Queer theology derives its origins not from the fictitious construction of human sexual "experience" as so much modern sexual theology has done with ultimately disappointing, though sometimes exhilarating results, but from the very life of God incarnate in the body of Christ and particularly in the sacraments, each one of which, every time it is celebrated, makes Christ as truly present as he was in a crib in Bethlehem or on a cross at Calvary. Sarah Coakley sees in Judith Butler's program of gender trouble and in the whole queer project an unconscious "gesturing to an eschatological horizon which will give mortal flesh final significance, a horizon in which the restless, fluid post-modern 'body' can find some sense of completion without losing its mystery, without succumbing again to 'appropriate' or restrictive gender roles" (Coakley 2000: 70). Queer theory itself nudges the theologian towards a different horizon to that which has defined the vision of most contemporary theological discourse on sexuality. It propels the theologian toward the eschatological and the mysterious, to the sacramental heart of the Christian tradition.
In a book she wrote several years after Gender Trouble (1990) Judith Butler suggested that in modernity "I" is predicated on the foreclosure of certain forms of desire with the result that the subject is grounded in melancholia and shrouded in an unacknowledged and irresolvable grief for impossible love, for to acknowledge this love would mean the destruction of the self. Both heterosexuality and homosexuality are dependent upon each other for their existence but that dependence is based upon repudiating the desire each identity rests upon. Gender and sexual identity are then a kind of melancholy (J. Butler 1997b: 132-50). For Butler modern Western humanity is mourning and weeping in this vale of tears, unable to escape melancholia without risking annihilation. Butler's work raises two key questions. First, is there any place where it is possible to be truly queer, to perform maleness and femaleness in such a way as to expose their performativity? And, second, can there really be no escape from melancholia? Only the Christian theologian can answer in the affirmative to both these questions and therefore save queer theology from self-destructive despair. For the church is the only community under a mandate to be queer and it is under such a mandate because its eschatological horizon teaches it that gender and sexual identity are not of ultimate concern, thus opening the possibility for love.
The incarnation inaugurates a new creation which is at the same time a recapitulation of a prelapsarian world, a redemption of a world fractured by sin and an anticipation of a final perfection. Graham Ward has drawn attention to the ways in which the church scripted and performed the body of Jesus, the first born of this new creation, as destabilizing the symbolics of gender. Jesus is born male but from purely female matter, he emerges from the womb in a complex web of symbolic relationships with his virgin mother.
The baby boy is husband and bridegroom, spouse and prefigured lover of the mother who gives him birth, whose own body swells to contain the future Church. The bridal chamber is the womb which the bridegroom will impregnate with his seed while also being the womb from which he emerges. The material orders are inseparable from the solid and transcendent orders, the orders of mystery. The material orders are caught up and become significant only within the analogical orders. And so here Jesus' body is brought within a complex network of sexualised symbolic relations that confound incest and the sacred. (Ward 1999: 164-5)
The body of the baby Jesus is stretched, pre-figuring the crucifixion (at his circumcision), resurrection, and the creation of the ecclesial body. The instability of the body is further played out in the displacements of the transfiguration, the Eucharist, the resurrection, and finally the ascension. In the transfiguration, the body of Christ becomes transparent to divinity - our attraction to this figure is taken through the male gendered Jew through the second Adam which he is revealed to be, towards God in whom desire is finally satisfied. In the Eucharist, Jesus' body is transposed, extended into the gender neutral form of bread and, as Ward notes, bodies are revealed as things not only transfigurable but also transposable and, "in being transposable, while always being singular and specific, the body of Christ can cross boundaries, gender boundaries for example. Jesus' body as bread is no longer Christ as simply and biologically male" (Ward 1999: 168). In its crucifixion and death, Jesus' body becomes liminal and soaked in iconicity, it becomes a floating signifier which the medieval church could represent as a maternal body - the side wound representing a womb from which the church springs - and nourishing breast.
