Tuesday, April 28, 2020

Differences in the Gospels' resurrection narratives

Prelude: Listen to this wonderful Easter hymn to a lovely and well known tune (Woodlands)


The differences in the resurrection narratives of the four canonical gospels (and what Paul writes in the opening verses of 1 Corinthians 15) are at best a puzzle and at worst a provocation against a sense of the coherency of the biblical narrative at its most important and exciting point. When many people doubt the resurrection happened as an "historical event", the least we might expect is greater coherency in the four accounts. How did these differences between the accounts come about? This is my explanation.

- Mark’s Gospel is written first; then Matthew and Luke both use it when writing their gospels;
- John’s Gospel is written last; and has either direct or indirect knowledge of Mark, Matthew and Luke’s Gospels.*]

The role of Mark's Gospel

Mark's Gospel is the pioneer in a form of ancient biography in which Jesus is presented as Saviour of the world by telling his life story with a significant portion of the "life" being about his death.

In what follows I presuppose that Mark provides the key ingredients of the gospels that follow his lead, Matthew, Luke and John: Jesus' ministry begins with baptism, followers are called to journey with him, there are miracles performed, teaching is frequent and some excerpts are given, opposition against Jesus mounts, then the events leading to Jesus' death are told and the concluding event is discovery that Jesus has been raised from the dead. (Whether Mark is a direct or indirect source of the other three gospels is immaterial to this point which is about the contents of Mark's Gospel being generally known in the Christian communities of the Mediterranean region as the other gospels were being composed.)

Apart from including these "key ingredients", what do Matthew, Luke and John have in common relative to Mark’s Gospel? They add to what they know from Mark’s Gospel. While not always incorporating everything they know is there. (Matthew and Luke, almost certainly using Mark as a written source, tend to tell a shorter version of what they find in Mark’s Gospel). Most obviously all three Gospels expand Mark through adding in extensive teaching by Jesus. Matthew and Luke are fairly similar for some of this expansion (raising the question whether a common source, Q, is used by both).

All three Gospels also expand on Mark's beginning of the life of Jesus. Mark begins with John the Baptist and the baptism of Jesus. Matthew and Luke go much further back, with differing conception/birth/infancy narratives that share a few common details (Mary, Joseph, Bethlehem as birthplace, Nazareth as home). Each provides a genealogy for Jesus, Matthew's going as far back as Abraham, the father of Israel and Luke's as far back as Adam, the father of all humanity and the son of God. John's Gospel begins with a theological prologue which locates Jesus' beginning in his pre-existence and not in his conception/birth.

Mark's resurrection narrative (16:1-8) is well known for its brevity and spare details: the tomb of Jesus is discovered as empty; the risen Jesus is not seen; and the women who discover the situation do not even tell anyone about it. There is, however, a strong hint that Jesus will be seen, in the near future, in Galilee.

Despite some pretty tight commonality in respect of Jesus’ burial (all four gospels agree that Joseph of Arimathea is responsible for Jesus’ burial; only John’s Gospel differs by adding Nicodemus into the burial party), when it comes to the resurrection narratives, each of Matthew, Luke and John expand on Mark's account and in doing so proliferate differences across the these expanded narratives.

The common details, incidentally, are that there is a visit to the tomb early on Sunday by at least Mary Magdalene; the tomb is discovered to be open and empty of Jesus’ body, and an angel or angel-like guide offers guidance to the tomb discoverers.

The four gospels were composed sometime after Paul wrote 1 Corinthians 15, his famous chapter on the Resurrection (of Jesus and of us), and set out in a few verses a traditional narrative of the sequence of appearances of the risen Jesus. While Paul clearly mentions that Jesus was “raised”, he does not directly connect this action with the emptiness of the tomb. But Paul’s concern is the appearances - he wants to add his own experience of an appearance of Jesus to the list. It is completely plausible that when Paul writes of Jesus "died ... buried ... raised ..." that "raised" means raised in a physical action evidenced by the emptiness of the tomb."

