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Christianity v. Necromancy

Christianity v. Necromancy

Monday, September 22, 2014 – Feast of St. Matthew (transferred)

[Go to Mission St Clare for an online version of the Daily Office including today’s scripture readings.]

Today’s Readings for the Daily Office

Psalms 119:41-64 (morning) // 19, 112 (evening)

Isaiah 8:11-20

Romans 10:1-15

Our first reading this morning ends with a threat. God is warning people against necromancy, or communication with the dead. Apparently, some people encourage others toward necromancy by saying, “Consult the ghosts and the familiar spirits,” for “should not a people consult their gods, the dead on behalf of the living, for teaching and for instruction?” Asking the dead for advice just makes sense to them.

However, God declares that “those who speak like this will have no dawn.” In other words, if we want to wake up again tomorrow morning, we’ll need to figure out how this warning applies to us!

I have to admit that what strikes me about this prophetic warning against necromancy are the uncomfortable similarities between consulting the dead and practicing Christianity. God warns against consulting “ghosts,” “familiar spirits,” and “the dead” in order for the living to receive “teaching” and “instruction.” But Christians regularly consult the spirit of the crucified Christ as well as the written teachings and instructions of people long dead. Are we simply adherents of a necromantic cult?

Perhaps we should take today’s Scriptures as a reminder not to let our own faith lapse into necromancy. When we seek Christ’s presence and wisdom, we are not simply consulting a ghost. And when we turn to our ancient Scriptures for guidance and insight, we are not simply following the instructions of the dead.

How exactly does our faith differ from the practice of consulting the dead? For one thing, we experience Christ not as a ghost but as a tangible presence, manifest both in the sacrament and in human beings when they are in need (Mt 25:31-46). And, for another thing, the illumination we receive from our Scriptures open us to the future rather than constraining us to the past. Isaiah describes himself and his prophetic children as “signs and portents in Israel from the Lord of hosts.” These lights throughout our Scriptures direct our lives forward, toward the vision God has for all people.

From time to time, we may find ourselves practicing a faith that feels more like necromancy than like truly living and breathing as God desires. Prophetic words like today’s first reading can wake us up to the dawn that God continues to prepare for us, day by day, as we practice a faith that has a future as well as a past.

Lora Walsh blogs about taking risks and seeking grace at A Daily Scandal. She serves as curate of Grace Episcopal Church in Siloam Springs and as director of the Ark Fellows, an Episcopal Service Corps program sponsored by St. Paul’s in Fayetteville, Arkansas.

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