The resurrection recapitulates and plays out all previous displacements, revealing the body as essentially mysterious and beyond grasp because the body is finally transposed into the church at the ascension.Jesus becomes the multi-gendered body of the church. As the revealer of true humanity, Jesus reveals this because all bodies are situated within and given significance within his body. They too are "permeable, transcorporeal and transpositional" (Ward 1999: 176). Christian living then becomes a participation in this "permeable, transcorporeal and transpositional body" in an individual and corporate arena. Feminist theologians who have been vexed by the issue of whether a man can save a woman and gay theologians have speculated on the sexuality of Jesus have, according to Ward, simply failed to understand the nature of the body of Christ.
The body of Christ is queer. That body is made available to Christians through the sacraments, the very possibility of which, as Ward notes, is grounded in the queer nature of the body of Christ. Not only is this body available to Christians, they are caught up in it, constituted by it and incorporated into it, sharing in its sacramental flesh. They are in the process of becoming what he is, uniting themselves to him, and it is the sacraments that provide the moments of divine encounter which make this possible.
Rowan Williams (2000: 189) points out that baptism constitutes a ritual change of identity, a setting aside of all other ordinary identities in favor of an identity as a member of the body of Christ. A queer theorist, like Alison Webster, might want to respond by arguing that surely Christian identity is as unstable or slippery as a sexual identity, a mere matter of performance as well (Webster 1998). But Williams argues that it is not. What we receive in baptism is not an identity negotiated in conversation with our communities or culture such as our sexual and gender identities are; it is an identity over which we have no control whatsoever. It is sheer gift. In the sixteenth century Lancelot Andrews pointed out that the presence of the Trinity at baptism reminds us of creation which is a purely gratuitous gift, and baptism constitutes a new creation equally gratuitous (Stevenson 1998: 56-61). It is God's great "yes" to us, based not upon our own merits but upon divine love revealed in Christ. The nature of the elements of our Christian identity may be obscure to us and how we best act out our identity in our various contexts might be a legitimate subject of dispute but the identity itself is not negotiated, it is given.
Baptism, according to Williams, exposes the place outside of it as a place of loss and need (Rowan Williams 2000: 209). In particular, the baptismal rite in the 1662 Book of Common Prayer (which is the basis of Williams' reflections) understands baptism as a movement from enslavement to the desires which will destroy us - because they drive us to "objects that fill gaps in our self-construction, so that what we desire is repletion, which is immobilisation, a kind of death" - to a realization that all desire has its proper end in the divine. "[W]e must receive the grace to want the endlessness of God" (Rowan Williams 2000: 211). In other words, baptism unmasks the melancholia at the heart of society, reveals the inadequacy of all other forms of identity and the desire caught up in them and therefore, "the rite requires us not to belong to the categories we thought we belonged in, so that a distinctive kind of new belonging can be realised" (Rowan Williams 2000: 209). This new belonging is based upon a solidarity that we have not chosen and is grounded in a radical equality that comes from our all being here through grace alone, a grace which, as Eugene Rogers reminds us, Paul described as an act of God para phusin (Romans 11.14). Paul's use of this phrase in Romans 11.14 is shocking considering his previous use of the phrase earlier in this letter to describe, not "homosexual" people, but Gentiles who characteristically engage in same-sex activity, a characteristic that distinguishes them, not from "heterosexuals," but from the Jews. Rogers points out that by Romans 11 Paul is making the outrageous claim that God stands in solidarity with these Gentiles, God like them acts against or - more accurately -in excess of nature. "Just as God saved flesh by taking it on and defeated death by dying, here God saves those who act in excess of nature by an act in excess of nature," an unnatural act that deconstructs the whole notion of the "natural" for evermore, as is evident in the performance of the body of Christ (Rogers 1999a: 65).
