Thursday, January 22, 2009

Agnes

Yesterday, as we prepared for the funeral of Wendy-a life long parishioner and one of those people that many would call an "old soul"-I gathered with a few parishioners for our regular Wednesday Eucharist. You have read this line before-and I usually use it to preface a posting relating to the lesser feast of some saint commemorated at that liturgy.

Today is no different.

Yesterday we remembered Agnes, a saint of the early 300s who was martyred during the Diocletian persecutions. She was a remarkable young woman. Actually, by our standards she was just a child. At the age of twelve, she was arrested and accused of sedition because of her families refusal to offer sacrifice to the gods of the Roman state. Under pressure of torture and privation, she refused to surrender her fidelity to Christ and was eventually killed.

By the 600s, she was venerated and the pope Honorius had erected a basilica on the site of her burial in the catacombs beneath the Via Nomentana to replace an earlier shrine built by Constantine not long after her death.

Aside from the shock and sadness any caring human would feel to hear the story of this young girls death at the hands of an oppressive state-I think it is also a blessing to see what has arisen from that sinful act of murder. The Roman Church remembers her with a yearly blessing of two lambs, whose wool is then woven into the pallium-a garment that has been used by popes to create archbishops.

What does that mean for us today, pondering so many changes and challenges in the present world? I am so aware of loss, both with the funerals we are dealing with here at Trinity (four in one week) and with conflict and loss around the world (Palestine, Zimbabwe, etc, etc). Agnes, as I reflect on her, brought awareness to the Church that even the highest authority is responsible to the least-and when it loses touch with that mandate it enters into sin. For a long, long time, human institutions have been (and continue to be) governed by oligarchy, the rule of the few. Truth is, all can't lead all. Some few do have to assume the responsibility of authority over and for the group; but too easily that authority gives way to oppression. The least suffer. That is not what the kingdom of God is all about. I am convinced of that by scripture, the testimony of the prayers of this Church I serve and by the experiences I have had in service to God as a priest.

Agnes reminded me on Tuesday, as did Wendy's funeral, that we are called upon in Christ to welcome all-meek or mighty-to the table of fellowship in Christ. That isn't some vague ideal, but something that truly defines our reality-our knowledge of being whole and healed in Christ.

When one person is expelled from fellowship, when you choose to turn away from someone in legitimate need, then the Church is diminished. Agnes reminds us that you can't justify the violent death of a child. Nor can we as the Body of Christ choose to turn away from anyone who seeks him.

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