“Liturgy of Strategic Interruption”

This morning Parker led us for the first time, bringing a poignancy and power in his analysis to what has been happening in his homeland, the US, in recent times and our response to that. His notes can be found below.

2020 has been a year of near-constant “interruption.” Our lives have been reoriented and redirected in new and, at times, challenging ways. For many of us, we have known family and friends affected by the coronavirus. For all of us, we have either been directly affected by the pandemic’s knock-on consequences: interrupted or discontinued employment, holidays delayed or postponed, distance forcefully imposed between us and our loved ones.

The virus has revealed in profoundly violent ways the manner in which our societies have been constructed on systemic inequities and inequalities.

That Black Americans like George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and David McAtee have died at the hands of American police forces is nothing new. That Black and Brown folks suffer disproportionately from disease, infant mortality, and now, the coronavirus, is not new news. It is simply being “revealed” en masse on social media and television.

I propose that today we enter into what the feminist theologian Susan Ross calls a “liturgy of strategic interruption.” Liturgies of strategic interruption include those promoted by liberation theologians, who were eager to give voice to the indigenous and poor communities of Latin America, marginalized and unheard by dictatorships and the hierarchical Church; or feminist theologians, who vindicated women as active objects of liturgical practice, whether from the pulpit or in biblical exegesis.

I suggest we engage a liturgy of strategic interruption to contemplate the events of recent weeks that have yet again the experience of Black Americans. Let’s begin with a few minutes of reflection and meditation as we hear this opening song by Alexi Murdoch…

This was followed by the reading of the Cain and Abel story in Genesis 4 – which seemed more pertinent than ever before. Parker continued:

(Adapted from Rick Axtell, “Ever Eastward,” Baccalaureate Sermon, Centre College, 24 May 2015: https://www.centre.edu/baccalaureate-sermon-ever-eastward-dr-rick-axtell/. Used with generous permission from Dr. Axtell, my professor, mentor, and friend.)

In the Bible, Cain and Abel are the first human brothers. The text tells us nothing of their boyhood friendship. We read only that Abel becomes a shepherd and Cain a farmer. Already in this first human family, this primal brotherhood, there is difference. And this differentiation, this unexpected reality of division in human relations, takes on the dimension of tragedy.

The brothers bring offerings to their God—Abel from his flock, and Cain from his harvest. This inscrutable Deity accepts Abel’s offering but rejects Cain’s. We don’t know why. Cain does not know why.

But it’s not hard to imagine the agony of this rejection, the arbitrariness of this preferential judgment from the authority one hopes to please, this blow to one’s self-worth. Has Abel earned this favour? What have I don’t to be eclipsed by this chosen one?

The story of this primal conflict seems inescapable:
It’s also the story of Jacob, his mother’s favourite, supplanting Esau.
It’s Rachel’s golden boy, Joseph, superseding his older brothers.
It’s the treachery of Claudius against his brother Hamlet.
It’s the opportunism of Romulus killing his brother Remus and then founding the city of Rome.
We know this story.

Cain is grieved by God’s partiality toward Abel. The God who rejected his offering now warns him that sin is crouching like a predatory animal outside the tent. God assures Cain he has the power to master this beat. But you can feel it lurking when Cain calls his brother out to the field…
“And there, Cain rose up against his brother Abel, and killed him.”
His “brother” Abel, the text reminds us.

And we are left with the iconic image of Abel lying unconscious on the ground.

So God puts Cain on trial: “Where is Abel, your brother?”
And Cain’s response is as chilling as it is ethically significant: “I don’t know, am I my brother’s keeper?”
The divine response is as powerful as any line in the Bible:
“What have you done? The voice of your brother’s blood is crying out to me from the ground.”

Seven times, the text repeats the word “brother.” This brother who never speaks in the text has not lost his voice. It cries out from the very soil that produced Cain’s offering; soil now satiated by the sacrifice of the innocent.

Monday, June 4th, was the Memorial of the Blessed Virgin Mary, Mother of the Church, a Marian feast day inserted into the Roman Calendar in 2018 by Pope Francis.

Mary, Mother of the Church and Mother of Jesus, knelt at the Cross while her Son gasped for air. The whole world hung in the balance as the persecuted Christ fulfilled the prophecy and breathed his final breaths.

The events are among the most anguishing in our Western cultural and religious imagination.