Baptist theologian Timothy Bradshaw, reflecting on the use of baptism in some recent gay and lesbian theology, has emphasized the fact that baptism does involve a death - a death to self, sin, and to the ultimacy of certain types of identity (Bradshaw 1999: 458-9). Bradshaw believes that arguments about baptism are dangerous for "radicals" precisely because the New Testament emphasizes the discontinuity of baptism; "participation in this new life is transformed and challenging, life in the tension of the already but not yet" (Bradshaw 1999: 461). It is true that gay and lesbian theology when it has drawn upon the theology of baptism usually fails to appreciate this discontinuity. So Marilyn Bennett Alexander and James Preston in their book, We Were Baptised Too (1996), argue that the churches, by marginalizing lesbian and gay people and depriving them of certain sacraments such as ordination, have reneged on the promise made to them at their baptism to support their lives in Christ. It is a clever argument but one that does not appreciate the really radical nature of the Christian understanding of baptism. For the church has always taught that baptism changes people in the depths of their very being, which is why that change is described as a new creation brought about through a death to sin and also, in the Catholic tradition, as the bestowal of a character which configures the baptized to Christ so that their very selves are united to Christ through the church and constituted in and through that union. M.J. Scheeben argues that the character bestowed at baptism is a reflection of the hypostatic union and an extension of the incarnation (Scheeben 1961). What Alexander and Preston have not grappled with is that at baptism the ontology of the baptized is radically changed, they become what might be called ecclesial persons. This personhood is characterized by a new subjectivity which is communal and corporate, for it both shares in and constitutes the body of Christ, the new human. Thus there is a radical difference between the selfhood of baptized and non-baptized which in itself does not determine God's relationship to the non-baptized because God is not bound by her sacraments. The church, though in a constant struggle against the power of sin, nevertheless testifies to and anticipates a humanity in which human beings "coalesce indissolubly into a single existence" with Christ (Ratzinger 1973). This is why the Council of Trent could state:
For, in those who are born again, there is nothing that God hates; because, there is no condemnation to those who are truly buried together with Christ by baptism into death; who walk not according to the flesh, but, putting off the old man, and putting on the new who is created according to God, are made innocent, immaculate, pure, harmless, and beloved of God, heirs indeed of God, but joint heirs with Christ; so that there is nothing whatever to retard their entrance into heaven. But this holy synod confesses and is sensible, that in the baptized there remains concupiscence, or an incentive (to sin); which, whereas it is left for our exercise, cannot injure those who consent not, but resist manfully by the grace of Jesus Christ; yea, he who shall have striven lawfully shall be crowned. This concupiscence, which the apostle sometimes calls sin, the holy Synod declares that the Catholic Church has never understood it to be called sin, as being truly and properly sin in those born again, but because it is of sin, and inclines to sin (Waterworth 1848: 23-4).
The baptized manifest a new type of creaturehood/humanity, one in which sin has no ultimate hold. It is still perfectly possible to act sinfully, but sin no longer has the power to alienate humanity from God - hence the sacrament of penance.
The baptized belong to another world. To be baptized is to be caught up in a kingdom that does not yet fully exist, that is in the process of becoming; it is to be caught up in the redemption of this world. It is not that the baptized are called to live beyond culture, which is both impossible and undesirable because the Spirit is active in human culture, but that they are called to transform culture by living in it in such a way as to testify to the other world being born within it. All our cultural identities are placed under "eschatological erasure," as Malcolm Edwards has put it (Edwards 1998: 176-7). Heterosexuality and homosexuality and maleness and femaleness are not of ultimate importance, they are not determinative in God's eyes and in so far as any of us have behaved as if they are, we are guilty of the grave sin of idolatry, and if we have further behaved as if they are grounds upon which to exclude people from the glorious liberty of the children of God, we are guilty of profanity and a fundamental denial of our own baptismal identity which rests in being bound together with others not of our choosing by an act of sheer grace.
