This week at the Vatican 200 cardinals of the Roman Catholic church are meeting with the Bishop of Rome to hash out a number of the positions the Catholic Church holds. Most of the topics are difficult and weighty, but ones that the Episcopal Church has dealt with, in some cases, decades ago.
Reason number 47 why I am thankful to be an Episcopalian: I am divorced, remarried and have not been denied the sacrament of Holy Communion, nor I have been denied absolution for my sins–both things that divorced and/or remarried Roman Catholics have been denied for over 2,000 years. (True, one can have a marriage annulled by the Catholic Church–but even the Church thinks that process is so long and cumbersome and difficult as to be nearly impossible.)
At the forefront of the debate are two cardinals, Kasper and Burke. Kasper, a German, was asked by the Bishop of Rome to come and address the cardinals, to speak in favor of allowing those who have been divorced and/or remarried to receive Holy Communion. On the other side of the equation is American cardinal Raymond Burke–the head of the top court for the Vatican.
Here is Burke’s response in an interview with Catholic News Services: “I cannot see how it can go forward if we are going to honor the words of our Lord himself, through which he said, ‘the man who divorces his wife and marries another commits adultery.’ ” Burke here is quoting Matthew 5:32. (To read or hear the full article from NPR, which includes this quote from Burke, please click here)
I would remind the cardinal that only five verses before Jesus also said: “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall not commit adultery.’ 28But I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lust has already committed adultery with her in his heart. 29If your right eye causes you to sin, tear it out and throw it away; it is better for you to lose one of your members than for your whole body to be thrown into hell. 30And if your right hand causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away; it is better for you to lose one of your members than for your whole body to go into hell.” (Matthew 5:27-30).
Last time I looked at any gathering of cardinals, I did not notice a single prosthetic hand, foot…and certainly no cardinals that I’m aware of wear eye patches.
My point is that it is foolishness to pick and choose which parts of the gospel record of Jesus’ words you want to obey…and enforce. You have to look at the entire body of the gospels as a whole. Jesus says a lot of amazing things, challenging and difficult things, things that call us to be better than we are, to be more the beloved children of God which we all were created to be. Further, I would argue that on the whole the message of Christ is one of Good News and mercy for all–ESPECIALLY the lost sheep, the sinners, the least of us…even the cardinals in Rome this week.
Turning people away from Holy Communion is exactly what Christ DIDN’T DO. He ate with everyone from Pharisees to tax collectors and prostitutes. I love that at St. Alban’s we invite EVERYONE to come to God’s table to receive the body and blood of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. I wish that everyone would know the joy of that moment.
And, to my Roman Catholic brothers and sisters I will say this: the doors at St. Alban’s are wide open and we are ready to greet you in the name of Christ’s peace and love. We want EVERYONE to know the redemptive love of God in Christ, fulfilling some other words that Jesus said, “Go and learn what this means, ‘I desire mercy, not sacrifice.’ For I have come to call not the righteous but sinners.’” (Matthew 9:13) And when you arrive I hope that you will find a bit of those words being lived out here with us Episcopalians.
So, come to church with us, become a part of our community, and be welcomed no matter who you are. This is the Episcopal Church and you are welcome here. This is St. Alban’s Parish and we welcome the faithful, the doubter and the seeker, because God’s embrace is wide and God’s Good News is for all.