The Singularity of Voices

And all the people responded with a great shout when they praised the Lord, because the foundation of the house of the Lord was laid. But many of the priests and Levites and heads of families, old people who had seen the first house on its foundations, wept with a loud voice when they saw this house, though many shouted aloud for joy, so that the people could not distinguish the sound of the joyful shout from the sound of the people’s weeping, for the people shouted so loudly that the sound was heard far away. (Ezra 3:11b-13)

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People groups often adapt to change in fits and starts. Some people like fresh inventions and innovations; other people find the new expressions difficult or substandard, and long for things as they used to be.

The people of Israel had been in exile, and had recently been released to go back to Jerusalem and rebuild the city under the watchful eye of King Cyrus of Persia. The city walls were repaired, taunting enemies were chased off, and—with great anticipation and fanfare—the foundation of the new Temple was laid.

The former Temple—a glorious structure built by King Solomon—had long been destroyed. The new Temple would bring joy to the people as a worshipping community, but it would be a different structure than the one that preceded it.

So there was both rejoicing and weeping when the foundation was completed. Perhaps the older folks wept, not only because the Temple was returning to Jerusalem, but also because it would be different from the one they remembered from their youth. For the younger people, who had no memory of the former Temple, it was a new and exciting project, one that would finally ground their identity in their homeland.

We’re told that all the voices—the weeping, the laughing, the mourning, the rejoicing—all came together as one voice.

We who follow Jesus do so in a culture that is characterized by rapid, discontinuous change. It’s not just that the world around us changes—technology, international relations, social and legal boundaries—but also that the life of the church keeps changing. New expressions of worship and mission emerge, sometimes on their own, and other times in the midst of congregations that have been immersed in many years of tradition. People often rejoice when these changes come. Others, however, weep.

The older I get, the more I appreciate this tension. It’s difficult to distinguish between traditions that have deep and lasting value and those that are just temporary cultural preferences. It’s both exciting and frightening to pursue innovations in worship and communal life. It’s too bad, however, when the response of the church is to divide and separate, draw lines in the sand and create boundaries that alienate.

It is a joy, however, when all come together and search for the fingerprints of God in what seems to be emerging in our midst—not new expressions for the sake of newness, but fresh engagements with the Spirit of God that capture new images and songs, revitalizing ancient traditions and creating new ones. And within all the tension that comes with new things, the voices that cry out do so as one voice, a voice that rejoices before God.

Right now I’m hearing the prayer of Jesus—a prayer that anticipates even us—that might help us think about this:

“I ask not only on behalf of these [disciples], but also on behalf of those who will believe in me through their word, that they may all be one. As you, Father, are in me and I am in you, may they also be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me. The glory that you have given me I have given them, so that they may be one, as we are one, I in them and you in me, that they may become completely one, so that the world may know that you have sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me.” (John 17:20-23)

May it be so, Lord.

– Mike McNichols

Tradition

Eucharist“Tradition.” It’s a word that turns many people away. But I think that is because people often confuse it with “traditionalism.” As someone pointed out, tradition is the living faith of dead people, while traditionalism is the dead faith of living people.

In fact, when we gather for Eucharist every Sunday those who are celebrating are not only the ones who visibly amble up to the altar, but also participating are members of what is called the Church Triumphant.

Psalm 78 is a good example. Israel is to pass on (tradition) the stories of God’s faithfulness to succeeding generations. And in 1 Corinthians 11:23 Paul introduces the words often used in the Lord’s Supper 2000 years later by beginning, “I received from the Lord what I tradition to you . . . .”

Holy Trinity Church—indeed, all of Christianity would not be alive today if it were not for tradition—if it were not for faithful disciples of Christ passing on the Faith.

In fact, when we gather for Eucharist every Sunday those who are celebrating are not only the ones who visibly amble up to the altar, but also participating are members of what is called the Church Triumphant—the “great cloud of witnesses” (Hebrews 12:1). As G. K. Chesterton once said, tradition is just democracy spread out over time; just because the faithful departed are not ambulatory and breathing does not mean they do not get to have a voice.

I am reminded of these folks when I visit the L. A. Cathedral and see the tapestries on the walls depicting saints of all times facing the altar with folded hands, worshipping with those who are sitting in the pews.

One way these members of the Christian church have a voice is through their writings. And they are no more difficult to understand than, say, Max Lucado, and sometimes they are more insightful. Here are suggestions to get started hearing these voices: Gregory of Nyssa, Sermons on the Beatitudes (InterVarsity Press, 2012); Bonaventure, The Life of St. Francis (HarperOne, 2005); Basil the Great, On Social Justice (St. Vladimir’s Seminary Press, 2009).

Happy listening to the living faith of dead people!

 – Dennis Okholm

John 21

Monday: John 21:1-4
Tuesday: John 21:5-8
Wednesday: John 21:9-14
Thursday: John 21:15-19
Friday: John 21:20-25

REFLECTION QUESTIONS:
1.    Having witnessed Jesus’ death and resurrection, the disciples try to return to what had been normal to them. Jesus met them where they were, but he didn’t leave them there. Are there places in your life where, after encountering Jesus, you’ve attempted to return to something familiar and “normal,” only to find that something is askew? Is Jesus working to transform your normality? To what “new normal” is he calling you?

2.    Peter tries to compare himself to another disciple. Jesus, in so many words, tells Peter to mind his own business. Have you ever felt that someone else gets a better deal from Jesus than do you? Is Jesus speaking to you now about minding your own business, to focus your attention on how he is drawing you into his work?

John 20

Monday: John 20:1-10
Tuesday: John 20:11-18
Wednesday: John 20:19-23
Thursday: John 20:24-29
Friday: John 20:30-31

REFLECTION QUESTIONS:

1. The story of God’s work begins and reaches a climax in a garden. Mary thought that Jesus was the man who tended the garden near the tomb. In Genesis 2, it is the first humans who set about to tend the garden. In John 20, Jesus rises victorious and appears to take on the posture of a gardener. How does this appearance transform the curse in Genesis 3? Is Jesus able to bring transformation to the areas of your life where you feel cursed?

2. Jesus comes back to see Thomas and gives him the physical evidence he seems to need in order to believe. Have you struggled with unbelief? Have you labored under the guilt of having that struggle in the first place? What if you offered your doubts to Jesus and asked him to give you what you need to believe? Would he love you as much as he loved Thomas?