Culture is humanity's contribution to creation, the means by which we strive to perfect nature. But sin distorts our vision. There is many a slip between the cities we build and the city of God and yet the Spirit is active within our creations, prompting and subverting. Sexual and gender identities have to be subverted because they are constructed in the context of power and are part of a matrix of dominance and exclusion. This has been the great insight of queer theory. Therefore these identities grate against the sign of baptism. This is not to say that on a non-ultimate level these identities may not have some use and been mediations of God's grace, for indeed they have. Categories of sexuality have been used by "lesbian" and "gay" people to subvert the very assumptions that led to their creation in the first place. In giving some people a new and strong sense of self they enabled men and women within the context of philosophical and theological liberalism and liberation to expose and challenge assumptions about same-sex desire. Feminism similarly took the category of "woman," exposed its patriarchal construction and then reinvested it with meaning. These were all movements of grace but in themselves they are not complete and by their inadequacy - exposed in their failure, in their theological forms, to convince the wider church of their claims and, more importantly, in their tendency to become less and less theological in character - we are led back to the theology of baptism which demands something even more radical from Christian theologians, a questioning of the very categories of identity themselves.
Christians are then called to live out their culturally negotiated identities in such a way as to expose their non-ultimacy, to take them up into the processes of redemption, to let their flesh become sacramental. They do this by parodying their culturally negotiated identities. Parody is not a simple sending up. Linda Hutcheon defines parody as "an extended repetition with critical difference" which has "a hermeneutical function with both cultural and even ideological implications" (Hutcheon 1985: 2-7). Parody has long been the habitual Christian modus operandi. The Eucharist is an extended repetition with critical difference of the Last Supper, the critical difference being that in the Eucharist the meal element is caught up in a new reality, the reality of the heavenly liturgy opened up to us by the cross and resurrection. The Last Supper itself was probably an extended repetition with critical difference of the Seder meal, the critical difference being the inauguration of a new covenant and the creation of a new community called to live out the outrageous hospitality of God. As David Ford has noted, improvising on a theme, non-identical repetition is intrinsic to the Christian faith, which "is true to itself only by becoming freshly embodied in different contexts. . . Theologically understood, they [such repetitions] are testimony to God's creativity and abundance . . . They show the particularising activity of the Holy Spirit - a flourishing of distinctive and different realisations of the eventfulness of God" (Ford 1999: 144). Modernity's quest for identical repetition - evident in the banality of mass-produced goods or in the dangerous quest of fundamentalism to endlessly reproduce the "original" text or meaning in every age and context - demonstrates a lack of faith in and understanding of the Spirit. Parody is then the Christian way of operating, of taking what is given to us and playing it out in such a way as to expose the other world breaking through it.
Earlier generations of Christians were much better at parodying gender than us. The prominence given to the religious life in a Catholic context right up until the mid twentieth century was crucial to the parodic performance of maleness and femaleness. The vowed celibate testified to two ultimate truths. The first is that heterosexuality, marriage, and family life, are not identical with Christian discipleship. The second is that all desire is ultimately orientated towards God. Our desire for the other is ultimately desire for the Other and will not be satisfied until it reaches its telos, its end in God. The decline of and increasing invisibility of the religious life in Western Christianity constitutes a huge crisis for the church in general and for its discourse on sexuality in particular. It is both a product of and has contributed towards the collapse of Christian discipleship into heterosexual marriage. In public discourse on sexuality the Western churches currently give every impression of wanting to produce heterosexual desire rather than desire for God and contemporary society does not need yet another agency producing such desire.
