We celebrate Communal Reconciliation today thankful that the experience of forgiveness is one gift from God’s promises.
Up a holler in eastern Kentucky, I cannot remember in which county, a small wood frame church stands solidly. The sign outside identifying the church states, “Church of God, Founded by Jesus, 33A.D.”
This is a community with no identity problem. When you trace the founding of your own faith community to Jesus, then what else matters in the knowledge and celebration of your faith?
We often find ourselves at Jesus Our Shepherd in discussions on this identity question. Are we Catholic? Some, especially outside of our community, say “No.” Are we a combination Lutheran-Catholic-UCC? Are we inclusive? It seems that this identity question stays with us.
I often find myself combining at least two of these labels, sometimes more. But, I don’t think I’m alone in my search. This past summer I was reading articles about Sacramental and Liturgical theology. I ran across one article by Paul Oestreicher who is a priest with the Anglican Church in England. His ministry is located at the Cathedral of Coventry.
Paul reports a similar identity discussion he carries on with himself. He likes to think of his faith as a combination of Quaker and Anglican. When you think about it this brings together two pretty different expressions of faith. High Church Anglican and quiet non-verbal Quakers are pretty different. But Paul lives with these two expressions in one faith identity.
Like many of us at Jesus Our Shepherd I treasure my own foundation in the Catholic tradition of spirituality and sacraments. But I have come to also treasure that faith springs from a community. So, while Paul Oestreicher finds comfort in being a Quaker-Anglican, I find increasing comfort in being a Congregational Catholic.
Now, this is a label that many say just can’t be. Catholics must take their lead from highly placed clergy, bishops, and hierarchy not from within the congregation. I’m not so sure of that anymore.
As a matter of fact the more we celebrate what some call “first century Christianity” at Jesus Our Shepherd we often rediscover that first Christians regularly depended on the wisdom of God that lives within the community.
The label of Catholic is a brand name. And when the brand is associated with volume, quantity, big church buildings and an even bigger institutional legal system the faith experience may get lost.
Today we celebrate Communal Reconciliation. Our community forgives one another in the Name of Jesus, founder of the Church. We put aside labels and trust in the clear vision we receive as one of many gifts from God’s promises.
In today’s readings we hear St. Paul stating that his direct prayer is for love among those who believe in Jesus – not compliance, not deference to authorities, not even agreement with all Paul’s teachings – but love.
The Prophet Baruch speaks God’s promise of homecoming and restoration.
“For God has commanded
that every lofty mountain be made low,
and that the age-old depths and gorges
be filled to level ground.”
We are told that the vision of God is to be unobstructed – clear through leveled mountains and crooked roads – and what experience do we have of clear and straight regard for one another that is any better than love for one another?
Advent Reconciliation calls us to be clear and direct about the love of Jesus among us – O Come, Emmanuel. Many people come to Jesus Our Shepherd looking for labels to hang identity on.
We believe, as we are strengthened by our forgiveness of one another, that we may have come for a label, but we stay for the experience.