Sunday, April 19, 2015

More Than We Bargained For

The Christian hope rests entirely upon the resurrection. And yet, paradoxically, the disciples greeted the risen Christ with fear and hesitation. 
Jesus saw it immediately. He greets them with words of peace and then asks them, “Why are you frightened, and why do doubts arise in your hearts?” (Luke 24:37)
Why indeed? Why did they take an emotional step back when they saw the risen Christ? 
To be honest, we have to ask the same questions about ourselves. And the answer is clear.
Resurrection is more than they bargained for. Resurrection is more than we bargained for.
Norman Rockwell's "Surprise"

Eternal life, you see, is not about merely enjoying the mortal life we have now forever and ever. God is transforming this mortal life into a new kind of life. As we follow Jesus in our daily routines, his presence in our lives is changing who we are at our very core.
It is this prospect of transformation that gave those disciples pause. And our own spiritual heartburn arises from the realization that our relationship with Jesus is stretching and molding and recreating us all along the way.
At this point you may be scratching your head, wondering what on earth I’m talking about. After all, you are deeply comforted by the idea of a secure afterlife. But what I’m trying to convey to you is precisely this. If you have been thinking about resurrection solely in terms of the afterlife, you may be keeping the risen Christ at arm's length.

Sunday, April 12, 2015

Getting Used to the Resurrection

Some things take getting used to. 
There are simple things like figuring out where the buttons are on a new remote control.
Some things are more complex. Getting married is relatively easy. Being a devoted, loving married couple takes practice and perseverance.
Our chief challenge as followers of Jesus is getting used to the resurrection. 
This may sound odd to you: getting used to the resurrection. I don’t mean by it merely learning to accept that Jesus is risen from the dead, although this is an early stage in getting used to the resurrection.
Vincent van Gogh's "The Entrance Hall of St.-Paul Hospital"

But accepting that Jesus lives is not all that’s involved in getting used to the resurrection. And as crucial as it is to see that Jesus has a wholly new kind of body—a body impervious to suffering and utterly beyond the reach of death—this too is but an initial step in getting used to the resurrection.
The resurrection happened to Jesus. As Peter said, God raised him from the dead. (Acts 2:24, 32) The life he lives is of a radically different order from the mortal life we all live. And the risen Jesus actually comes into our ordinary lives—right here on planet earth—to begin sharing that life with us right now.
Now don’t get me wrong. We will know eternal life in its fullness only once we have departed this life. When our hearts no longer beat and our brain waves have gone flat. In Christ God will raise us from the dead, not as disembodied ghosts but as human beings newly endowed with what Paul calls a spiritual body. (1 Corinthians 15:44)
But in this life, Jesus offers us a foretaste—a partial participation in—the life that we will fully inherit one day. When we accept this foretaste, our whole lives begin to change. At least, that’s the idea. We get the beginnings of a new life. But that new life takes some serious getting used to.

Sunday, April 5, 2015

Life and Death and Life

Jesus did not come back from the dead. Lazarus did that. Or rather, Jesus brought him back from the dead to pick up his life where he had left off. 
Jesus passed through death to a radically new life.
God gave Jesus that new life. Jesus did not give it to himself. After all, he couldn’t give himself anything. He was dead as a doornail. The dead don’t pull themselves up by their own bootstraps.
You see, resurrection can happen only once there is no hope of reviving the old life that we had worked so hard to build and sustain. The path to Easter always passes through Good Friday.
Jesus is risen. And he is imparting his new life to us—to you and to me—as we stumble and scurry and skip and dance and scooch our way along our various paths. One day our lives will come to an end and we will fully inhabit the new life imparted by Christ. 
Jacek Malczewski's "Resurrection"

For now, we are growing into eternal life gradually, one day—sometimes one moment—at a time. Growing into eternal life is not something we achieve. We can’t speed it up by trying harder or getting the hang of it. Eternal life doesn’t even come as a reward for good conduct, exemplary spiritual practices, or exceptional faith.
You just have to die. And then God gives you eternal life. As a gift. Those of us who choose to follow Jesus intentionally walk a path punctuated by dying and rising. 

Sunday, March 29, 2015

Healing the Great Disconnect

By Hollywood standards, Mark’s account of the Passion suffers from understatement. He leaves the gore and the sweat and the agony largely to our imagination. 
Movie directors have retold the story in more graphic ways. They have frequently provided long sequences of torture. They have included isolated shots of Mary and Mary Magdalene shattered by the sight of Jesus’ suffering. And they have lingered on closeups of Jesus’ face clenched in holy agony.
Mark offers none of these touches. And he knows exactly what he’s doing.
Paul Gauguin's "Yellow Christ"

His refusal to include detailed descriptions of torture and the process of crucifixion has nothing to do with censoring extreme violence. He is not striving to make the story acceptable for younger and more sensitive audiences. 
Mark wants simply to tell the truth. And a Hollywood-like emphasis on the physical details of Jesus’ suffering and the cruelty of his tormentors would have been a distraction from that truth.
And here’s the truth Mark wants us to hear. God is doing a mighty work in the most unlikely set of circumstances anyone could possibly have imagined. Mark wants to help us see what God is doing in and through Jesus’ death.
Mark never intended us to look at Jesus’ death in isolation from his life and his resurrection. So, today, as we enter Holy Week, let’s focus on the meaning of Jesus’ death in light of the resurrection.

Sunday, March 22, 2015

Plan A

I love Louisiana. Our food. Our climate. Our landscape. Above all our people. I grew up elsewhere, but Louisiana isn’t just where I live. It’s home.
Precisely because Louisiana is my home, I take our problems and challenges to heart. And to be perfectly honest, I take them to heart as a devoted Christian. That’s why a recent article about our prison population caught my attention and troubled my soul.
Leaving aside our food, we don’t top very many of those lists about best and most in America. We apparently do top one that is not so flattering. We incarcerate more people per capita than any other state in the Union. One in 86 adults has a prison as a home address. That’s almost double the national average.
Since America imprisons more people than anyone else, Louisiana’s national ranking makes us number one in the world. We have the Russians beat. We put 13 times more people behind bars than do the Iranians. Twenty times more than the Chinese.
Endre Bartos' "Salvation"
We have lots of social problems. 
Crime and poverty are high. Drug addiction and alcoholism destroy lives and wreck families. Our educational system has bright spots but in many areas we simply fail our children. We have a widening opportunity gap. Our method for delivering healthcare to the indigent is uneven and inadequate. Handicapped adults and their families struggle to find the resources they need.
The data about our prison system suggests that we have doubled down on punishment as a means to make our communities a better place. Louisiana is a predominantly Christian state. So, I’ve been wondering if a common misconception about the work Jesus came to do has influenced—consciously or unconsciously—how we go about trying to set things right.
What I mean is this. Many of us think that Jesus’ death is about punishment, setting things right with punishment. But that is not the lesson of Jesus’ death.