The immensely popular "Seeing Salvation" millennium exhibition at the National Gallery in London contained a number of pictures of Christ exposing his wounds to Thomas or to other disciples. The imagery was most certainly erotic but the erotic gaze was diverted from the genitals, imparting the message that ultimately human desire could only be fulfilled through the wounds of Christ, through God's sheer gift of himself. Vowed celibates in their own persons testify to the telos of desire. They further testify to the end of history inaugurated by the birth of the Christ child - the perfect human being - and by his death and resurrection which together dissolve the need for human beings to reproduce, because the perfect child has been born, and in the resurrection which he inaugurated all will be re-membered and remembered, and so the need for heirs is cancelled. The celibate also parodies singleness - living without a partner - but with a critical difference, the critical difference being that in the church no one is actually single, no one is alone, all are bonded together in the body of Christ. One of the causes for the crises we have witnessed among religious and the celibate priesthood in recent years is the fact that the church as a body has left them alone, has forgotten how to nurture and love them, has failed to take responsibility for them. And one of the reasons for this forgetting is the church's idealization of marriage and family life.
The religious life has also traditionally been a place in which cultural constructions of maleness and femaleness have been parodied, at least in part. Celibates became "mothers" and "fathers" in their communities, presiding over groups in which a new type of kinship, no longer based upon blood relationships, united people as "brothers" and "sisters." In my youth it was common for religious women to be known by men's names. The queering was not perfect because it did not usually work the other way round (although there is a tradition in some male religious communities of referring to the male superior as "mother") but it was a queering nonetheless. Growing up surrounded by men wearing clothes that society labeled feminine, whom I had to relate to as "father," and taught by women who were my "sisters" or "mothers," with names such as Augustine and Bernard Joseph, taught me that societal categories were not fixed, that they could be played around with and that the church was a space in which gender shifted.
Thomas Laqueur has demonstrated that until the Enlightenment, Western culture constructed female bodies as imperfect inversions of male bodies. There may have been different genders but there was one sex. This allowed for the possibility of flux and change, a possibility that was closed off in the Enlightenment period, when male and female bodies were sharply differentiated in reaction to the earliest forms of feminism (Laqueur 1990). Mollenkott has drawn attention to the rich tradition of gender bending in Christian hagiog-raphy. This tradition was, of course, constructed in the context of patriarchy so the transitions tend to be female to male. Maleness was identified in much early Christian discourse with perfect humanity and femaleness with fallen humanity. Some early church fathers taught that women could become "manly" by exercising virtue and actually become models of manliness for men (Cloke 1995). Even though manifesting many patriarchal assumptions, these traditions nevertheless undermine one of the central props of patriarchy by constructing gender as fluid and therefore as lacking in ultimacy.
In the writings of the early church father and ascetic, Gregory of Nyssa, a number of theologians have identified a queer theologian who predates Butler by hundreds of years. Gregory in his reflections on the resurrection constructs a body which is fluid. Unlike some early theologians, Gregory does not associate change with decay but with movement towards the next life. Reading Genesis 1.27 with Galatians 3.28 Gregory argued that the original human creature was not sexed and it was to this angelic pre-lapsarian state that human beings would return in the resurrection. This state can to some extent be anticipated in the ascetic life and indeed was in the body of Gregory's sister Macrina who is portrayed as performing both male and female roles. Gregory describes her as going "beyond" the nature of a woman which, for Gregory, does not mean that she has reached manly perfection but rather that she is anticipating in her own body redeemed and restored humanity. For Gregory, as the soul ascends to God it moves from an active courting of Christ as "Sophia" (therefore taking a "male" role) to a passivity in which it is the bride embraced by Christ the bridegroom (VE.F. Harrison 1990). It became common in the Christian tradition and in Christian art to represent the soul as female, in the ultimate nuptial relationship between the soul and God. Gregory then looks to a life beyond gender which can be anticipated in this life.
Foucault perceived a common cause between queer theologians and ancient ascetics. For the pre-modern Christian ascetic lived under constant self-scrutiny, conscious of being a self in production, seeking to desexualize itself (Foucault 1990-92: I). It is becoming increasingly obvious that in the marginalization of the monastic tradition within contemporary Christianity the church has cut itself off from a radical sexual discourse, an ancient form of queer theory which, though it often needs to be read through the lens of feminism to counter its patriarchal assumptions, nevertheless anticipates contemporary queer theory and provides an answer to its pessimistic nihilism.
