Falling Into Place-Homily for the Fifth Sunday in Lent 2009

FALLING INTO PLACE

FALLING INTO PLACE

Jeremiah 31:31-34 The days are surely coming, says the LORD, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and the house of Judah. It will not be like the covenant that I made with their ancestors when I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt–a covenant that they broke, though I was their husband, says the LORD. But this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, says the LORD: I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts; and I will be their God, and they shall be my people. No longer shall they teach one another, or say to each other, “Know the LORD,” for they shall all know me, from the least of them to the greatest, says the LORD; for I will forgive their iniquity, and remember their sin no more.

Hebrews 5:5-10 So also Christ did not glorify himself in becoming a high priest, but was appointed by the one who said to him, “You are my Son, today I have begotten you”; as he says also in another place, “You are a priest forever, according to the order of Melchizedek.” In the days of his flesh, Jesus offered up prayers and supplications, with loud cries and tears, to the one who was able to save him from death, and he was heard because of his reverent submission. Although he was a Son, he learned obedience through what he suffered; and having been made perfect, he became the source of eternal salvation for all who obey him, having been designated by God a high priest according to the order of Melchizedek.

John 12:20-33 Now among those who went up to worship at the festival were some Greeks. They came to Philip, who was from Bethsaida in Galilee, and said to him, “Sir, we wish to see Jesus.” Philip went and told Andrew; then Andrew and Philip went and told Jesus. Jesus answered them, “The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified Those who love their life lose it, and those who hate their life in this world will keep it for eternal life. Whoever serves me must follow me, and where I am, there will my servant be also. Whoever serves me, the Father will honour. “Now my soul is troubled. And what should I say–‘ Father, save me from this hour’? No, it is for this reason that I have come to this hour. Father, glorify your name.” Then a voice came from heaven, “I have glorified it, and I will glorify it again.” The crowd standing there heard it and said that it was thunder. Others said, “An angel has spoken to him.” Jesus answered, “This voice has come for your sake, not for mine. Now is the judgment of this world; now the ruler of this world will be driven out. And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself.” He said this to indicate the kind of death he was to die.

When I was about 10, I cultivated the art of falling down – staged, planned falls, mind you, because I was far from being a clumsy child. Walking down the aisle of the classroom, I’d suddenly catch a foot on one of the desks and plunge to the floor. A while later, there’d be a commotion at the back of the room – somehow, a stack of books would have fallen, taking me with them. I loved the hilarious uproar, the break from the stifling conformity. Perhaps it was an unconscious appeal for an education that had a balance between head and heart, who knows, but I loved the way laughter brought down barriers, and the way a moment like that can suspend and even define a day. I seemed to know you couldn’t do it every day, because either the novelty would wear off, or the teacher would raise more than the minor doubts she already had about my mental condition, and then I’d be in serious trouble (in those days, no one wanted serious trouble).

Jesus said, “Very truly, I tell you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains just a single grain; but if it dies, it bears much fruit.” It’s a piece of wisdom every farmer or gardener understands perfectly, but somehow, applied to the spiritual realm, many don’t seem to get it. Children are often unconscious of the profound wisdom they are expressing. It’s not as though, as I was falling, I was thinking to myself, “O Grant, you’re on to something here, this is profound,” and I was certainly not consciously aware of the psychological factors motivating my behaviour. I was unconscious of all that, but in my naive foolishness I was embodying a theology of fall and redemption.

In falling, we discover our true levity or lightness of being, like Alice when she fell down the rabbit hole into Wonderland. It is a fall from the serious and often pretentious world of logic and propriety and custom and convention, into a new reality – a world of the unexpected, the spontaneous, the unpredictable.

A little girl who lived near a monastery was puzzled by this segregated body of men, and often stood watching to see what might be going on. Her curiosity grew to the point that she edged closer and closer, and finally encountered one of the monks just outside. He greeted her kindly, so she drew up the confidence to ask, as she had wanted to for a long time, “What goes on in there?” The monk looked at her, realized she was serious, and replied with a shrug, “We fall down, and we get up; we fall down, and we get up; we fall down, and we get up.” It’s a description that recognizes the balance, the rhythms, the seasons, of life.

