Community

Beauty in Parallel

golden_gate_bridge_pillar-smaller-copy

Perhaps the only thing more memorable than driving over the Golden Gate Bridge may be to pass under it on an ocean-going ship. I was lucky enough to have that experience five times before I was a teenager.

Many of us assume the name for this bridge is related to its warm color. But the name comes from the ocean straight over which it stands, though it does not derive from the Gold Rush. Rather than mimicking gold, the bridge’s official color—“International Orange”—was chosen to contrast with fog. A story is told about when that color was first applied. Painters dabbed splotches of it on the heads of curious seagulls. Pretty soon, Bay Area birdwatchers reported a new bird species, which was called the California Red-Headed seagull!

Until 1964, the Golden Gate Bridge had the longest main span in the world. Yet, its basic design isn’t unique. We know this from other suspension bridges, which are found all over the world. Bridges of this kind have two main towers, steadied in place by their suspension cables, which are anchored in the ground. From their anchor points, these substantial cables ascend to the top of the towers, and then gently descend again to the center of the bridge. From that low point, they again soar up, to the top of the opposite tower. The slightly arched roadway across is literally suspended from these main cables, by small support cables that hang from them. Here, in the beauty of this simple design, we find a helpful spiritual and liturgical metaphor.

Reflect for a moment about two significant Sundays in the church year. One is the last Sunday after Epiphany, or Transfiguration Sunday, and the other is Easter Day. Transfiguration Sunday is the last Sunday before Lent, and Easter Day is the first Sunday after Lent. Imagine these two Sundays on the Church calendar as being like the two towers of the Golden Gate Bridge. Transfiguration Sunday, coming just before Lent, is like the south tower of the Golden Gate bridge, on the urban, San Francisco, side of the straight. And, Easter Sunday is like the north tower of that bridge, on the less familiar and historically rural side of that navigational channel. The season of Lent stretches between these two Sundays like the main span of a bridge. Here is the crucial part ~ every year we need to make this liturgical crossing. And, like the great towers of a bridge, Transfiguration Sunday and Easter Sunday uphold us all the way across our Lenten journey.

 

This posting is based on my homily for the Last Sunday after the Epiphany, which explores the parallel between the revelation of glory that we see in the Transfiguration, and the glory we see in the Resurrection (click here for a link to it).

Beauty in Community

Pentecost_CELPentecost[1]_buildfaith.org

 

A collection of individuals fills this painting, signifying Mary and the first followers of Jesus. They are looking in different directions at the moment when the great whooshing wind and the flames of the Holy Spirit come down upon them. Caught up in the movement of the wind and flames, they are pushed forward into a celebration that is turned outward, and toward the darkness that lies beyond. The fire of the Spirit blows in and through them, not just around and over them. And they are swept forward into the future, in common mission.

We have a challenge imagining this moment. Our culture emphasizes the particularity of personal experience, and differences between us. We hear much talk about diversity and inclusion, which might reflect a positive regard for community. But it may also reflect an assumption that, apart from our efforts to bring people together, we are separate and disconnected. Perhaps, on the day of Pentecost, some of the people dramatically experienced God’s power. But we may be surprised to hear that all of them did, and together!

We don’t appreciate how community is vital to individual human flourishing. We often want individual freedom without personal accountability to others, and individual opportunity without personal responsibility. Being in community with other people may seem to be occasionally beneficial, especially when it is on our terms. But we don’t see it as essential to our lives.

In the ancient biblical vision, we are created in community, and we are redeemed in community. Whether we experience it or not, after Baptism God abidingly dwells between us and within us. There is no distance between us and God, even if we perceive a disconnection within ourselves. Whether we are conscious of it or not, God pours out grace to us in revelation and in inspiration. This is why God encourages us to open ourselves in prayer to his abundant gifts. All are blessed, for all receive a full measure of the Holy Spirit in Baptism. And all are commissioned by the fire of the Holy Spirit to engage in mission wherever we are, at home, at school, at work or at play. All are called to share in the beauty of Christ in community.

 

The Pentecost painting is found on the website, http://www.buildfaith.org. See Acts 2 for the Pentecost story.

Common Beauty

Rossano_Gospels_Last_Supper

 

We have many ties with others through birth and our families. We find we are connected with one another by bonds that are not of our own making.

Like the links we have with our families into which we are born or adopted, our relationships with other members of the Body of Christ are also given to us. These relationships are a reality we find rather than one we construct, for they are not products of our acts of willing.

Though we discern the reality of these given birth and baptismal connections between us, we easily fall into patterns of thought that suggest otherwise. When asked who we are, we often answer in ways that ignore these received relationships. We forget that, especially after Baptism, who we are can never rightly be described without also referring to whom we are for.

Acts 2 describes the post-resurrection community as having four shared attributes : common worship, common practices, common goods, and common witness.* Members of this community could share “all things” because they already shared the most important thing, the beauty of new life in the risen Jesus.

The Rossano Gospels depict Jesus with the disciples at the last supper, reclining in ancient mediterranean style. The image of circular fellowship applies equally to their life together after the resurrection and ascension. They shared their lives at the table of Eucharist and at tables of fellowship, which became visible symbols of everything else they shared.

Judas is shown leaning out from the pattern of this circle, fulfilling Jesus’ prediction about the one who would dip in the bowl after him. Judas’ stance mirrors his refusal to share the common purse with which he has been entrusted, and his disinclination to share common worship and common witness to Jesus’ power among them.

Common beauty is within us and around us. Seeing each other as joined in the risen Lord is directly correlated with seeing the risen Lord in each other. By sharing union with him, and through discerning his beauty in one another, we are more likely to share everything else.

 

The image above is from the Rossano Gospels, 6th century A.D. *Robert W. Wall offers this insight.