Sunday morning and it's like a bomb's gone off.
The streets are deserted. No survivors.
I sit at my desk, part of the aftermath, resolutely unable to go to church. And why should I? The arena in which the gospel must now be sown has moved on from those medieval landscapes, Catholic or Protestant, in which all the churches were born. This is now the postmodern world, the bombed out world.
The post-Christian world. The apocalyptic world.
Moreover, it is exactly the kind of world which the more it sees itself as post-Christian the more it is uniquely Christian.
The truth is all the people wiped off the streets by the Sunday bomb are floating in some strange comfortable Jesus-loving space, without gods, without shame, and with a world fully harnessed for their good, for their proper human narrative. Certainly, yes, there are growing threats and crises to terrify us--and that is another reason why it's correctly called the Sunday bomb--but if that should drive people back into church they could only go with a built-in sense of cynicism that would quickly drive them right out again.
It is a European world and increasingly a North American world. A world brought about by long exposure to the gospel and an equally long exposure to the church and its multiple fatal compromises with violence, with war, with hierarchy and its uses. So the streets are empty because, simply put, you can be a better Christian staying in bed than going to church.
And, emphatically, that's not just a negative reaction. The streets are empty because they are also full, thick with human meaning, a meaning gradually put in place by the relentless spread of the authentic Christian spirit of community and brotherhood under the rational guise of Greek democracy and rights. And now there's also the internet, a technical explosion of communication that does and can only mimic the communion of love dreamed of in the scriptures.
For sure there are churches that remain open. There are the traditional gangly spires and faux facades dotting the landscape, offering the comfortable persuasion that nothing really has changed. God is in his heaven and these are his chosen means of preserving the divine order here on earth as in heaven. Even so they uphold a Sunday ideology that has less and less credibility and is little more than a cultural relic, a kind of Sunday vacation from lived-world reality. Fundamentalists understand this and carry the old-time Sunday fight to the rest of the week, invoking their Sunday fantasy against all-comers. Only the community churches and mega-churches really get it. With their rock bands, multi- media, sports clubs, kids spaces and general Starbucks ambient they make Sunday as much like the rest of the week as possible. But of course in the process they strengthen the Sunday bomb. People can just as well stay at home if it works better for them!
The Sunday bomb is an exhausted Western post-Christendom basking in the irradiated glow of the Christian gospel that can never be unannounced, never un-exploded. God has become one of us, the ordinary everyday human, leaving all the gods undone and all their empires exposed. Everyone feels it, lives in it. Christianity has in fact won while the churches have lost, because they grew up battling the gods and doing deals with the empires. And, connected exactly to that, the Sunday bomb now leaves us an intensely dangerous world, full of failing empires armed to the teeth.
What is needed then is a second sowing of the Christian message, a fresh seeding in a soil that has been hybridized and prepared by the gospel itself. (With its own epistemology--of uncertainty and hope, its own strange metaphysics--of relationship, its own psychology--of desire affirmed as love.) Now is the time for an ekklesia that is faithful to the full radicalism of the gospel, for it is the only thing that can truly take root in a bombed-out irradiated world.
Communities of this ekklesia are not identified by Sunday worship, because they belong to the Sunday bomb not the Sunday of heavenly order. They belong to a world full of the anxiety and chaos of the absence of the gods, to a world where war has become the only mode of public existence. Taking root in this world they can show the way on the impossible path of forgiveness, the only path there is left. And the world itself understands this. It is haunted by the possibility of the impossible, and cannot believe in any Christianity short of this. The world itself is looking for communities of a second sowing, intentional gatherings of nonviolence, contemplation and common life, full of hope and truthfulness in an irradiated world.
And, oh, I can agree, it's not impossible that such communities also meet on Sunday. But I haven't found one near me.
Tony Bartlett, T&P Theologian in Residence