At 2pm SLT yesterday the normal worship service in the Cathedral had two congregations. I didn’t get a chance to count how many were in the Cathedral but it must have been around 20. The other congregation of about 25 was sitting in the Leech Hall of St John’s College, Durham and saw the service projected onto a screen. This congregation comprised delegates to the Christianity in the Digital Space symposium. As service leader I acted as a bridge of sorts between the two groups.
All sorts of technical issues had conspired to try to prevent this event taking place but with a lot of co-operation from many people both in-world and in Durham, those difficulties were overcome and all was well. Being a little more wired up than I would normally be in order for those in the room to hear, and being observed while I led, was a little nerve wracking I admit. I had plenty of time to regret volunteering to lead from the symposium. I think the effort was worth it though. There were plenty of comments and questions from those here in Durham. Apologies go to those in-world if that resulted in a lack of conversation with you! I can multi-task but perhaps not well enough.
The readings were part of Psalm 107 and Luke 19:41-end. Cephus from the USA and Patapon from New Zealand read which added to the international flavour of the service. The reflection follows:
In my four years of involvement with online church I have not lost the amazement I feel at being able to connect with people from all over the world and worship God together. I remember once leading midday worship in the i-church chapel (i-church is an online church run by the Diocese of Oxford, England) where there were worshippers present from 5 continents – Australia, Asia, Africa, Europe and America. For about 20 minutes we were acutely aware of the way that our small group of worshippers was encircling the world with prayer.
Although we worshipped together as Christians, you can be pretty certain that each of us related to Jesus in a slightly different way. We are not expected to be clones but individuals and our personality and preferences, upbringing and background, will influence our faith as well as other aspects of our lives.
When I was on a silent retreat some time ago, the spiritual director I had gave me passages of scripture to meditate on which concerned the disciples and asked me to put myself in the place of one of them in the story. I found I could do that but it seemed to flag up my sense of my inadequacy – not necessarily a bad thing of course, but not entirely helpful on this occasion.
My spiritual director decided to take a different tack and gave me passages that had me approach Jesus through the eyes of Mary. As I am the mother of three sons, he thought I might find that easier to do. It was the most wonderful and powerful few days after that. I still treasure the journal I wrote as a response to my meditations.
Finding the right picture of Jesus can be so helpful in drawing close to him, as my spiritual director demonstrated. One way that artists have helped people to get a helpful picture of Jesus has been to depict him as being of the same race as themselves. If you see a painting of Jesus by a black African, the chances are Jesus will also be a black African. And if he is drawn by a person from Japan he will look Japanese.
Growing up in England, most of the pictures I saw of Jesus were of a blue eyed, brown haired, fairly effeminate looking man. With that picture in my head, it’s possible to miss some of the impact of Jesus weeping as we’re told he did when looking over Jerusalem. ‘Softies’ cry easily anyway so what’s the big deal? Jesus was far from being a soft, weak person. He had worked as a carpenter, which was a hard physical job. He spent three years travelling around the countryside, sleeping where he could, eating if he had the opportunity. At the end of his life, he survived a beating that would have killed many a man, and he still managed to carry his cross part of the way to Golgotha. He was not only physically strong but emotionally well-balanced. He dealt well with both adulation and rejection; he handled his anger without letting it control him; he was not afraid to cry and show distress.
The tears Jesus cried were not a sign of weakness but due to his passionate concern and love for the Jews, God’s chosen people. I’ve visited the site where this incident is traditionally thought to have taken place. From the church called Dominus Flevit (Jesus wept), on the Mount of Olives, there is a wonderful view over the city. As Jesus looked across the city full of people going about their daily lives, he wept over the way they had turned away as God had tried to reach them. They had ignored and attacked the prophets and were plotting to kill Jesus, God’s own Son. Their much longed for Messiah had come and they despised the message of salvation that he brought.
Jesus’ divinity allowed him to see accurately what would happen to Jerusalem. In AD 66 the Jews revolted against the Romans, rebuilding the walls of Jerusalem and fortifying the city. Titus, the son of Emperor Vespasian was sent to crush the rebellion. Finding it impossible to take the city, they laid siege to it. The city had one million people within it for the Passover in AD70 when the siege began. After 5 months the Romans were able to take the city, now inhabited by a very weak population, and burn the Temple to the ground. 600 000 people died, others were sold into slavery. Only 100 000 of the million who had been in that city survived and stayed there.
Seeing that picture of the future as he looked over Jerusalem, what wonder is there that Jesus wept at the self-imposed fate of his people. Knowing the choice the Jews had made, Jesus didn’t just give up and walk away. He couldn’t because he was passionate about reaching people. His love overruled any thought for his own safety. He continued to teach and many of the ordinary people listened to his message eagerly even while their leaders were plotting to kill him. They trusted his life-giving words and took them to heart.
Every two months, around 1.2 million people log on to SL. That’s a little over the population of Jerusalem at Passover time in the 1st century AD. Many things about our lives may have changed since that time, but deep down people are still much the same as they ever were. They have similar hopes and fears, joys and sorrows; the same matters occupy their time. The citizens of SL are here to do business, to relax with friends, to play games, to explore their creativity, possibly also to commit crime (thankfully only a minority will do that). Some will be Christians, some will have rejected Christianity and some will simply not have heard the Good News in a way that they can relate to. If Jesus wept for the people of Jerusalem he surely weeps for the people of SL too.
Many are genuinely seeking God and asking questions, using the anonymity of our medium to help them feel safe in doing so, knowing they can disappear at the click of a mouse if they feel uncomfortable. Much of what I’ve heard from people I have met here reveals a deep spiritual hunger. People who would not enter a church in RL can attend a service such as this, or turn up at other times and simply engage in conversation.
Of course, what we offer at the Cathedral is just a small part of the Christian work going on in SL and elsewhere. I have the huge privilege at the moment to be at the Chrisitanity in the Digital Space symposium in Durham, England. I am surrounded by people who are working in many ways to reach those who can be reached through the Internet. They are passionate about what they are doing and are working hard to find imaginative and relevant ways to connect with people.
Jesus told us to take his message to all the world and I have absolutely no doubt that includes the world of the digital space. I hope that as Anglicans of Second Life we can play our part in spreading this message of hope to those who need it.
Helene Milena – Lay Pastor