I often quote the line from the movie “The Godfather,” in which the arrogant movie mogul gets his come-uppance. He says to the men sent to persuade him to bend a little and change his mind: “A man in my position can’t afford to be made to look ridiculous!” The next morning he awakens with the severed head of his prize horse beside him in bed. The truth is, we can’t afford NOT to be made to look ridiculous, especially when we have become too proud, too secure, too much in control of our life.

Clearly, Jesus was not prepared to be put on the usual pedestal of fame and importance – he was not prepared to inhabit the realm of the ego, or accept a contrived, reasonable version of Messiahship. He needed more room, more scope, than the religious leaders were prepared to allow. As Hebrews indicates, Christ’s priesthood is of a different order (after the “order of Melchizedek,” which was unique and distinct from the typical lineage of priests) than what they were expecting – as Hebrews conceives it, the existing rules were being swept away and rendered obsolete by Christ’s appearance. Instead of wanting to assume the mantle of kingship or priesthood, he was willing to look ridiculous, to be despised and rejected, to be considered a fool, in order to break through their fossilized consciousness and to point to the redeeming power of the God he called “Father.” St Paul, a great scholar, a person who under conventional circumstances would be taken very seriously, nevertheless chooses to describe himself as a “fool for Christ.”

Theologian G. K. Chesterton said that the devil and his angels fell “by force of gravity” — that is, they took themselves too seriously and got too consumed with their own “weightiness” or substance. Meanwhile, true angels, by taking themselves so “lightly,” are capable of flight. Levity is the opposite of gravity. It’s a myth, of course, but it conveys a deep truth.

People who take themselves too seriously can’t stand to be laughed at, (and it’s hard to laugh with them), whereas the advice of many forms of spirituality, including our own, invites laughter as a sign that we comprehend how essentially ridiculous so much of our posturing and posing really is – even religious posturing and posing. Ignatius of Loyola, a fearsome warrior before his conversion to Christ, was being mocked one day by two young fellows. Little did they know that if they had tried that on this man a few years prior, they would have been in serious (perhaps deadly) trouble. Instead, Ignatius invited them to tell him why they were laughing at him, and when they told him, he joined their laughter. It takes a wise man to realize how essentially foolish he really is, and what a pretence it is to suggest we are somehow above it all.

There’s a bit of biblical wisdom which suggests “Pride goes before a fall” — it’s so true, but what we don’t know is that a fall is actually good for us. Christians have often named “pride” as one of the deadliest of behaviours which separate us from God and each other – separation being the essence of sin. Pride tries to establish a hierarchy of status or merit, and there is a good reason we love stories about pompous aristocrats and elitists being bumped from their “thrones.” In the Middle Ages, many rulers employed jesters, or “fools,” to provide levity, poke fun and provide an ongoing reminder of how easy it is to get isolated, out of touch, and arrogant in positions of power and honour. Poking a hole in an inflated ego, and bringing a prominent person down to earth, was a useful occupation. Pharisees, unfortunately, tend not to have such corrective influences.

Jesus taught many things which promoted that movement downward: the need for adults to learn to become like children; the call to be last and not first; turning the other cheek; prioritizing and tending to the poor; the grain of wheat falling into the earth; Baptism (which, after all, means “to plunge”) — they all seem counter-intuitive, ridiculous, “hard to understand.”

One of the hardest games to get adults to play is the act of trust exercise in which you fall backwards, trusting that you are going to be caught. True, if there is nothing there to catch you, a fall can be hurtful, but we in our time are so terrified of falling that we are like trapeze artists without a net, desperately hanging on, instead of free to fly. People of faith need to remind people of the profound spiritual truth expressed in the Bible, which says: “underneath are the everlasting arms.” It’s like you only find out that God is there when you do fall down.