It is in the Eucharist that the baptized learn about and anticipate the eschatological life, a life in which gender and the sexual identities built upon it are rendered non-ultimate. The Eucharist is, as Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger has noted, a rehearsal of the life to come, a form of play in which we learn about and prepare for a life "which St Augustine describes, by contrast with life in this world, as a fabric woven, no longer of exigency and need, but of the freedom of generosity and gift" (Ratzinger 2000: 14). In the Eucharist Christians gather and face eastwards towards the rising sun, towards the risen and returning Christ. They also face the cosmos, for the Eucharist is a Eucharist of the Church living and departed. In the Eucharist the church stands on the edge of heaven in the company of cherubim and seraphim, angels and archangels and the whole company of heaven, and standing on the edge of heaven gender differences dissolve. All face the same way, orientated to heaven. In the pre-Vatican II Catholic rite the priest too faced east. Bruce Harbert has suggested that one of the consequences of the new liturgy is a loss of a sense of heaven. The liturgy now fails to physically orientate the congregation towards the eschatological horizon that is the space which the Christian inhabits (Harbert 2002). Furthermore one of the most unfortunate results of the introduction of the Eucharist versus populum is that it draws attention to the gender of the priest in a manner that the old rite did not. In the old rite the priest stood with his back to the people in imitation of the stance taken by God in relation to Moses (Exodus 33.23), an act which Howard Eilberg-Schwartz (1997) argues was designed to veil the divine sex.
The priest is one who has received the sacrament of ordination which builds upon the sacrament of baptism, bestowing another indelible character which no sin can dislodge or dissipate, and which configures the recipient to Christ's priesthood. As one who functions as an image of Christ to Christ's church it is in fact essential that the priesthood consist of many genders, because the resurrected body of Christ is multi-gendered and therefore beyond gender. But it is also appropriate that in the act of celebrating the Eucharist, as the ones who lead the people into the heavenly liturgy, priests should have their gender concealed by their position and vestments, as a sign of the dissipation of culturally negotiated genders at the eschatological edge. This is why confining the priesthood - or any other liturgical ministry -to one gender grates against the sign of baptism and the eschatological dimension of the Eucharist. Confining any order, ministry or role to one gender or sexual orientation (or to one race or class) solidifies rather than dissolves non-eschatological reality. It signifies the lack of an eschatological horizon. At the consecration of the elements the church learns again and again of the instability, fluidity and transposable nature of the body In the Eucharist the church reconstitutes itself as the bride of Christ and the body of Christ. Desire is refocused on the divine. The intercourse is between Christ and humanity
Feminist theology made the abolition of exclusive language - whether used of God or of the church - one of its primary aims, and rightly so, because the use of a monolingual gender language further solidifies gender and helps to create and reinforce structures of exclusion. However, the use of gender specific language can in fact help the process of queering. Culturally constructed forms of identity cannot hold much power over those women who are used to being addressed as "brothers" or men who are forced to understand themselves as the brides of Christ.
