by Archbishop Mark Macdonald, National Indigenous Anglican Bishop for the Anglican Church of Canada
I wish to begin with some preliminary thoughts about how we read Scripture:
A number of years ago, I was sitting with a group of Indigenous clergy at a regional church gathering, a gathering largely populated by and representing the perspective of non-Indigenous people. The discussion at the gathering was about the now common proposal that we follow a “Season of Creation” in our schedule of daily and weekly Scripture readings. The season would identify texts that are specially focused on Creation and our relationship to it. As the discussion proceeded, someone tapped me on the shoulder. I looked behind to see the whole group of Indigenous clergy with very confused looks. One finally said, “I thought all of Scripture was about Creation.”
I am a supporter of a “Season of Creation.” The Indigenous point, however, is vital. An Indigenous reading of the Scripture is not filtered through the centuries of Western Scientism and Materialism and the progressive alienation of human beings from the rest of Creation. The alienating trends that have spread through the globalizing culture of money have made it difficult for people to see the underlying “Creationism” in every text of Scripture (Creationism is the best word I can find to describe a primary cosmological element of Scripture, the embedded point of view that there is an essential communion of humanity with the rest of Creation.). This view is primary and basic to Indigenous Peoples around the world. The symbiotic relationship between humanity and Creation is a defining feature and an existential commitment to the People of the Land and Seas.
I have heard many people say that we must import other more earth-friendly ideas to enhance our reading of Scripture, assuming that Scripture shares the basic cosmological assumptions of globalizing Western society. I would heartily endorse the application of science and other disciplines of knowledge and life in the illumination of Scripture. It is urgent, however, that the underlying Creation cosmology of Scripture be appreciated again, uncovered again. We must read it with this always in mind. The communion of Creation, so much a part of the Indigenous cosmology, is infused in every word of Scripture.
Genesis 32:22 (NRSV) The same night he [Jacob] got up and took his two wives, his two maids, and his eleven children, and crossed the ford of the Jab’bok. 23 He took them and sent them across the stream, and likewise everything that he had. 24 Jacob was left alone; and a man wrestled with him until daybreak. 25 When the man saw that he did not prevail against Jacob, he struck him on the hip socket; and Jacob’s hip was put out of joint as he wrestled with him. 26 Then he said, “Let me go, for the day is breaking.” But Jacob said, “I will not let you go, unless you bless me.” 27 So he said to him, “What is your name?” And he said, “Jacob.” 28 Then the man said, “You shall no longer be called Jacob, but Israel, for you have striven with God and with humans, and have prevailed.” 29 Then Jacob asked him, “Please tell me your name.” But he said, “Why is it that you ask my name?” And there he blessed him. 30 So Jacob called the place Peni’el, saying, “For I have seen God face to face, and yet my life is preserved.” 31 The sun rose upon him as he passed Penu’el, limping because of his hip.
Notes: In this text, we would note Scripture’s ever present and meaningful attention to water, in the identification of the stream as an critical element of this urgent spiritual moment in Creation and history. The encounter is not divorced from the physical, spirit and body are – ahem – joined at the hip. The rhythms of night and day frame this encounter. Everything in the narrative breathes with the physicality of a Spirit infused, Word revealing, Creation. It begs us to see the inseparable connection of place, humanity, and the life of the Spirit.
Isaiah 55: 1 – 5 (alt. for RCL)
1 (NRSV) Ho, everyone who thirsts, come to the waters; and you that have no money, come, buy and eat! Come, buy wine and milk without money and without price. 2 Why do you spend your money for that which is not bread, and your labor for that which does not satisfy? Listen carefully to me, and eat what is good, and delight yourselves in rich food. 3 Incline your ear, and come to me; listen, so that you may live. I will make with you an everlasting covenant, my steadfast, sure love for David. 4 See, I made him a witness to the peoples, a leader and commander for the peoples. 5 See, you shall call nations that you do not know, and nations that do not know you shall run to you, because of the LORD your God, the Holy One of Israel, for he has glorified you.
Notes: In this alternative text, the simple but essential act of eating is seen as a sacramental entry into the fulfilling presence of God in Creation and history. We are called to enter in to this presence in simple acts of drinking and eating, mystically unveiling the love, power, and salvation of God. In these simple necessary and everyday acts, we are invited to see the mysterious and pervasive trajectory of God in all things. It is so powerfully and prophetically embodied in the Eucharist, whose meaning is unveiled and glimpsed in the feeding of more than five thousand.
PSALM 17: 1 – 7, 15 (RCL)
1 (NRSV) Hear a just cause, O LORD; attend to my cry;
give ear to my prayer from lips free of deceit.
2 From you let my vindication come;
let your eyes see the right.
3 If you try my heart, if you visit me by night,
if you test me, you will find no wickedness in me;
my mouth does not transgress.
4 As for what others do, by the word of your lips
I have avoided the ways of the violent.
5 My steps have held fast to your paths;
my feet have not slipped.
6 I call upon you, for you will answer me, O God;
incline your ear to me, hear my words.
7 Wondrously show your steadfast love,
O savior of those who seek refuge
from their adversaries at your right hand.
15 As for me, I shall behold your face in righteousness;
when I awake I shall be satisfied, beholding your likeness.
Note: Verse numbering in your Psalter may differ from the above
Notes: This Psalm reveals and celebrates the presence of God in all aspects of life, the steadfast love of God. This presence intimately searches humanity. Do the actions of human beings echo, exemplify, and reveal the actions of God? No where is this seen more clearly than in the Eucharistic Sacramental life revealed by the life, action, and teaching of Jesus.
