I ask of thee, my heavenly Father, that in my soul I might know the joy of my master’s resurrection and that in my body I might complete his suffering and humiliation. — Francis of Assisi
I know what you are saying: “I like that other prayer better, you know, make me a channel of your peace and all.” Really? Too bad! That prayer did not show up on the world and church stage until 1912 when it was published in a French Spiritual Magazine. (Renaux) It made its rounds in Catholic circles during WWI and was attributed to the testimony of William the Conqueror. An English version hit Quaker circles in 1927 and it gained great popularity among English speakers during WWII when both the Roman Catholic church in America and even a US Senator distributed copies of it widely. It has been a favorite staple of many a piety, that is true, but only for the last 90 years of so, and tough peace and Francis somehow go together, he did not write it.
Why bust your favorite bubble? Because the real Francis understood carrying crosses while the prayer understands wildflowers and puppy dogs and, above all, it knows arrogance. Here on earth, Francis seems to have understood, the work of Christ was not done by giving the world good advice or by feeling good about our acts of charity. Here on earth the work of Christ is done by completing his suffering. I know churches love to pray and sing the 1916 prayer under Francis’ name. I dare them to pray the one I quoted at the beginning of this reflection.
And what would happen if they did? What would happen if the work of atonement was truly embraced by our congregations and churches? She sings every week — at least I hope you do — “Lamb of God, you take away the sins of the world . .” But how does she live it? By that I mean, how does the church live the life of Jesus and as a result how does she take away the sin of the world?
Bo Giertz’s Hammer of God, tries to ask this question: “What is atonement and how are you part of it?” It was not until 2005 that his book was translated into English. “But I read it in college in the 80’s!” No you didn’t. You read the parts that the early translators felt were good and appropriate for you to read. They conveniently left out the last chapter. Don’t get me wrong, the book is marvelous even without it. It says very strongly: “You must be convicted of sin utterly and become convinced of your doom, then the Gospel will suddenly make sense and you will embrace the forgiveness of sin it offers.” The last chapter takes a different tack to go on. Forgiven sinners, now both dead and reconciled to their Lord before dying, have left a mess. A human mess. Suffering will result. Their sins are atoned for in heaven. But on earth their sins threaten to live on in the lives of a baby. Who will atone here on earth? In Giertz’s story, the pastor and his wife do. They atone for the sins of friends now dead by not letting him be an orphan of his parents’ sin.
When our congregations do things together, do those actions deserve the title: “Picking up our cross?” How is the wake of sin that surely is clearly evident in the life around the congregation atoned for? Surely, we do more than decry it and say, “there, there, not your fault,” but do nothing to undo the wrong done. If not, maybe it is time to think about it: “Does what we do as a congregation deserve the label: PICKING UP OUR CROSS?”
Gods work our hands will never be the same again.