Saturday, 12 November 2011
Time before Advent: further reflections
Catholicity and covenant has been mulling over Tom Wright's strident critique of the Kingdom season during the past few weeks. While we in the CofI do not use the term 'Kingdom season', our collects for these Sunday explicitly reflect the themes of the season. The ordinary time of 'Sundays after Trinity' becomes 'Sundays before Advent'. Having once endorsed Wright's view, what has changed?
As previously discussed, there is the profound pastoral need to address the fact that Advent is very crowded. Its eschatological themes are overshadowed from at least the mid-season point by the pastoral and parochial necessities of carol and nativity services for the parish, the schools, other institutions, the local community.
And then there is the liturgical precedent of a longer Advent season - 6 weeks in some of the ancient rites of the West (the Ambrosian, Mozarabic and Gallican rites). 4 weeks for eschatological reflection in the liturgical year is not written in stone. Significant parts of the Western Church have given over a slightly longer period.
But what of Wright's view that by the 'Kingdom season' embracing what he terms the "muddle" of November - All Saints, All Souls, Remembrance Sunday (in the UK), and Christ the King - it "unscrambles the eschatological teaching of the old church year"? Rather than unscrambling the Church's eschatological teaching, the Kingdom season reminds us of the 'not yet' quality of the Kingdom. And it does so in a manner which reflects both our experience and our hope.
Yes, we do at present live within the communion of saints - but all too imperfectly (All Saints). Yes, we do share in the paschal victory - but the fact of death remains a present reality (All Souls). Yes, the Church is called to live the peaceable kingdom - but the City of this world is given over to the pursuit of domination (Remembrance). Yes, the Church confesses Christ as King - but we await his judgement when all shall be made new (Christ the King).
At least to some extent this reflects the affirmation of the ancient baptismal creed, in which "the communion of saints [and] the forgiveness of sins" are related to the eschatological hope of "the resurrection of the body and the life everlasting". It is in light of this hope that the Kingdom season interprets our present realities - of the imperfect Church, of death, of conflict, of the Kingship of Christ. In a sermon preached shortly after the end of the First World War, Austin Farrer spoke of this tension which the Kingdom season reflects:
So even in the darkness and blindness of our present existence, our thought ranges abroad and spreads towards the confines of the mystical Christ, remembering the whole Church of Christ, as well militant on earth as triumphant in heaven; invoking angels, archangels and all the spiritual host.
The Kingdom season ensures that the Church does not lose focus on its eschatological hope, amidst carols and lights. The "darkness and blindness of our present existence" needs this hope to be brought into sharp focus as we reflect on those very experiences which cry out for redeeming judgement - sin, death, conflict, injustice. And thus we enter Advent more fully aware of the significance of the Advent proclamation.
Posted by BC at 15:02