number 2, december 5, 1998

Select other issues: 

Assembly theme, carved and examined

By Marlin Van Elderen

Assembly participants yesterday had some help from three theologians, silent meditation, slides and biblical texts in five languages to reflect on the theme of the 8th assembly, "Turn to God -- Rejoice in Hope".

The 25 slides depicted the carving of a stone statue depicting a Zimbabwean artist’s understaning of the assembly theme, while the theologians -- Albanian Orthodox archbishop Anastasios, Brazilian Lutheran theologian Wanda Deifelt and Japanese author and ecumenist Kosuke Koyama -- tackled three aspects of the theme: memory (anamnesis), conversion (metanoia) and hope.

Archbishop Anastasios spoke of Christian memories in terms of four circles: the "adventurous journey" of the World Council of Churches over the past 50 years; the "march of the church during two millennia"; a third circle which "embraces the entire world, the whole of space and time"; and last, "the fundamental anamnesis which defines our Christian identity: the remembrance of the amazing intervention of God in the life of humanity".

This memory of the redemptive work of Christ, said the archbishop, "is not a simple intellectual function; it is an action ... and an existential, personal event". It is "an incessant, dynamic turning to the Triune God", celebrated in a variety of ways by Christians around the world.

While underscoring the centrality of the celebration of the eucharist (the theological term "anamnesis" is most often used in connection with the communion liturgy), Anastasios warned that this sacramental remembrance of Christ’s work "does not act in a magical way".

"It needs to have an uninterrupted extension within life ..., to radiate through our behaviour, to offer criteria in our plans, to illuminate our decisions, to support our acts."

This anamnesis illuminates all ecumenical issues with the light of Christ’s truth, love and sacrifice, Anastasios said, "with a quiet optimism as defined in the Beatitudes, with the decision for a sacrificial diaconia, without anxiety for how we will become a majority, without the anguish, the pursuit of worldly power...

"Anamnesis is the certainty that our power does not come from our own projects and decisions, but is found in how God acts in us through his church."

Deifelt underscored the importance of repenting "for the way we perceive our fellow human beings", insisting that "all human beings reflect the divine image, independent of class, race, caste, gender, age or sexual preference."

Like Anastasios, she spoke of the importance of consistency between Christian worship and Christian life: "Although we include repentance in our worship, do we really grasp its meaning? Many of us feel ‘clean’ because we have done nothing wrong. Sometimes, however, we do not sin by what we have done but by what we have left undone.

"Let us not wash our hands, like Pilate, and pretend that our cleanliness is purity of heart. Instead, let us dare to be prophetic, to get dirt on our hands... by reaching out and holding the hand of the other, the one who challenges our truths and certainties."

Diefelt asked why Christians "spend so much time and energy on the issues that separate us as individuals and as churches. Our times demand a much stronger statement from us: they demand that we take risks and be passionately in love with life -- life in abundance."

Churches also need to repent of valuing "profits" more than "prophets", she concluded.

"As Christians, we see the world from the perspective of Christ on the cross. We see the world with tears in our eyes because we share the pain and the suffering of the world. Nothing can be more radical, standing at the foot of the cross, than saying, ‘I believe in Christ.’

"The suffering of Christ makes it possible for us to repent and say: suffering is no longer acceptable."

Koyama’s address, interspersed with biblical quotations and lively turns of phrase, was interrupted several times by applause from the participants.

"Grace is barefoot," the Japanese theologian said. "God’s embrace of the world has become passionate in the homeless Son of Man. No one is more homeless than the crucified Jesus. Jesus -- crucified, barefoot, the shattered, broken Christ -- speaks to the shattered, broken world."

Hope, Koyama said, "is not a time-story. It is a love story ... The gospel dares to place love above time." And while hope is about the unseen, he said, hope is rooted in love, which is nothing if it remains invisible and intangible:

"The devastating poverty in which millions of children live is visible. Racism is visible. Machine guns are visible. Slums are visible. Starved bodies are visible. The gap between the rich and the poor is glaringly visible.

"Our response to these realities must be visible. Grace cannot function in a world of invisibility."

Drawing on the parable of the Prodigal Son, Koyama spoke of "a running God..., the Centre God who runs out to the periphery... The light shines from the periphery, not from the centre. From ‘the stone that the builders rejected’ comes salvation. What an unexpected commotion!

"Grace causes commotion, not tranquillity... Our hope, by nature, is not tranquil, it is commotion-ful. The apostolic ‘Rejoice in hope’ is known in this world turned upside-down by the running God."

Back to top

Related documents & articles:

Plenary on the Assembly Theme

Read other articles in this issue:

Assembly theme, carved and examined
Moderator: affirm human rights, teach one community
WCC-Orthodox relations 'critical'
Assembly theme turned to sexuality
Pluses and minuses of council finances

8th Assembly and 50th Anniversary

copyright 1998 World Council of Churches. Remarks to webeditor