Mark 16:1-8 has no appearance of the risen Jesus, only an anticipation of an appearance in Galilee. From a narratival perspective, for the story he tells of Jesus to end with resurrection, Mark needs a connection between the burial of the corpse of Jesus and the anticipation of an encounter with the risen Jesus which is not to be an encounter with a ghost. Hence the tomb needs to be empty of the dead body of Jesus and this is what is discovered. (Note that this is not a claim that the empty tomb was a matter of narrative and not of history. Explaining that is a post for another day, suffice to say here that the smoke of Christianity is well explained by the fire of conviction that the tomb was empty, Jesus'  body was raised to a new form of life and his appearances to those first witnesses were not appearances of a ghost.)

Expanding Mark's Bare Narrative with Narratives of Appearances

Now the obvious move to make if one were to expand Mark's account, with a nod to the traditional narrative which Paul inherited, would be to describe some appearances of the risen Jesus. Matthew, Luke and John do this. Not one of those appearances is exactly like the other (and we need to say something about that in a moment).

There are two other obvious moves to make. One is to dispel some counter-narratives.

Matthew does this by dealing to a rumour that the body of Jesus was stolen.

Luke does this by emphasising Jesus eating and drinking, presumably to dispel murmurs that Jesus didn't "really" rise - it was just a ghost which people were experiencing. (There is an element of this emphasis in John's story about Jesus and Thomas, though John's greater point is that it is possible to believe in the risen Jesus without direct experience of the risen Jesus.)

Thus we find further differences at work in these accounts.

Another obvious move to make is to provide a concluding scene in which the followers of Jesus are commissioned to continue his ministry and mission in the world. Matthew and Luke both do this as the very last part of their respective gospels (and somewhat disturbingly place this scene in different locations and report different words).

John provides a commissioning scene but it is not the last part of his gospel (though intriguingly it is the last part of the resurrection day). It hardly needs saying but John's commissioning scene involves different words to Matthew and Luke's respective commissioning scenes and adds in a bestowing of the Spirit. Yet more difference.

We can look at such differences from a slightly different perspective. Let's compare Matthew and Mark: Matthew hardly expands on Mark's concise account in Mark 16:1-8. His differences with Mark are: the women do encounter the risen Jesus; there is a brief story which puts paid to the idea that the body of Jesus was stolen; and there is an encounter between Jesus and the disciples (as anticipated by Mark's account) when he commissions them in Galilee for global mission.

Luke, as a fellow user of Mark as a source, is very different to Mark and has nothing in common with Matthew's expansion of Mark save for a commissioning scene as the very last part of his Gospel.

With respect to Mark, Luke both improves Mark (by clarifying that the women did tell others about the empty tomb) and alters Mark to suit a Lukan agenda which appears to include a robust portrayal of the risen Jesus as one who has been bodily raised to a new life. Not only is the tomb empty but Jesus eats and drinks.

Expansive Expansions: Luke and John

But there is more to the Lukan agenda than providing a robust portrayal if the "nature" of the risen Jesus. First, Luke wants everything about the resurrection of Jesus focused on Jerusalem. Jesus does not go to Galilee and, somewhat glaringly, Mark's "he is going ahead of you to Galilee; there he will see you, just as he told you" (16:7) becomes Luke's "Remember how he told you, while he was still in Galilee ..." (24:6). Jerusalem (albeit on its outskirts) is where the commissioning takes place (Luke 24:50-53; Acts 1:6-12) and thus Luke's narrative of the mission of the apostles will be from one capital to another, from Jerusalem to Rome rather than from an obscure region, Galilee to the centre of the Empire.

