Friday, November 17, 2006

The New and Living Way

I started listening to Eugene Peterson's Eat This Book today. Thirty minutes in, I'm finding it to be full of great insights, the first of which came together with this week's lectionary texts for me.

Peterson begins his book with a story about his grandson Hans. Seven-year-old Hans had just been given a New Testament as a first communion gift. Though he couldn't read, he sat and looked at the book reverently. He was, Peterson says, "honoring in a most precious way this book but without awareness that it has anything to do with either the lettuce and mayonnaise sandwich he has just eaten or the museum he is about to visit, oblivious to his grandmother next to him: Hans 'reading' his Bible. A parable."

I listened to this shortly after having read this week's lectionary texts. I was wondering very curiously what my pastor will do with this week's texts. Having recently studied the book of Daniel, and apocalyptic texts more generally, I felt like I knew pretty well what these readings were about, what tied them together, but it's not the kind of thing you hear very often in a Sunday sermon.

But how deep was my understanding?

From Daniel 12:1 ("At that time Michael, the great prince, the protector of your people, shall arise."), I was summoned into the apocalyptic imagination. I've become convinced recently that the Gospel is intrinsically apocalyptic. It's all about God breaking in to the world to bring history to it fulfillment.

So as I read the text from Hebrews, I was looking for this message. It begins with some teaching about Christ as our high priest and moves on to an exhortation to enter by "the new and living way he opened for us". With enough force I could stretch that into the apocalyptic message I was looking for, but it wasn't quite natural. Then, there it was, in 10:25, "and all the more as you see the Day approaching." Check.

And, of course, the gospel reading this week is Mark's little apocalypse. So I was confident that I had grasped the meaning of the texts, but I couldn't imagine my pastor preaching an apocalyptic sermon.

But when I listened to Eugene Peterson's "parable" it hit me. In my "understanding" of the week's texts I hadn't really asked myself what it had to do with the lettuce sandwich I had just eaten or the museum I was about to visit.

So I went back to the texts, and there it was. Earlier I had read the Hebrews passage as saying, "Yada yada yada ... and all the more as you see the Day approaching." But the "yada yada yada" was the important part. It was telling me what all of this message about the inbreaking kingdom of God has to do with the lettuce sandwhich and the museum.
Therefore, my friends,...let us approach with a true heart in full assurance of faith, with our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water. Let us hold fast to the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who has promised is faithful. And let us consider how to provoke one another to love and good deeds, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day approaching.
This is the meat of the text, to be savored and taught by.

I'm always very suscpicious of people who are quick to say that Christianity isn't about doctrine or even proclamation but about the way we live with one another. I think it sells Christianity short. But if the doctrine and the proclamation aren't leading us to this new way of living with one another, they are nothing.

Now, if you'll excuse me, I have a Bible to eat.

No comments: