Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Resurrection and the community of shalom

Resurrection and the community of shalom


Presentation 2.pdf


This is the final week of our series, The Spirituality of the Earth.  In the first session we explored the Hebrew Wisdom tradition, and the Christian identification of Jesus as the Wisdom of God, and I suggested that Wisdom spirituality provides a framework of virtues for an ecological age.  Last week we explored the language of Biblical apocalyptic, particularly the lurid visions of St John of Patmos in the Book of Revelation, and I suggested that apocalyptic imagery provided an appropriate language for a theology of climate crisis, with its sense both of existential crisis and finalism, or the drawing of all things to their true created purpose.  I suggested that an ecotheological apocalyptic provided a sharp challenge to the Church to live out its true vocation of solidarity with creation.  You may however have been left with more questions than answers: Where are we heading?  And what should we do?  I suggest the answer lies in the Bible's great tale of paradise lost and creation restored. 
My aim for the series was that each of us would come away with a specifically Christian way to reflect on the challenge of climate change – a theology that refuses to minimise the risk to God's creation but that is capable of articulating hope.  The hope that is crucial for an ecotheology needs above all to be grounded in resurrection, and so my aim for this evening's session is that we will be able to identify a way of talking about the resurrection of Christ that grounds our life as a Christian community that is capable of living the way of shalom for all creation. 
We begin by tracing some connections between the Biblical theme of shalom and the Hebrew Wisdom tradition.  If shalom is God's dream for the Earth, then Wisdom spirituality is the human venture of living into our true selves as creatures made in God's image, and Wisdom ecclesiology is a way for the Church to fulfil its prophetic vocation in an age of ecological crisis.
The second part of our reflection this evening is a tale of two gardens - more precisely following Bonaventure I draw Eden together with Gethsemene, and the garden of the new tomb where Mary meets the risen Lord together with Isaiah's vision of a restored creation.  The first couplet represents the sixth day of creation - a day of decision and temptation, not to mention grief and loss for a humanity challenged to grow up to its co-creative responsibilities.  The second couplet is the first day of creation, and the first day of creation restored.  I offer here some tentative suggestions for an ecotheology of resurrection, with a vision of shalom in creation.

Shalom theology

The tale of two gardens is the story of God's dream for a creation of shalom - that rich mixture of righteousness and justice, wholeness and mutuality that runs like a sustaining stream through the Hebrew Bible and into the Christian scriptures.  Terry McGonigal points out that although the Hebrew word shalom and its Greek counterpart eirene occur over 550 times in the Bible, there has been no systematic development of a theology of shalom.  His paper explores the Biblical concept of shalom as peace within diversity or 'the way God designed the universe to be'.[1]
McGonigal traces the major themes of shalom from the divine act of creation itself in which the prerequisites for shalom are : 'order, relationships, stewardship, beauty and rhythm'.[2] The pattern of creation sets everything in its proper place and relationship, humankind is established in a particular relationship with the non-human creation, and relations between male and female are mutually completing.  The human creatures are placed in a special relationship through their imaging of the divine, but this implies a balance between human autonomy and dependence on the creator.[3]  The response of the man and woman to each other is intended to reflect 'God's own nature in shalom relationships'.  Human responsibility for creation is contained in two instructions, with the command to subdue and dominate in Gen 1.28-30 (Heb kabash, radah) being balanced by the instruction in 2.8 to till and to serve (Heb ebed) and in 2.15 to watch or protect (Heb shamar). McGonigal comments that the humans are intended to 'partner with the Creator ... to watch over creation like parents watch over, guard and protect their newborn child'.[4]  Themes of beauty are made specific in God's rejoicing at the outcome of the creative task (Gen 1.31 'it was very good' - Heb tov me'od).  McGonigal comments:
According to God's design, each and every part of creation is distinct, interconnected and interdependent.  God's separating-binding process results in creation's distinctiveness and connection: shalom beauty.[5] 
The rhythms of creation are set by the creation of time and the separation into the natural rhythms of day and night.  All this is what McGonigal describes as a 'webbing together' of God's own life with the life of creation in a mutual rhythm of 'justice, fulfilment and delight'.  Shalom, he concludes, is 'the way things are meant to be'.[6]
For McGonigal, what happens next is the breaking of shalom and the distortion of the web of creation, and the painful process of restoration that depends on God's capacity to transform human evil and separation.[7]  Through the narratives of the Fall, the first murder, the Flood and the tragedy of Babel, McGonigal describes a sort of see-sawing contest between the destructive ethnocentricity of humans who test the limits of their created condition, and God's efforts to restore the web of shalom relationships.  McGonigal traces the contest between divine shalom and human self-centredness through the narratives of Exodus and the history of the monarchy. 
It is however in the prophets, and most particularly in Isaiah, that McGonigal sees the consistent human effort to remember – and to remember forwards to - God's template of shalom for all creation. The book of Isaiah contains nearly half of all the instances of shalom and its cognates in the prophetic literature.  From the outset Isaiah has a vision not only of the moral and military precipice upon which Israel teeters, but also of the alternative vision of shalom that he emphasises:
Can only be received from God, not manufactured by human effort.  Isaiah see Israel as a vineyard tended by God, whose gracious care brings forth shalom (27:5).  The people know that their flourishing is the result of God's work among them.  "O Lord, you will ordain shalom for us, for indeed all that we have done, you have done for us" (26:12).[8]
Isaiah uniquely proclaims not only that shalom is God's original intention for creation, but that shalom is God's promise of creation restored.  And this promise is woven into Isaiah's Suffering Servant predictions which underpin Israel's expectation of a messiah.  We will return to Isaiah, and to Isaiah's most famous image of shalom in his vision of creation restored in chapter 11, in the second part of this evening's reflection, 'a tale of two gardens'.