Ironically, what we perceive as a fall from grace is often a fall into grace. It’s hard to understand, because it makes no sense to the ego – that part of us which desperately tries to keep us safe, proper, above reproach. The Gospel teaches us the divine wisdom of Jesus: that ultimately even our fear of death (falling into the earth) is unnecessary. That one seems difficult above all, but, as the Gospel teaches us, Jesus was prepared to demonstrate that teaching using his own life as an example.

We learn by falling — by our mistakes – our failures – and what a pity if children never attempt anything great because they are terrified of the potential consequences of failure. Years ago, I buried a young man who had fallen to his death while mountain climbing in the Rockies. As I commiserated with the family about losing him at such a young age, their attitude was very much that he died doing what he loved – that the tragedy would have been for him never to embrace his passion, because then he would never have lived at all. So it is that we clergy learn some wisdom along the way.

It seems to be true that redemption requires a fall. Think about that. The Epistle to the Hebrews says of Jesus that “although he was a Son, he learned obedience through what he suffered.” It would not be inappropriate to say that the way of Jesus is the way of imperfection – the way of the fall. As it says, he became perfect, through his sufferings. That is much different than suggesting he arrived in a state of divine perfection and did not really encounter any human realities or struggles. His mission, in human terms, in logical terms, was a complete failure, the Cross a sign of the world’s contemptuous dismissal. But the author of Hebrews is saying, look at the life of Jesus, and let your own suffering, your own setbacks, your own falls from grace, speak to you and teach you as much as your apparent successes do. The Bible might be seen to describe our basic state of being as “fallen.” If that is the case, it’s OK, because it reminds us that we are human, not perfect, and the life of Christ is the ultimate model. He is often described as “coming down” from heaven, taking the plunge into our human nature, not to condemn, but to enable us to appreciate who we truly are, and what potential for life we actually have. We don’t find it by trying to believe we are God — we get there by embracing our own humanity.

In falling we can re-discover the gifts of humility, humanity, and even of the soul, that we may lose on our desperate climb toward respectability and reputation – in our desperate effort to be taken seriously. In falling, we learn to release our desperate grasp on certain kinds of security which in the long run prove unreliable anyway, and are obliged to embrace the love and grace of God which we only find when we truly rely on it.

Along the way, we seem to have lost touch with the simple wisdom that knows that, even though the seed falls into the ground, it’s not the end of it – that there is a regeneration, a rebirth – that we are reborn, when we let go and let God. It seems to me that is what we celebrate at Easter. As Jesus’ metaphor suggests, only the seed willing to fall to the earth, willing to die to its former way of life, is the seed that offers new life. Jesus took a fall for us — the divine condescension as it has been called. He didn’t cling to equality with God, but embraced humanity, as though to show us how it’s done – so we too might perfect the art of falling, the art of humility, the joy of fellowship in being down to earth, and the fellowship of being with others instead of above them – so that, in losing what we think of as our life we might find the life of the kingdom of God.

rhgr+

FALLING INTO PLACE

Homily for the Fifth Sunday in Lent

Jeremiah 31:31-34 The days are surely coming, says the LORD, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and the house of Judah. It will not be like the covenant that I made with their ancestors when I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt–a covenant that they broke, though I was their husband, says the LORD. But this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, says the LORD: I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts; and I will be their God, and they shall be my people. No longer shall they teach one another, or say to each other, “Know the LORD,” for they shall all know me, from the least of them to the greatest, says the LORD; for I will forgive their iniquity, and remember their sin no more.

Hebrews 5:5-10 So also Christ did not glorify himself in becoming a high priest, but was appointed by the one who said to him, “You are my Son, today I have begotten you”; as he says also in another place, “You are a priest forever, according to the order of Melchizedek.” In the days of his flesh, Jesus offered up prayers and supplications, with loud cries and tears, to the one who was able to save him from death, and he was heard because of his reverent submission. Although he was a Son, he learned obedience through what he suffered; and having been made perfect, he became the source of eternal salvation for all who obey him, having been designated by God a high priest according to the order of Melchizedek.

