Let us first acknowledge the virus in the room. This was not the Lent anyone expected to experience, nor the Easter anyone was looking forward to celebrating. This year may indeed go down in history as the Lent of all Lents. Where everyone gave up far more than they had ever wanted or expected to give up. As the leadership of AMEN what we had intended to accomplish with this year’s AMEN reads has, like everything else, been derailed. However, that does not mean that we have completely failed in our responsibility to reflect and put forward a vision for Anglican Racial Reconciliation and an Anglican multiethnic American Church.
It is therefore appropriate as we enter Eastertide to provide at least one other reflection and meditation not only on Yancey’s book but also as Christ as the great reconciler. One of the items the leadership of AMEN appreciated most concerning George Yancey’s book Beyond Racial Gridlock was his focus on the person and work of Christ. His project argued in Chapter 9 that Christ found himself in both minority and majority communities. Thus existing as “both/and”, Christ proceeded on various occasions to demonstrate what it means to be reconciled to one another from both perspectives. We as Anglicans and more broadly as sacramentalist should sit up and take note.
Allow us to digress for a moment. It is not uncommon to be asked by our fellow Anglicans: What does multiethnic Anglican worship look like? The standard answer runs along the following three lines. One, worship music should include diverse traditions, most obviously the African American gospel tradition. We ought to look for defining multiethnic not in terms of European nationalism ( pulpit built in Germany, a Russian crucifix on the wall behind the altar, songs that were written by Englishman as well as Irishman) but in terms much more expansive and global. Finally, we must do a better job of incorporating individuals in leadership of various ethnicities at every level of the church’s life.
These answers, however well intentioned we believe fall short. The answers above only solve surface problems. They amount in many ways to very necessary structural issues. George Yancey hints at the deeper reality we feel the Anglican theologians among us must tackle. What is the theological framework in which to build an Anglican multiethnic worship service? As Christians we are quick to point out how the Eucharistic symbolizes our reconciliation with God. There may be a few who acknowledge the importance of the Eucharist relationally, but fail to develop their ideas. There is a dearth of full length works in the racial reconciliation literature that wrestles with how the Eucharist reconciles minorities and majorities in a sacramental understanding across ethnic divides.
There are tantalizing hints at the potential of this line of inquiry. In the historical overview edited by Bernard McGinn, Christian Spirituality Vol 1, John D. Zizioulas states, “Spirituality had to do with acquiring new relationships and through them a new identity, since identities, whether biological, social or ‘spiritual,’ always emerge from relationships. . . . All divisions, both natural and social are transcended in the Eucharist” (page 27-28).
Yancey seems to echo the church fathers. He states, “A careful reading of the Gospels shows that even as he sought relationships with members of other ethnic groups, Jesus also dealt with issues of oppression and justice.” How might a better understanding of the way the Eucharist is the love feast of brotherhood and kingdom identity address ethnic hatred? How does one go about understanding sacramental racial reconciliation? How is the oppressed and oppressor to find each other as well as Christ in the meal?
As we go forward this Easter season we ask those amongst us who are gifted thinkers and theologians to consider the Eucharist anew. Racial Reconciliation and multiethnic Anglican worship we believe ought to find firm footing in the sacramental life. It is about time we begin thinking through what that looks like. Christ has Risen! He has risen indeed!