Saturday, 6 February 2010

Stilling of the storm

I'd like to think about miracles today. But first I would like to start by thinking about communion, as a metaphor.

For me communion is very important, I feel bereft if I go a Sunday without receiving. Communion was central to my conversion experience. I was attending church and I felt God willing me to receive communion. As I was an atheist this was a bit weird! As a result I attended confirmation classes and in the middle of that made a commitment to be a Christian.

Communion is very powerful for me. The broken bread symbolises all our brokenness and the common cup symbolises our unity, we may disagree or fight, but we kneel together and receive together. Again, I was gutted when we did not share the common cup due to the Swine Flu fears.

As important to me that communion is, I don’t believe it is the actual body and blood of Jesus. Furthermore, even though I come out of an Anglo-Catholic tradition I don’t believe anything special happens during the prayer of consecration to the elements that make them magical or blessed in any particular way. The miracle of communion for me is entirely symbolic, but is still massively important.

My beliefs about communion will be different to yours; they will be influenced by my experience, my church background and my personality. I read about someone who became a Christian through the act of coming into church and receiving communion – in that moment she met with God. She is now a vicar and has a very high view of communion – obviously – her experience has affected her beliefs.

What has that got to do with miracles? Well I'll get onto that in just a moment, but let me tell you another story. It is about a school in America called ‘Abraham Lincoln School’. And outside is a statue of Abraham Lincoln. He is wielding an axe over his head, looking vibrant, confident, authoritative. In front of him is an African slave chained, kneeling with the shackles across a rock immediately below the aim of Lincoln’s axe. Did this actually happen? No. Is it metaphorically true? Emphatically yes.

I have been preaching for two and a half years in this Benefice, and when I preach on a miracle, I always preach as if it is literally true, that the events happen just as described by the author. Each time I feel guilty that I may be excluding people who do not believe that the events happed exactly as described and hence that they feel they are a faithless person, or a lesser Christian.

The reason I preach like this is because whether the miracle is literally true or metaphorically true doesn’t matter to me, like the statue of Abraham Lincoln. And I am always so taken with the story that I never seem to have time to say this. In the case of this particular miracle, the one of Jesus stilling the storm, I do happen to believe what is written is literally true. But often in stories with demons I tend to interpret that in terms of mental illness, for which the gospel writers have no language. I don’t actually know why I believe some miracle stories are more literally true than others, I think, like communion it is partly governed by personality, church tradition and experience. I feel sure that I will change my views as my experience of God changes and I have no idea where that will lead, but I feel pretty relaxed about that.

So why would the Gospel writers say something that wasn’t literally true? Well it is said that in the ancient world their use of story, symbol and language was different to ours and this changed around the enlightenment, when the precision of science affected our use of language. So in the same way we fully understand that the statue of Lincoln is saying something other than the literal interpretation, it may well be that there is enough symbolism in the Gospel stories to mean that the reader at the time understood them in a less literal way than us.

For me, it doesn’t matter; the truth is in the meaning. But if I have excluded you because you can’t believe in the literal meanings of the miracles then I am very sorry. In the same way that Christians all have different views of communion, Christians have different views of miracles. And although people did kill each other over the actual literal understanding of what happens to the elements, I think we now see that as pretty silly, and we can all believe in the truth of the meaning of communion without all having the same view of the state of the elements. I hope that is also true when it comes to interpreting the Bible, although quite frankly I’m not so sure sometimes.

So getting onto the miracle – It is about Jesus stilling the storm. He has authority not over just disease and demons, but over nature too. The sea is seen as chaos, a frightening place, and even in the frightening, chaotic places in our lives I believe that Jesus can bring peace. For me this is the truth of this miracle, and I know for many of us we have experienced precisely this. May we this day and every day know this peace, and may we share it with those who hold precisely the same views as us and those who hold completely different ones too. Amen

No comments:

Post a Comment