-sharing reflections on what I've heard and am hearing, learned and am learning,
from voices in the Holy Land, the USA, and Rwanda-

Monday, November 6, 2017

Notebook Entry: 11.2.17 (November Newsletter)

"May I ask a question?"

Seven judges sit around a table at the front of the courtroom of the local primary courthouse. After a long day of work, they had come here for further practice and study in the English language. Despite the fact that each judge is fluent in Kinyarwanda and French (and a few in Swahili as well), each has committed to adding English to his list of fluency. A YAGM volunteer sits among them as he does every week, there to provide another opportunity for the judges to practice English through Bible Study and games.

The president of the local primary court continues: "Is there a name for that day you mentioned? What do you call it? Would you say it is. . . Division Day?"

We had just finished an English vocabulary game inspired by Martin Luther's nailing of the 95 Theses to the doors of the Castle Church in 1517. To set the stage, YAGM Ryan Campbell had given a brief explanation of what that action has come to mean for the Protestant Churches at the beginning of the session, but this judge wants more.

"Isn't this the day the church divided*?" he asks. "And do you think we will ever be united again?"  A judge in search of a verdict. I suppress the urge to shout an enthusiastic, "Yes!" and smile widely as conversation around the table begins.


Along with other significant shifts in the history of the Church, October 31st stands as an important marker in Christianity, but in what way? The judge's question gets at the heart of struggle to name the 500th anniversary of Luther's posting of the 95 Theses. Is it a celebration? A remembrance? A commemoration? Where Lutherans say the day marks a reformation, others, like the judge, might name it a day of division. Both are correct. Since the time of the Reformation and even beforehand, the body of Christ has been fragmented time and time again into different denominations and communities around the world. At what point in time will we be united again?

It is possible that we will not know the answer to that question beforehand. We are an imperfect people, constantly falling into cycles of division. We must remember that regardless of the aftermath of an event, not all acts of division are divisive. In fact, we are called to separate ourselves from the forces of sin in acts of confession and forgiveness--the great unifier. However, it sometimes goes that following the way of just reform means we must follow Christ to the cross, a place of ultimate division. On the cross, Christ was torn from life and even the curtain of the temple and the skies above were torn in two. Our walk to the cross with Jesus means we are going to confront division. There is no other way. The thing is, however, as we walk with Jesus toward the cross we already know the answer to the judge's question is this: "Yes, we will be united again." And we even know how.

At the foot of the cross, we are separated from Jesus by the power of death, but we know that the story does not end there. Division is not victorious. Just as Mary knew when Jesus called her by name outside of the empty tomb, so too do we know that our redeemer, our unifier, lives! And in this world of polarization and division, not only are we called to follow Jesus to the cross, but we are also compelled to witness to Christ's resurrection promise just as Mary did!

No point of division--be it schisms, or Reformation/Division Day, or even death--can separate us from the power of God's love for us, all of us, together. It is that love that will unite us all again. And it is moments of that love made visible which we witness and share in our daily lives that opens the way to unity.

So, when will we be united again? I cannot say a date or time, but I know that division will not have the final say. Unity in Christ is assured. Even though the present day political climate may make unity seem impossible, we know that with God, all good and just things are possible. For now, let us keep seeking ways to share and witness to God's message of justice, mercy, and hope for the world. Be it on a Thursday evening in a courthouse classroom in Rwanda, a Monday afternoon around the water cooler at work, or a Sunday morning at church, wherever we might find ourselves, may we fully know and determinedly share: In God's eyes, we are one.