Secondly, Luke is happy to upend Mark's "barebones" or minimalist detail approach to his resurrection narrative, in contrast to Matthew's (actually) very light extension of Mark, by telling a sumptuous, long, theologically dense/thick/rich story of an encounter between two disciples and the risen Jesus. This is the "Road to Emmaus" story, Luke 24:13-35. It is for another occasion to wax eloquent on the wonderful aspects of this story, suffice to say here that Luke not only reports this extensive encounter, he also develops this encounter so that it becomes a model for post Ascension Christian life: the risen Jesus is encountered in the exposition of the Scriptures and in the breaking of bread together. (For even an other occasion, this story is paradigmatic of worship based on the twinning of the ministry of the word and the ministry of the sacrament).

Reading Luke, in contrast to Mark and Matthew, prepares the way for reading John and reflecting on the differences between his resurrection narrative (or, we might even say, three narratives) and those of Mark, Matthew and Luke. John also knows how to tell beautiful, long theologically dense stories of Jesus and he doesn't stop when revealing to us the significance of the Resurrection.

First, what does John say that is similar (and different) to at least one of the three Synoptics? (This is broadly speaking - no attempt at minute detailed comparison).
- Mary Magdalene goes to the tomb, seemingly alone (but two male disciples actually enter the tomb).
- Mary has an encounter with angels and with Jesus (but her dialogue with Jesus is different to that recorded in Matthew, though Jesus in both encounters directs the woman (women) to talk to the male disciples).
- On the evening of the first day of Resurrection, Jesus appears to the disciples (but the dialogue with the disciples is largely different to that reported in Luke; then, because Thomas is missing (according to John), there is a "repeat encounter" a week later, unknown to the Synoptics). Within that first Sunday evening appearance is a commissioning scene (with words unknown to Matthew and Luke).
- Finally, John tells the story of a final encounter between Jesus and the disciples in Galilee (but Matthew and Mark know nothing of this narrated event, a fishing expedition and a barbecue breakfast).
Thus we see some significant continuity between John and the Synoptics:
- Like Matthew, John seemingly  takes a cue from Mark and there is an appearance of the risen Jesus in Galilee;
- Like Luke, John takes time and trouble to offer (not one but) three elaborate narratives featuring encounters between Jesus and disciples (Mary, disciples & Thomas, Peter & the Beloved Disciple);
- Like Matthew and Luke, John has a scene in which Jesus commissions the disciples for future mission;
- Like Matthew (who deals to the claim that the body of Jesus was stolen) and Luke (who deals to the claim that the "risen Jesus" was merely the "ghost of Jesus"), John deals to some things: first, to those who think that "if only I could have been present when the risen Jesus was bodily present on earth" (the Thomas narrative); and, secondly, to those upping some kind of rivalry between the Petrine church and the Johannine church (the Great Catch of Fish epilogue in John 21).

Finally, to those beautifully, theologically dense narratives in John's Gospel. If Luke sets the standard with his Road to Emmaus, John keeps it up with his encounters between Jesus and Mary, Jesus and the disciples then Thomas in the upper room, then Jesus, Peter and the Beloved Disciple. Everyone's favourite resurrection narratives.

But what is John doing? We have no idea what basis in "history" he has for these narratives (e.g. there are no other witnesses to the dialogues between Jesus and his disciples in John 20 and 21; and where there is a chronological cross over, on the evening of the first Sunday of Resurrection, Luke 24:36-43 and John 20:19-23 have very little in common), but we see the John of developed dialogues between Jesus and others (e.g. Nicodemus, John 3; the Samaritan woman, John 4; Mary, Martha and the disciples re Lazarus' death, John 11) doing what he does so well: using dialogue within narrative to make profound theological points.

John is doing at the end of his Gospel what he does at the beginning and in the middle: he presents, or better, reveals the truth about Jesus, the one who lives, has always been alive since before time, and for a season dwelt among us as a fellow human being in whom the Logos made his home. We cannot peel away a husk of theology here in order to determine the seed of history. The meaning of Jesus' life is inseparable from the story of his life and this is no less true in the final chapters of John's Gospel as in the remainder.

