Monday, August 24, 2009

OFFSPRING: Symbols and Passion


With symbols goes controversy. Tease someone about their nationality if you wish, provided that you know them well enough and are tolerant, but do not even think of burning their flag. Church goers are often quite tolerant of strange doctrines and even outlandish behavior from their clergy, but let the clergy try putting the church flowers in a different spot, and they will discover that the power of symbols to arouse passion. Jesus had implicitly and explicitly attacked what had become the symbols of the second temple Jewish worldview; He saw them not as bad in themselves, but as out of date, belonging to the period before the coming of the kingdom and to be jettisoned now that a new day had dawned. The symbols of His own work were deeply provocative. (The Challenge of Jesus, N. T. Wright, 1999)


Symbols are so much a part of humanity that without them we would appear to be something other than human to the observer. Bishop Wright reminds us of the power of symbols, particularly when it comes the emotion that they evoke. It was the destruction of these symbols that caused Jesus to be crucified. We are emotional creatures, and passionate creatures, and rarely are we more emotional and passionate than when it comes to our symbols. Yet, it appears that in many corners of Christianity this reality is either ignored, or worse quashed. The danger of Iconoclasm (the elimination of symbols) in any form is that it strips the human from part of his humanity. Symbols are an essential part of our worship, yet they must be appropriate to the new covenant. For this reason, it is right for us to turn to the early church and its iconography, along with its divine liturgies and their symbols. They faithfully grasp the traditions handed down by the apostles and Jesus himself.

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