Thursday, May 21, 2009

A right proper Ascension Day

How nice to have a bright, sunny, Ascension Day even if the temperature was more like early Spring than late. Fr Roy Doxsey and I shared the school Eucharist first thing before going our separate ways. He had three more Eucharists to do during the day, and I just two more.

For both of us, I think, this gathering of two hundred children of different faiths and nationalities with a couple of dozen parents and teachers could be no better way to start of day of celebrating our belief in the universal value and relevance of Christ Jesus our Lord for all humankind.

Later, as I was getting ready for the Midday Eucharist at St John's, two young men of middle Eastern origin approached me with questions.

First - how old is the church? (Easy, thirty second potted history)

Second - what sort of church, Catholic or Protestant? (Thirty second introduction to Anglicanism)

Third - do you worship the Virgin Mary like Catholics? (One minute on the difference between veneration, as opposed to adoration of God alone)

Fourth - do people here believe in God without obeying God's laws? (Well, sort of, but it doesn't do them much good - 30 seconds)

Fifth - do you believe people who do wicked things go to hell when they die? (Two minutes - You don't have to wait that long. Guilt, shame, fear in the face of wrongdoing means you've put yourself in hell already. Things can hardly improve later unless you do something about it?)

Sixth - but didn't Jesus sacrifice his life to forgive wrongdoers, whether or not they pray to him and believe? (Two minutes - yes, the point of him showing such love on the Cross was to defeat evil, stop it making people suffer hell, but wrongdoers still need to claim that love, learn to live by it, and change their ways to end their own suffering.)

Seventh - what about people who don't believe, or who came before Jesus? (A minute and a half on spiritual solidarity, harrowing of hell, and the righteous who obey God's law but cannot accept God as portrayed by religion.)

Time up. Sorry guys, gotta go say Mass now. Where do you come from? Kuwait. Are you Muslim? Yes. (Smiles all round) Ma'as sala'ama'. (Go in peace)

I enjoyed telling the congregation of eleven all about this eight minute interfaith encounter. Interfaith? Come to think of it, I didn't know their religion when they asked their questions so keenly. If I had, some of my explanations would have been more concise, as I've learned a little over the years about the commonalities, differences and the language terms that would have rendered my answers more concisely.

After the evening Eucharist, in which I recounted this exchange during my homily, Richard, my Vicar's warden recounted how he'd been quizzed about the church and its faith practices by a young Asian couple, just as he was about to depart after last Sunday's Evensong. They'd never seen an organ before, and wanted to know if the slots in the organ pipes were for posting letters into (presumably prayer texts - a not unfamiliar practice in some Buddhist parts of the world). He took pleasure as a good Christian engineer should, in explaining how this great device made music to accompany worship.

It turned out that the couple were Parsii (Zoroastrians).

Yesterday we had a return visit from a couple of young Cuban women, asking for prayers on the anniversary of the death of their Grandfather and Uncle. They were probably Catholic, but evidently they felt at home with us.

Such a privilege, to welcome the world into God's house.

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