Tuesday, April 05, 2005

Faith Works 04-09-05
By Jeff Gill

Both Old and New Testaments, Hebrew Scriptures and Christian Gospels alike, are filled with images of Monarchy, of Kingship and Kingdoms, realms and rulers.
In the funeral of Pope John Paul II, with vast processions, lying in state, and the ornate surroundings for elaborate liturgies, we have our best point of contact in the modern world for what it means to imagine the royal aspect of divinity presented in most Biblical texts.
Karol Wojtyla of Poland, the man who became a priest, a bishop, a cardinal, and then one of the greatest Roman Pontiffs of this or any age, made the papacy accessible for many in a way not seen perhaps since Peter started the office from a humble setting in a quiet corner of Rome 2000 years ago.
Yet the outwards signs of an office with that many years of tradition behind it and most of the earth’s surface incorporated within it (Pontiff comes from the Latin for “bridge builder”) makes for palaces, mitred crowns, and armies of attendants even aside from the ceremonially fierce if only halberd-wielding Swiss Guard. And for some, those imperial trappings can be off-putting on a religious leader. Ask Martin Luther, for one instance.
Do we need royalty or pomp and circumstance in our lives? Many who would call themselves “Bible believing” Christians would say no, pointing to the texts of humility and simplicity. Intriguingly, the accounts of the private papal apartments tell of Spartan lodgings suitable to an as-yet-undecorated dorm room, but even those with a strong taste for the unadorned have to grapple with the richness of Biblical imagery around robes and scepters, jewels and trumpets.
In the papacy, even Protestants find a view of something that instructs and uplifts. The British monarchy has turned to self-parody, and most other European royal houses have either passed from the scene or are shriveling in that direction.
But in the affairs of the Vatican, both in the majestic farewell playing out through this week, and as the world, almost against its better judgment, watches a small chimney near the Sistine Chapel from the Plaza of St. Peter for a tell-tale wisp of white smoke, there is something compelling in all this spectacle. Not just a sight to see, but an image of something simultaneously distant and personal, of direct importance to our lives yet unaffected by everyday bothers.
Undoubtedly John Paul will join Pope Leo who talked the Huns away from the gates of Rome and Gregory the proto-reformer as “the Great.” His own impact on the wider world is unquestioned even by those who objected to much he stood for personally. But it is the ongoing vitality of the Papacy itself in the modern world that is one of the unspoken mysteries of these unusual days we are living through in the weeks after Easter.

Jeff Gill is a writer, storyteller, and supply preacher around central Ohio. If you have tales to tell of faith at work, e-mail disciple@voyager.net.

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