“Marana tha! Come, Lord Jesus!” we pray (in the responsorial psalm) on the final day of the liturgical year.
When I noticed this, I thought it was a misprint in the missal: Somebody, somewhere must have gotten ahead of themselves…and begun the holy season of Advent a day early.
But no, it’s actually true: We end the church year…on a very similar note to the one on which we begin it – a note of hopeful, hope-filled expectation: “Come, Lord Jesus!”
And just because this is the way my scatter-brain seems to work at times, it got me thinking back on the particular spiritual blessings of my 2018.
High on the list I’d put the intriguing, expectation-expanding insights of three theologians whose work I encountered in recent months: James Alison, Margaret Barker and Elizabeth Johnson.
I don’t claim to be widely-read in any of their work. Admitedly, their scholarship often exceeds my paygrade. Still, it’s gratifying to read their words…and to then have those words give my spiritual imagination a vigorous work-out.
I delight in that process. I thoroughly enjoy encountering God…as God is revealed in theological concepts that boggle my mind. This year, 2018, proved to be a banner year for me on that front – featuring the week-long retreat I made with James Alison at King’s House in July.
I wrote here about a few of the theological insights he offered. Particularly moving? The image James presented of Jesus as “YHWH in street clothes”…God, who does not hesitate to come to us in the form of the Rejected One.
James also introduced me to Margaret Barker’s work, focused on the theology of the first temple…Solomon’s Temple. It’s a mysterious place, we were told. No trace of it exists, except in the imagination of the Chosen People. And therefore, any rites or worship in the second Temple…the one Jesus knew in Jerusalem…really only approximate the way in which God desires to interact with humans. They offer only a shadow of the relationship that’s at the heart of things between God and us – a story of salvation that begins before time even exists. (Alison writes about some implications of Barker’s work in this article published by Thinking Faith.)
My “spiritual work-out” got yet another jolt just this past week, when I came across an article in US Catholic, featuring an interview with Elizabeth Johnson. The headline will certainly grab you: “No one had to die for our sins”.
Sounds like heresy, doesn’t it? And that’s partly because we (western) Christians are so steeped in “atonement theology”: the notion that God demands a bloody sacrifice…in order to receive satisfaction for the damage done by our wayward ways. There are problems with that notion, Johnson says persuasively. Chief among them: “satisfaction theory makes Jesus’ death necessary.” (Negating, among other things, the fact that Jesus — as fully human — has a free will.)
As I spent some time with Johnson’s words this week, I began to appreciate what a profound blessing they were engendering in me. They were challenging me…inviting me…to know God in a wholly different way. A bigger way. A way that’s entirely beyond popular human economic principles (e.g. “payback”).
A scandal-plagued church needs theologians like these, I realized. We need Alison and Barker and Johnson to remind us who Jesus is. We need them, to remind us that God cannot be contained by the constructs and theories and boxes that we so often try fashion around God.
It occurs to me that this Jesus is One who sits down beside us, and invites us to expect more than our brains and hearts and finite beings can imagine. So perhaps we shouldn’t be so quick to settle for less.
Come, Lord Jesus!
Let us pause now…to recall that we are in the presence of the Holy & Merciful One.