Thursday, 1 January 2009

OUT with the old... IN with?

The Cambridge University Diary used to bemuse me. Against New Year’s Day it printed a puzzling slogan: Circumcision. University Library Closed to Readers. Today’s a natural time to look forward, perhaps with some caution about cheesy and unrealistic resolutions. Perhaps, for most of us, everything is now so complicated it has to be time to simplify, not to take on new stuff. Courage! I do not need to invest time in Facebook groups like Damn it feels good to be a hamster or Cats that Look Like Hitler...

Historcially the Church has interpreted the day through the lens of Jesus’ Circumcision, still kept as such by Eastern Orthodox, Uniates and Anglicans. Jesus’ parents, obeying the law, locate him within the covenant of Moses. From that place, he will lead his disciples out into the cornfields, through the curse of the cross, to a glory far greater than Moses could ever imagine or reflect. By obedience to the law he begins to redeem those under the law.

Secular Redemption myths seem to be growing, however, in the public square — Times Square, to be exact (h/t Jean Fitzpatrick). People have been gathering there for the past two years to celebrate Good Riddance Day on the Feast of the Holy Innocents (28 December):

"SHRED YOUR BAD MEMORIES – EVERYTHING FROM WORTHLESS STOCK CERTIFICATES AND DEPRESSING BANK STATEMENTS TO PHOTOS OF OLD LOVERS AND DEAR JOHN LETTERS – IN THE HEART OF TIMES SQUARE," read the invitation on Craigslist. For just one hour on December 28, shredders were stationed along Broadway between 45th and 47th Streets, near the snazzy new TKTS booth, where New Yorkers or tourists could discard any distasteful, embarrassing or depressing memories from 2008. Passers-by could also write their bad memories on stationery available onsite and watch them get shredded. Or you could post your message online to be printed out, shredded and carted away for disposal or recycling. "Because sometimes," said the Times Square Alliance invitation, "you just need to let go."

And let go they did, getting things off their chest with all the spontaneity New York inspires in residents and visitors. One woman shredded a photograph of her ex-fiance posing with his current girlfriend. A Brooklyn man brought a picture of his appendix, taken after it was removed during emergency surgery. A woman visiting from San Diego used the onsite stationery to write "strife with my family," and her 13-year-old daughter wrote "getting bad grades on report cards." Another woman shredded a printout of her boyfriend's email breaking up with her. A Yankee fan shredded a poster of the Boston Red Sox: "I hate them," she said. "It felt good."

This year's Good Riddance Day saw the addition of a sledgehammer "to pulverize all those bad memories away." You could bring a broken cell phone or DVD player and a Times Square Alliance worker in protective glasses would smash it to smithereens.
If we don't get rid of our stuff it accumulates. But what do we do about it? That’s the basis of the sacrificial system — it takes sin seriously, rather than sweeping it under the carpet. But for Christians the naming and shaming is only the prelude to a greater act of redemption than Mosaic circumcision could ever be — Grace, in all its absurd, liberating, healing, ludicrous excess. Where sin abounds, grace superabounds. Relax! Now we can love without pretending, or trade-offs, or status games. This year I need a better grasp of Grace, right from the outset, prefigured but super-transcended in the Circumcision of our Lord Jesus Christ. Alleluia!


Ann said...

Yikes! don't think I have seen that painting before.

June Butler said...

This year I need a better grasp of Grace, right from the outset, prefigured but super-transcended in the Circumcision of our Lord Jesus Christ. Alleluia!

Bishop Alan, if that is your one New Year's resolution, then it suffices. I may make it mine, too.

Bishop Alan Wilson said...

The painting is 'The Circumcision of Christ' by the Master of the Tucher Altar, Nuremberg, 1440-1450 —
medieval, grossly physical/ crude (though looks nicely icon-like from afar off). Bit like circumcision.

Another great clue about the Circumcision at the outset of the year is that it elegantly integrates grace and law, which those of us accustiomed to wear Lutheran spectacles tend to prise apart and set against each other. It's so counter-intuitive — I know the theory, but need help to receive it for what it is, and live it daily... GM many thanks for encouragement and fellowship in setting out in that direction on day 1 of 2009!

Lapinbizarre said...

Late to post on this (I was backtracking through your old posts after reading your SSPX piece) but the Master of the Tucher Altar painting looks as though it may well have been painted from first hand observation of late medieval Jewish practice. The Hebrew inscriptions on the robes of the man holding the child seem to indicate that they may be an exact representation of ritual garments of the period.

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