Tuesday, 2 August 2011

Church and change

I’ve been dipping in and out of a book recently called ‘O God Why? By Gerard Hughes, a Jesuit. It’s subtitled ‘a journey through Lent for bruised pilgrims’ (which often seems to fit my experience as a Christian!) It encourages the reader to remember why Christians have celebrated Lent all these years: it’s because the Church is the sacrament of God in the world. Some of us might remember this from our training in the Catechism but Augustine defined sacrament as "a visible sign of an invisible reality", an effective sign of the presence of God-with-us. And the Church needs to reflect this transcendent quality of God, this characteristic unpredictability, this surprise element. It just doesn’t make sense if the Church isn’t developing. The early Christians knew for sure that they were a part of a pilgrim people: always on the move out of slavery, or back from exile; through wilderness into a Promised Land – and even there, there were battles to be fought. Sadly the truth about the Church can also be very painful and disturbing to those looking on and is the root of much bitterness, animosity and division – even between and within churches. Gerard Hughes observes:

“Even the slightest change can cause a major disturbance within church congregations – and there is nothing more divisive in most than a change in our church services. We all fear change, long for security, but a church which offers us unchanging stability has ceased to be Church and is no longer a sign of the transcendent God” but (and here’s the good news) God is also immanent, present in all things – even in the very messy, often shameful history of an obscure and troublesome Middle-East nation destined to be a light to all nations.

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