Tuesday, March 14, 2006

the dark side

I put a little more time into preparing homilies during Lent. Right now I should be working on next Sunday's, but I'm still hung up on the last one. The Exorcist may have gone a bit overboard.

See, I receive all these homiletic helper type leaflets and booklets and e-mails that are supposed to give me ideas for preaching. Sometimes they're helpful. Sometimes I don't look at them. Sometimes they make me wonder if what I see in the Sunday liturgy is even there at all...

Take last Sunday, 2nd of Lent. All the homiletical suggestions that came my way were hoplessly upbeat. The Genesis story of Abraham's near sacrifice of Isaac should be read as the triumph of faith and God's leniency. The reading from Romans is reduced to 'God being with us and no one being against us'. And the one line we're supposed to remember from Mark's narration of the Transfiguration is Peter's "How good it is for us to be here".

Either homily helper missed the point or the Exorcist did. Maybe it's just my patented knee-jerk reaction against everything 'feel-good'...

I think the timing of Sunday's readings and their mutual connection is to be found elsewhere.

Abraham was at a total loss. The very son that was the fulfillment of God's multiple promises was to be eliminated. Not in the sad way a child can be lost to illness or accident. God's request is premeditated and intentionally twisted: "Take the son you so love and sacrifice him..." The God of life and promise blurs his personality with the pagan idols placated by human sacrifice.

Would Abraham, coming down the mountainside, be rejoicing because God spared his son at the last minute or would he be internally crushed by dread asking himself what kind of God would request the violent murder of his only son?

You already know what the Exorcist thinks...

The bottom line of the Gospel story is similar. The Apostles come down the mountain with Jesus, having been told that whatever they think they saw in their terrified stupor was to be kept to themselves. Yet Mark does not describe them as rejoicing or astonished because Jesus gave them a glimpse of his divinity, but rather worried and consternated by his talk of 'rising from the dead'.

There's the rub. The relentless contradiction between their understanding and budding hope in the Christ and his unforgiving insistence on suffering and failure. How can violence, injustice, abandonment, desperation and defeat be an essential component of God's supposed love for mankind?

Neither Genesis nor Mark give the answer in Sunday's readings. They simply leave the question hanging, like a dark thundercloud, over the Lenten horizon.

Paul ventures an answer of sorts, but his reasoning is far from feel-good territory.

"If God is with us, who can be against us? He who did not spare his own Son but handed him over for us all, how will he not also give us everything else along with him?"

The Exorcist ventures that the Lenten liturgy explicitly invites us to enter into God's 'dark side'. Not to do so would be to miss the point. Not to do so would be to lose an essential clue to the truth that underpins all reality.

Yup. Lucky you. You belong to some other parish.