So then, why significant differences between the Gospels' resurrection narratives?

The differences arise, I suggest, because each Gospel writer uses the opportunity of the bare detail of the resurrection as an event in history (the body of Jesus is raised to a new form of life, the tomb is thus empty of the corpse of Jesus, there are appearances of the risen Jesus to his followers) to speak to their respective communities. (This is not to say that the Gospel writers have a vision for the reception of their Gospels which is narrowly limited to (say) their local church or (say) one people group such as early Jewish Christians. It is only to say that local concerns make their way into Gospels intended for a wide audience.)

Mark, it seems, is content that his community needs no further information about the risen Jesus: he lives in their midst, they know this. They may even have among them those who were witnesses to the risen Jesus.

Matthew, we may surmise, wants to record for posterity that the risen Jesus did make appearances, to two groups in particular, female disciples and to the Twelve; but also has a need to deal with a counter-explanation for the empty tomb, that the body of Jesus was stolen and hidden somewhere else.

While Luke appears to need to nail down that the risen Jesus is not a ghost (he eats and drinks) while testifying to the extraordinary nature of the risen Jesus (who comes and goes at will), his standout need as narrator is to confine all resurrection narratives to Jerusalem and it environs. It is not, in my view, at all clear why he so steadfastly eschews the possibility of depicting Jesus in Galilee. But there is no puzzle about Luke's use of the resurrection narratives to draw the story of Jesus to a rounded end. The Scriptures foretold his coming; the risen Jesus now teaches, twice, that the Scriptures are fulfilled.

John places the two most important disciples - Simon Peter and the Beloved Disciple - in his Gospel near the beginning of his resurrection narratives and they are back at the end. Is John saying something about two great streams of primitive Christianity, the Petrine and Johannine churches? (And if he is, what is he saying? That they are both important? That contrary to the view the Petrine is most important, the Johannine church is as important?). Nevertheless Mary Magdalene is highly honoured: she has the only one-to-one encounter with the risen Jesus. Through each of the encounters John draws his gospel to a close: salvation comes to those who believe in Jesus the Son of God and follow him. All may believe, whether readers of this Gospel at the end of the first century or those who were privileged to have personal encounters with Jesus when he dwelt on earth (before and after his death).

There are differences across the four Gospels (and the Pauline account I have barely touched on, 1 Corinthians 15) but they are resolutely united: Jesus rose from the dead.

In closing we might make this observation: are the differences between the Gospels at their endings greater than the differences at their beginnings?

*Addendum: why I think this assumption re John’s knowledge of the Synoptics is reasonable.

John’s Gospel has this outline:

Introduction (John 1, very intriguingly, has within it all the important titles for Jesus found in the Synoptics) (There is no birth narrative, unlike Matthew/Luke) (Including Baptism of Jesus, though here is it presumed and not recounted, unlike the Synoptics).

Sign 1: Wedding at Cana (not in Synoptics, but they have material about old/new wine; weddings)
Sign 2: Cleansing of the Temple [this is controversial as one of the signs but has been argued]
Sign 3: Healing of an official’s young male son/servant (similarity to healing of centurion’s servant in Matthew/Luke)
Sign 4: Healing a Lame Man on a Sabbath
Sign 5: Feeding the Five Thousand (and, some, walking on water; others, this is a separate sign)
Sign 6: Healing a Blind Man
Sign 7: Raising Lazarus from the Dead (only John’s Gospel) (but this incident is critical to John’s explanation of why the authorities decided to have Jesus’ killed. Thus it is intriguing that the Synoptics’ key “late” such incident, the Cleansing of the Temple, is not replaced by John, just displaced (see above).
Followed by the Entry of Jesus to Jerusalem, Last Supper, Betrayal, Arrest, Trials, Sentencing, Crucifixion, Burial, Resurrection.

