16 September 2009

Proper 22 a - Chocolat

Proper 22 B - Chocolat

Song of Solomon 2: 8-13

Mark 7: 1-8,14-15,21-23

St. Luke’s Church, Burlington

30 August, 2009

By Stuart Pike

There is a wonderful movie which came out in 2000 which is set in a small French town in1959 during the season of Lent. The movie is called Chocolat and perhaps the best time of the year to see it is during lent, though I also think it speaks volumes to today’s lessons. The movie is chock full of Christian themes. One of those themes is about the struggle which we see in today’s Gospel lesson between Christ and the Pharisees about their rules of inclusion and exclusion, cleanliness and uncleanliness.

The small village in the movie is run by the Comte de Renaud who sees his job as primarily one of keeping the town clean and pure ever since the first Comte ran out the Protestant Huguenots. This man is obviously a control freak and all the townsfolk have lived within his strict guidelines. The Comte even writes the Sunday sermons which the young priest must deliver. Of course, the austerity of the town is even greater during Lent, and it is into this solemnity that we are introduced to Vianne and her young daughter who are literally blown into town by the wind.

Of course, the wind is a symbol of the Holy Spirit. When Jesus is baptized he is driven by the Holy Spirit firstly out into the wilderness, and then he was blown back into a society which was just as austere as this little French town; a society in which the rules, which were made to help guide the people into a relationship with God, became the whole point in themselves. I can just see the set of those Pharisees shoulders and their clucking to each other about Jesus and his followers who were breaking all the rules, and must, therefore, be stopped. Jesus says to Nicodemus when he is speaking about the Spirit: the wind blows where it will and you don’t know from where it is coming and where it will go. This is true about the Holy Spirit: we don’t know where the Spirit will take us, but we can choose to follow.

Imagine the scandal of the town and the Comte De Renaud when this mysterious young woman opens up a chocolate shop right downtown in the middle of Lent! And this is a woman with a young daughter and no sign of a husband anywhere!

In the story, one by one, members of the town undergo an interior struggle between traditions and expectations and their own sense of need. They are drawn to Vianne and her shop and she welcomes them in. She is able to hear their stories and understand the wound which each one carries. And she knows how to heal them. A group of travellers arrive who the townsfolk call River Rats and who are obviously perceived to be unclean by the townsfolk. They follow their passions and not the rules, living full and sensuous lives. Person by person the town is transformed as people let go of their fears and are able to heal relationships. Vianne knows just which type of chocolate will heal each one.

I’m just so impressed with a movie in which Chocolate is the symbol which represents healing! And perhaps this is one of the reasons why I like this movie so much as do so many others. It is just so right!

The struggle in the movie, and Jesus’ struggle with the Pharisees, seems to be one where all sorts of mis-association happen: Good and evil, righteousness and pleasure, austerity and sensuality, spirit and body, solemnity and laughter. Many such mis-associations still happen in religions today. It wasn’t that long ago when most Anglicans would have thought it somewhat sacrilegious to laugh out loud in Church. Certainly, we are still haunted by the Victorian mores which have deeply wounded the collective psyche of the religious in its denial of sexuality and sensuality and anything of the flesh in general. This is what I call St. Paul on steroids!

It was within a similar repressed and unbalanced society that Jesus lived his passionate life. He taught and loved and feasted with those of dubious social station and, despite what St. Paul would later write, he taught us that we are loved, as we are, within our bodies with all of their appetites and ungovernable ways.

It is to the sensual body that our Old Testament lesson speaks in which God is described in the passionate words of a lover: “Look, here he comes, leaping upon the mountains, bounding over the hills. My beloved is like a gazelle or a young stag ... my beloved speaks and says to me: “Arise, my love, my fair one, and come away.”

Do you remember when your heart skipped and your breath was caught up in joy because of your love for God and God’s love for you? I’m sure the memory is there: perhaps there before language. Perhaps it has been buried under years or decades of religious rules and orders. Perhaps it is still that fresh and joyful today. Whatever the case, this is the God which Jesus shows us.

This same love of Christ is the love which reaches out to the poor and the wounded, and to those who are outcast from society. He shows us that God’s love is one which heals people and relationships.

All too often the Church has stood beside the pharisees and made the rules the object of worship, rather than God. Jesus shows the Pharisees that our purpose is to love one another. He quotes Isaiah in which God says, “This people honours me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me.”

God wants our hearts, our lives and our passion for the service of the kingdom. God would have us both worship with our lips, as in our liturgy, and with our hearts. God would have us reach out to include all who would come to us.

In the movie even the old Comte is changed at the end. He goes to the chocolate shop on Holy Saturday to destroy it before Easter. But, he accidentally tastes some of the chocolate and completely gives in to it and starts eating it until he passes out to be found by the parish priest on his way to the Easter Mass. It says that the Comte was “strangely released” from his fixation with control and judgement.

In his Easter Sermon the young priest says: “I want to talk about Christ’s humanity, I mean how he lived his life on earth: his kindness, his tolerance. We must measure our goodness, not by what we don’t do, what we deny ourselves, what we resist, or who we exclude. Instead, we should measure ourselves by what we embrace, what we create, and who we include." Amen.

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