A tale of two gardens

With the first few words of St John's Gospel we know that we are witness to a grand vision of the cosmos itself.  In making the startling claim that Jesus is nothing less than the Word and Wisdom of God, the Word breathed over the chaos of precreation and divine Wisdom who pitches her tent and makes her home with human beings, the Evangelist establishes creation as the arena of God's concern and saving action.  Through the subversive language of Hebrew Wisdom theology, the Evangelist recasts the first chapter of Genesis and interprets the event of Jesus' life, death and resurrection in nothing less than universal terms.  As Orthodox theology emphasises, the Incarnation affirms materiality and makes our humanity holy.[9] 
The Evangelist's orientation towards the second chapter of Genesis is less obvious, but can be read in his tales of two gardens.  Both, I suggest, represent the garden of creation itself, and should be read in tandem with the archetypal gardens of the Hebrew Bible.
The primal garden is of course Eden, which represents the tension between God's dream of creation in harmony and the human will to power.  Things go awry because of our deep-down desire to make the world around us conform to our own fantasies of control.  Eat this, and you'll know what's going on.  Except when they eat it, all the Bible's first humans see clearly is their own nakedness, their vulnerability and transparency.
Next we come to the Isaianic garden of shalom.  The most familiar image of peace in Isaiah (11:6-9) is a reconciliation of opposites: wild and domesticated animals, predator and prey all live together in peace and are led by a small (human) child.  The child who plays over the snake-hole exhibits casual superiority over the usurper of Eden, protecting as well as leading.  The animals themselves are all vegetarian ('the lion shall eat straw like the ox').   Commentator Gene Tucker points out this is not a vision of nature but of a natural world made safe by and for human beings because the emphasis is on the safety of the domesticated animals and it is the predators who in fact must change their ways.  The absence of birds and fish from the new order, and the fact that even the most vulnerable of humans is able to lead and control the animals makes clear that this is a pastoral scene, rather than a natural landscape.[10] Whether or not the vegetarianism of the animals is also practised by the human curators may be debatable; however vegetarianism seems to have been the order in Eden and it is only after the Flood that God specifically allows the eating of animals, and even then only after apparently conceding powerlessness over human destructive violence.[11]
Nevertheless, the child of Isaiah 11.6-9 fulfils the human vocation of care and protection given in Eden.  The Isaianic vision of shalom is no return to Eden, but the peace of reconciliation on the other side of judgement which for Isaiah is characterised as the Day of the Lord.[12]  This is a vision, in other words, not of an original ideal creation but of creation and human life restored to its true vocation.  It cannot, in fact, be a vision of a 'wild planet' so long as it has a human population, and relations between human and animal life, particularly domestic animals, are necessarily structured by the human vocation and will to be co-creative partners with God.  Isaiah's picture of creation at peace is of human beings fulfilling their original purpose of being custodians and protectors of creation rather than predators and plunderers.  The echoes of Eden are there, but this is the peace not of na├»ve innocence but of reconciliation.  The human curators model the virtues of restraint and self-limitation.  It is an ecological rather than an individualistic image of human life.
Tucker makes another vital point regarding this passage, which is that it is part of a longer pericope spanning Isaiah 11.1-9, the first five verses of which present a vision of shalom in the sociopolitical sphere characterised by a ruler with practical wisdom, diplomacy and reverence. Although the use of this sort of language does not necessarily mark the passage as Wisdom writing, it is nevertheless intriguing that the characteristics of the idealised ruler here are precisely those of the sage.   What connects this with the vision of natural predators at peace in vv. 6-9, Tucker points out, is the single word that does not actually appear at all in Isaiah 11.1-9: shalom: 'The rule of justice in human society is followed or paralleled by a transformation in the relationship among animals and between animals and human beings'.[13]  Here the intriguing connection between wisdom and shalom becomes apparent: if shalom is God's priority and promise for creation then wisdom is the human choice that is congruent with God's promise.