If the bulk of John’s Gospel was thus and so, it would read more like a slimmed down Synoptic Gospel than a different Gospel to the Synoptics. But the bulking out of this outline is in the Johannine discourses and dialogues, which have a very different flavour to the Synoptics when they report to us the sayings, teachings and conversations of Jesus.

Friday, April 24, 2020

Online Worship: From Disruption to Participation

Life remains busy under Lockdown here in NZ. We will finish Level 4 at 11.59 pm
Monday 27 April; but Level 3, for at least two weeks won't be much different. A smart
alec politician observed that it will be Level 4 with KFC. (Explanation: some takeaways
will be purchasable again).

So, online worship will continue for a few more weeks - and many parishes will be
considering it continuing for many weeks after we get to Level 2 (when services, with
congregations 100 or under, can resume, providing social distancing criteria are met). In
Level 2 we expect vulnerable parishioners will choose to continue to stay at home on

I have a post in the pipeline with further reflections on "Zoom Eucharists" and prior to that
coming on stream, there is another on the Gospel Resurrection Narratives. In the absence
of output from me, I am very pleased to offer a post by Bowman Walton, regular
commenter here.

Bowman writes ...  From Disruption to Participation

Father Ron, I hope that you do not mind my asking: how did folks at SMAA celebrate the Feast of Feasts this year? I have been asking others as well, but I am especially curious about parishes like yours that have such a richly eucharistic calendar. One would suppose that they have a keen sense of the mystery of our participation in Christ. Yet the invisible plague outside our windows-- we hope-- is testing our mettle in living that out.

This lock-down deprives everyone of unmediated worship. But it also disrupts a Spirit-given habit of
communion, one that usually anchors our connection with Christ through time, and in him, with others--brothers and sisters in faith, the created world for which we pray, and even the “angels and archangels and all the company of heaven” who join our praise and thanksgiving to the Father.

As a hermit in a COVID-19 hotspot this year, I found myself this Easter recalling the celebrations of
years past. That was not my plan, but the memories just came. Different times, different countries,
different languages, but recognizably the same Pascha however the congregation of each moment had
gathered to say Christ is Risen! Talking to friends this past week, I have noticed that we were all more or less prompted to search our memories for these hours past. We know Who did this.

Staying in the Lord through memory and time

When we talk about the Spirit’s gift of Jesus’s presence to us in communion, we usually think of it as
spacial-- the Lord in heaven is suddenly also on the altar-- or as eventual-- his people on earth are for the moment near to his heavenly throne. St Thomas Aquinas or John Calvin. Both ideas have deep roots in the East, but a long tradition there also emphasizes that Jesus’s eucharistic presence to us persists through time. “I am with you until the end of the age.”

In a rite before the Sunday liturgy in, say, Thessaloniki, the priest blesses the round loaf and cuts it into pieces. A wedge of the bread is later consecrated with the chalice of wine, and then smaller pieces of the rest are distributed to the faithful as they kiss the cross and depart. As its name *antidoron* (< Greek "in place of the gifts") suggests, these take-out pieces of the blessed bread continue the ancient practice of distributing the host to all so that they can communicate themselves at home during the week on Wednesdays and Fridays. The liturgy ends; the communion must not.

A medieval practice followed that one: the celebrant carried the antidoron out the door in a procession to the place where the congregation would share an agape meal like those of St Paul’s day. So the blessed bread in that way linked Christ’s presence in the congregation's eucharist to their further presence in the streets. "This bread is my flesh which I will give for the life of the world."

In the monasteries of Mount Athos, this is still done. But there, the procession winds its way through
porticoes to the refectory where the monks listen to readings as they eat their portions. Reflecting that, the refectories are painted with murals that somewhat mirror those of the church-- in both places one is surrounded by frescoes of saints-- and whose unifying theme is brotherly love.

This is holiness-- the Holy Spirit takes hold of us, deepens our intention to participate in Christ through time, and enables us to keep it through all the obstacles that come. More than any other intention, this one requires vigilance.

