Monday, November 22, 2010

Christ with clouds

"It's all about clouds." That's what my friend said as she checked through her music for this afternoon's Bach cantata service.

"Why is it so dark?" asked my daughter, Eliza, as we crossed the street to go to church this morning. "Because it's a cloudy day," I said. "It might rain. It rained last night."

"The Clouds of Judgment Gather" and "Lo, He Comes with Clouds Descending"--these were the hymns this afternoon to go with "Wachet auf!" Bach didn't have Christ the King Sunday. He had the end-of-the-church-year lessons about Christ's return and Judgment Day, the ones that kept me awake in bed late into November nights when I was a child. I hoped against hope that I would live a long life and die. That seemed less frightening than a supersize Jesus appearing suddenly in storm clouds above my head.* I didn't want to stand in the line of sheep and goats, or in the line-up where he pointed out that I had seen him many times naked and hungry, hadn't recognized him, hadn't helped and had blown my chance at heaven.

Of course, this isn't what's in the cantata. The bridesmaids are waiting, not for a judge, but for the bridegroom. There's some seriously passionate longing going on in the first duet between soprano and bass, the soul and her Lord. In the second duet where they're united, well, the flights of ecstasy in the music can be experienced with more than just the ears. The vocal music has all the urgency of lovers singing together at the opera. And then there's that sensuous oboe.

But what about those foolish virgins whose lamps ran out of oil? More than likely that's me. My planning-ahead skills are good--when I remember to use them. I don't much expect to be the one hanging out with the bridegroom. It's been decades since I sang a love duet, metaphorically or for real.

But there is Christ the King, ascended until the clouds hid him from view, enthroned with God. Jesus who walked the walk down here, perfectly, and now reigns over a kingdom that theologians describe as "both here and not yet."

On the way to writing this blog post, I got distracted and ended up trying yet again to sync my phone calendar, my computer calendar, and my online calendar without producing two and three copies on each machine of every choir rehearsal and day off from school. Compared to this, wrapping my mind around "here and not yet" is easy. I do believe that God's kingdom comes on earth, that the transcendant compassion that Buddhists speak of points to this, that the kingdom is seen where two or three gather together in Christ's name, that humans live collectively in hope, and this is wise, not foolish.

But not yet have I let go of the fear of being judged and, inevitably, found wanting. It's like seeing shapes in the clouds--your brain goes there because it tries to make sense of things. Why is it so dark? Why can't we see and understand God fully? Yet that passionate union seems so close, so knowable.

Cloudy tomorrow?

*Anyone who has ever visited St. John, Forest Park, the church of my childhood, has seen exactly what I saw when I closed my eyes on those nights.