And so to the Gospel.  The first of the Evangelist's gardens is Gethsemene, the garden in which Jesus faces his fears and temptations - but unlike the first humans in Eden, resists the desire for self-serving control.  Gethsemene in effect may be seen as the recapitulation of the temptation of Eden.  Both gardens represent the sixth day of creation - Eden with its newly-minted human curators facing their fatal challenge, and Jesus alone with the shifting shadows, with his fears and the half-heard voices at the beginning of the sixth day of his final week.[14]  As in Eden the temptation is presented in the form of a desirable fruit, conversely in Gethsemene the temptation is to refuse the cup of suffering.  Jesus knows that his life can only unfold as it should in dependence on the one he calls his Father, and so he dies as he has lived, forgiving and loving those who have rejected him.  Jesus here is practising the priority of relationship that we call self-giving love.
The second garden for the Evangelist is the garden of the new tomb, the cave of Joseph of Arimathea.  This garden is not so much described as suggested – a place of silence and rest for Holy Saturday on which, as the medieval theologians suggested, the creative Word of God was so hidden in death that all creation must have slept, or at the least walked in its sleep, grieving and purposeless.  This is the seventh day of creation, the day on which God also rests.[15]  
But as the night of the seventh day draws to its close a new cycle is beginning.  The first day of the week, which in the Hebrew calendar corresponds to the first day of creation, becomes the day of resurrection.  A woman walks at first light across the damp grass of the garden carrying gifts for a dead lover, and finds nothing but an inexplicable absence.  The stone has been rolled away, appearing at first like a desecration even in death – she calls her companions who come and confirm the mystery.  But then Mary does see clearly when she sees the one she supposes to be the gardener, because that in a sense is exactly who he is.[16]  This is a renewed creation and it begins with a man and a woman standing together in a new garden.[17] 
For Luke, Matthew and John the resurrection appearances of Jesus are not over-spiritualised.  He speaks words of forgiveness, touches and allows himself to be touched, lights a fire on a beach, eats with his friends.  If the crucified Jesus conjoins the opposites of hatred and forgiveness, death and life, suffering and love, then the Risen One opens the way to a possible future with the single word.  The risen Christ greets his disciples on more than one occasion with the words, 'peace be with you' (eirene).  In this encounter the world is remade.  The resurrection is the final coincidentia oppositorum by which God commits Godself to creation as the arena of divine self-disclosure and saving action.  Resurrection is God's commitment to the life of creation, and the encounter through which God draws us to the fullness of life for which we were created.  The garden of the new tomb, in which Mary encounters the risen Christ on the first day of the week, or the first day of a new creation, is the garden of shalom that we have already encountered in Isaiah chapter eleven.
Specifically, in John the Evangelist's timetable, what is created on the first day is the beloved community.  Following his greeting to the traumatised disciples the Risen One breathes on them, saying 'receive the Holy Spirit'.[18]  The breath which is also spirit (pneuma) recalls the spirit or breath (ruach) of God that hovers over the chaos of precreation on the first day in Gen 1.2.  In both cases we are witness to the primal creative Word of God.  In conferring the breath of the Holy Spirit the Risen One draws the community of shalom into the triune life of God.  It is in this act that we experience all things made new, and it remains only for the community (which we identified in Week Two as the martyrios or witnesses to the work of creation) to fulfil its vocation as an icon of God's own life.