At a certain monastery known for its oppositional temper-- a black flag on its ramparts reads Orthodoxy or Death!-- the celebrant once led that procession down a corridor adorned only with apostolic warnings against sins of the tongue copied in an elegant Byzantine hand and framed in gold. If we slide from comparing views into trolling for sport or insulting brothers, the mouth of hell yawns open. The brothers there have opinions as strong as the wind off the Aegean, but they also know their weakness.

Just so, a congregation gathers around the chalice like long distance runners who are apt to run off theircourse and lose their form as they tire, but who are still trying to improve their stride and their times. “I have fought the good fight; I have finished the race; I have kept the faith.”

Richard Hooker would surely approve this practice of lingering in the Lord's eucharistic presence long after the liturgy has ended-- in principle, through the week-- because it is constancy in what he saw as the purpose of that means of grace: the soul’s union with Christ. Baffled wranglers still ask, “How can this man give us his flesh to eat?,” as they do in St John vi 52. But Hooker would point out that it does not matter much how one understands the metaphysics of the communion one makes, so long as one makes it intending to remain in it forever.

Meeting the Lord in the digital cathedral

Our ever-smarter phones have no good substitute for participation in the communion itself. Carrying the ball makes you a rugby player; watching someone else carry the ball makes you a fan. Most people I know has seen the occasional services that are also made-for-television spectacles-- royal weddings, state funerals, etc-- but we watch these as geeks, fans or citizens, not to transact the business of the Body of Christ. Anyway, the Lord is immediately present wherever two or three gather in his name; why should they watch him being present elsewhere?

But these computers in our pockets do have three capabilities that could enrich our solidarity in Christ--
(1) the Body can communicate with them to transcend its buildings and boundaries;
(2) we can standardize or tailor the presentation of ideas that help us to participate; and
(3) we can see the Body’s life as it is in other places and times, other “sorts and conditions.” When the faithful of a place have all three, they will be more together than at any time since they prayed under one roof. In that sense, those who integrate them in the service of the local Body are laying foundations for the digital cathedrals of this century.

If you have their cell numbers, you can gather folks across town into a congregation with a text message. Some Roman Catholic bishops up here have gathered flash mobs for events-- learning, service projects, processions-- with mass or vespers. We tell the children that a church is the people, not the building, but they learn all too early that we mainly mobilize the people around the buildings. An inexpensive capability of mobilizing members around need and purpose instead has far-reaching consequences.

Souls can use their phones to connect intentionally by interest and need. An ecumenical social medium to rival Facebook could be very fruitful. In Britain, the NHS has been experimenting with therapeutic communities online with some success. It is not hard to imagine how a similar approach could support ministries in person to the addicted, the homeless, the bereaved etc. To say nothing of those displaced by a disaster, cordoned off from violence, or locked down by a pandemic.

Apps can prompt with timely, tailored information. The world’s best museums use them to explain
religious art in their collections; why on earth don’t churches explain their arts-- visual, musical, and
textual (especially scriptural)-- in apps of their own? It is beginning, slowly.

And just as distance runners now use apps to goad them to practice, map their locations, track their
strides, and time their runs, so serious communicants might be helped by apps that help them to steadily improve a rule of practice. Today, most apps for this purpose are digital-books-with-a-clock that show the prayers and readings appointed for particular hours and days on phone-screens. Their convenience is undeniable, but the next generation of them should be better guided by the needs and UX of those who actually use them.

Most parishes today post links to each Sunday’s sermons in a tidy but boring list. Some retreat centres do the same with retreat talks, guided meditations, and the like. What might happen if these were collected, edited, and presented, nay promoted to lists of those interested in their topics?

