The doors were closed in fear…

In the days after the crucifixion of our Lord Jesus Christ, the apostles went into hiding, according to John’s Gospel (20:19).   They were afraid of the Jews.  Behind closed doors, Jesus met with those to whom He had entrusted His mission and ministry.  He wished them His peace and then showed them his wounds (20:20).

This cheered the fearful apostles a little (20:20).

But Jesus gave them little time for comfort, for his next words were these: “As the Father has sent me, even so I send you” (20:21).

In other words, he expected His disciples to overcome their fears and secrecy and to leave their hiding place and go into the world as apostles – carry God’s Good News to all humanity – just as He had done through His life, death and resurrection. 

He had just showed them His wounds, His message was clear:  Go into the world, in love as I have done, and love the world.  Suffer and die for the salvation of the world.  Don’t be afraid, this is the way of glory for God’s people.  He wished them peace as He told them to go into the world to suffer as He had suffered for the sins of the world and for its salvation.

Last week, the OCA’s synod of bishops also met behind closed doors, in closed session.  It is possible like the apostles in whose succession they are, they too have fears which is why they close the doors.  They have much to discuss, as they have many problems and issues to deal with.  They seem to have much to fear as well – lawyers, allegations, lawsuits, scandal, the Internet, their flock, declining membership, clergy sexual misconduct, clergy abuse, financial mismanagement, the press, public opinion, secularism, democracy, crises, inadequacies, transparency, the past, the present and the future.  These are “the Jews” whom the successors to the apostles fear today and so stay behind closed doors.  A week after they meet, their deliberations remain locked behind those doors, for fear of their “Jews.”

We can pray that Christ will appear to them the next time they assemble behind closed doors, in closed session.  Perhaps He will give them peace, certainly He will tell them to leave the confines of their hiding place, to open the doors and go into the world to teach all that He commanded.  This time around though I think he needs to show not just the mark of the nails and the place where the spear pierced his side – still open and yet transfigured wounds.  He needs to show that He is still bleeding from these wounds, He needs to show the tears on His cheeks as He weeps for His Church, for its wounded members, for the leadership which imagines it can lead from behind doors which are closed in fear of the …

The only things we really need to fear is God and His judgment, and that we can fail as disciples to be His Church.

Archbishop Seraphim of Canada Arrested

News about the arrest and charging of Archbishop Seraphim of Canada on two counts of child sexual assault circulated widely yesterday (American Thanksgiving Day).  You can read articles: CTV Edmonton, Canada.com, Global Winnipeg,  The New York Times, and The Washington Post.

The arrest means Canadian authorities believe the allegations have sufficient merit to warrant a trial.   The OCA’s Synod of Bishops had in their recent meeting (November 15-18) also approved a commission to look into these allegations.

However painful such a story is for the Church, the Church as an institution was called into existence to deal with sin in the world by our Lord Jesus Christ.  The purpose of the Church is to deal with sin and sinners, and now we will see how the Church, with its very human leaders deals with sin and sins, not only in the world, but in the Church.

While news within the church of allegations of misconduct comes as a shocking surprise and is often met with incredulity, I am much reminded of the Gospel lesson of the Last Supper as recorded in  Mark 14:16-23 (and the parallel account in Matthew 26:19-30):

And the disciples set out and went to the city, and found it as he had told them; and they prepared the passover. And when it was evening he came with the twelve.  And as they were at table eating, Jesus said, “Truly, I say to you, one of you will betray me, one who is eating with me.” They began to be sorrowful, and to say to him one after another, “Is it I?” He said to them, “It is one of the twelve, one who is dipping bread into the dish with me.For the Son of man goes as it is written of him, but woe to that man by whom the Son of man is betrayed! It would have been better for that man if he had not been born.” And as they were eating, he took bread, and blessed, and broke it, and gave it to them, and said, “Take; this is my body.” And he took a cup, and when he had given thanks he gave it to them, and they all drank of it.

Images of the last supper resonate with us not only because of Holy Thursday and iconography but more because of Holy Communion which we receive each week.  We understand the event of the Mystical Supper to be one of high points of the liturgical remembrance of Christ during Holy Week – for Communion becomes our real participation in the life of Christ, in His death and resurrection as members of His Body.

In the midst of this Mystical and sacramental participation in Christ, we see the Twelve Disciples one by one verbalizing the fear of their own hearts: “Is it I, Lord?!?”  For Christ informs them around the Eucharistic table that one of them is going to betray Him.   Each disciple does not express the firm conviction and disbelief, “No!  It is not true, don’t say that, Lord.”  They each do not ask, “How can you say that, Lord?”  Rather each one asks aloud, “Is it I, Lord?”   Is it I, chosen apostle, one of the Twelve, who will betray you?  They each knew themselves.

What a scene!  The chosen and holy apostles each is able to vocalize that dreaded fear, “Is it I who will betray you, Lord?”  For each in that moment realized the truth and the depth of his own heart:  for each it was a possibility.  We each need to think about this truth before we rush to judgment or lose all faith in the Apostles or the Apostolic Church.   “Is it I, Lord, who can betray you?”  “Is it I, Lord, who does betray you by my sins?”

We deceive ourselves if we believe that church leaders are sinless for “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23).  All includes priests, bishops, apostles, and saints.   We each stand in church as sinners, perhaps penitents, perhaps seeking forgiveness and mercy, perhaps redeemed by Christ, but sinners nonetheless. 

If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us.  If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just, and will forgive our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness.  If we say we have not sinned, we make him a liar, and his word is not in us.   (1 John 1:8-10)

This is the reality the Church claims to believe.  It is not for nothing that before receiving the Eucharist we recite in the creedal prayer, “Neither like Judas will I give you a kiss.”   The incredible truth about us as disciples is we are human and we are capable of betraying Christ – not only that, but betraying Him by the kiss of peace.   We do contemplate Judas each Holy Week as well, as a reminder of what it is to be human.

The reality of humans, the reality which God so grudgingly acknowledges in Genesis 6:6 and 8:21 in the story of Noah and the great flood, is that there is evil in the heart of humans even from when we are young. 

We are created in God’s image and likeness, capable of bearing God in us, capable of theosis.  We also are beings in whose hearts evil can and does dwell.  Both are the truths about humanity, and both are supposed to be included in how the Church sees itself, its members, and the world.  In the Church we deal with truth, even when it is painful and cuts to the heart.  “Is it I, Lord?”