Every notable occasion in this modern age must be in want of a lengthy Twitter thread of argumentation and reproach. As many opinions as there are about something, that is the number of fights that must occur in the aftermath of any spectacular moment. So, as you might know, King Charles III was coronated yesterday in Westminster Abby by the Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby, and for some reason, a fair number of American Christians involved in the debate over Christian Nationalism became, how shall I put it? Testy.
This is one that caused a lot of “conversation:”
On the whole, I enjoy the fierce cut and thrust of Twitter debate (up to a point), and I think I understand, and sympathize, with what Johnson is saying. After a long century of hollowing out the substance of the thing, it can feel empty to watch a lot of people prancing around in their fancy robes and hats intoning their fancy and ancient prayers. I don’t know whether Charles is a Christian or not, though his mother was. I think, and this is a dreadful thing to speculate, that he is probably more of a believer, and more curious and thoughtful than the Archbishop of Canterbury is. For example, this is wonderful:
For me, what is ironic–or merely tragic, not sure–is that the Royal Family has endured trials and tribulations of her own making, and has had to weather the withering scorn of the disappointed public and has, therefore, some sort of grit, some depth or character. Most remarkable of all, the working family, at least, is yet clinging to that now almost incomprehensible idea of putting other people’s highest good before one’s own. Does the ordinary English young person even know what that means? And yet, George and Charlott and Louis are being offered that great gift–a life lived in service to others.
Moreover, Charles, to all outward appearances, is a different sort of man than he was thirty years ago. He’s been humbled. He’s been made to deal with his arrogance and pride. He’s had to learn patience. He’s had to become reconciled to, well, his country and at least one of his children, if not God as well.
None of that is ironic. It is merciful and gracious. What is ironic, in that spiritual sense akin to the irony of Jesus, the Son of God, coming to his own and his own receiving him not, is that while the Royal Family has learned humility and temperance, the Church that should have ministered to her and to all those in the ordinary predicament of sin decided instead to chuck Jesus for the latest idols of this age.
It was so strange for example, to listen to that glorious Colossians text read in that exquisite church by a practicing Hindu. Dissonance, at the very least, is the word one gropes for, if not blasphemy. How can that person stand there, after reading aloud about how all things are put in subjection under Christ, how he is the Firstborn in whom all things hold together, and then say, “The Word of the Lord” if he doesn’t really believe it? How can Justin Welby face Charles and command him to stand on the authority of the Bible when he himself has been unwilling to do any such thing?
The Epistle for this morning is strangely perfect for just this moment in Christian history. “Put away all malice and all deceit and all hypocrisy and envy and all slander” exhorts St. Peter. “Like newborn infants, long for the pure spiritual milk, that by it you may grow up into salvation–if indeed you have tasted that the Lord is good.” It’s hard to look into the eyes of Justin Welby, even across the cyber waves of my small phone screen, and believe that he has tasted the goodness of the Lord. If you really taste God’s goodness and know him for who he is, are you able to capitulate over the Word he has given to the church? And go on doing it?
Anglicans, of course, are known for a certain amount of wavering, of wanting to stand on their convictions but then being too afraid, of sometimes putting second things first and forgetting what is most essential. But we also have a long history of public repentance, of true faith, of deep and beautiful theology.
St. Peter goes on: “As you come to him, a living stone rejected by men but in the sight of God chosen and precious, you yourselves like living stones are being built up as a spiritual house, to be a holy priesthood, to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ.” It’s quite a poignant image. All those people sitting there in that beautiful stone building, made lovingly by generations past who really did count Jesus as precious, who really did want to be living stones of his own house, and who wanted that visible building, and all the prayers prayed and music sung in it to reflect his spiritual glory. And then Rishi Sunac, the first pagan prime minister in a thousand years, is the one invited to read the lesson. Meanwhile, faithful English Christians who can’t bear it are walking away from their beautiful churches to worship anywhere they can. And others are battening down the hatches, trying to preserve places of true belief safe from arrogant and faithless bishops. What a mess.
“For it stands in Scripture,” explains St. Peter,
“Behold, I am laying in Zion a stone,
a cornerstone chosen and precious,
and whoever believes in him will not be put to shame.”
7 So the honor is for you who believe, but for those who do not believe,
“The stone that the builders rejected
has become the cornerstone,”
“A stone of stumbling,
and a rock of offense.”
They stumble because they disobey the word, as they were destined to do.
It’s a hard thing to face–the stumbling of the leaders of the church over the Rock, Jesus, who, in the Gospel, astonishes his disciples by revealing that isn’t just “a” way to truth and life, one among many, but “The Way,” the only path to Truth and indeed, the destination itself. The world bites down and breaks its collective teeth, but the church isn’t meant to. The church, nurtured on the pure word, is supposed to rejoice that there is a Way, that God’s Truth–Jesus–is the way of life.
Peter goes on comforting the discouraged and anxious believers of the New Testament era, that small, useless group of people who wouldn’t get on board with the imperial agenda, who wouldn’t go along to get along, who didn’t want to die, but didn’t want to be cut off from Life either. “But you,” he cries out to them across the page, “you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light. One you were not a people, but now you are God’s people; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy.” Is there any greater joy? Any more glorious truth? Any more comforting discovery to bite down on? To imagine that you will have to swallow a hard and alienating thing–that you are a sinner called to repent, a person who didn’t keep the vows you made, who destroyed other people’s happiness–but then, in that strangest and most alienating hour, are offered by Christ not just mercy, not just forgiveness, but himself, his own body and blood to taste, to eat? You there, not even making it into any beautiful church to worship God, not even getting to be part of any family, not being honored or even known–you are being made into God’s own people.
“Beloved,” Peter goes on, “I urge you as sojourners and exiles to abstain from the passions of the flesh, which wage war against your soul. Keep your conduct among the Gentiles honorable, so that when they speak against you as evildoers, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day of visitation.” It’s painful to feel like an alien and a stranger in your own country and among your own people. It is humiliating to watch the leaders of your church apostatize and embrace another gospel. But Jesus–the Truth and the Life–walked that Way before you. He endured the shame and reproach of his own people in order to make you one of his. He told the truth so that you would never have to endure the cruelty of so many human lies. He shed his light so that you wouldn’t have to walk in the darkness. He made a way for you to be with him forever.
Wherever you are, go to church–a real one, a living one that makes Jesus its sure foundation. Hope to see you there!
Photo by Kirsten Drew on Unsplash
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