(and more on what is church)
Stephen posed the question "What is church", a question that has been sitting on my mind, and I formulated some responses in my mind (one is posted at this link here). Then Easter rolled around, and events happened, and I heard things, and a new perspective emerged for me on the meaning of the resurrection, and implicitly on the meaning of church.
Easter is over and, if you're like me, you've had a string of sermons and other events around the death and resurrection of Jesus. Even so, our rituals and celebrations clearly have not done justice to this pivotal event of all time ... in fact I'm willing to bet each of us probably even had a moment of boredom somewhere along the way. Go on, admit it. At some stage in the familiarity of proceedings I'm sure most of us had a yawn moment, a glance at the watch and "when will this service be over" moment. It's not any fault of the church, or the leaders -- the root is in us, and I think perhaps part of it is because we don't always tell the whole story of the resurrection.
Unfinished business is the problem. Ok, so Jesus came, taught, loved, served, laughed, cried, died, and rose again. Big deal? Yes! Amazing? Absolutely! Incredible, indescribable, beyond comprehension, a mystery, all yes, yes, yes. All reason enough for the most awesome duality of grief and celebration, for a time of joyful seriousness and serious joyfulness.
Yet we fluff it, big time, condensing something so full of meaning into words of familiarity. Unless you and I are living the moment-by-moment vibrancy of son-full relationship, we end up mostly as intellectually assenting observers.
So if I'm arguing that this is partly because we don't tell the whole story, just what is it that I'm getting at?
First, the story doesn't end on Easter Sunday morning. The resurrection is rather like the label on a box that contains an indescribably wonderful present. Its the title to a story that stretches into the past and the future, and for each of us is still developing to our own really critical climax! Lets take a moment and see how Jesus tells it.
One big clue comes in Luke's recounting of a post-resurrection event. Its over, Jesus is in his risen glorified body. The battle is forever won. And then somewhere out in the countryside Jesus joins up with the two guys who are walking from Emmaus -- these two are simply trudging along in sandals on a dusty track when Jesus appears (nowdays you or I would probably be enclosed in our car breaking the speed limit as we rush from nowhere to nothing – I wonder if we'd even stop for a hitchhiking Jesus).
They don't recognize him, but they let him join their conversation -- I wonder who they thought he was? Anyway, imagine you're one of these two guys … you're having a really serious conversation, you're deeply upset about events, and this “stranger" starts to ask you what you're talking about. The reaction from these two was at first one of incredulity, I wonder if they thought Jesus was trying to be clever or just stupid? Yet once they explain it, just about the first contribution from Jesus is “you thick headed dolts, don't you see!” Now if it was me I'd probably have snapped right back at him, stopped the car, and asked him to get out – in this day and age none of us take kindly to being told we're foolish (maybe because so often its true?).
But whatever their inner reaction was, they listen with growing astonishment as Jesus lays out the big picture of revelation history right up to and past the crucifixion. Later on we're told how when these two guys know it's Jesus, they say how their hearts were burning at what he had to say, so he must have got over any initial social awkwardness very quickly.
But just what was Jesus doing? He's unwrapping the present for them, he's explaining the gift that they've received. Like a child given a present that's more age appropriate to someone older, the parent first has to explain what it is before the child can appreciate it.
Ok, so we've got this present, this big picture of something that goes back as far as can be remembered, so what? Well, to consider this further we need to go to something else Jesus once said. It was a time when he was in his story mode, and was telling about this boss who had three employees. The boss tells his guys that he's going on a trip, but he's going to leave his wealth in their hands to be looked after. So he divides the responsibility between them. He doesn't divide equally, but gives responsibility according to his recognition of what they would be able to handle. Then he's off on his trip and these three guys are left with the task of trying to do something with all the money.
Well, inevitably the boss comes back and asks them for an account. You know the story, two of guys have invested and made more money from the initial capital; they took some risks, they made the money work because they knew what they had was valuable and could be used to grow more value. But the third guy did the proverbial equivalent of hiding it in his sock, and the boss was really, really fed up with him! This last guy hadn't done anything wrong, hadn't lost anything, its simply that he was entrusted with something and did nothing with it. He was apathetic, protecting rather than using, and even scared -- he feared personal consequence more than serving his boss' interests and doing what was right. He simply played it safe, or so he thought. (I wonder sometimes if, in Jesus' story, one of the other guys had made a loss instead of a profit -- what would Jesus have said?)
So lets put together these two accounts of Jesus' nature and see what we find. Jesus has given you and I the responsibility of an incredible treasure ... he's explained it, unpacked it, taken time with us to talk it through and help us understand ... this recount of the investment that God has made in the world, this incredible story of risk and success, the astounding outcome that death is beaten, and that relationship can be restored. He's given us the financial advisor's equivalent of "this is my inside knowledge of how you too can benefit". And what do we (so often) do? We hide it in our sock. And what do you think Jesus feels about that?
So what then is this meaning of the resurrection, what is the fuller story? Yes, Jesus came to live, die and rise again in order to save us ... that's the fundamental story line. But the next chapter is that he's entrusted this treasure to us, this knowledge of an amazing gift, and he wants us to DO something with it. That's the additional meaning of the resurrection, that what the implication is once you get past Easter services. The boss has given some of his treasure to you and wants you to use it, to takes some risks and make a return on the investment ... for the boss' sake, and you'll share in the returns.
Where does he want us to do this something? Out there, and in here! Most importantly out there in the world that doesn't know him, and in here in StB so we can support each other and build the foundation needed to work for the boss out there. We do something with this treasure in StB where its a safe place, where the boss can guide and instruct us, where we can lean on each others strengths, in order that we can represent our boss in the world.
But what are we to do, what is this "something"? For you personally, I don't know. Almost certainly its something you are able to do whether you think so or not. I wouldn't worry about what it is you do. Just do it. Remember the story, where the boss gave his money according to his workers ability? He knew what his workers were capable of, and did not ask of them any more than he knew they could do. His intentions are not measured by how big the return on the investment is, but simply by whether we do anything with it at all.
So, which of those three employees am I, which are you? Jesus says "just do it". Inside StB you can serve coffee, welcome people, help run events, teach Sunday school, join the worship group, pray, read, bless, sing loudly in the services, bring a friend, befriend a stranger ... the list of possibilities is endless. There's no shortage of opportunities and no shortage of abilities. Then, as we do it in StB, so we take that strength and do it outside where its so desperately needed.
That is one of my answers to Stephen's question "What is church". Church is those people who "do it".
And that is the meaning of the resurrection beyond our own personal salvation. The resurrection is a great big flashing neon sign that towers over all and labels the present we've been entrusted with by our boss. And he's wanting to see us do something with it. Not the institution. You. Me.