24 April 2017

Except you ravish me.


Today's readings:
And now, Lord, take note of their threats, and enable your servants to speak your word with all boldness...
Acts 4:29

At this time there were about 3,000 Christians in the whole world. Some Protestants would have us imagine that, essentially, those 3,000 would be the entire population of Heaven. I'm not going to wager a Universalism that I won't win because of free will, but I will wager the divine economy is a bit more lenient that some want to imagine. Those 3,000 Christians had a job to do: to witness to the Kingdom of Jesus and as they set about their business they met little opposition. Yet what they met was real enough. So they prayed one kick-butt prayer:
Sovereign Lord, maker of heaven and earth and the sea and all that is in them, you said by the Holy Spirit through the mouth of our father David, your servant: Why did the Gentiles rage and the peoples entertain folly? The kings of the earth took their stand and the princes gathered together against the Lord and against his anointed. Indeed they gathered in this city against your holy servant Jesus whom you anointed, Herod and Pontius Pilate, together with the Gentiles and the peoples of Israel, to do what your hand and your will had long ago planned to take place. And now, Lord, take note of their threats, and enable your servants to speak your word with all boldness, as you stretch forth your hand to heal, and signs and wonders are done through the name of your holy servant Jesus.
The Douay is even better:
Lord, thou art he that didst make heaven and earth, the sea and all things that are in them. Who, by the Holy Ghost, by the mouth of our father David, thy servant, hast said: Why did the Gentiles rage: and the people meditate vain things? The kings of the earth stood up: and the princes assembled together against the Lord and his Christ. For of a truth there assembled together in this city against thy holy child Jesus, whom thou hast anointed, Herod, and Pontius Pilate, with the Gentiles and the people of Israel, To do what thy hand and thy counsel decreed to be done. And now, Lord, behold their threatenings: and grant unto thy servants that with all confidence they may speak thy word, By stretching forth thy hand to cures and signs and wonders, to be done by the name of thy holy Son, Jesus. 
There are two things that I find awesome about this prayer: first although they recount the history of Jesus' passion, there is no blame. Herod, Pilate, the Gentiles, and the Jews all conspired To do what thy hand and thy counsel decreed to be done. Everything was sucky, yes: but it was only what God wanted. In fact, in God's mercy, that's all that ever really happens. (All things work for the good of those who love the Lord.) So, the Church prays, "Here in Jerusalem everyone assembled against Jesus to do exactly what you planned anyway. Caiaphas, Pilate, Herod, even mighty Augustus obeys God's plans." Now that the local authorities, though, are getting wise - and telling the Church to stop being the Church - the reaction is praising God.

How different is that from us today? On the one hand some act as if we cannot do the work the Church is called to do if the law does not allow us to. Some are afraid of losing tax benefits, or other practicalities. Some are convinced that the very end of Christianity in America is upon us. And some who have us hide away, to protect ourselves from the world: locked in a perpetual Upper Room Option, for fear of the world.

To this cringing, the Early Church - all 3,000 of them - who are about to change the spiritual, sexual, relational, financial, and political shape of the known world, all say: fiddlesticks. This is them saying fiddlesticks:
That's the second thing that's awesome about this prayer - all in verse 29 - "Take note of their threats and give us the cojones to not care." (It's in the Greek...ok, maybe not.) Most importantly, and actually in the Greek, the Church asks for the grace to proclaim God's Logos. That's Jesus, brothers and sisters: the logic by which all of everything is understood and, without whom you may have all the facts in the world, but not the Truth.

Being told "Don't do anything in the name of Jesus ever again" the Church did not run away and hide but rather trusted in God's divine mercy and said, "God's got this and we're just going to keep going." This, my friends, is the Pascha Option. Life has won. #GodWins It doesn't matter how the state changes definitions, or how far the world goes to kill us off. In fact, we know that when the world does that, we're doing something right! When the Church kneels down and says, "Just give us the grace to do what you told us to do..." God's divine Boo-yah! shakes the house.

I know I'm preaching to the choir, so I will just admit how I fail all the time. I'm scared a lot. I need this prayer every moment of the day. I need to remember the Pascha Option. It's deceptively simple: We're a mess. God came - himself - to fix us and transformed the very fabric of the universe. Now, even the sucky things are God restoring us to his glory. The Jesus Psalter would have us pray "Jesus, send me here my purgatory." Send me here all the tribulations and pains I can handle to prune off my pride, my impatience, my lack of charity, my lust. That way I can be more-fit for the society of angels. Send me here the pains I deserve, the sharp corners I must turn. Put me here in the rock tumbler and make me into the Christian you want me to be.

John Donne prays:
Batter my heart, three-person'd God, for you
As yet but knock, breathe, shine, and seek to mend;
That I may rise and stand, o'erthrow me, and bend
Your force to break, blow, burn, and make me new.
I, like an usurp'd town to another due,
Labor to admit you, but oh, to no end;
Reason, your viceroy in me, me should defend,
But is captiv'd, and proves weak or untrue.
Yet dearly I love you, and would be lov'd fain,
But am betroth'd unto your enemy;
Divorce me, untie or break that knot again,
Take me to you, imprison me, for I,
Except you enthrall me, never shall be free,
Nor ever chaste, except you ravish me. 
None of those pains are designed to make me shut up proclaiming the divine Logos: rather, in grace, I have to breath deep of the Divine Light and shout, all the louder, from the root-top.