Sunday, July 22, 2012

The Cross and the River of Hope

The theme of this year’s Presbyterian Women’s gathering was “River of Hope” and everywhere that theme was applied. Both spirituality and advocacy became a part of the definition of river of hope. As an orthodox reformed woman I must admit I felt a great deal of confusion while listening to both sermons and advocacy speeches. The question for me was “what is the river of hope?”

Both a text in John (4:1-42) and a text in Ezekiel (47: 1-10) were used as well as texts in the Psalms “Psalm 78: 12-16 and 65:5-13. There were more texts about rivers and water. You get the picture, if a biblical text was about a river and/or water it was a possible choice. And the liturgy was a mixture of how the river of hope is the work of the church and how it is also about God being present. For instance, one reading referred to as a litany of faith and titled “This is the river of Hope” was read by several women:
“I am the river that flows through poverty, prisons and pain.

I am the river that flows unafraid of war, violence and madness.

I am the river that flows boldly through our streets, cities and nations.

I am the river of courage, kindness and love.”
And then all were to read:
“We are the rivers of hope flowing deep and wide.”

In another place the liturgy as the gathering of community was:
"I am the Pishon River that flows through the land of Arabia.

I am the Gihon River that winds through Ethiopia.

I am the Tigris River that flows to the Persian Gulf.”
And then all read:

“We are all the Rivers of Hope.”

All of this, in my mind, bled into part of the reading for communion, which was both traditional and different. The difference was the troubling part:
“Today we bring bread to Christ’s table,
made by many people’s work from an unjust world
where some have plenty and must go hungry.
At this table, all are fed and no one is turned away.

We bring wine, made by many people’s work
from an unjust world where some have leisure and must struggle to survive.
At this table, all share the cup of pain and celebration and no one is denied.

These gifts shall be for us the body and blood of Christ,
our witness against hunger, our cry against injustice,
and our hope for a world where God is fully known and every child is fed.
So come, there is a place at the table for you.”
This is a mistake, an error. The bread and wine are not gifts given through the works of Christians. The bread and wine are a symbol of the gift Jesus gives to his body the Church. They are a sign that he feeds us continually because of his shed blood and broken body. In our union with him we are nourished. The communion is given by Christ Jesus—he blesses his Church with his life and his presence. The works of the church follow and they include not only good works of help and advocacy but also the right preaching of the word and the good teaching of the gospel.

And this was the problem through most of the gathering, the cross was missing and Jesus Christ as Lord of his Church was often absent. While the gathering featured some nice spirituals which used the name of Jesus and spoke of God’s care for his church, the great hymns that speak strongly of the work of Christ and his Lordship were missing. One reading lifted up the shed blood of Christ- 1 Peter 1:13-25, however the song that followed simply referred to baptism as that hope for the sinner. Relying on water it simply speaks of “water that flowed from that first garden” and “Waters of baptism bind us/ in our desert lives remind us/there is no place Love can’t find us/ River of hope.”

The Scripture text that featured Jesus and the Samaritan woman was only touched on in one sermon—and his position as the giver of life by death and resurrection was absent. The generic name ‘God’ was over used. But more importantly the river in many ways became a substitute for the cross. It seemingly was used to pull all together in community and advocacy without offending anyone.

At least one Reformer, John Calvin, saw the river in Ezekiel 47: 1-10 as a prophetic word pointing to the coming good news of Christ’s salvation. And certainly, taking the whole Scripture together, Jesus words about living waters spoken to the Samaritan woman are connected to his death and resurrection as well as his life. The cross cannot be disconnected from John 4:1-42. The living waters given here cannot be given without the death and resurrection of Jesus. And the living waters, the gift of the Holy Spirit are tied intimately to Jesus and his work. Jesus gives the gift of the Holy Spirit who only and always lifts up Christ Jesus our Lord.
Picture by Penny Juncker


Anonymous said...

The communion liturgy, as you present it, describes the bread and wine as being "made by many people's work". Certainly this is true. While it does label the elements as gifts, it does not claim that the elements are "gifts given through the works of Christians". It seems to me that the point was that just as many people (not necessarily Christians) contributed to the making of the elements, so too is the communion (and, specifically, the gift it represents) available to all.

Anonymous said...

What's troubling here (in what you describe) is a tendency to make it about our works. Not only is the work of Jesus Christ minimized in this presentation, but even (in the same fashion) it seems to be forgotten that the physical elements are not made by many people's work.

Not one grain used to "make" bread is produced by humans. Not one grape. Sure, someone might plant, someone might water - but they didn't make.

Perhaps bringing these elements was work. Why should it be neglected? Maybe building the place where the ritual was carried was work. Same thing?

The thing is, it isn't about us and our "work" or "works" at all.

Viola Larson said...

Thanks for your comment but
the piece states "These gifts shall be for us the body and blood of Christ" But communion is Christ's gift to us no matter who makes or brings it.

Please do not post again without your name city and state. I am traveling by train so I might not answer very soon.

Anonymous said...

Let's see:
1. The Sacraments are not rightly administered.(E. G. based upon your description in this article).
2. The Word of God is not rightly preached.(E.G. GA Committee can't decide what Scripture teaches about sexual morality).
3. Discipline is not rightly administered. (E.G. Scripture is only a guide and not the standard for the behavior of teaching and ruling elders).

Looks like Calvin and Knox would declare the PCUSA apostate and not part of the true church!

Anonymous said...

I was there at the churchwide gathering--Jesus' name and his redemptive work were mentioned many times in the workshops which were the key parts of the meeting. In addition, informal conversations testified to what God (and Jesus and the Holy Spirit which are part of the triune Godhead) were and are doing to redeem humans. It is certainly true that the wine and bread were produced in their material form by humans--even the author of this article could not doubt that. It is also true that the Book of Commom Worship was used to form the foundation of the communion service which includes "the gifts of God for the people of God"--and also that all who believe in Jesus Christ are invited to the table. Since all Christian women are aware of the redemptive work of the cruxifiction of Jesus on the cross, it is misleading (at best) to say it was not present--we know and trust that the risen Lord is present wherever two or three gather in his name--and we trust this saying from the word of God, as Jesus (Emmanuel--God with us) said so many years. Those who label other Christian "apostate" are sitting in judgment as the Bible instructs us not to do--and nobody knows what Calvin and Knox would say or can claim that they do--Calvin also said (while he was still alive and writing)that the church should not be divided even if it is in error. Evidently, Calvin and Knox's writings are not always read completely but are sometimes used as may be convenient. Finally, please note that I am not calling other denominations "apostate"; I am not passing judgment on what other denominations are or are not preaching or how they discipline their officers. I am pointing out factually what was done at the PW gathering in Orlando, what the Bible says, and what Calvin and Knox also said.

Viola Larson said...

Anonymous or anonymouses,

you have had an interesting conversation while I have been traveling on a train. But no one was willing to let me or anyone else no who you are. Words by nameless people rarely do much good or bad for that matter. I am closing the thread now.

Viola Larson said...

That should have been know.