Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Lenten Unity

Archbishop Justin Welby and Pope Francis
I was very moved this week to learn of the collaboration between the Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby, and Pope Francis (and others) to combat human trafficking and slavery.  It is projected that this exploitative industry may afflict upwards of 29 million people.   It seems fitting to draw the world's attention to a sin of this magnitude during Lent, to promote repentance and healing around an issue that receives insufficient coverage and visibility, at least in the developed world. 

Pope John Paul II and Archbishop Rowan Williams
But my heart was also strangely warmed, to quote John Wesley, by the photo of the two religious
leaders shaking hands, displaying unity within a divided Church and world.  In the early years of Christianity, schism was one of the greatest sins that could be committed, and yet it has become our daily reality, which makes me wonder if promoting Christian unity might be a better Lenten discipline than giving up chocolate or alcohol.  Many of us within the Church take division as a given, as if schism was in the beginning, is now, and ever shall be, world without end.  I remember in seminary wading through abstruse arguments defending the validity of Anglican ordination against Roman Catholic refutations, being called on by evangelicals to justify the Episcopal Church's progressive stance on social issues, and being quite rightly challenged by colleagues on my own ecclesiological prejudices.  Not that theological differences of opinion aren't important.  As one of my seminary professors, Fr. Ralph McMichael, said, "it is better in communion than to be right.  But it has to be the right kind of communion."  We have to be honest and name the convictions on which we are not of one mind.

Archbishop George Carey and Pope John Paul II
Lent is an aspirational season in which we seek to be better than we have been, to right wrongs, to mend moral defects, to repent and become whole again. This is a tall order, and utterly impossible for humanity to affect without the grace and mercy of God.  But I think God wants us to reach out and seek that wholeness by looking past the conventional litmus tests that tend to divide us and focus on the unity toward which we can work now.  The Anglican-Roman Catholic International Commission has been crafting a way way forward for decades, and now our shared work on human trafficking and slavery is another step we can take together.  Unity is not an all or nothing proposition; it is a spectrum of intimacy along which we can grow and converge.  Anglicans and Roman Catholics, in particular, share a common heritage that gives us a place from which to grow on things that matter. And the same plea for unity applies to our relationships with our Lutheran, Methodist, Congregationalist, Jewish, and Muslim sisters and brothers.  We all have a place from which to grow together.

Pope Paul VI and Archbishop Michael Ramsey
So, what am I proposing?  Just a few small things.  1) Begin by intentionally praying for each other and your respective ministries, Roman Catholics and Anglicans.  2) Anglicans, take a Roman Catholic friend to church with you one Sunday.  Roman Catholics, take an Anglican friend to church with you. Maybe say Evensong or Vespers together.  3) Find something you can do together as Anglicans and Roman Catholics, like serve at a soup kitchen, food pantry, crisis center, or other ministry.  and 4) Finally, be patient and humble with each other.  No one of us has the complete truth.  Remember that in a Church that is divided, each of us is damaged, deficient, and deprived.  We cannot say that we have no need of each other; for only together are we truly the body of Christ.  May we all in this Lenten season acknowledge the reality of the broken body on the Cross and work to emulate the image of the resurrected Christ.

Ethan +

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