Earlier this week I was in a coffee shop in Rutland with a friend and overheard a conversation at the next table. Two put together women in professional attire were comparing notes on an event they'd recently attended at a church. I couldn't tell if it was a funeral or a wedding, but the important thing was that communion was served at this event.
"I don't get it," the one woman said, taking a sip of her latte. "Is it supposed to be, like, mock cannibalism or something." They both laughed and the conversation moved on.
I did feel some indignation, it's true. That charge of cannibalism is old and has served as the justification for all sorts of violence toward believers. It made it easier for the Romans to cheer when Christians were thrown to the lions, for instance.
But my indignation was quickly replaced with something else. I felt a thrill of potential here.
Imagine a flooded landscape. The water rose at some time in the past, rose all the way up the slopes, eventually submerging the peaks and kept rising. That's a picture of the Western World, of what was once thought of as "Christendom." The success of Christianity in the West meant, ironically, that if your boat had a shallow keel you could float over all the jagged pinnacles of the faith. Because everyone knew about communion, because everyone had taken communion, because it was such a given, no one had to think much about communion.
Ever since the Enlightenment the water has been draining from the West and that process has accelerated in the last fifty years to the point where some of the previously submerged peaks are now glistening again in the sunlight. The civil authorities are putting their buoys up to warn off those in danger of crashing on the rocks.
Now the mountains in this metaphor neither shrink nor grow. The change of water level gives them the appearance of rising out of the water, but it's an illusion. the mountains do not change. In the same way, the weird things about the Christian faith were no less weird when everyone accepted them than they are now when a startled world discovers them in their arresting and stark oddness.
A God who died.
A God who, before he died, went through gestation.
Sinners going under the water and coming out a new creation.
People voluntarily giving a tenth of their income to God.
Belief in heaven and hell.
And, yes, eating bread representing a broken body, and drinking from a cup representing the shed blood of a Jewish rabbi we believe to be the Son of God.
That's some weird stuff.
And all this weirdness is perfectly consistent with belief in a supernatural God who redemptively loves his creation.
I think that we, as believers, can be pleased that the receding waters have exposed the crags of our faith. We shouldn't be embarrassed by them or try to strip them of their weirdness, explaining away every odd detail.
The buoys put out to warn away the voyagers of this age will have the effect of drawing some. Some people are weary of drifting on a sea of shifting waves and long to plant their feet on something solid, even if it's weird. Especially if it's weird. Let's meet them on the slopes of the holy mountains on which they wash up. And when we meet them there in the weird places where time and eternity intersect, let's not greet them with apologies and sheepish explanations, but with a hearty welcome.
Furnace Brook Wesleyan Church Blog