On Friday this week just past, I went to watch Spotlight, a film about the team of investigative journalists who revealed the Roman Catholic cover up of the sexual and spiritual abuse that was allowed to go on for decades. Lest we are tempted to think that it is only the Roman Church that is guilty here, let me assure you that the Anglican Communion has its own share in this obscenity.
Leaving the cinema, my clerical collar around my neck, all I could think was that the whole edifice—the Church, her clergy and her committees; her schools, for Christ’s sake—the whole thing should come crumbling down.
Power. That’s the Devil’s gimmick. The power to turn stone to bread. The power over all the kingdoms of the world. The power to cheat death. It could be anything, really. The power to be adored by vulnerable young people. The power to cajole or coerce others to do terrible, terrible things. The power to avert eyes from the skeletons in our closets. The power to avert our own eyes from injustice and abuse.
I fear, we have not done very well, really. We have succumbed to temptation in the most embarrassingly basic, textbook, way. The trappings of being a venerable institution with impressive international resources; they have, it seems safe to say, had a devilish effect on us.
It is not as though I have a solution up my sleeve.
Leaving the Church has never been an option: to whom shall we go? His are the words of eternal life. Besides, while our moral outrage surely comes from our common humanity, our faith does give us a particular perspective on and against the abuse of power. From the Hebrew prophecies that railed against the oppression of the poor to the passion narratives of Christ who died a political criminal falsely accused, our most sacred stories reveal a deep concern for how power is understood and used and abused. They compel us toward the same concern; or they should, if we still want to think of them as our stories.
I don’t generally have what people think of as “religious experiences”. But there are a few things I am privileged enough to get to do that transport me somewhere else.
One of those things is a moment during the Eucharist: during the Agnus Dei—Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world—the priest performs the fraction, breaks the consecrated host. Granted that there is no physical sense in which Jesus is being snapped in half, the symbolic power of that action is beyond my capacity to articulate it. The Eucharist is about the Incarnation, which is about Power itself becoming a little baby boy; it is about the Passion, which is about that boy growing up to be broken and murdered by human hands and instruments. Every time I snap the host in half, I am struck by the glorious ludicrousness of the whole thing: God becomes mortal, and dies at the hands of cowards.
I have, as I have said, no solution to propose, to fix the Church. All I know is that this thing we do week on week, it’s the opposite of what we allow to happen around us all the time, whether out of malice or apathy. I hope, however, that it is at least an effective reminder to us of the life we have signed up for: a life in which we have already died in baptism, and risen with Christ whose power is nothing other than self-giving love. To receive the Eucharist is to sign up to this notion of power. Make no mistake, it is no light matter to share in Christ’s cup. Let us be warned.