In his study of the sacraments, Paul Haffner notes that the sacrament of marriage symbolizes the union of Christ with his church, which in turn is a reflection of the union at the heart of the Trinity It "prefigures her [the church's] definitive triumph in heaven", for "when the Marriage of the Lamb has come (Revelation 21.2) the Church will have no further need of sacraments, since her members will see God face to face; the veil will have been removed from the face of the Bride" (Haffner 1999: 219). But the trinitarian and eschatological dimensions of the sacrament of marriage are rarely fully worked out in orthodox Catholic theology. Rogers points out that a theology of marriage that has its origins in the Trinity must contend with:
[t]he ambiguity and fluidity - even gender bending - of its symbolics. God as the Trinity without reference to persons can, in traditional Christian exegesis, both require masculine pronouns and be "our Mother"; God is Father but not male; Jesus is Mother but not female; the Spirit is male, female, or neuter depending on language, and also denied to have gender. . . . Analogy is more flexible than to require that one occupy a gender to represent it. Unlike, therefore, most uses of divine marriage, the Trinity resists sharp definitions of gender and denies the image of the fertile union of a private two. (Rogers 1999a: 197)
The Trinity is an eternal dance, a perichoresis of grace. The Father eternally sends out the Son and receives him back and the Spirit eternally delights and celebrates this movement. Creation, the result of God's good pleasure and eternal nature, generates the very possibility of marriage because it allows for the movement of the dance of grace under the conditions of finitude. There is no procreative principle enshrined in the Trinity, both Augustine and Richard of St Victor explicitly rejected the idea that the Spirit is the child of the Father and the Son. Sex's primary purpose is sanctification, the creation of the children of God. Furthermore, the whole pattern of adoption, ingrafting, and resurrection, which goes to the heart of God's extension of the covenant to the Gentiles, transfigures procreation, insisting that all human beings (that is, Jew and Gentile) find fulfilment in sanctification, that is, in God. (Rogers 1999: 208)
Therefore the "family resemblance" by which same-sex partnerships may be called marriages is nothing to do with the issue of procreation but their resemblance to the union between Christ and his church and this, indeed, is the only reason why opposite-sex unions may be justifiably called marriages.
The "choice" between the vocations of marriage and monasticism is not a choice between asceticism and non-asceticism but between different types of asceticism. Marriage is a form of asceticism in which denial and restraint is practiced for the purposes of sanctification. Monasticism is also a form of marriage. Both involve the obligation to welcome the stranger. The tradition makes this clear: ascetics are married to God. Both forms of asceticism require time and intensity. Furthermore if, as John Chrysostom claims, in marriage the partners participate in the life of the Trinity because marriage is the form of Christ's relationship to the Father, marriage is part of each Christian's baptismal identity. Rogers argues that incorporating lesbian and gay people into marriage would be to incorporate them into the kenosis that Christ demonstrated to the church and to incorporate them into the practice of Christian hospitality which, though it may not manifest itself in terms of procreation, will still welcome the stranger as the great monastic same-sex communities have always done.
The church's refusal to incorporate lesbian and gay and transsexual people into marriage demonstrates a lack of engagement with the eschatological and christological dimension of the sacrament, for if the sacrament is a symbol of Christ's union with the church then that union is a union between one whose body and gender are "permeable, transcor-poreal and transpositional" and a multi-gendered body which is in the process of being configured to the body of its spouse so that it too becomes "permeable, transcorporeal and transpositional."
However, as Haffner notes, though marriage has an eschatological dimension, it itself is dissolved in the eschaton when the marriage between the Lamb and his Bride is complete. Marriage - whether heterosexual or homosexual - ends at death. It constantly points beyond itself, preparing the partners for a greater consummation. The church has in the past seen same-sex (particularly male) friendship as anticipating heaven in a manner marriage could not because unlike marriage friendship could survive death. Friendship is to a large extent the answer to melancholia in the Christian tradition. It is ironic that in Western modernity it has been the lot of gay people to keep the tradition of passionate same-sex friendship alive. Gay people have then functioned as uncomfortable reminders of an eschatological horizon that the church has largely lost sight of in modernity
"Death should be looked on ... as a 'basic sacrament', mysteriously present in the other sacraments... As the supreme, most decisive, clearest and most intimate encounter with Christ. . . death summarises all other encounters" (Boros 1962: 165). The baptized are people who in their own beings carry around with them the death that society fears, the ultimate destruction of sexual and gendered identity which is part of the death into which they are plunged by the waters of baptism. The church makes this clear at the end of the earthly life of the baptized.