John 12:20-33 Now among those who went up to worship at the festival were some Greeks. They came to Philip, who was from Bethsaida in Galilee, and said to him, “Sir, we wish to see Jesus.” Philip went and told Andrew; then Andrew and Philip went and told Jesus. Jesus answered them, “The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified Those who love their life lose it, and those who hate their life in this world will keep it for eternal life. Whoever serves me must follow me, and where I am, there will my servant be also. Whoever serves me, the Father will honour. “Now my soul is troubled. And what should I say–‘ Father, save me from this hour’? No, it is for this reason that I have come to this hour. Father, glorify your name.” Then a voice came from heaven, “I have glorified it, and I will glorify it again.” The crowd standing there heard it and said that it was thunder. Others said, “An angel has spoken to him.” Jesus answered, “This voice has come for your sake, not for mine. Now is the judgment of this world; now the ruler of this world will be driven out. And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself.” He said this to indicate the kind of death he was to die.

When I was about 10, I cultivated the art of falling down – staged, planned falls, mind you, because I was far from being a clumsy child. Walking down the aisle of the classroom, I’d suddenly catch a foot on one of the desks and plunge to the floor. A while later, there’d be a commotion at the back of the room – somehow, a stack of books would have fallen, taking me with them. I loved the hilarious uproar, the break from the stifling conformity. Perhaps it was an unconscious appeal for an education that had a balance between head and heart, who knows, but I loved the way laughter brought down barriers, and the way a moment like that can suspend and even define a day. I seemed to know you couldn’t do it every day, because either the novelty would wear off, or the teacher would raise more than the minor doubts she already had about my mental condition, and then I’d be in serious trouble (in those days, no one wanted serious trouble).

Jesus said, “Very truly, I tell you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains just a single grain; but if it dies, it bears much fruit.” It’s a piece of wisdom every farmer or gardener understands perfectly, but somehow, applied to the spiritual realm, many don’t seem to get it. Children are often unconscious of the profound wisdom they are expressing. It’s not as though, as I was falling, I was thinking to myself, “O Grant, you’re on to something here, this is profound,” and I was certainly not consciously aware of the psychological factors motivating my behaviour. I was unconscious of all that, but in my naive foolishness I was embodying a theology of fall and redemption.

In falling, we discover our true levity or lightness of being, like Alice when she fell down the rabbit hole into Wonderland. It is a fall from the serious and often pretentious world of logic and propriety and custom and convention, into a new reality – a world of the unexpected, the spontaneous, the unpredictable.

A little girl who lived near a monastery was puzzled by this segregated body of men, and often stood watching to see what might be going on. Her curiosity grew to the point that she edged closer and closer, and finally encountered one of the monks just outside. He greeted her kindly, so she drew up the confidence to ask, as she had wanted to for a long time, “What goes on in there?” The monk looked at her, realized she was serious, and replied with a shrug, “We fall down, and we get up; we fall down, and we get up; we fall down, and we get up.” It’s a description that recognizes the balance, the rhythms, the seasons, of life.

I often quote the line from the movie “The Godfather,” in which the arrogant movie mogul gets his come-uppance. He says to the men sent to persuade him to bend a little and change his mind: “A man in my position can’t afford to be made to look ridiculous!” The next morning he awakens with the severed head of his prize horse beside him in bed. The truth is, we can’t afford NOT to be made to look ridiculous, especially when we have become too proud, too secure, too much in control of our life.

Clearly, Jesus was not prepared to be put on the usual pedestal of fame and importance – he was not prepared to inhabit the realm of the ego, or accept a contrived, reasonable version of Messiahship. He needed more room, more scope, than the religious leaders were prepared to allow. As Hebrews indicates, Christ’s priesthood is of a different order (after the “order of Melchizedek,” which was unique and distinct from the typical lineage of priests) than what they were expecting – as Hebrews conceives it, the existing rules were being swept away and rendered obsolete by Christ’s appearance. Instead of wanting to assume the mantle of kingship or priesthood, he was willing to look ridiculous, to be despised and rejected, to be considered a fool, in order to break through their fossilized consciousness and to point to the redeeming power of the God he called “Father.” St Paul, a great scholar, a person who under conventional circumstances would be taken very seriously, nevertheless chooses to describe himself as a “fool for Christ.”

