Why “Church”? This question, which appears on our Sunday liturgy page, is the starting point for a much greater question, which could be phrased: What is the sense in being a Community of Faith, of Anglican tradition, set in the heart of the city of Buenos Aires? This question is my starting point because I recognize in our biblical texts today some sort of response to what has led us to gather here today.
A first element I would like to put forward is an ancient analogy from Patristic times, i.e. dating back to the first centuries of the Christina era, cited by Didymus “the Blind”, who described the church as Mysterium lunae [The mystery of the moon]. The moon has no light of its own; it reflects the light of the sun. Analogously, the Church reflects the light of Christ. She is dependent on that light, and should not seek to take the place of Christ, but rather to manifest the love of God, who calls us to take part in His own life.
The path I would like to reflect on this Sunday involves three steps: Firstly, to consider the relationship between Jesus and the Law. Secondly to look at the text of the Epistle from the diversity of ministries and unity in God. Lastly, to present this diversity and unity from the Anglican principle of the Middle Way.
To start with, I would like to look into some Biblical expressions.
1. Jesus and the Law
The Gospel reading this morning proclaims in the words of Jesus not only the fulfillment of the Old Testament but also a breakaway, surpassing it and taking its contents to further depths.
The gospel makes it clear that the Law needs to be sifted and understood in the light of the words and actions of Jesus. The sentences have the same structure: You have heard that it was said – But I tell you. With His words and with His actions Jesus transforms the Law by His authority, and His message gives new meaning to the relationships among equals, among the greater and the lesser (man/woman) and with Dios. In 5: 21-26 the issue is murdering as compared to wounding with words; the Law forbade taking a person’s life, but murders occurred anyway, and the murderers came to the temple with their offerings for purification from their sin. Jesus not only forbids murder, he forbids wounding another in conversation, and he teaches we need to seek reconciliation with the victim of the offense instead of seeking the forgiveness of God by way of an offering. In 5: 27-32 the issue is adultery. The Law always held the woman guilty of adultery, even if she had only been found talking in the street with a man. The Law protected the man, who could repudiate the woman and take another wife. Jesus turns this upside down and places responsibility on the man, defending the woman who was left exposed and vulnerable by this rule. The last issue Jesus deals with in 5: 33-37 is the authenticity of our actions: when we say yes or no, may we keep to it. The Law forbade swearing oaths, but allowed making vows to God. Jesus teaches that when we live consistently with what we believe and practice, there is no need for vows … even less to God.
To the extent that Jesus, in all authority says I tell you he is emphatically offering a new way of relating to God and others. Therefore, to call ourselves Christians and cling to expressions, verses, ritual practices, etc., from the Old Testament is contradictory to following God self-communicated in the person of Jesus of Nazareth who invites us to live life joyfully and worthily to the full.
2. Unity in diversity
The Epistle we heard this morning is from Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians. It is likely the Community in Corinth was made up of three or four groups, each of which wanted to make reference to their guide: Apollos, Cephas, Paul, Christ. Apollos was a Jewish Christian trained at Alexandria, the center of Greek science and oratory; he was well-educated and full of the Holy Spirit and had previously been a disciple of John the Baptist’s (Acts 18: 24-28). In this letter one of the important themes is the unity of the Church. The verses we heard today make for thought-provoking questions. I would like to repeat two verses, which I would like to say a word about.
5 What, after all, is Apollos? And what is Paul? Only servants, through whom you came to believe—as the Lord has assigned to each his task?
6 I planted the seed, Apollos watered it, but God has been making it grow.
Although Apollos and Paul are considered as two servants of the Word, any fissure or confrontation is avoided. On the contrary, the value given to their different ministries recognizes their unity in God’s activity. To some extent, in the face of two trends, a middle way is found which gives unity to their diverse ministries. In other words, in this text we heard today, we can find the germ of the principle for reflection on the diversity and unity of the ecclesial roles Paul will consider in further depth in Chapter 12.
3. The Anglican Middle Way
In the light of this situation set forth in the epistolary text, I would like to share something of our Anglican Identity, a principle that is still current and in need of resignification in our times.
During the initial part of the English Reformation, in other words, at the dawn of the Church of England, there are three theologians who emerge as having a central role. One of them is Richard Hooker. Hooker's major contribution was his monumental Of the Lawes of Ecclesiastical Polity. The first four books of the Lawes were published in 1594, the fifth book was published in 1597, and the last three books were published much later after his death.
This singular figure offers the concept of the Middle Way as the answer to the two latent trends of the time: Roman Catholicism and English Puritanism. We could analogously place Apollos and Paul as the trends between Roman Catholicism and English Puritanism, or, if you like, between Roman Catholicism and Protestantism.
Hooker provides the Anglican Middle Way as a search for balance between the two prevailing Christian traditions, or, in the words of the great Lutheran theologian, Paul Tillich, as maintaining the Catholic substrate and the Protestant principles in Anglican tradition. The Anglican ethos is not one of bipolarity, but one of Communion. It is a place in which we, diverse as we are, can live out our fellowship in Christ as a Community. I don’t know whether you were born into this Church or whether you are Roman Catholic, or Protestant or Evangelical in origin; what I do know, is that here you will be able to live out and experience faithfulness to the gospel in the freedom given by the Spirit.
The Community of believers, called to reflect the light of Christ should be to each of us a space for Communion, not with the aim of doing away with our differences, but of leveraging them, with the call to focus on the person, words and works of Jesus of Nazareth.
Today too, in February 2020, this, our Community of St. John the Baptist, is invited to be a place for communion among the diverse, calling all people to share in the common table.
This Sunday I invite you, evoking the initial question to acknowledge the central nature of the person of Jesus of Nazareth as the Word that leads to the fulfillment and, to some extent, surpassing of the Old Testament Law. I invite you to recognize ourselves in the differences, like those of Apollos and Paul, while confessing Unity; this unity in which we are called to live in God. Finally, I invite you, assuming your religious background, to live the experience of discipleship as an adventure that can be followed together in this ecclesiastic tradition, in this parish Community in particular, which seeks to reflect to all people the light of Christ.
I conclude, with my eyes on this altar, by quoting the German Pastor Dietrich Bonhoeffer, who took part in the resistance movement against Nazism, and who said in his book Life Together:
The fellowship of the Lord's Supper is the superlative fulfillment of Christian fellowship. As the members of the congregation are united in body and blood at the table of the Lord so will they be together in eternity. Here the community has reached its goal. Here joy in Christ and his community is complete. The life of Christians together under the Word has reached its perfection in the sacrament.
By The Revd. Ariel Irrazábal
Translation: Elizabeth Birks