The Order of Christian Funerals, approved for use in the Roman Catholic dioceses of England, Wales and Scotland, makes clear that the source of hope for the deceased lies in their baptism, that is in their status as persons initiated into the paschal mystery of Christ's death, resurrection, and ascension. Indeed this is their only hope and the funeral rites constantly return to this fact not only in words but also in gestures and symbolism. The positioning of the Easter candle near the coffin recalls the Easter vigil in which the church celebrates the paschal mystery into which Christians are baptized. Holy water sprinkled over the deceased at various points in the funeral rites "remind the assembly of the saving waters of baptism" and "its use calls to mind the deceased's baptism and initiation into the community of faith" (Catholic Church 1991: 10). Incense is used not only to symbolise the community's prayers for the deceased rising to God but "as a sign of honour to the body of the deceased, which through baptism became the temple of the Holy Spirit" (Catholic Church 1991: 10). A pall may be placed on the coffin as a reminder of the baptismal garment of the deceased and also as a symbol of the fact that all are equal in the eyes of God. The clear preference for liturgical color (with due deference to local custom) is white, which "expresses the hope of Easter, the fulfilment of baptism and the wedding garment necessary for the kingdom" (Catholic Church 1991: 11). The Eucharist is the ordinary and principal celebration of the Christian funeral because it is the memorial of the paschal mystery and the place where the faith of the baptized in that paschal mystery is renewed and nourished.
Furthermore, though the family and friends of the deceased are encouraged to play a significant part in the preparation and execution of the funeral rites there is a strong emphasis on the involvement of the whole local Christian community not only in offering a ministry of consolation but in active participation in the rites from the vigil to the committal, an involvement which has practical consequences in, for example, the timing of funerals (Catholic Church 1991: 4). The deceased belongs primarily to the church of which the family is a subgroup. Other elements reinforce the priority of this ecclesial personhood. The general introduction is emphatic that "there is never to be a eulogy" only a homily on the content of Christian hope (Catholic Church 1991: 8). Non-biblical readings are permitted only in prayer services with the family, not in the funeral Eucharist itself. Only Christian symbols such as a Bible or cross may be placed on or near the coffin as a reminder of the faith of the deceased. "Any other symbols, for example, national flags, or flags or insignia of associations, have no place in the funeral liturgy" (Catholic Church 1991: 11). All bonds, associations, and worldly achievements pale into significance beside the status of the deceased as a baptized member of the body of Christ.
So "in the end," as the church commits the whole person - body and soul - to God, the church teaches something so radical about our sexual and gendered identities that it itself seems unable at the present time to digest its own teaching. The church teaches that in the end all other identities other than that conveyed through baptism are relativized (which is not to say that they are dismissed as unimportant as the involvement of friends and family and the opportunity provided for some personal remembrance of the deceased in some rites indicates). There is only one identity stable enough to hope in. At death my church teaches me that all my secular identities are placed under eschatological erasure. They are not matters of ultimate concern. At my death all that has been written on my body will be once again overwritten by my baptism as it was a few weeks after my birth when I was immersed in the waters of death and rebirth and a new character was given to me which nothing can ever destroy. In the end (anticipated every time the Eucharist is celebrated) before the throne of grace everything will dissolve except that identity. Gender, race, sexual orientation, family, nationality, and all other culturally constructed identities will not survive the grave. They will pass away, the "I" that is left, the I am that I am is not, as the popular song would have it, "my own special creation" nor the creation of human communities, the I am that I am is God's own special creation and that is my only grounds for hope.
The church is the only community under a direct mandate to be queer, and it is only within the church that queer theory reaches it telos, with the melancholia of gender replaced by the joy born of the death and resurrection of Christ - into which the Christian is incorporated through baptism - and the delight of sacramental growth, whereby the Christian is conformed more and more closely to the body of Christ - which parodies and subverts all culturally constructed identities. Queer flesh is sacramental flesh nudging the queer performer towards the Christian eschatological horizon and sacramental flesh is queer flesh nudging the Christian towards the realization that in Christ maleness and femaleness and gay and straight are categories that dissolve before the throne of grace where only the garment of baptism remains.
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