Theologian G. K. Chesterton said that the devil and his angels fell “by force of gravity” — that is, they took themselves too seriously and got too consumed with their own “weightiness” or substance. Meanwhile, true angels, by taking themselves so “lightly,” are capable of flight. Levity is the opposite of gravity. It’s a myth, of course, but it conveys a deep truth.

People who take themselves too seriously can’t stand to be laughed at, (and it’s hard to laugh with them), whereas the advice of many forms of spirituality, including our own, invites laughter as a sign that we comprehend how essentially ridiculous so much of our posturing and posing really is – even religious posturing and posing. Ignatius of Loyola, a fearsome warrior before his conversion to Christ, was being mocked one day by two young fellows. Little did they know that if they had tried that on this man a few years prior, they would have been in serious (perhaps deadly) trouble. Instead, Ignatius invited them to tell him why they were laughing at him, and when they told him, he joined their laughter. It takes a wise man to realize how essentially foolish he really is, and what a pretence it is to suggest we are somehow above it all.

There’s a bit of biblical wisdom which suggests “Pride goes before a fall” — it’s so true, but what we don’t know is that a fall is actually good for us. Christians have often named “pride” as one of the deadliest of behaviours which separate us from God and each other – separation being the essence of sin. Pride tries to establish a hierarchy of status or merit, and there is a good reason we love stories about pompous aristocrats and elitists being bumped from their “thrones.” In the Middle Ages, many rulers employed jesters, or “fools,” to provide levity, poke fun and provide an ongoing reminder of how easy it is to get isolated, out of touch, and arrogant in positions of power and honour. Poking a hole in an inflated ego, and bringing a prominent person down to earth, was a useful occupation. Pharisees, unfortunately, tend not to have such corrective influences.

Jesus taught many things which promoted that movement downward: the need for adults to learn to become like children; the call to be last and not first; turning the other cheek; prioritizing and tending to the poor; the grain of wheat falling into the earth; Baptism (which, after all, means “to plunge”) — they all seem counter-intuitive, ridiculous, “hard to understand.”

One of the hardest games to get adults to play is the act of trust exercise in which you fall backwards, trusting that you are going to be caught. True, if there is nothing there to catch you, a fall can be hurtful, but we in our time are so terrified of falling that we are like trapeze artists without a net, desperately hanging on, instead of free to fly. People of faith need to remind people of the profound spiritual truth expressed in the Bible, which says: “underneath are the everlasting arms.” It’s like you only find out that God is there when you do fall down.

Ironically, what we perceive as a fall from grace is often a fall into grace. It’s hard to understand, because it makes no sense to the ego – that part of us which desperately tries to keep us safe, proper, above reproach. The Gospel teaches us the divine wisdom of Jesus: that ultimately even our fear of death (falling into the earth) is unnecessary. That one seems difficult above all, but, as the Gospel teaches us, Jesus was prepared to demonstrate that teaching using his own life as an example.

We learn by falling — by our mistakes – our failures – and what a pity if children never attempt anything great because they are terrified of the potential consequences of failure. Years ago, I buried a young man who had fallen to his death while mountain climbing in the Rockies. As I commiserated with the family about losing him at such a young age, their attitude was very much that he died doing what he loved – that the tragedy would have been for him never to embrace his passion, because then he would never have lived at all. So it is that we clergy learn some wisdom along the way.

It seems to be true that redemption requires a fall. Think about that. The Epistle to the Hebrews says of Jesus that “although he was a Son, he learned obedience through what he suffered.” It would not be inappropriate to say that the way of Jesus is the way of imperfection – the way of the fall. As it says, he became perfect, through his sufferings. That is much different than suggesting he arrived in a state of divine perfection and did not really encounter any human realities or struggles. His mission, in human terms, in logical terms, was a complete failure, the Cross a sign of the world’s contemptuous dismissal. But the author of Hebrews is saying, look at the life of Jesus, and let your own suffering, your own setbacks, your own falls from grace, speak to you and teach you as much as your apparent successes do. The Bible might be seen to describe our basic state of being as “fallen.” If that is the case, it’s OK, because it reminds us that we are human, not perfect, and the life of Christ is the ultimate model. He is often described as “coming down” from heaven, taking the plunge into our human nature, not to condemn, but to enable us to appreciate who we truly are, and what potential for life we actually have. We don’t find it by trying to believe we are God — we get there by embracing our own humanity.

