One Sacrifice, Diverse Everyday Meanings: Reflection on a Visit to Three Churches in Yogyakarta

M. Rizal Abdi | CRCS | Article

advanced study of christianity“How could a bloody and cruel crucifixion become the core of Christianity’s love and compassion?” Rev. Janti Widjaja, the pastor of Gereja Kristen Muria Indonesia (GKMI) Yogyakarta was stunned for a second by a question from one of the Muslim students who was participating in the CRCS Advanced Study of Christianity class excursion to three local churches on Friday, 18 March 2016. Faced with this question about the central event in the Christian religion, Rev. Janti soon smiled, ”When Jesus was crucified, He didn’t fight back and gave Himself out of love instead.” It is interesting to note how Rev. Janti and her GKMI church interpret that event as God’s love and compassion through non­violence and voluntary way of life. At the extreme level when life is at stake, giving our life is way more honorable than killing others, even for self­defense. “Because killing is no option whatever the situation” Rev. Janti said. As well as GKMI, the class visited the Seventh­-Day Adventist Gereja Masehi Advent Hari Ke Tujuh (GMAHK) Yogyakarta and the Roman Catholic parish Gereja St. Aloysius Gonzaga Paroki Mlati. The churches were chosen to show some of the diversity within Christianity and because they are the home congregations of two CRCS students and one lecturer.

Established in the early 20th century in Kudus, GKMI is part of Mennonite church family that emphasizes equality, peace, and non­violence as well as separation between State and Church. Interestingly, they also carry this stance into their daily practical organization. The pastor and lay people have the same position in interpreting the scripture and have an equal obligation to advise each other’s. In addition, when discussing certain matters the council does not decide before all members share their vision and come to an agreement. If there is objection, that voice should be heard and considered. “Even if there is only one (voice), maybe it is the one who is speaking the truth,” Rev. Janti underlined.

As matter of manifesting non­violence action, GKMI actively engages in social movements and take distance from practical­politics actions. In fact, as Rev. Janti explained, some of the Mennonite members refuse to pay tax because it is used for funding the military and war. This point of view helps them to build relationships with other religious organizations, even with those known as radical. “When the tsunami crushed down on Aceh, we cooperated and went together with Laskar Hisbullah Sunan Bonang division to help the victims there,“ Rev. Janti recalled. At that time, they shared foods with the refugees and rebuilt shelters side by side regardless of their religion. GKMI, through the Mennonite Diakonia Service Indonesia based in Solo, and Laskar Hisbullah continued their cooperation when the earthquake struck Jogja. Again, they prioritized their action in rebuilding the collapsed house in Pundong nonetheless the religious belief. “The worship place came later after all the houses were rebuilt,” Rev. Janti added. However, this action may not be understood as temporarily put aside the religious doctrine in the name of humanity. Truthfully, what GKMI did in Aceh is part of the manifestation of Jesus’ teaching about love and compassion.

At the Gereja Masehi Advent Hari Ke Tujuh (GMAHK) Yogyakarta we learned of different emphasis in Jesus’ sacrifice. GMAHK believes that Jesus’ crucifixion and death show how God is just and always consistent with His words. Because Adam and Eve sinned, humans as their descendants would have to die as punishment from God. Instead, God choose to save human beings from their sin through the same way, the death of Jesus. In other words, Jesus’ death served as redemption for unbearable human sin. “God could change the law but He didn’t.” said Rev. Annio, the pastor of GMAHK, earlier in that morning.

Thus, for GMAHK following the rigorous way of life according to the Bible is the righteous way to accept God’s love and compassion. In some parts, they have different interpretation of Bible with other major Christian traditions. One of the noticeable practices in Adventism that distinguish GMAHK from other Christian church is their sacralization of the Sabbath, the seventh day of the week. Emphasizing on biblical references ancient Hebrew practices and the Genesis creation narrative, GMAHK uses Saturday, instead of Sunday, as their worship time. “It is not just Old Testament tenets, we could show that it is also valid in the New Testament,” Rev. Annio highlighted. According to the Bible, the Sabbath means the time for stopping work. It is when God rested and blessed the universe after six days of creation as well as the time when God literally said to the people of ancient Israel in the Tenth Commandment, “Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy,” Thus, the member of GMAHK stop their worldly activities every Sabbath in order to remember God as well as share with others socially. They are permitted to do everything except for working and taking pleasure for themselves. However, some occupations urgently needed by many people, for example, doctors and nurses, are allowed to work on the Sabbath. “Because Sabbath was created for men, not the other way around,” Rev. Annio quoted from Jesus.

Interestingly, the Adventists also perform their rigorous biblical discipline in their daily diet. Following the Hebrew Bible’s commands, they avoid consuming certain animals that are unqualified according to the Bible. For instance, only meat from ruminant animal that have split hoofs are considered kosher and allowed to be consumed. According to Rev. Annio, one of the Adventist’s creed principles believes that our body is created by God and thus what we consume should honor and glorify God. In other words, the Adventists should not consume any foods that have caused suffering. In fact, consuming the kosher food could become prohibited if it makes people ill. “What we eat and drink should reflect our faith.” Rev. Annio stated, “Health is also the part of our faith.”