Just as Jesus spoke to Mary in the moments before his death, putting her into the care of John, and John into the care of Mary, so too did George Floyd cry out for his mother while a police officer snuffed out his life by keeping his knee on Floyd’s neck for over eight minutes.

“My neck hurts.
Everything hurts.
Please. Please. Please. I can’t breathe.
I’m about to die this day.
Momma. Momma.
Momma. I’m through.”

We now know that George Floyd’s mother died some two years ago. His calling out for her was not a cry for rescue. It was a cry of reckoning, of reconciliation, of redemption. The beautiful mural created George Floyd’s memory reads, “I can breathe now.” May perpetual light shine on George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and all of those Black Americans whose lives have been unnecessarily cut short.

In my mind, one of the heart-wrenching works art is Michelangelo’s Pietà, which portrays Mary’s motherly embrace of Jesus after the crucifixion. May we also be mindful of Tylonn J. Sawyer’s powerful re-imagination of the Pietà, which compels us to think about the Black Mothers who are forced to embrace the bodies of their limp children, victims of racism and racial injustice, but who are redeemed by the promise of Christ’s crucifixion.

 

The second reading was from 1 Corinthians 12: 15-26, of Paul’s analogy of the body and this was flowed by a reading of Letter to the Editor of the Courier-Journal:

When those working to find cures for breast cancer post signs saying, “Save the tah-tahs,” they aren’t suggesting that ears are unimportant.

When you see a bumper sticker reading, “Save the rain forest,” it doesn’t mean, “I hate deciduous trees!”

When we rise up and declare that “Black Lives Matter,” we are not saying, “White people suck!” We are saying that, like breasts and rain forests, we have here vulnerable and suffering lives that need special and even preferential attention if our communities are to be healthy.

Black lives matter.

(Scott Holzknecht (Religion Dept., Trinity High School, Louisville, Kentucky) 7 July 2016
https://eu.courier-journal.com/story/opinion/readers/2016/07/07/letter-black-lives-do-matter/86804844/)

Parker continued:

Am I my brother’s keeper? The whole thrust of the biblical narrative—from the Old Testament to the new—is that we are. “If one part suffers, every part suffers with it.” The call of the other is a demand on our lives. It is a call to confront our own individual realities and privileges and then to press for systemic change so that we may cultivate our humanity and replant the soil of human history with the seeds of justice.

You can learn about the My Brother’s Keeper Alliance from the Obama Foundation.

This prayer followed:

God of Creation,
In this tumultuous year of interruption, in which we have seen the arrival of a contagion that has taken the lives of tens of thousands of our brothers and sisters by robbing them of their breath,
We continue to pray for the victims of the pandemic, for their grieving families,
And for all of those who are working to keep us safe, often at their own peril.
We ask that you grant us the patience to be at peace with each of our respective circumstances.

Lord, enliven us to become more aware and more active in the protection of our Brothers and Sisters.
May we have the courage to confront the much more intransigent contagion of racism.
May we be mindful of your call to remake the world in your image, to create a world of justice and equality, on Earth as it is in heaven.

Amen.

And then we shared bread and wine:

Much like the discordant 2020 we are living through, Jesus came to us in a broken, unequal world. A world longing for the Messiah.

In His ministry, unparalleled at that time and ever since, Jesus provided us the ultimate “liturgy of strategic interruption.”

By healing the sick and ministering to the outcasts, Jesus heeded the call of the “voice of the other.”

Even on the night of Jesus’ betrayal, knowing the misery of what lie ahead, He stayed true to his mission of peace and non-violence.

When He gathered with his disciples in the Upper Room, He endowed them with the tools to carry on His ministry.

In breaking bread amongst his friends, Jesus satiated our earthly hunger with spiritual sustenance.

His Body is the fuel our ministry of redemption and reconciliation.

The Bread of Life:
All: (Taking the bread and saying) “Amen.”

Likewise, He took the cup of wine and passed it to his companions.
Jesus told them that the wine was His blood, poured out to represent the New Covenant, of prophecy fulfilled, of death defeated.

The Wine of Everlasting Life:
All: (Taking the wine and saying) “Amen.”

Dying you vanquished death
Rising you restored life
All: Jesus, shine your light amongst us

We finished with sharing of prayer needs and reading an email from Amanda in Minneapolis concerning our email of support to her in her ministry there at this hard time. Then we committed all to God’s blessing and blessed one another with our now established ‘Blessing on you and you and you and…’ as we point to one another.

A profound, sobering, challenging and moving morning with all very grateful for parker’s input.

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