The Pulitzer Prize winning author Annie Dillard once asked, “Why do people in church seem like cheerful, brainless tourists on a packaged tour of the Absolute? … Does anyone have the foggiest idea what sort of power we blithely invoke? Or, as I suspect, does no one believe a word of it? The churches are children playing on the floor with their chemistry sets, mixing up a batch of TNT to kill a Sunday morning.”
I cannot think of anyone but Annie Dillard who could have written those lines, but I can think of many people whom she might have been describing. I have been one of them myself on more occasions than I care to admit.
People of faith routinely underestimate the seriousness of what they do. We say things like, “A person’s immortal soul hangs in the balance,” yet we cast the Creator in the role of heaven’s bellboy, whose purpose is to escort people to their eternal inheritance. We “blithely invoke” a power we have not begun to understand.
Dillard’s “children playing on the floor,” turn the incarnation of Christ into an occasion for schmaltzy movies and white elephant gifts. Few people apprehend the fact that Christmas marks the divine invasion of planet earth and the beginning of a campaign to wrest control from hostile powers.
In the hands of us “cheerful, brainless tourists,” Easter is an opportunity to dress our daughters in pastel-colored dresses and send our kids to hunt for colored eggs. St. Paul, however, saw it as nothing less than the overthrow of death – nothing less, and certainly a great deal more.
People who come to Jesus are not joining a religious club or a theological society. They’re joining the Resistance. They are ordinary men and women who know that things are not the way they are supposed to be in the world and, more importantly, in themselves. They are willing to change, and yet their commitment is not so much to change as it is to their King. They have sworn allegiance to his kingdom.
These men and women are Christ’s operatives in the world. Their role is not to set up a kingdom; Christ will do that. Their job is simple: always keep communication lines with headquarters open and, when a communication is received, follow orders. The Resistance gathers regularly to send communications to headquarters, to receive instructions, and to be encouraged. When they leave their gatherings, they do not leave the Resistance.
They go into their schools, into their workplaces, into public settings and private homes and work for the Resistance; that is, they obey their leader. They make car parts and study history and teach elementary school and drive trucks and wait tables. They do what everyone else does but, unlike everyone else, they are always awaiting instructions from their leader.
The people of the Resistance have confessed their leader Jesus to be the Lord, the rightful king, and have given him their unconditional allegiance. They have entered an agreement with him, an agreement of greatest consequence. In the Bible and in other ancient documents, such agreements are known as covenants. There are numerous covenants in the Bible, but the one that is most important to the Resistance is known simply as “The New Covenant.”
A standard component of such agreements was the covenant meal. After entering into a covenant, the parties would share a meal – the reception dinner that follows a covenant of marriage ceremony is one example. The church participates in the New Covenant meal whenever it takes Holy Communion, also known as The Lord’s Supper, and the Eucharist.
Do those who participate in this ritual understand what they are doing? Are they aware that they are affirming their covenant with the true king? Do they acknowledge those who eat the meal with them as brothers and sisters in the Company of the Committed?
Or are they just mixing up another batch of TNT to kill a Sunday morning? But even that would be better than playing with “a form of godliness but denying its power.” Sacred things are powerful things, but they are not, as Annie Dillard wants us to understand, playthings.
When I read the story about “The Lord’s Supper”, I read the whole chapter, where it deals with a church banquet, aka a Chicken Dinner, with desert, where ethics is discussed as how to behave ones self at the dinner table. I don’t see it as a ritual of drinking a thumb nail grape juice, or gluten free wafers, affirming anything regarding any covenant.
Some of those people were gobbling down food without letting others have a bite, so the chapter ends that if you are that hungry, eat at home. I have no idea where the Catholics came up with a ritual called Eucharist, or the protestants modified it to “communion”.
All Paul does, by mentioning the last supper, is to show how one is served the meal, so that everyone eats, and no one goes hungry.
And as far as the New Covenant, have you ever heard of “Meet the new boss, same as the old boss”? We are sons of Abraham, so it goes back to Abraham. The law got in the way. So God took it out of the way. We are just like Abraham. No law. We can eat meat offered to idols, so long as we believe that the idol is nothing.
Freedom from the law is what the New Covenant is. We are free to worship God, without walking on egg shells.
And I don’t know what some preachers have against little girls wearing pastel-colored dresses, but that sure gets mentioned a lot by a FEW preachers as Easter approaches. Some mention bonnets, as something derogatory, too. I know, I know…they have a problem with hunting rabbit…eggs. LOL.
Does anyone know what children did during passover? They hunted a loaf of bread…well, half a loaf. But, some adults in Christianity take the fun out of being a child. They want us to be all “serious and somber” and all.
Ed, I agree with much of what you say. (I have three granddaughters, and it is a delight to see them in their Easter dresses!) But Easter is more than dresses, as I am sure you agree, but some people don’t seem to understand. And the covenant is more that freedom from the law – just read Jeremiah 31 and Hebrews 8. We are not only free from the law (Gentiles, like me, were never under the law of Moses anyway), but free from the compulsion of sinful desires (see Galatians 5). I do not say free from the desires – I don’t know if that will happen in this life – but from the compulsion. We need to learn to live in this freedom – as well as the freedom from walking on eggshells. It is a real freedom, for it frees us to become our truest selves and to most enjoy the life God has given.
I see you have a blog. I will check it out. Much joy to you – Shayne