4 Conclusion: Shalom and Wisdom

How, then, shall we live?  More relevantly, what is the challenge for the life and witness of the Church in an age of ecological crisis?  Over three weeks I have suggested an answer in two parts: firstly, that the existential crisis of climate change requires of the Church nothing less than the faithful commitment to recapitulate in its own witness the saving work of Jesus.  Specifically, the vocation of the Church is to witness to the divine work of creation, and to stand in solidarity with a creation that in its suffering reveals the suffering of the Crucified Christ.  Invoking the language of apocalypse means acknowledging not only the existential risk to the living systems of the Earth (which are the creative self-disclosure of God), but the reality that the eschaton of a creation at peace can only be reached through the faithful witness of the martyrios.  This ups the ante for a Church who never seems quite sure whether it is up to God, or up to us.
The second part of the answer I have suggested is that the story of the Earth and the divine commitment to creation is woven into the central Christian narrative of the crucifixion and resurrection.  This reveals creation as the locus of God's own life and the inescapable context within which the Christian community strives to live out its commitment to the kingdom of God.  We are reminded that our created context, and our relationships with the Earth and its living systems, are not optional extras but the core both of our being and of our Christian kerygma.  The resurrection is revealed as a narrative of hope not just for human followers of Christ but for the whole of creation, and the community of Christ is revealed as an icon of God's own life and a co-creative partner with God.  This reminds us that our task is simply to live faithfully into the reality of the kingdom that the death and resurrection of Christ has already accomplished.
The challenge, then, is simply to take our vocation and our identity seriously.  If as a Christian community our own life flows out of the triune life of God, then we must love what God loves.  If creation is not just a commodity but the self-expressive Word of God then the ethic of reciprocity taught by Jesus needs necessarily to be drawn more widely.  The Christian community must become more inclusive, like the Ark; a shelter and a transformative space for all species.  The virtue of restraint, long taught by environmental groups, becomes the Golden Rule that binds us together not just with fellow humans but with all life.[19]  We are challenged to develop, and to rejoice in, a spirituality of the physical; celebrating the goodness and beauty of our own bodies, and the kinship we suddenly glimpse with creatures domestic and wild, birds and fish and living systems of water and earth and air.  We become aware of the creatures that live around us, the fierceness of their desires, the poignancy of their needs and their vulnerability to our self-obsession.  We reconsider our own use of animal bodies and of the natural resources and habitat they need in order to live - not for the sake of conservation, not even because of the needs of future generations of humans, but simply because of the delight and the love God feels for all that lives.[20]  We remember that our original vocation is to serve and nurture (ebed) and not to plunder and consume.
The community of shalom is the community that delights in Wisdom.  We recognise the Earth as our teacher and understand that in its rhythms we feel the murmuring of God's own life.   We understand that to flow into the current of God's life is to live in harmony with the natural world, and that to take for ourselves without thought for creation is to alienate ourselves from God.  This is the ethic of poverty that leaves room for the Other.  We look for ways to bring our lives into closer contact with the Earth because we have learned that by so doing we are ourselves blessed, and are formed as a community of blessing.  We build churches that incorporate environmental spaces shared by human and non-human guests.  We celebrate the goodness of creation and the wonder of all life in our liturgy and we proclaim God's love and God's promise for the whole creation.  This is the ethic of chastity, which recognises the Other not as a resource to be incorporated but as a Word of God to be attended to.
The community of shalom is the community of solidarity.  We unshackle our ecclesiology from the structures of power and commit ourselves to living out the relationship with all life for which we were originally created.  We learn to become smaller, to take up less space - imitating the way of self-emptying love that pours itself out in the primal act of creation, just as it does in the Incarnation of God's creative Word.  This is the ethic of obedience, that recognises the triune life of God as the template for our own.  We pin all our hopes on the Earth that bears the imprint of divine hope.  Apocalypse is the escalation both of risk and of love, and the hope of God for the shalom of the Earth - is incarnate in us.


