Advent Hope


On my last Sunday at St. Ambrose in June, I entrusted to that community a gift that had deep value and meaning to me. In 2005, one of the very first people I talked to about starting a Latino ministry was my friend, Nanette. Over lunch that day, both of us talked through tears about the pain of the world around us and how it called us to ministry. I had not yet been ordained to the priesthood and not too long after that conversation Nanette accepted a job at Sewanee. Then, I was ordained and one day, I got a package from her, a beautiful ceramic chalice and paten that was intended as a blessing for me as an ordained person and for the ministry in the Latino community.

When El Centro moved to St Ambrose, I no longer used the set very frequently until Advent, when, we used blue instead of purple as the liturgical color for the first time, and brought out my set. We would use it many more times before the 8th of June of this year. I already knew how fragile the bonds were, how stressed and stretched the whole system was. During the “liturgy for leave-taking” at the end of my last service, I had keys to return, my letter of resignation to turn in. I also decided I would leave my Eucharistic set. A member each of the English speaking and Spanish-speaking parts of the community received one of the two vessels.

In a last vestry meeting that morning,  I had told the community leaders and then also told the congregation that I hoped that just as both vessels were needed for Eucharist, so the community we had begun to build needed everyone. I was entrusting the set to both parts of the community to remind them of the call to unity made possible through the body and blood of our Lord. I also said that if the community ever did split apart I hoped my set would be returned to me.

Within two months, the split I had dreaded happened. I only know bits and pieces of what went down but I have heard enough to know that it was far worse than anything I could have imagined. As the fabric of that community tore apart, someone was able to retrieve my vessels and return them to Sherod. A few days after he arrived, he unpacked them. The paten was fine. The chalice was broken beyond repair.

It struck me then, and it is even more striking today, that in a sense, we continue to spill sacred blood. Tugging becomes tearing and then tearing apart so blood runs freely. On Wednesday at the Vietnam Veteran’s Memorial in Washington, the marble was icy-cold and just the littlest bit damp. All I could think of was, “cold as death.” So, so many deaths. Then came the news about the grand jury decision related to Eric Garner’s death. I sat with my dear friend Ron that night. Ron, my African American friend, is as upbeat and as positive an individual as I know, and that night he was bent over in sorrow and despair.

As the sun is setting on second Sunday in advent, in this chilly Alabama twilight, I ask myself, where is the hope? Several months ago, my friend Michelle, over at Quantum Theology, had a beautiful post about catastrophic fractures that began with a quote from Leonard Cohen’s song, Anthem: “there is a crack in everything. Cracks are how the light gets in.” There were cracks in the NRRM from the very beginning and at the end, a catastrophic fracture.   As best as I can tell, bits and pieces were re-gathered and re-cemented in a completely new configuration. It is not that there wasn’t great pain, or even collateral damage. But that the light shines on all the pieces. The catastrophic fractures in our country continue to happen and I am not naïve enough to think we’ve seen the end of fractures around the legal system and people of color.

I have to believe though, that each of those fractures, each crack does open space for the light to get in and shine on our brokenness and on a different possibility than the one we have chosen for ourselves. The light that shines is the steady, unwavering light of the Gospel and I am also reminded of something I read in another blog in May of 2013. It was a blog post by a person who only identified herself as Bridget in the Women in Theology blog. Bridget’s definition of hope was this: “the conviction not that things will right themselves, nor that we’ll be able to right them, but that God’s power will work to overturn whatever wrongs our systems can devise”.

That definition is an Advent definition of hope if I have ever heard one.   No broken chalice, nor injustice is beyond God’s determination that what we, in our foolishness, our fear, our short-sightedness and our pride have bent, broken and made crooked, is going to be healed, be made strong and new and capable of holding life and grace.

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