Readings: Psalm 33; James 2:14-26; Mark 14:22-31 We’re in a storm, we’re going to get wet but we won’t sink.
This week we have read and heard much about the financial crisis. The market economy is going through its passion. Many words and phrases are still ringing in my ears: volatility, destabilization, bail outs of banks, logic and reason are not characteristics of markets these days, uncharted waters. Some say the markets will self correct believing that the markets are better than the regulators. Others say without a rescue package we’re on the edge of an abyss. At the beginning of the week we were told of the US Congress that ‘the troops did not follow the generals’; by week’s end the mutineers were pacified – reluctantly. Some said it was ‘the day America died’. Another said, "At the beginning of the week I gave my ‘blue collar vote’ and on Friday I gave my ‘red, white and blue collar vote’."
I’ve always liked Carl Barth’s reminder that Christians should live with the Bible in one hand and the newspaper in the other (he didn’t say which newspaper). We’ve had plenty from the newspapers this past week; but what I noted from the Bible was Jesus statement in Mark 14, 27 – ‘You will have your faith shaken’. In Mark this occurs between the Last Supper and the crucifixion.
This week reminded me of the two big stories we live with these days, both are about desire and hunger; consumption and the exchange of goods. The two stories are summed up
1. The story of the market 2. The story of Holy Communion
In the story of the market, goods are allocated under the condition of scarcity, they are traded, an exchange takes place – you pay your money you get your bananas. But goods are scarce, the market is consumption driven. Hunger for goods and services is endless.
St Augustine observed that we desire and hunger simply because we are human. The problem is that we hunger for things which fail to satisfy us. Augustine’s solution to the restlessness of desire is to cultivate a desire for God. Yet in a market economy we sink ever more deeply into the world of ‘things’. And the pleasure is not so much in possessing more and more things but in pursuing more and more things. In this world no one ever has enough. It is a very individualistic story, a story of private experience. It is a story not about the Kingdom of God but the Kingdom of the earth.
The market’s prayer is this
Our market which art in earth, consumption be thy name.
Thy free-trading hours come, thy will be done in Perth as it is in Manhattan.
Give us this day our daily income, and forgive us our price-rises as we forgive those who undercut against us.
And lead us not into a recession, but deliver us from the creditors;
For thine are the commodities and the prices and the profits, for ever and ever. Amen.
Now consider the story of Holy Communion. The bread that Christ gives us to eat and the wine he gives us to drink are never scarce commodities. There is a wonderful multiplier effect here: Christ’s bread, Christ’s cup are multiplied at hundreds of thousands of Holy Communions around the world. And every Eucharist tells and foretells an astonishing story: a story of the breaking-down of barriers, the up-building of trust, the overcoming of hostilities and all forms of violence - a story of cosmic proportions in the most local of circumstances. In the bread of Holy Communion, Christ is present in the hungry, the thirsty, the prisoner, the tortured, the terrorised, the broken-hearted - in us all. In the wine of the Holy Communion cup, Christ’s blood seals a new covenant with every human being and with the earth itself. This is what it tells. And what it foretells is the future destiny of all creation. It is never an individualistic story, it is a story of communion, no one is excluded because of scarcity. Each Eucharist celebrated achieves a gathering-together, a Body – the Body of Christ. ‘Every Holy Communion is the universe in a piece of bread.’ The consumer of Holy Communion is no longer the unsatisfied customer, the loser, of the other story.
But this Body is a broken body, this blood is shed blood. Pope John Paul II said that Jesus did not say, ‘This is my body’ ‘This is my blood’. Jesus said ‘This is my body given for you’. This is my blood poured out for you. The Eucharist – our Holy Communion – can never be separated from the Cross of Christ.
In Mark 15, 25 he describes the crucifixion of Jesus, `It was 9.00 o’clock in the morning when they crucified him.’ Why did this happen? If the authorities wanted to get rid of Jesus why didn’t they just stab him to death in a Jerusalem alley? Crucifixion was a Roman, public death sentence reserved for habitually disobedient slaves and for those who challenged Roman rule.
And so it was Christ’s way of relating to people, his passion for life, long before Gethsemane and the prisons and courtyards of Pilate, that made his death practically inevitable. Jesus hungered for God; he desired the Kingdom of God rather than the Kingdom of Herod or even the Kingdom of Caesar Augustus. And the Kingdom of God is what political and social life would be like if God were King and not these rulers. The Kingdom of God is as much about the here and now as it is about the hereafter. And this is why Jesus was executed by crucifixion. He challenged the existing system. What happened to Jesus also happened to St John the Baptist (Mark 6, 14-29), St Peter and Paul in Rome, St James in Jerusalem, Thomas a’Beckett and Thomas More in London, Dietrich Bonheoffer in Berlin, Sophie and her brother Hans Scholl in Munich, Martin Luther King in Memphis, Oscar Romero in San Salvador, Benazir Bhutto in Pakistan and thousands of others.
With all these people, it was their passion that got them killed. Jesus’ cross is the central symbol of the economy of Holy Communion so different from the economy of the market.
The world did not change when the twin towers were destroyed; the world did not change with this financial crisis of the last 14 months. The world changed when God became a human being, when this man was tortured to death by the powers of this world and when he rose to new life – it was then that everything changed.