Bonaventure. Itinerarium Mentis in Deum. Edited by Stephen Brown. Translated by Philotheus Boehner. Vol. 2. Works of Saint Bonaventure, Translation from the Latin Text of the Quaracchi Ed. Saint Bonaventure University: The Franciscan Institute, 1998. http://www.franciscan-archive.org/bonaventura/opera/bon05295.html.
Brown, Raymond Edward. The Death of the Messiah: From Gethsemane to the Grave; a Commentary on the Passion Narratives in the Four Gospels Vol. 1 Vol. 1. New York [u.a.: Doubleday, 1998.
Fields, Stephen. “Balthasar and Rahner on the Spiritual Senses.” Theological Studies 57, no. 2 (1996): 224ff.
Grim, John, and Mary Evelyn Tucker. Ecology and Religion. Kindle Edition. Foundations of Contemporary Environmental Studies. Washington: Island Press, 2014.
McGonigal, Terry. “‘If You Only Knew What Would Bring Peace’: Shalom Theology as the Biblical Foundation for Diversity.” Spokane, WA: Whitworth University, 2013. http://studentlife.biola.edu/page_attachments/0000/1395/ShalomTheology-TerryMcGonigal.pdf.
Rosik, Mariusz. “Discovering the Secrets of God’s Gardens: Resurrection as New Creation (Gen 2:4b-3:24; Jn 20:1-18).” Liber Annuus 58 (January 1, 2008): 81–98.
Tucker, Gene M. “The Book of Isaiah 1-39: Introduction, Commentary and Reflections.” In The New Interpreter’s Bible: A Commentary in Twelve Volumes, Vol. VI, 25–305. Nashville: Abingdon Press, 2001.

[1]    Terry McGonigal, “‘If You Only Knew What Would Bring Peace’: Shalom Theology as the Biblical Foundation for Diversity” (Spokane, WA: Whitworth University, 2013), 1, http://studentlife.biola.edu/page_attachments/0000/1395/ShalomTheology-TerryMcGonigal.pdf.
[2]    Ibid., 3.
[3]    Ibid.
[4]    Ibid., 4.
[5]    Ibid.
[6]    Ibid.
[7]    Ibid., 7.
[8]    Ibid., 14.
[9]    John Grim and Mary Evelyn Tucker, Ecology and Religion, Kindle Edition, Foundations of Contemporary Environmental Studies (Washington: Island Press, 2014), 102.
[10]  Gene M. Tucker, “The Book of Isaiah 1-39: Introduction, Commentary and Reflections,” in The New Interpreter’s Bible: A Commentary in Twelve Volumes, Vol. VI (Nashville: Abingdon Press, 2001), 141–142.
[11] Gen 1.29-30; 2.9 cf. Gen 9.2ff.
[12] Isa 2.13.
[13]  Tucker, “Isaiah 1-39,” 141.
[14]  The sixth day begins with sundown on the Thursday evening. I take my analogy from Hans Urs von Balthasar’s reflection on the correspondence between the six days of creation and the Triduum in Bonaventure, Itinerarium Mentis in Deum, ed. Stephen Brown, trans. Philotheus Boehner, vol. 2, Works of Saint Bonaventure, Translation from the Latin Text of the Quaracchi Ed. (Saint Bonaventure University: The Franciscan Institute, 1998), http://www.franciscan-archive.org/bonaventura/opera/bon05295.html; Stephen Fields, “Balthasar and Rahner on the Spiritual Senses,” Theological Studies 57, no. 2 (1996): 224ff; Raymond Brown, in The Death of the Messiah: From Gethsemane to the Grave; a Commentary on the Passion Narratives in the Four Gospels Vol. 1 Vol. 1 (New York [u.a.: Doubleday, 1998) also notes that this connection is made by several of the Church Fathers and various modern commentators, though he believes there is “little in the text to encourage such speculation”.
[15]  St Bonaventure concludes his treatise, Bonaventure, Itin., vol. 2, sec. 7(6) p. 101, with the exhortation: “Let us then die and enter into this darkness.With Christ crucified let us pass out of this world to the Father.”
[16]  Just as the God who walks in Eden in the cool of the evening is the archetypal gardener.
[17]  The correspondence between the garden of the new tomb and the first day of creation is developed by Mariusz Rosik in “Discovering the Secrets of God’s Gardens: Resurrection as New Creation (Gen 2:4b-3:24; Jn 20:1-18),” Liber Annuus 58 (January 1, 2008): 81–98 More generally the correspondence is suggested simply by the day of the week on which it falls.
[18] John 20.22
[19] That is, doing to others what we wish them to do to us becomes the maxim by which we live, not just with other human beings, but with all creation.
[20] Vegetarianism, for example, becomes a serious question for all Christians.

No comments:

Post a Comment