The center holds

December 03, 2013

“Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world.
The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere
The ceremony of innocence is drowned;
The best lack all conviction, while the worst
Are full of passionate intensity.
Surely some revelation is at hand;
Surely the Second Coming is at hand.” 
—passage from The Second Coming by William Butler Yeats

The Irish poet Yeats wrote these lines in 1821. Or was it yesterday he wrote them? In this season of global anxiety and fear, lingering wars, continuing terrorist assaults, rising tensions with China, climate change, a record-setting typhoon in the Philippines, and unstable economies and dysfunctional governments around the world, do we not feel that “mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,” and that the center cannot hold?

Many of our Minnesota congregations are struggling with shrinking financial resources, aging membership, and uncertain futures. Others are paralyzed by fear and entombed within their buildings, hoping for a bygone era to return. Others are weary and disheartened by the cultural and worship wars and the inability of the church to resolve difficult issues of racism, sexuality, and globalization. Still others have lost their evangelical and missional zeal and have stoked the fires of their passion for Christ’s transforming power in their communities and the world. Do we not feel that the “ceremony of innocence is drowned,” and that the center does not hold?

But there is another word. A word that talks back to Yeats and to us and to our fear and anxiety. There is an Advent word: “Surely some revelation is at hand.” This is a word that speaks to our deep longing and hunger. This is a word that incarnates hope and passion. This word is stated in our scriptures, in the magnificent Christology of the Epistle to the Colossians:

“He is the image of the invisible God,
the firstborn of all creation;
for in him all things in heaven and earth were created . . .
He himself is before all things,
and in him all things hold together.
He is the head of the body, the church;
he is the beginning, the firstborn of the dead,
so that he might come to have first place in everything.
For in him all the fullness of God
was pleased to dwell.”
(Colossians 1:15-19, NRSV)

Christ is the center that holds. Christ is the spiritual center of gravity—of the universe and of our own lives. Christ is the head of the body, the church. In Christ, all the fullness of God is pleased to dwell. In Christ, all things hold together.

And in this order that Christ provides, this universal structure of grace—this center that holds—we are called to remember our baptism and assume spiritual leadership in the church and the world. It is in times such as these, when it appears all is falling apart and mere anarchy has been let loose, that we are to live counter-cultural lives. It is in times such as these that we are to step forward and give “an accounting of the hope that is in us” (I Peter 3:15). It is in times such as these that we are to practice faith rather than fear. It is in times such as these that we are to give all we have and all we are over to God’s kingdom purposes. It is in times such as these that we are called to live the Wesleyan Way—doing no harm, doing all the good we can, and staying in love with God. It is in times such as these that we are called to speak the Advent word—surely God’s revelation is at hand! This is the hope that is in us.

So, I invite you to join me during this Advent season, as together we pray:

Most Holy and gracious God,
come and reveal, once again,
your fullness in Christ Jesus,
through our lives, congregations, and witness.
In these fearful and anxious times,
remind us that in Christ
all things hold together—the center holds.
Let us be your harbingers of hope,
to those who live in peril
and those who are yet lost in darkness.
Clothe us in your own Spirit,
that others will recognize you in us,
and receive your great gifts of love and peace.
In the name of Jesus,
who lives with you and with us,
now and forever. Amen. 

May God bless you and those you love, your congregations and communities, in this Advent season, with the joy and confidence that in Christ, the center holds.

Bishop Bruce R. Ough is resident bishop of the Dakotas-Minnesota Episcopal Area.

Minnesota Annual Conference of the United Methodist Church

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