Sunday, December 04, 2011
something old, something new
I am slowly making friends. And taking on occasional tasks. I'm running a singing group for the Carol Service. Oh yes, some old habits die hard.
The clergy are caring & faithful, and the worship is slightly chaotic in a general village Anglican way. Especially given there are no musicians, so everything is on CD. (I have played a couple of times, and will do more in the new year, but not every week.) The choice of songs occasionally delights me, and sometimes completely bemuses me - and that's a wonderful experience for a control freak like me. I am actually enjoying the powerlessness of it!
The sermon today, and the reading of Scripture in the service, made me stop and think. I expect the way it gave me pause is fairly commonplace, and I could have been almost anywhere & had the same experience. I enjoyed the sermon - I think the preaching team here does a great & faithful job. But we do seem to omit a large chunk of the Bible in our worship...
Personally, I don't think it's possible to understand the New Testament without a good working knowledge of the Old. I certainly don't think you get any of the detail, but more than that - I don't think you get much of the bigger picture. I am, and this increases as I get older, a fan of the Lectionary: for all its faults (and they are very many) it presents people with a good mix of Bible in their regular worship, and that good mix has a wonderful power to open up hearts & prepare the way for truth and love.
When I was first going to church, as a fifteen or sixteen year old kid, I picked this up from somewhere: I understood that the general plan of Salvation went like this - God created the Universe & it was good, and put people in it whom he loved; but the people sinned & everything went bad. So because God loved the people he formed a plan to bring the people back to himself - and the plan was the Law as found in the Old Testament. Only, because people were so sinful, they couldn't help themselves, and even when given this wonderful gift, they still sinned, and no-one could keep it & be good enough to get back to God. So because he loved us so much, God thought again - and came up with another plan: Jesus and the cross. And this time, because the plan didn't depend on us, but on himself, it worked.
I may have been taught this outright, or I may just have picked this up. With respect it is utter bunkum and if you have ever believed it or passed it on to anyone, please desist right now & engage in serious repentance. No wonder you ignore the Old Testament.
Let me just point out what that theology says: God's plan A failed; Jesus is plan B.
Jesus is no afterthought. Jesus is not plan B. Jesus is God's plan for us from all eternity. Always and forever plan A. Jesus is no-one's version of "second best". Please. I mean.
So why the Old Testament? Why the Patriarchs, the Law, the Prophets?
The Old Testament is God's gift to us so that, when the fulness of his plan of salvation came to pass, we might understand it. The Law creates the world-view which enables the gift of Jesus to be understood. Without it, we are whistling in the dark, making notes on the cold night air, sometimes finding snatches of melody, but missing the harmonies, the depth of accompaniment, the symphonic sweep of the grand music of life that God has for us.
You cannot understand the cross without understanding why the Temple was based around sacrifice, and without an understanding of what those sacrifices represented. Or you will end up thinking God was angry with people and needed appeasing; which is simply not a Biblical concept.
This morning we had Mark 1. And, as I said, a lovely, reflective sermon on it, which I enjoyed very much.
Yet I longed for - those colours of the Old that make the New shimmer with life. The hopes of Malachi & Isaiah were touched upon, but they are not our common language in this church, and so it is hard to build upon them. And as for Jeremiah, Ezekiel, and the wonderful Elijah morsel (2 Kings 1.8-9 is the reference, from Mark 1.6; it's a beautiful drop-in, overflowing with moments of meaning) - we went in other directions. I guess Mark's announcement of the end of Exile only happens if you know there has been an Exile.
Does it matter?
I'm not helping to put up the church Christmas tree here. I did my own yesterday. I'm not organising the running order for the Carol Service. I'm not worried one little bit about the budget matching the beginning of year forecast.
No, it doesn't matter. It's just an observation. It's not my concern, is it? Yes it does matter, because you can take the preacher out of the pulpit, but I still love the word, and I still love being under it, in it, immersed & humbled by it. And when the sun shines through a stained glass window and the colours are awash with glory, I love to feel the range of hues play across my heart & soul, and in the grace of such moments wonder at which ones match up with me today. Colour me Biblical. Throw at me something old, something new, something surprising, something true.
How can you hear the tune if all you are given is a note or two from somewhere near the end? How can you read the book if all you have is the final page? I just miss the more. The stuff that makes me sit up and go - Oh goodness, look at that! God is amazing! And that's what the Old Testament provides. Wonder. Fulness. Beauty beyond words. And something understood.