Psalm 145: 8 – 9, 14 – 21 (alt. for RCL)
8 (NRSV) The LORD is gracious and merciful,
slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love.
9 The LORD is good to all,
and his compassion is over all that he has made.
14 The LORD upholds all who are falling,
and raises up all who are bowed down.
15 The eyes of all look to you,
and you give them their food in due season.
16 You open your hand,
satisfying the desire of every living thing.
17 The LORD is just in all his ways,
and kind in all his doings.
18 The LORD is near to all who call on him,
to all who call on him in truth.
19 He fulfills the desire of all who fear him;
he also hears their cry, and saves them.
20 The LORD watches over all who love him,
but all the wicked he will destroy.
21 My mouth will speak the praise of the LORD,
and all flesh will bless his holy name forever and ever.
Note: Verse numbering in your Psalter may differ from the above
Notes: This Psalm is especially revered in Rabbinic commentary, who said those who recite it thrice daily are assured a place in the World to Come. It is, like Psalm 17 above, a revelation and celebration of the presence of God in Creation and history. God is the loving living source, frame, and animation of all that is. God’s saving acts, mercifully seen in the interdependence of all life, are also available to all who call on God. Seen in light of the Gospel, it is a Eucharistic Sacramental revelation of life, at all its various levels in all is wonderful complexity. The human being who lives and understand this marvellous web of life adores God, honour God, and blesses God’s holy name forever.
Romans 9: 1 – 5
Romans 9:1 (NRSV) I am speaking the truth in Christ–I am not lying; my conscience confirms it by the Holy Spirit– 2 I have great sorrow and unceasing anguish in my heart. 3 For I could wish that I myself were accursed and cut off from Christ for the sake of my own people, my kindred according to the flesh. 4 They are Israelites, and to them belong the adoption, the glory, the covenants, the giving of the law, the worship, and the promises; 5 to them belong the patriarchs, and from them, according to the flesh, comes the Messiah, who is over all, God blessed forever. Amen.
Notes: Paul identifies, in the history of Israel, a larger and universal trajectory of the Living Word of God, in Creation and history. Despite his alienation from something so very dear – his people and his identity – Paul can, displaying in his own love the sacrificial love at the heart God’s life in the universe, see the promise and power of the presence of God in Israel, in history, and in Creation. In his pain, he affirms the promise and praises the eternal God who is the Ruler of the Universe.
Matthew 14: 13 – 21
Matthew 14:13 (NRSV) Now when Jesus heard this, he withdrew from there in a boat to a deserted place by himself. But when the crowds heard it, they followed him on foot from the towns. 14 When he went ashore, he saw a great crowd; and he had compassion for them and cured their sick. 15 When it was evening, the disciples came to him and said, “This is a deserted place, and the hour is now late; send the crowds away so that they may go into the villages and buy food for themselves.” 16 Jesus said to them, “They need not go away; you give them something to eat.” 17 They replied, “We have nothing here but five loaves and two fish.” 18 And he said, “Bring them here to me.” 19 Then he ordered the crowds to sit down on the grass. Taking the five loaves and the two fish, he looked up to heaven, and blessed and broke the loaves, and gave them to the disciples, and the disciples gave them to the crowds. 20 And all ate and were filled; and they took up what was left over of the broken pieces, twelve baskets full. 21 And those who ate were about five thousand men, besides women and children.
Notes: Present here, are four feasts that reveal the presence of God as the pulsing heart of every particle of Creation: first, the feeding of the more than five thousand, a prophetic act which displays the miracle of the other three feasts; second, the every day feasts in which the mystery of life and presence of God is marvellously revealed – all the other feasts are echoed in this daily feast, this daily bread; third, the feast in the World to Come, the culmination of God’s presence in Creation and history, definitively and with salvation revealed and made present in the life, death, resurrection, and second coming of Jesus; fourth, the Eucharist, in which all four feasts meet, in which all four are prophetically revealed, and God’s moral and spiritual presence in every moment, particle, and action of Creation and history. God is not revealed in terms of human might, God is revealed in the forces of life, in the energy that sustains and propels all of Creation. As Jesus mystically presides in our gathering – receiving, blessing, breaking, and sharing – we see life and we see our path of life in Creation. We must sanctify – and at the same time reveal the holiness that is present – Creation as the gift of God. Jesus give us a ceremony of life in four dimensions, but he also gives us a way of life which follows the pattern of his life, displaying and embodying the sacrificial love of God present in all of life. In a world that appears to have lost connection with Creation and with the God who is present in it, it is urgent that we plunge in to the vibrating life of this mystery. As we may not, in many places today, share the completeness of this Eucharist as we would, we may find the meaning of its call to both live life and see Creation – and bless Creation, by holy action that protects and honours its God given integrity – in the living of this feast, in imitating this feast in the minute and blessed acts of life. The bouquet of Scriptures, especially adorn, reveal, and celebrate the miraculous presence of the reality in Creation and history.
As I have learned from Indigenous elders, entering ceremony is to enter the time and realm of the spiritual life that undergirds, animates, and preserves Creation. It is to specially reveal and honour the Creator, but it also seeks the healing power of that goodness which sustains life. This goodness, this understanding, has a miraculous character and an immediate healing radiance in the lives of participants, but also in the reconciliation of people to the Land, the Land being the eco-sphere of the relationships through which God creates and sustains life. This, I hope, is a revealing partner to the ceremony that is at the heart of our Christian life and experience.
by Archbishop Mark MacDonald, Canada