If we go by the secular calendar, this time last year, I was making final preparations to fly to Houston to spend five weeks at Rice University with April DeConick. If we go by the church calendar, this time last year, I had been in Houston five days and attended Maundy Thursday and Good Friday worship at the Rice Catholic Student Centre with my wonderful hosts, Judy and David Schubert.
I reflected on this as I sat in the Good Friday service in my home church this morning. There, I was surrounded by people I knew, even though my husband was home nursing a cold. The liturgy, although not actually predictable, was familiar, as was the venue. In Houston, I had been among strangers and the liturgy was in some aspects probably more predictable than the Uniting Church one and in others quite alien. Kissing the crucifix is not a part of the Uniting Church Good Friday ritual!
Christmas is a part of the church calendar that stays the same each year and fits quite nicely into the secular calendar of “Christian” countries. Although the story of Jesus birth is a bit odd, it doesn’t cause major problems for the average secular member of society.
Easter moves around – doesn’t fit neatly into the secular calendar at all. This year it is so early that the uni isn’t starting the mid-semester non-teaching period with Easter as it usually does – we’re just having four days off and then it’s business as usual for several more weeks before the break. The Easter message is also much more difficult for those who don’t practise Christianity to deal with. An interesting parallel, I think.
As our pastor led us in an affirmation of faith based on 1 Cor 1: 18-25 (the foolishness to the Gentiles and scandal to the Jews bit) and talked about the coming celebration of the resurrection, I thought about the Gospel of Thomas. If ⲡⲉⲩⲁⲅⲅⲉⲗⲓⲟⲛ ⲡⲕⲁⲧⲁ ⲑⲱⲙⲁⲥ (ie the gospel according to Thomas) is an early title for the text, the Thomas community must surely have had a very different theology of what constitutes ‘good news’ to that of the more orthodox Christian communities of the time.
A gospel that doesn’t contain an account of the (crucifixion and) resurrection must consider some other thing than Christ’s triumph over the power of death to be the important part of the gospel message, because the resurrection doesn’t get a guernsey in Thomas. It has, however, been extremely important in the understanding of “mainstream” Christians for nearly two thousand years, if the creeds of the early church are anything to go on.
Deciding exactly what was the heart of the gospel for Thomas Christians is beyond me at the moment. Maybe I’ll think about it later, but just at the moment I am trying to get to the end of my reading on eyewitness testimony in the psychological literature.
A little later
Bother. Now I’m confused. On Good Friday last year, I went with David to a marvellous, justice-focussed Stations of the Cross in the Exxon Plaza in downtown Houston, followed by a lunch at a restaurant on the way home. That wasn’t an alien liturgy. I’ve done Stations many times before, beginning at Theological Hall (seminary). I know I went to a Maundy Thursday service at the Student Centre, but I’m pretty sure I went to a Good Friday one, as well. Maybe in the evening? Or maybe not?
I do know that on Easter Day, I was very pleased to be at a United Methodist service at St Paul’s, also near Rice, with Judy’s brother and his wife. The very large church was very, very full and the liturgy was in some ways very like a Catholic one, except that we didn’t kneel (Judy’s brother, who had grown up Catholic, commented on this). In many other ways, though, it wasn’t and I felt much more at home.
However, my lack of clarity twelve months on about exactly what I did last Easter lines up very closely with the reading I’m doing about eyewitness memory. I just checked the two emails I sent home on Good Friday and Easter Day and discovered that I did go to church at the Catholic Student Centre on Good Friday – in the evening. The gist of my recollections was correct, but the detail was a bit fuzzy and without the emails, I really wouldn’t have been sure. I was very much inclined to think that maybe we’d been offered the option of kissing the crucifix on Maundy Thursday, even though that didn’t make sense liturgically.
This is actually very interesting. Might be useful for my Auckland SBL paper.