Friday, March 28, 2008

Practicing Resurrection

As I was preparing for my day, I was struck with an interesting concept for spiritual formation and discipleship. It’s not likely new in the grand scheme of discipleship…in fact it may not even be new to me. What I do know is that it struck a particularly strong chord with me today. So the question is, what would it look like to practice resurrection as a spiritual discipline or discipleship practice?

As I bask in the afterglow of an especially meaningful Easter, resurrection as a present reality is more tangible to me now than at any time I can remember. From a theological perspective, I’ve known resurrection as both an after death reality and a here and now reality. Resurrection isn’t simply a hope that is held in trust for us until we die, it is a power and a hope we draw from every day of our life of faith. With all of the challenges that I’ve been through this past year and the healing that I’ve experienced, the promise of new life is more tangible for me. Head knowledge has become heart knowledge. The heart knowledge has tapped a well spring of strength, courage and vision that had largely been buried or, at the very least, obscured by the stuff that still cluttered my life. The key to practicing resurrection as a spiritual discipline is to live out of this heart knowledge, out of the lived experience of God’s grace.

So, begin where you are. Where have you experienced healing in body or in spirit? Remember a time when you “woke up” out of the haze of conflict or trial and you saw the world around you differently. Remember one of those “a-ha” moments when there was new insight or new awareness of God’s presence in your life. Reach back into your experience and remember one of those times. What was it like? What went through your heart? Have you got that time, even if it is only a moment (and a fleeting one at that)? The discipline of practicing resurrection is to continue to live in the power of that experience. Make no mistake, this is not about freezing time and arresting the clock. Practicing resurrection is about creating more and more space in our life for that power (and it is Spirit power) to work at healing, transforming, refining and clarifying our life, our practice and our witness. Practicing resurrection is about an active life of prayer, journaling and reflection. It is about allowing the Spirit, in concert with our disciplines, to create more and more space in our life to experience that power at greater breadth and greater depth.

Imagine it this way…you’re standing in the middle of a dirty floor with a broom. You look down and you realize that you’re standing on the only clean place on the floor. Yet you don’t concentrate on how dirty the rest of the floor is, you realize you’re standing in a clean place and it gives you joy and peace to be in that place. Then you begin to realize that by using the broom, you can expand that clean area a piece at a time. Bit by bit, the floor becomes clean, your joy increases because there is more and more room that is tidy and ordered.

Practicing resurrection is an intentional discipline of living into the hope we find, whenever we find it and wherever we find it. If it is fleeting, we don’t lament what isn’t there, we revel in the experience we’ve been given and open our self to new and deeper experiences of the Spirit. The more we learn to practice this life of hope and power, the more we realize that this is the real world. This life of resurrection is the life that God intends for all of us through the grace in Christ. We need not be mired in the stuff of this world. It is fleeting, finite and base. Resurrection is life, beauty and promise.

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Relating to the Disciples

I suppose I never really thought about it before…my relationship with the first disciples. I’ve always tried to grow in my understanding of their witness to Christ and the context of their faith within the time that they lived. I never really gave much thought to relating to them personally, as fellow pilgrims on the journey (albeit somewhat time removed). This week, though, as I prepare for Easter, I’m thinking more about my relationship with the disciples.

With 2,000 years of history, witness, theology, commentary and historical criticism of the Gospels its easy to caricature the disciples…Peter is so dense…James and John (the sons of Zebedee) are so power hungry…Judas is so self-centered. We cast these aspersions at people who ought to know better; after all they knew Jesus personally. They walked with Jesus. They ate with Jesus. They witnessed Jesus’ miracles. They heard Jesus’ teaching unfiltered. They saw the empty tomb. They saw the risen Christ. After all of this, how could they be so flawed? The simple answer to that question is they are human; every bit as human as we are. Two thousand years from now, it’s very likely that the church will offer the same critique of our faithfulness. “After all that witness, how could they (we) be so dense.”

Our journey of faith is in fact very little different from that of the disciples. When confronted with the presence of Jesus (for us, in the Gospels and in the world) we are forced to make sense of what we see. The Holy Spirit helps us get a handle on our experience of the risen Christ, but it has to go far beyond the simple cognitive process. This week is Easter, so the obvious question should have something to do with the empty tomb. In an enlightenment mentality it would be logical to frame the question thus: What does the empty tomb mean? Many trees have given their lives over the millennia to provide the medium to answer that question. We can talk about salvation, eternal life, justifying grace and regeneration, but that doesn’t get at the crux of the Gospel witness and how Jesus interacts with the disciples in these post-resurrection experiences.

The question is better framed: What does the empty tomb mean to me? To put it another way, how will my acknowledgment that the tomb is empty shape my relationship with Jesus, with God and with me? How will the fact that the tomb is empty shape my work as a Christian disciple? How will it shape my witness in the world? How will it focus me around whom and how I serve? These were the questions that were upper most in Jesus’ teaching on that morning. These were the things that the disciples were most interested in. They didn’t have the time, the context and they certainly didn’t have the words to make sense of such an unprecedented event. It would take centuries to come to anything that resembled a working theological understanding of Easter, let alone the life and death of Jesus. Jesus didn’t want them to wait around until they had the understanding. Jesus wanted them to get to work right away. Work with what you know, build understanding from what you experience through the power of the Holy Spirit. Invite people to take the journey with you and learn of Christ not through the wisdom of our words but through the life giving love of Christ that pours forth from our hearts.

This makes so much more sense to me. Even with two advanced degrees and nearly twenty years in the church, I’m still learning new theological truths (seemingly daily). My ministry doesn’t stop because the understanding is incomplete. I follow the well worn path of those who walked beside Jesus…I share Christ’s love and teaching with the best understanding I can muster, live the love I’ve been given with as much integrity as I can, bear witness with as much authenticity as I can and let the grace of God and the power of the Holy Spirit do the rest.

Is it really that simple?