“Via Media”, the middle way. It is a core part of our Episcopal heritage. At its most basic level, it simply means we kept a lot of Catholic ritual and liturgy while also embracing the Protestant Reformation and severing our allegiance to the Pope. But it also represents a mindset – one of “both/and” instead of “either/or”. And it is this part of Via Media that helps me through Holy Week.
Holy Week is a time of loss, gain, sadness, joy, death, resurrection, fear, love, awe, belief and disbelief. It is a week in which we experience the entirety of what it means to follow Christ. And in the face of such immense experience, it is easy to resort to “either/or” – to “have hope” or “not have hope”, to “mourn” or “be comforted”, to “have faith”, or “lose faith”, and very significantly, to “worship Christ” or “imitate Christ”.
This, however, is not the middle way. The Middle Way rejects dualism and seeks unity. We don’t need to “have hope” or “be hopeless”. Instead, we can hold the suffering of our times while also holding the presence of God within us and moving forward with the work of compassion. We don’t need to “reject religion” or “keep our faith” – rather, we can embrace our living tradition and understand that we are part of its evolution forward. We don’t need to fall into the trap of proclaiming “one right way to God”, but instead root ourselves in the beauty of our chosen path while acknowledging the presence of God in the paths of others (as Jesus himself did in the Parable of the Good Samaritan).
At its core, I believe “Via Media” is a mindset that allows us to look at the world with open eyes, eyes that see suffering, feel sorrow, and even experience hopelessness. And yet those same eyes can look inward, to the presence of God, to the loving presence of Jesus, who has shown us how to keep faith through suffering, through doubt, through pain, through defeat, through utter hopelessness. And in our relationship with him, we don’t need to choose between “teacher or savior”, “worship or imitate”. We can hold both. We can strive to be “Christ-like” in all of our moments on Earth, knowing we will fall. And we can know that when we do, His presence transcends time and space and self and other. For us, He is a presence that will come in our darkest moments and share in our hopelessness. And in those moments, we can rest IN him, and allow him to bring us back to hope – patiently, gently, forgivingly.
Understanding the mystery of Holy Week, the mystery of Jesus’ death and resurrection, is the work of a lifetime (and as our Presiding Bishop Michael Curry once said, it’s a mystery none of us will FULLY understand “on this side of the Jordan”). It is full of conflicting emotions and experiences. It is the time for Via Media. Amen.