Incarnational with a different spin

Published 7:58 pm Wednesday, May 20, 2020

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By Scott Baker

In the Episcopal church, we often characterize our collective theology as an “incarnational theology.” Meaning that, we understand God most explicitly in Jesus Christ of Nazareth and in one another. Which perhaps can best be summarized in the quotation attributed to Teresa of Avila, “Christ has no body on earth but yours. No hands, no feet on earth but yours.” We understand that God is at work in the world through the Body of Christ, the church. When we gather as a collective body, seeing other faces and sharing a hug or a touch is an essential part of what it means to be the church. As such, to say that we have missed being in the company of each other is a gross understatement. Human contact and human touch are confirmations that God is truly Emmanuel, God with us.

As our country begins to open up, and subsequently the houses of worship, I wonder how we are going to grapple with our very human-centric incarnational theology when we are unable to be no closer that six to ten feet? Will wearing face masks have an influence when we can’t read emotions as easily? Will hyper-sensitivity to the coronavirus make us so fearful of human contact that we deprive ourselves of something so essential for our mental and emotional health? It certainly remains to be seen.

In many liturgical churches, there comes a time in the worship service when we “pass the peace of Christ” to one another. In pre-pandemic time this was done with a hand shake or a hug. In many parishes, people left their pews and walked around the nave greeting one another. It was the epitome of our incarnational theology in practice. In recent weeks no small amount of conversation and brainstorming by church leaders has been spent trying to come up with suitable alternatives to “passing the peace.” Some have suggested holding up the peace sign. Some have suggested the simple phrase spoken from appropriate distance “God’s peace be with you.” Perhaps it is time to borrow from our Hindu brothers and sisters and employ the Namaste greeting which translated means, “the divine in me bows to the divine in you.” Regardless of what we come up with, we can pretty much rest assured that our communal lives from henceforth will be quite different from before.

As our houses of worship start to open their doors once again, even if we can’t be the way we were I’m hopeful we will find a suitable alternative. Even if we can’t share a hug, we can certainly share a prayer. We can gather around the Word of God and listen to how God is revealing God’s purposes in our own day. We can still be with each other; just in a different way. And who knows, when it comes time to pass the peace I wouldn’t be a bit surprised to see some folks clasp their hands together and give a slight bow and say, “Namaste,” the divine in me bows to the divine in you.

THE REV. SCOTT BAKER is the pastor of Emanuel Episcopal Church in Franklin. Contact him at 562-4542.