One of the joys of teaching English is vocabulary study. Every week or two, I turn the page to a new list of words for my students – expunge, bequeath, cogent, supercilious – and then put them through the paces of the exercises that come in their books hoping that a few of the words take hold somehow. I’m caught between knowing that a random list of words apropos of hardly anything is not much of a way to learn new words and knowing that the structure, however arbitrary, does help. And so we soldier on through the definitions, the completion of sentences, the synonyms, and the antonyms. When we start talking about what a word means, we learn from what we consider its opposite. If I say the opposite of high is low, I offer one meaning. If I say the opposite of high is sober, well, I mean something quite different.
We talked about opposites on Sunday morning in our Bible class. I am helping to lead a class that is using Walter Brueggemann’s great book, The Bible Makes Sense, to help us get a better handle on our scripture. Many in our class are not familiar with much of the Bible and the class has been interesting and inspiring. We talked about opposites as we looked at the stories of the manna falling to feed the Israelites and Jesus using the little boy’s lunch of loaves and fishes to feed a whole hillside of folks. Somehow in the discussion we got to opposites. I don’t remember how exactly, but I do remember saying the opposite of love was not hate. Hate is similar to love in that it takes a lot of energy. When you hate someone, they matter to you. The true opposite of love is apathy. You just don’t care, or even more you don’t even notice. In the judgment scene in Matthew 25, Jesus admonishes those gathered by saying, “I was hungry and you didn’t feed me. I was in prison and you didn’t come to visit . . . “ and the people responded, “Lord, when did we see you hungry or in prison?”
And Jesus replied, “Exactly.”
Another mistaken antonym shows up when we come to faith. I think the popular answer is often doubt, but I think Frederick Buechner had the right idea when he said doubt was “the ants in the pants of faith.” Then again, faith is a hard word in English because we’ve made a noun out of something that is really a verb. Faith is about trust – wholehearted, chips-all-in-before-we-get-to-the-casino (thanks for that one, Jules) trust. When the stakes are that high, doubt rides sidesaddle. The opposite of faith – of trust is fear because it propels us to run and hide rather than to leap and know that love will catch us.
The two Bible stories centered around bread and brought us to a discussion of Communion, which we share on the first Sunday of every month. We talked about what the Bread meant and what metaphors moved us at the Table. As our discussion continued, I remembered one more pair of antonyms that I have carried for a long time — thanks to an old friend, Kenny – and mentioned in this blog on more than one occasion, I’m sure. Jesus’ command as he passed the bread was to eat and remember. Who knows how many times I have heard the call to take the meal seriously so that I might not forget what God has done in Christ. And that’s a good word. But, perhaps, the opposite of remember is not forget.
Jesus said, “This is my body,” and then Paul said we, the people of God, are the Body of Christ, the incarnation of love in the world. When we remember Jesus, we put the Body back together again. Re-member, as in the opposite of dismember. The centrifugal force of life pulls us apart day by day and flings us to the edges. When we take and eat together, when we gather in close and trust that nothing can separate us from the love of God no matter how painful life is we re-member Jesus: we put the Body of Christ back together again in love so true that it casts out fear.