"Dare to dream the vision promised / sprung from seed of what has been." (Delores Dufner, OSB)
"The task of prophetic ministry is to nurture, nourish and evoke a consciousness and perception alternative to the consciousness and perception of the dominant culture around us." (Walter Brueggemann)If, then, it is the case that we are living through a time of major transition as the Church - even a time of epic transition - then what is required of us? How do we we move from a Constantinian model and mindset of being Church and sing a new church into being?
We begin by really trusting in the resurrection and by becoming more and more a people who are allowing Easter to be not just a creed proclaimed on our lips, but good news that is being lived in our daily lives. We are a people not afraid of death, because we believe that from the seeds of what dies, new life is born.
This suggests to me that the the tradition is not something to be "guarded" as if it were a museum, but something to be planted so that it takes root. The way forward is rooted in the past. But not in "the way we have always done things." Rather, it is rooted in the past faithfulness of the Holy Trinity: for the God who created and redeemed us is the same One who sends the Holy Spirit to lead us into all truth, and gives us dreams and visions to live into. Wiith God's help.
The mission of the Church is not simply our service to the world around us, as crucial as that is to our identity. But if that is all we are, we might as well be a social service agency, and quite frankly some of those do that work better than we do as the Church. We serve the world around us, and love our neighbor, because Christ has commanded us to do these things. And in so doing we are changed for good.
But the mission of the Church is also at its very core this vocation to "nurture, nourish, and evoke a consciousness and perception alternative to the consciousness and perception of the dominant culture around us." It is to be a people, empowered by the Spirit, who dream the dream of God together.
Our context is no longer Constantinian. One way to think about the empire that does surround us is to remember that part of the Biblical narrative - of our very own story - that is about how God's people were exiled into Babylonian captivity. They,too, had lived through a time when "church" and "state" were more integrated. It didn't turn out that great for them, either, however.
In Babylon, they began to discover that to live in the midst of someone else's dominant narrative (as we do) can help you to clarify who you are. After all, Babylon was not all bad. The Babylonians had their own creation narrative. I'm sure they loved their children and their grandchildren. They had some great gardens, and a rich culture.
But that dominant narrative loomed so large that God's people were in danger of forgetting their own story - of forgetting who they were - of forgetting about the Sinai and Zion. And so in a time of epic loss and tragic grief, they began to write it down for their children and their children's children. Stories that had been told for generations around the campfire now were written down for generations to come, and shaped into what would become the Bible. They began to re-member who they were, and who they were called to become.
We, too, live in a time when it is easy to forget who we are. It is easy to believe that the narratives that tell us that to be somebody we must be rich, or beautiful, or thin are the only stories out there. But we gather as God's people to encounter Word and Sacrament and to remember that we have been claimed and marked and sealed as God's own forever. We keep gathering to nurture and nourish and evoke an alternative consciousness, and to sing a new Church into being. Always with God's help.