In falling we can re-discover the gifts of humility, humanity, and even of the soul, that we may lose on our desperate climb toward respectability and reputation – in our desperate effort to be taken seriously. In falling, we learn to release our desperate grasp on certain kinds of security which in the long run prove unreliable anyway, and are obliged to embrace the love and grace of God which we only find when we truly rely on it.

Along the way, we seem to have lost touch with the simple wisdom that knows that, even though the seed falls into the ground, it’s not the end of it – that there is a regeneration, a rebirth – that we are reborn, when we let go and let God. It seems to me that is what we celebrate at Easter. As Jesus’ metaphor suggests, only the seed willing to fall to the earth, willing to die to its former way of life, is the seed that offers new life. Jesus took a fall for us — the divine condescension as it has been called. He didn’t cling to equality with God, but embraced humanity, as though to show us how it’s done – so we too might perfect the art of falling, the art of humility, the joy of fellowship in being down to earth, and the fellowship of being with others instead of above them – so that, in losing what we think of as our life we might find the life of the kingdom of God.

rhgr+

FALLING INTO PLACE

Homily for the Fifth Sunday in Lent

Jeremiah 31:31-34 The days are surely coming, says the LORD, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and the house of Judah. It will not be like the covenant that I made with their ancestors when I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt–a covenant that they broke, though I was their husband, says the LORD. But this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, says the LORD: I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts; and I will be their God, and they shall be my people. No longer shall they teach one another, or say to each other, “Know the LORD,” for they shall all know me, from the least of them to the greatest, says the LORD; for I will forgive their iniquity, and remember their sin no more.

Hebrews 5:5-10 So also Christ did not glorify himself in becoming a high priest, but was appointed by the one who said to him, “You are my Son, today I have begotten you”; as he says also in another place, “You are a priest forever, according to the order of Melchizedek.” In the days of his flesh, Jesus offered up prayers and supplications, with loud cries and tears, to the one who was able to save him from death, and he was heard because of his reverent submission. Although he was a Son, he learned obedience through what he suffered; and having been made perfect, he became the source of eternal salvation for all who obey him, having been designated by God a high priest according to the order of Melchizedek.

John 12:20-33 Now among those who went up to worship at the festival were some Greeks. They came to Philip, who was from Bethsaida in Galilee, and said to him, “Sir, we wish to see Jesus.” Philip went and told Andrew; then Andrew and Philip went and told Jesus. Jesus answered them, “The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified Those who love their life lose it, and those who hate their life in this world will keep it for eternal life. Whoever serves me must follow me, and where I am, there will my servant be also. Whoever serves me, the Father will honour. “Now my soul is troubled. And what should I say–‘ Father, save me from this hour’? No, it is for this reason that I have come to this hour. Father, glorify your name.” Then a voice came from heaven, “I have glorified it, and I will glorify it again.” The crowd standing there heard it and said that it was thunder. Others said, “An angel has spoken to him.” Jesus answered, “This voice has come for your sake, not for mine. Now is the judgment of this world; now the ruler of this world will be driven out. And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself.” He said this to indicate the kind of death he was to die.

When I was about 10, I cultivated the art of falling down – staged, planned falls, mind you, because I was far from being a clumsy child. Walking down the aisle of the classroom, I’d suddenly catch a foot on one of the desks and plunge to the floor. A while later, there’d be a commotion at the back of the room – somehow, a stack of books would have fallen, taking me with them. I loved the hilarious uproar, the break from the stifling conformity. Perhaps it was an unconscious appeal for an education that had a balance between head and heart, who knows, but I loved the way laughter brought down barriers, and the way a moment like that can suspend and even define a day. I seemed to know you couldn’t do it every day, because either the novelty would wear off, or the teacher would raise more than the minor doubts she already had about my mental condition, and then I’d be in serious trouble (in those days, no one wanted serious trouble).

