Sunday, May 28, 2006

7th Sunday of Easter (B)
Of Foundations, Pillars & the Da Vinci Code

Readings: Acts 1:15-17,20-26; 1 John 4:11-16; John 17:11-19

Dear sisters and brothers, what do you make of the current hullabaloo over the Da Vinci Code? After reading the book and having paid some attention to the concern and even outrage expressed by many Christians, I wonder whether this whole controversy might not be something of a blessing in disguise. Let me explain.

Here in Singapore, most of us are painfully aware of the crucial importance, in any construction project, of solid foundations and strong supporting pillars. We have witnessed the horrors of the Nicoll Highway and Hotel New World disasters. We know what can happen when engineers and contractors cut corners. All of a sudden, structures collapse, lives are lost, people are injured and traumatized, public confidence is shaken. In the face of such tragedy, we can only regret that appropriate action had not been taken earlier. If only we had some warning that something was wrong.

What has this to do with the Da Vinci Code? Well, if we see our Christian faith as a high-rise building, then I wonder if the Da Vinci Code controversy might not be an early warning of sorts. Could it be the equivalent of cracks in the walls, or occasional tremors in the building – signs that something might be wrong. And perhaps more important than trying desperately to silence or censor this warning, we Christians need to carefully examine the structure that is our faith. Or as some would say, perhaps it’s time to do some trouble-shooting.

Of course, it’s understandable that Christians would take offence at the book and the movie, and even see them as an attack on Christianity. But the question to ask is “who are the casualties of this attack?” Whilst it’s appropriate to worry about non-Christians being scandalized, do we not also need to consider the likelihood that it is we Christians ourselves whose faith is shaken – we ourselves who are beginning to doubt the very foundations of our faith? Preposterous though Dan Brown’s claims may be – in particular, the notion that Jesus was a mere mortal who had a child with Mary Magdalene – there do seem to be those among us who actually wonder if there’s some truth in them.

Coincidentally, our readings on this 7th Sunday of Easter provide us with just the kind of scriptural material we need to examine the foundations and pillars of our Christian faith.

Let’s start with the foundations. We all know that in the scriptures Jesus is referred to as the corner-stone (e.g., Mt 21:42). He is the one on whom the whole Christian edifice stands or falls. To be more specific, it is his death and resurrection that makes all the difference. As Paul says in 1 Corinthians 15:17: “If Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile and you are still in your sins… If for this life only we have hoped in Christ, we are of all people most to be pitied.”

Is it any wonder then that when, in the first reading, Peter and the early church look for Judas’ successor, they really only have one requirement in mind: “we must… choose someone,” Peter says, “who has been with us the whole time that Jesus was traveling around with us… right from the time when John was baptizing until the day when he was taken up from us – and he can act with us as a witness to his resurrection.” If Jesus is the corner-stone of our faith, then the rest of the foundations consist in eye-witnesses, especially the twelve apostles. Isn’t this what we profess in the Creed each Sunday, when we declare our belief in an “apostolic church”?

And isn’t this as firm a foundation as any? The Christian faith is built upon nothing less than eye-witness testimony. Why then should we be troubled by such nonsense as the Da Vinci Code? Entertained and even excited perhaps, but surely not troubled. Unless, of course, we aren’t quite aware of the solidity of these foundations, or we have built our own personal faith on something else. If so, the Da Vinci Code might serve as a call to conversion.

What about the supporting pillars? The first disciples, the eye-witnesses are no longer with us. The foundations have been laid. It is left to you and me to hold up the building. We are the supporting pillars.

Obviously, we are not and cannot be eye-witnesses in the strict historical sense, in the way that the apostles were. Jesus is no longer present among us in same way that he was before the Resurrection.

But neither is he absent. Notice how in our opening prayer, we asked the Father to help us to remember that “Christ our Saviour” both “lives… in glory” – in other words, he is in heaven – and yet “remain(s) with us until the end of time.” Jesus is somehow present among us. And we are the witnesses to this presence. How? Notice what John says in the second reading: “God is love and anyone who lives in love lives in God, and God lives in him.” John is reminding us that, although Jesus has ascended, the presence of God in Christ continues to show itself in the world, when people love one another as Christ loved us. When people lay down their lives for one another, even in apparently insignificant ways, Jesus Christ walks the earth once again. For us to be witnesses to this presence, we must have the capacity to sense it.

As The Little Prince said so wisely: “It is only with the heart that one sees rightly. What is essential is invisible to the eye.” If this is true, then the pillars of Christian faith consist not so much in eye-witnesses but heart-witnesses and hand-witnesses – in people who somehow experience and communicate the presence of Christ through lives lived in self-sacrificial love. And we do not have to look too far to do this. On any given day in our busy schedules, are there not a variety of opportunities for us to witness in this way – in our homes, our schools, our workplaces?

It follows then that the solidity of these pillars of our faith depends much upon us. What kind of witnesses are we? Do we help others to experience the crucified and risen One? Or do we, instead, provide scandal?

My sisters and brothers, if the Da Vinci Code controversy is indeed an alarm bell for us Christians, should we not heed it? Or do we wait till it is too late? Do we wait until the building that is our faith collapses, because it has been built on the wrong foundations, or because the pillars have buckled through neglect?

And if the latter is indeed the case? What should we do? We need to begin with the very thing for which Jesus prays in the gospel today. We need to re-consecrate ourselves in the truth – the truth about God’s undying love for us in Christ, the truth about the present state of our relationship with God, the truth about our calling to be witnesses of the resurrection.

Sisters and brothers, have you checked the foundations and pillars of your faith lately?

No comments:

Post a Comment