O God, by the teaching of your faithful servant and bishop Remigius you turned the nation of the Franks from vain idolatry to the worship of you, the true and living God, in the fullness of the catholic faith: Grant that we who glory in the name of Christian may show forth our faith in worthy deeds; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.
St. Remigius (c 437-533) was bishop of Rheims. Other than the miracle legend of two empty ampoules which were filled with Oil of the Catechumens and Oil of Chrism, and one story of the return of some sacred objects, the significance of Remigius was his baptism of King Clovis (undoubtedly with some urging from Clovis’ wife, Saint Clotilde), and the subsequent conversion of the Frankish empire, which covers a good part of modern France and Germany. And that was a catalyst for the conversion of much of the rest of central Europe and Scandinavia, because it facilitated easier dealings between Christian kings who could swear holy oaths to each other over financial and political dealings. And he was a supporter of the Nicene Creed, rather than the heretical teaching of the Arian bishops.
What makes Remigius interesting to me are the passages chosen to honor his feast day (Jer 10:1-11, Ps 135:13-22, 1 Jn 4:1-6, Jn 14:1-7). They all teach us not to make or worship idols, but worship the one God. This is not a new issue. The greater part of the Old Testament is a record of the number of times that the people of Israel turned from God and the Law. We are told how the people were brought together and they cried as Ezra read the Law to them (Neh 8:1-8). And the number of references narrating destruction of idols and avoidance of them are legion. In the Gospels, Jesus is clear that he came first to gather the lost sheep of Israel, and then to include the wider world of Gentiles. Nowhere do we find instructions to incorporate pagan rituals or accept them. While the Middle East and Europe of the first century was a melting pot of cultures, both secular and religious, the Jews held to their law and custom. And Christianity followed suit, eventually separating from Jewish Law and following the teachings of Jesus.
Where are we now? How much can we ignore the letter of Scripture, claiming that we follow the spirit of the law? Is our revelation of God and of his Christ so thin that we need yoga and Buddhism and shamanism to shore it up? Many feel it is, or at least that other spiritual visions are a wealth of ways of seeing God. But I will say, frankly, that when a local ecofeminist Neopagan priestess danced around the Baptismal font at Grace Cathedral shortly after it was dedicated, I was dismayed. That was a ritual and not one honoring the baptism by water and the Spirit which we received from Jesus Christ. While the resurgence of nature religions brought attention to the natural world, it is not all unicorns and rainbows, and some not inclusive, nor grounded in mercy and love. Yes, our Cathedral was declared a house of prayer for all people, but our house of prayer is dedicated to glorify the God we know in the Trinity. Are there no boundaries?
While Jeremiah describes deaf, dumb, and blind idols made of wood and nails, we have plenty of idols of our own. Some, like money, are known by our worshipful actions toward them. Others, like American Idol, are worshiping human celebrity. When Jeremiah says, “There is none like you, O Lord,” does he not proclaim what we enact in our liturgies? In prayer? Psalm 135, after describing the making of a lifeless idol, says, “Those who make them are like them, and so are all who put their trust in them,” for are we not like that which we honor and worship? In the first letter of John we are exhorted to discern spirits, for “you are from God, and have conquered them; for the one who is in you is greater than the one who is in the world.” It is plainly stated in Jesus’ answer to Thomas, in the Gospel of John, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. If you know me, you will know my Father also. From now on you do know him and have seen him.” This was probably simpler to follow in Paul’s house churches than it is in 21st century America, where the idols abound. Superheroes on the screen with their magical attributes, and cool capes. A consumer culture where last year’s shoes are a sin. Ask any middle school kid. And the loud, often rude, glamour of the music scene. But also our attempts to make the church relevant with a patina of pop culture. Probably the consumer driven Christmas/Advent season is the most glaring and the hardest to avoid.
And then there are the riches and distractions of all those other exotic and colorful religions with their gurus, some holy, some not so much. One can argue that the Cosmic Christ, the second person of the Trinity, existed before all time, and therefore is as much a part of the development of all religions. In which case, all those other spiritualities are real and holy. Buddhism, especially, has found a place alongside of Christianity in method and content for many Christians. And joining with others to bring justice and protect the environment is a holy act and needful. I dare not question the mind of God for offering so many paths. But I keep going back to the words of Jesus, and the way of the Cross and promise of the Resurrection. Our foundational story has power, a unique power. And I wonder if we are embarrassed by it, or choose to neglect it, focusing only on the evils of colonialism (ignoring the hospitals and schools which the church has supported). We have come under such negative scrutiny. Are we again the early church, hunted and mocked?
But where else can we find the sacrament which invites the Holy Spirit into us, and which promises eternal life? Where else are we fed food and drink for our bodies and our souls? Where else do we feel, actually feel, the presence of Jesus in ourselves, in our lives, and in the abiding love of our communities? And mercy and forgiveness without end? The Grace given is overwhelming. Yet we look abroad for salvation. Can we not try, just as a spiritual exercise, to commit ourselves for a month, even a week, to unquestioned obedience to God the Father and live by the words and laws given to us by Jesus in Scripture? Can we not respect those of other faiths while unequivocally holding up our own to the Glory of God? We already have it all. Let us give thanks in Jesus’ name to the one undivided Trinity. And give thanks for Bishop Remigius, a hard working and not too interesting saint, but one who brought nations into the Kingdom of God.
Dr. Dana Kramer-Rolls is a parishioner at All Souls Parish, Episcopal, Berkeley, California and earned her master’s degree and PhD from the Graduate Theological Union, Berkeley, California.