Jesus said, “Very truly, I tell you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains just a single grain; but if it dies, it bears much fruit.” It’s a piece of wisdom every farmer or gardener understands perfectly, but somehow, applied to the spiritual realm, many don’t seem to get it. Children are often unconscious of the profound wisdom they are expressing. It’s not as though, as I was falling, I was thinking to myself, “O Grant, you’re on to something here, this is profound,” and I was certainly not consciously aware of the psychological factors motivating my behaviour. I was unconscious of all that, but in my naive foolishness I was embodying a theology of fall and redemption.

In falling, we discover our true levity or lightness of being, like Alice when she fell down the rabbit hole into Wonderland. It is a fall from the serious and often pretentious world of logic and propriety and custom and convention, into a new reality – a world of the unexpected, the spontaneous, the unpredictable.

A little girl who lived near a monastery was puzzled by this segregated body of men, and often stood watching to see what might be going on. Her curiosity grew to the point that she edged closer and closer, and finally encountered one of the monks just outside. He greeted her kindly, so she drew up the confidence to ask, as she had wanted to for a long time, “What goes on in there?” The monk looked at her, realized she was serious, and replied with a shrug, “We fall down, and we get up; we fall down, and we get up; we fall down, and we get up.” It’s a description that recognizes the balance, the rhythms, the seasons, of life.

I often quote the line from the movie “The Godfather,” in which the arrogant movie mogul gets his come-uppance. He says to the men sent to persuade him to bend a little and change his mind: “A man in my position can’t afford to be made to look ridiculous!” The next morning he awakens with the severed head of his prize horse beside him in bed. The truth is, we can’t afford NOT to be made to look ridiculous, especially when we have become too proud, too secure, too much in control of our life.

Clearly, Jesus was not prepared to be put on the usual pedestal of fame and importance – he was not prepared to inhabit the realm of the ego, or accept a contrived, reasonable version of Messiahship. He needed more room, more scope, than the religious leaders were prepared to allow. As Hebrews indicates, Christ’s priesthood is of a different order (after the “order of Melchizedek,” which was unique and distinct from the typical lineage of priests) than what they were expecting – as Hebrews conceives it, the existing rules were being swept away and rendered obsolete by Christ’s appearance. Instead of wanting to assume the mantle of kingship or priesthood, he was willing to look ridiculous, to be despised and rejected, to be considered a fool, in order to break through their fossilized consciousness and to point to the redeeming power of the God he called “Father.” St Paul, a great scholar, a person who under conventional circumstances would be taken very seriously, nevertheless chooses to describe himself as a “fool for Christ.”

Theologian G. K. Chesterton said that the devil and his angels fell “by force of gravity” — that is, they took themselves too seriously and got too consumed with their own “weightiness” or substance. Meanwhile, true angels, by taking themselves so “lightly,” are capable of flight. Levity is the opposite of gravity. It’s a myth, of course, but it conveys a deep truth.

People who take themselves too seriously can’t stand to be laughed at, (and it’s hard to laugh with them), whereas the advice of many forms of spirituality, including our own, invites laughter as a sign that we comprehend how essentially ridiculous so much of our posturing and posing really is – even religious posturing and posing. Ignatius of Loyola, a fearsome warrior before his conversion to Christ, was being mocked one day by two young fellows. Little did they know that if they had tried that on this man a few years prior, they would have been in serious (perhaps deadly) trouble. Instead, Ignatius invited them to tell him why they were laughing at him, and when they told him, he joined their laughter. It takes a wise man to realize how essentially foolish he really is, and what a pretence it is to suggest we are somehow above it all.

There’s a bit of biblical wisdom which suggests “Pride goes before a fall” — it’s so true, but what we don’t know is that a fall is actually good for us. Christians have often named “pride” as one of the deadliest of behaviours which separate us from God and each other – separation being the essence of sin. Pride tries to establish a hierarchy of status or merit, and there is a good reason we love stories about pompous aristocrats and elitists being bumped from their “thrones.” In the Middle Ages, many rulers employed jesters, or “fools,” to provide levity, poke fun and provide an ongoing reminder of how easy it is to get isolated, out of touch, and arrogant in positions of power and honour. Poking a hole in an inflated ego, and bringing a prominent person down to earth, was a useful occupation. Pharisees, unfortunately, tend not to have such corrective influences.

