imply that the Kingdom of God is something prospective, a not-yet-existent state of being that we can bring about through our own efforts - in other words, nothing more than an idea.

Speaking personally, I have found great consolation in understanding the Kingdom of God as something immanent, already present though often hidden. From this perspective, the task of the Christian in the world isn't to build the Kingdom but rather to reveal it, making God's presence in our midst much more palpable. Picking up on this theme, Father Stephen offers the following:
By faith, we do not live in-between. By faith, we live in a one-storey universe in which the realities of God’s Kingdom permeate our existence. We are not alone nor need we be alienated. The anxiety that haunts our every step is produced by a false perception – a delusion.

Of course, this is an easy thing to assert, but a difficult thing to live: it is the great struggle of our times. But without this struggle, faith will remain alien to us and we will remain lost “in-between” the worlds, trapped within those things that “are passing away.” Christ has given us something greater.
To read the rest of Father Stephen's post, click here. AMDG.

The photo that illustrates this post was found here.


At 4/29/2011 9:52 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

one of your best posts...


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