Everyone today has a camera and mic in pocket, and access to open source software for editing video.
This is gradually making us a more oral culture than we have been, one in that way more like the ancient world from which we came. It is also enabling voices to speak their minds and show their surroundings from situations like nothing that we have ever seen. At the same time, it is harder than it was for churches to get their distracted members to pay attention to anything merely printed and mailed. Street-wise St Paul might not today collect funds for Jerusalem with a mass mailing. Yet secular platforms like Facebook and YouTube, Skype and Zoom are not optimal for the exchanges of voices and views that should happen among those who pray for one another.

And although the Body is necessarily conserving in most ways, she has been praying for a century for one big disruption that digital technology enables-- the reunion, or at least collaboration, of once-related denominations who are now estranged. Whilst the cost of digital cathedral-building can be low relative to its value, most of these churches have stretched budgets. Working together on a better platform that all can use may be the way to put decades of dialogues, reports, and resolutions to work in the streets for good.

Today, as Bosco says, we live half of our lives online and this is bound to be disruptive. Can we make
disruption beautiful? We always have.
• Early Christians needed to be able to refer quickly to passages copied on several scrolls, and as it
was cumbersome to have them all unrolled at once they became early adoptors of a new
technology-- pieces of scrolls sewed together along their left edge. Over the millennium that
followed, piety inspired ingenuity and they made the book beautiful.
• Huge congregations required special buildings of vaulted stone. In the hard acoustics it was hard
for those in the back to hear what was said in the front, but it was easier if the clergy sang on the
resonating pitch. Plainchant began of necessity, but has continued as a sacred art.
• As late antiquity was becoming the middle ages, the disruptive technology in the East was the
painting of murals and icons. It acknowledged saints, inspired women, toppled a dynasty, and
posed a christological question that only the last ecumenical council could answer. But when
crowds flock to an exhibition of icons today, it is because they are beautiful in some way that
nothing else is. Jesus’s avatar on the internet today is nearly always a Byzantine icon.

Faithful Christians have not so much adopted technologies as inhabited them, adapting them to the piety of souls, the needs of the Body, and the devotion to God of the crafty people who actually copy the manuscript, chant the verse, paint the icon, code the software, edit the video, make the documentary, etc. Disruptions are not beautiful, but the Holy Spirit uses our participation in them to make a new beauty that speaks to the heart.

Our online life puts something subtle at stake: the difference between being saved as a solitary and
sovereign consumer of data, and being saved through fully personal participation in what God is doing--also online-- in his new creation. Both stories have helped souls, but both cannot be the whole. In that way, the scriptures press us to re-evaluate carefully what we have been treating, if at all, as a matter of indifference.

Peter Carrell responds: no one voted for the disruption to life on the planet as we know it, caused by
COVID-19. Very few people ever vote for disruption! But disruption is the experience of 2020 (including the tragic disruption of those dying from COVID-19, among whose number we count those who went to work as doctors and nurses to heal the sick and have died themselves).

Bowman's post above develops the theme of disruption in liturgy, indeed in the very life of the church, as we are thrown into forced dependency on devices, at least for a season. His observations of the present time are laced with personal memories and ecclesiastical histories of other times in Christian experience when disruption altered the course of our theology and our practice. Good may come of this year's disruption, but Bowman's point is that it will not be handed to us on a plate, neatly wrapped and with a plain English explanation of how to make it the best.

We will need to ask, seek and look for what God is giving to his church at this time. There will be matters which compel us to discern carefully, decide wisely and act boldly. There is definitely an opportunity amidst the losses caused by disruption to find gains which draw us closer to Christ and more deeply into fellowship with one another.

Wednesday, April 15, 2020

Slow Pascha

Lovely but strange Pascha this year - Lockdown meant no travel but plenty of (online) services.

I thought I would have time to develop a post about the gospel resurrection narratives. But predicted rain on Monday didn’t eventuate, so I stayed in the garden.

Perhaps that post will be ready for next Monday.

In the meantime, if only so I know where to find these links next year, here are links to two sermons I prepared for Good Friday and Pascha respectively.