However, people’s faith is not as consistent as they want to and always fall into sin every time. Thus, it is necessary to realize our weakness and continuously ask for God’s forgiveness. GMAHK conduct their Holy Communion once every three months as to re­contextualize their efforts for asking God’s forgiveness. Started with washing each other feet as symbol of forgiving each other, Holy Communion is the ritual to show our sincerity in asking God forgiveness for our sin. “By commemorating Jesus’ sacrifice, we are yearning for God’s salvation until He comes for the second time,” Rev. Annio asserted. Interestingly, even though this practice is closely related with the Easter celebration in some Christian traditions, the Adventists do not celebrate the Easter, even Christmas. According to them, those celebrations have no biblical references. Hence, for GMAHK, being consistent on following the rigorous Bible teachings is the way to manifest their longing for God’s love and compassion.

The third church the class visited, the Catholic parish Gereja St. Aloysius Gonzaga Paroki Mlati, has different expressions in articulating the Jesus’ sacrifice as well as God’s love and compassion. Romo Petrus Tri Margana, Pr., the Head of Parish Council of Paroki Mlati, patiently told the history of faith in Catholicism tradition to the class. Through history of faith, God already sent thousands of prophets among human who felt into depravity. Yet, human broke the covenant with God again and again. Thus, God makes His presence in the human world as fully human in order to show to humanity total compassion and sacrifice. However, the story didn’t end after Jesus’ sacrifice and death. After His compassionate mission was accomplished, God came again through the form of Holy Spirit. “Within this form, God continuously guides human being in manifesting God’s love and compassion“ said Romo Tri.

Furthermore, as the history of Catholicism in Java shows, education has been a good way to show and disseminate God’s compassion. As Romo Tri explained, when Father Fransiscus van Lith, S.J., came to Java in the end of 19th century, he chose to begin his mission by building schools open for all local people regardless of their religious beliefs rather than directly preaching the Gospel to them. Thus it is not surprising if nowadays most churches stand next to a Catholic school. “Schools were built first, churches came later,” Romo Tri said. Through better education, the local people had better understanding of the Gospel and then shared its teachings to a wider audience.

In like manner, continuing Romo Van Lith’s works for lay people, the Catholic church in Indonesia firmly stands the church’s role as the steward for the poor and outcasts. “Poverty is not only limited to the people who lack of materials, but also lack of knowledge and guidance from God,” Romo Tri explained. In other words, the Church is established to help the poor with might, rather than exclusively served for the Catholics.

Captivatingly, Romo Tri believes that God’s love and compassion is not limited to one particular religious community. More than half century ago, the Second Vatican Council declared that there is salvation outside the Catholic Church. Romo Tri interpreted the Vatican II by highlighting that the mission of Catholic Church is to save people and show them God’s compassion rather than to make them convert to Catholicism. The aim of the teaching is to fully live in compassionate life and this may be practiced in every religion. “Because there is salvation in every act of compassion,” Romo Tri remarked. Hence, the key is to show God’s compassion to everyone.

Varied Practices, One Message 
Jesus’ death on the Cross happened only once in history yet the interpretations about the event are widely diverse. Jesus’ life, sacrifice, and His resurrection is the core of Christianity. Thus, various interpretations about the event would lead to diverse teachings and practices in Christianity traditions. As a Muslim, it is surprising for me that the diversity among Christianity is also embodied on the practical level.

Three churches that we visited have different baptism tenets. Related literally to the biblical story, GMAHK believes that baptism should be done by immersing the whole body below the water three times. Furthermore, according to Rev. Annio, only a believer may be baptized. This means that a child who does not consciously understand the meaning of baptism and the Christian creed may not be baptized. However, the Catholic Church has confidence in infant baptism and even suggested the parents baptize their baby as a holy gift of love. The Catholic church defines baptism as the symbol of God’s grace and also rite of redemption. Thus, through the baptism, children already receive the grace of God in the earliest period of his/her life. “The most beautiful and precious gift from parents to their children is salvation,” said Romo Tri. In addition, because of the universal characteristic of Catholic Church, it accepts the baptism by pouring water on the person’s head only. “Because not every place in the world is blessed with abundant water,” Romo Tri added. Meanwhile, GKMI practices the baptism by sprinkling. “For us, the important one is not the method, but understanding the meaning behind it,” Rev. Janti remarked.

However, rather than perceiving it as contestation in finding the real salvation, the diverse practices of Christianity should be understood as the eagerness of humanity in understanding and manifesting God’s love and compassion. Truthfully, the Bible recognize this diversity and embrace it in one body, “For just as the body is one and has many members, and all the members of the body, though many, are one body, so it is with Christ” ( 1 Corinthians 12:12­31, NRSV). In fact, the diverse understandings of Jesus sacrifice not only lead to the same holiness but also support each other hand by hand: The biblical discipline as manifestation of God’s consistency in Adventism would carve Christian’s personality and practice in showing God’s love and compassion through Mennonite’s’ peace and non­violence methods. To wrap up this reflection, allow me to cite a Bible passage from 1 John 4:7 that humbly asks us to reflect on ourselves as well as to respect others in the name of love, “Dear friends, let us love one another, for love comes from God. Everyone who loves has been born of God and knows God.” Amen. ( Editor: Gregory Vanderbilt )

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