Facebook, Eucharist, and Ministry (Part 2)

May 8th, 2011
Photo © Franco Bouly | Flickr | Used under Creative Commons license.

To all my dear brothers and sisters in ministry, lay and ordained, righteous and concupiscent alike: are you scanning the beginning of this article to see if it will give you some tasty theo-rhetoric to justify the inordinate (even for a pastor) amount of time you spend on Facebook? (You know, “ministering.”) It will. Oh yes. Read on. It will also call you to an uncomfortable imitation of Christ. But let that pass.

In Part 1, I argued that Facebook, because it is an extension of our language, offers a limited but real mode of bodily presence to others. Second, I tried to show how the way the risen Jesus is bodily present in the Eucharist is superior to the kind of bodily presence we share with others, for example, with our roommates. The risen Jesus can be more deeply present to the world than can our spatially limited and limiting bodies. In both of these arguments, and what follows, I rely on the work of the late Oxford theologian Herbert McCabe, OP, specifically chapter 10 of his book God Matters.

And what follows? We look first briefly at the relevance of an aspect of the life of Jesus (both earthly and risen) to our lives as Christians who minister. And, second, we ponder some of the implications of all this for ministry among the Facebookish.

Without further ado...

The Life of Jesus, the Life of Ministry

Jesus’ deepened bodily availability to the church after his death is just the revolutionary but logical extension of his life in the flesh. Revolutionary, because he has triumphed over destruction through resurrection. Logical, because he just keeps doing throughout the universe what he already did in first-century Palestine.

The meaning of this might be most perspicuous in Jesus’ open table fellowship with sinners. His body is the point of communication, fully available (as much as a human body can be) to all the unworthy, to all. His body is the site of healings, exorcisms, human (which is to say divine) wisdom, and prophetic (which is to say human) challenge: his body is the Jacob’s Ladder, the place of human fellowship with God where angelic messengers ascend and descend (Gen 28:10-17, Jn 1:51). He is the way of life, a shared way of life, intended by God all along.

And as in all of these ways Jesus was the medium of human communication with God before his death, in the normal bodily mode with all its spatial constraints, just so is Jesus exactly, and revolutionarily, himself still all these things, only now unimpeded, by virtue of resurrection.

All Christians are called to (and by definition do) share in the communicating divine life of our risen Lord. This life is the very essence of ministry. St. Paul exhorts us, “by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship” (Rom 12:1). To offer our bodies as a living sacrifice is to offer them in union with Christ’s offering for us-- it is precisely to offer them as a medium of human communication, which is most fully human communication with God.

We become the streets, we become the crossroads. We become the wood paths. We become the highways and byways, we become (like Jesus) Jacob’s Ladders through which people hear from God. We become an internet. We become its servers. And we receive and deliver God’s mail.

In this way, what we witnesses of Jesus communicate is Jesus. We are “little christs” as one church father says. God’s Spirit gives invitation through our bodies, which are made available and vulnerable to becoming extensions by which the bodies.of others extend to God. The sounds of this communication are not unheard of: our communication with God extended through Jesus’ body was called crucifixion. Incidentally, that God is Love is shown in various ways by the fact that the death of God was not the end of us. All this is the form, the picture, the Christ-pattern of ministry.

Ministry on Facebook? Sign Me Up!

The cosmic effect of Christ’s resurrection is that all of our communications take place in his glorified body: governments, corporations, taco bars, the interweb, fireside chats-- in the glorified Christ we search and surf and have our being. Given this, what might it mean to develop the habit known as Facebook in light of the Lordship of Christ?

As confessed in part 1, I am frankly prone to viewing Facebook as an enticing distraction at best, at worst a nearly-gnostic escape from the bodily work of ministry. But that is false: the gnosticism is not with Facebook but with the mythical assumption that it is not bodily presence of which Facebook is an extension: the myth is that, through Facebook, there is no body with whom I am communicating. If every body with whom I connect on Facebook is a real body in need of grace, being present and available for communication on Facebook for a couple (read: 10-12) hours a day might be the most pious thing to do in faithful service to that notoriously unemployed, but very present, time-waster Jesus.

The Lordship of Christ over the internet asks of me something which I find truly difficult: visibility to an unspecified number and assortment of onlookers. Jesus was doubtless a watcher and lover of humanity, but to give oneself to be a place of communication, communion, community-- this is more than being a watcher. The internet is a lousy place for Christians if we go there to go to the sidelines, but a spectacular place to be extended in loving presence to those who might turn out after all to despise us... and just may turn to love God.

Last, to the best of my discernment, the communicating presence of the risen Christ beckons us who would be Christians in the culture of the social network ask a different set of questions even as we celebrate the presence Facebook makes possible. We should ask such such questions as: Who is not on Facebook? And: Where must I stand that my body would be to those a communicating instrument of the gracious, saving Spirit of the Father and the Son?

Clifton Stringer is the pastor of Lakehills United Methodist Church in Lakehills, TX.

Photo Credit: Franco Bouly |Flickr| Used under Creative Commons license.

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