Monday, April 6, 2020

Consecration and congregation: Zoom Eucharists in Pandemic Lockdown

This is more of a placeholder than a post (though I might take the opportunity over the days of this week to add a thought or two or a link or three).

I have found myself, you may have also, embroiled in the past week or so in online and offline discussions about "online eucharist".

The discussions are catalysed by being in [COVID-19] Lockdown (so much of the Anglican world is locked down that it is a global discussion) and, perhaps, heightened/intensified by the prospect of Maundy Thursday and Pascha (Easter) being without eucharist this year.

Some posts - read by me, there are many other posts - on popular sites are worth drawing attention to re the online church in general and online eucharist in particular:

Ian Paul at Psephizo: here and here.

Bosco Peters at Liturgy: here and here and here.

Obviously many of us are getting rapidly used to worshipping via online services, whether organised by our local parish church or by Diocesan or national church offices. If one doesn't like the local offering, the Archbishop of Canterbury is ramping up his online presence!

Out of early Sundays in this period, in respect of eucharist, two matters are clearly emerging for consideration and reflection. (By "emerging" I mean at least this: I had not previously given them much, if any thought!).

1. Online eucharist with non-participatory communion for the participating congregation.
2. Online Eucharist with participatory communion for the participating congregation.

Let me explain (if you are not yet aware of the distinction here):

1. Observing the "rule" re participation in the eucharist, a priest with at least one other person in his or her "bubble" (secure domestic arrangement consistent with requirements of the Lockdown), celebrates the eucharist in front of a video device, the celebration including sharing of communion between priest and those in the bubble. But no parishioner in their home breaks or takes bread and eats it, takes a cup of wine and drinks it. (An emphasis on this approach is on "Spiritual Communion" for those unable to receive communion because they are not in the same bubble as the priest. I won't discuss Spiritual Communion further here.)

2. Above as for 1 but with this addition: in their own homes parishioners share in communion using bread and wine they themselves have provided. In this approach "consecration" is understood to have taken place via electronic means.

Incidentally, in relation to such matters, a widely read statement is this one from the London College of Bishops.

In the light of my title for this post an understandable question would be, "So, then, what is a Zoom Eucharist?" The answer is that (to date) Zoom as a video platform for meeting with others online is the best platform I am aware of for enabling the participants to the service to see one another (as well as the priest) via "gallery view." That is, a "Zoom Eucharist" (or any other form of Zoom service) offers the best sense of real time "participation" for a scattered congregation.

Now, naturally, a host of questions arise (as you will see if you read Ian's and Bosco's posts above):

- what is consecration in the age of online services?
- what is a congregation in respect of gathering together via online means?
- why a priest (or bishop) is needed (or not needed) if we can have (valid) communion via provision of our own bread and wine?
- Actually, is (2) (perhaps even, is (1)) above a valid communion service? (There are slightly differing issues to be considered for 1 and 2. On option 1, for example, there is an exclusion of participation of the baptised in communion which is contrary to the "invitation").
- If we accept the possibilty of consecration over the internet, does it make a difference if the service offered has been prerecorded, or must it be "live"?
- Pragmatically, why not just "get on with it" in this unusual time? (And ban it for normal times; and/or do the theological work on this later).

Now, these are lively questions and some think they have the answers and others are deeply puzzled.

Here I am not going to do the hard yards on attempting answers.

In any case, a bishop has some other questions to ask and answer at a time like this, including:
- what is lawful in ACANZP?
- what is the common ground which holds my Diocese together at this time?

Finally, an observation:
- I know of no Roman Catholic discussion about (2) above. (1) is happening in the Catholic world.
- That is, once again, we Anglicans are notable on a matter of the day, doing something which could be described as either "pushing the boundaries, bending the rules, never content to endure any constraint or limitation which we do not like" or "evolving and adapting to the ever changing contexts of the world around us". Take your pick!!

With best wishes for Holy Week!