In the summer of 1991 the members of the North American Congregation of the Society of Saint John the Evangelist made a pilgrimage to Great Britain to mark the 125th anniversary of the founding of our Society. We began the pilgrimage in Oxford, where the Society was founded in 1866, and proceeded to Iona, an island off the west coast of Scotland with a long monastic history. The boundary in Iona between heaven and earth is considered very thin. We spent a week on Iona in retreat. From there we returned to Oxford for a final week of conversations and services.
Fall Preaching Series 2015
Monastery Chapel of St. Mary & St. John, Cambridge
1 Corinthians 13:8-12
Luke 10: 17-23
“If you died tomorrow, do you know where you’re going?”
I should have seen this question coming. I was in a second interview for a position at a small, faith-based, non-profit organization. I was inspired by the work the organization was doing, offering non-religious educational and social services to new immigrants. It was the height of the economic recession, I was a recent graduate from Harvard Divinity School, and I was hungry for a job doing work I could believe in. Though some of the fine points of my own faith differed from theirs, I was hopeful that, with some skillful, interpersonal ecumenism, I could stand on common ground with these fellow followers of Jesus.
Having grown up in the Bible Belt, I had been asked this question before. There is a “correct” answer. It’s: “Yes. I know that I’m going to heaven because I’ve been saved by Jesus Christ.” I could have said yes. But I knew that for me to say yes in that moment would be to shrink the untamable God I had come to love after years of seeking down to the contours of a theological shoe-box.
Today is St. Bede’s day. Bede was given as a child oblate to his monastery in about 678 or so at the ripe age of seven. He led a quiet monastic life, devoting himself to praying the office, studying the scriptures and writing. Bede is best known as the author of “The Ecclesiastical History of the English People,” a history of the English Church and people up to the year 729.
I’ve been reading another English ecclesiastical history lately, the just-published “Christianity: the First Three Thousand Years” by Diarmaid MacCulloch. McCullough gives Bede a lot of credit for the existence of the English as a distinct nationality. Bede, in the early 8th century, was writing at a time when Britain was emerging from an incoherent condition of tribes and small kingdoms. By the 10th century England was a coherent unit with a single monarchy—and a distinct national identity. The ideology of a unified kingdom of England, according to McCullough, “was fuelled by the way in which Bede had depicted a single race called the English.” [McCullough p339] The way Bede told the story of the emerging English Church helped greatly to solidify the notion of a coherent English national identity. In the telling of things that were old, he helped create something new—bringing out treasures old and new as the parable puts it.