Jesus taught many things which promoted that movement downward: the need for adults to learn to become like children; the call to be last and not first; turning the other cheek; prioritizing and tending to the poor; the grain of wheat falling into the earth; Baptism (which, after all, means “to plunge”) — they all seem counter-intuitive, ridiculous, “hard to understand.”

One of the hardest games to get adults to play is the act of trust exercise in which you fall backwards, trusting that you are going to be caught. True, if there is nothing there to catch you, a fall can be hurtful, but we in our time are so terrified of falling that we are like trapeze artists without a net, desperately hanging on, instead of free to fly. People of faith need to remind people of the profound spiritual truth expressed in the Bible, which says: “underneath are the everlasting arms.” It’s like you only find out that God is there when you do fall down.

Ironically, what we perceive as a fall from grace is often a fall into grace. It’s hard to understand, because it makes no sense to the ego – that part of us which desperately tries to keep us safe, proper, above reproach. The Gospel teaches us the divine wisdom of Jesus: that ultimately even our fear of death (falling into the earth) is unnecessary. That one seems difficult above all, but, as the Gospel teaches us, Jesus was prepared to demonstrate that teaching using his own life as an example.

We learn by falling — by our mistakes – our failures – and what a pity if children never attempt anything great because they are terrified of the potential consequences of failure. Years ago, I buried a young man who had fallen to his death while mountain climbing in the Rockies. As I commiserated with the family about losing him at such a young age, their attitude was very much that he died doing what he loved – that the tragedy would have been for him never to embrace his passion, because then he would never have lived at all. So it is that we clergy learn some wisdom along the way.

It seems to be true that redemption requires a fall. Think about that. The Epistle to the Hebrews says of Jesus that “although he was a Son, he learned obedience through what he suffered.” It would not be inappropriate to say that the way of Jesus is the way of imperfection – the way of the fall. As it says, he became perfect, through his sufferings. That is much different than suggesting he arrived in a state of divine perfection and did not really encounter any human realities or struggles. His mission, in human terms, in logical terms, was a complete failure, the Cross a sign of the world’s contemptuous dismissal. But the author of Hebrews is saying, look at the life of Jesus, and let your own suffering, your own setbacks, your own falls from grace, speak to you and teach you as much as your apparent successes do. The Bible might be seen to describe our basic state of being as “fallen.” If that is the case, it’s OK, because it reminds us that we are human, not perfect, and the life of Christ is the ultimate model. He is often described as “coming down” from heaven, taking the plunge into our human nature, not to condemn, but to enable us to appreciate who we truly are, and what potential for life we actually have. We don’t find it by trying to believe we are God — we get there by embracing our own humanity.

In falling we can re-discover the gifts of humility, humanity, and even of the soul, that we may lose on our desperate climb toward respectability and reputation – in our desperate effort to be taken seriously. In falling, we learn to release our desperate grasp on certain kinds of security which in the long run prove unreliable anyway, and are obliged to embrace the love and grace of God which we only find when we truly rely on it.

Along the way, we seem to have lost touch with the simple wisdom that knows that, even though the seed falls into the ground, it’s not the end of it – that there is a regeneration, a rebirth – that we are reborn, when we let go and let God. It seems to me that is what we celebrate at Easter. As Jesus’ metaphor suggests, only the seed willing to fall to the earth, willing to die to its former way of life, is the seed that offers new life. Jesus took a fall for us — the divine condescension as it has been called. He didn’t cling to equality with God, but embraced humanity, as though to show us how it’s done – so we too might perfect the art of falling, the art of humility, the joy of fellowship in being down to earth, and the fellowship of being with others instead of above them – so that, in losing what we think of as our life we might find the life of the kingdom of God.

rhgr+