Monday, May 25, 2009

Master Model Maker

I am not an avid model maker as some people are. Yet over the years I have snapped and glued together my share of model planes, cars, tanks, ships, spaceships, birds, and even dinosaurs. I confess, though, a fundamental failing in my model making. “Paint all parts before assembly.” Those may not have been the exact words, but they constitute the gist of instructions I failed to follow every time. When I looked at the box in the store, I did not see a lot of dull, monotone parts affixed to plastic strips – a bewildering array of small and large pieces requiring a master maker to paint and assemble carefully and lovingly from beginning to end, step by detailed step. I saw the whole thing. I saw the beautifully painted, fully assembled result on the cover of the box. That is what I desired. That is what I bought. Or at least that is what I thought I bought. Until I opened the box at home; balked at the mass of parts; impatiently began to snap and glue together with only the barest regard for instructions; and ended up with a dull, messy object sort of approximating the work of art the real maker had completed and displayed on the box cover. Then I tried to paint it to look like the image on the cover. “Paint all parts before assembly.” Regularly, frustratingly, I discovered the reason in this instruction. I guess I thought I could make the entire model without painting the parts first, and without following instructions too closely, then paint it in detail to its most beautiful state, as if by magic. What I really needed was a true master model maker, for I am not one.

I thought of all of this when recently re-reading John 13, about Jesus washing the disciples’ feet the night of his arrest, in prelude to his crucifixion, then instructing them that they must follow his example. The foot washing embodied for them that he – their Teacher and Lord – had become a servant to them. They – his followers – must become servants to each other and to others. In our turn, we also – to be followers of Jesus – must become servants.

In reality, we want to be the master model maker of our life. We want to build the model in our own way and in accord with our own image of it. So we follow the instructions little or not at all. Instead, we want to give Jesus the fully assembled model of our life – the model we constructed without painting the parts first or following the instructions – and have him paint it after the fact to cap the beauty of it. In other words, we do not really want to be like Jesus if it means certain things – such as becoming a servant. We want to be like Jesus in the ways we want to be, not the ways he wants us to be.

If Easter life means anything, if death and resurrection in Jesus mean anything, they mean that we cannot give him our life fully assembled, according to our own design and instructions, and expect him just to cap it with paint – that is, bless it after the fact. He must assemble our life. He must paint all the parts first, and then assemble it rightly. This means he must disassemble our present life (death in Jesus) and then reassemble our life anew according to his design and instructions (resurrection in Jesus). Our life will then become a beautiful model of him as he paints and assembles it carefully and lovingly from beginning to end, step by detailed step. For Jesus – our Teacher and Lord – is the true master model maker.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Ascension Day

Christmas. Good Friday. Easter. Pentecost. We know these days and have a sense of the meaning of each. These are “high holy days” in the Church year, foundational days for followers of Jesus. Apart from them, Jesus would be just another human being – born and dead a long time ago. Apart from them, there would be no Church; there would be no point in being a follower of Jesus.

Yet there is another day in the Church year of equal significance. It comes between Easter and Pentecost. We often just glide over it, perhaps with scarcely a thought about it. That day is today: Ascension Day. Ascension Day marks the departure of the resurrected Jesus from his earthly sojourn. It marks the day God lifted Jesus up to be at his right hand in heaven. (See Acts 1:1-12 for an account.)

Ascension Day has receded from the consciousness of much of the Church in the modern era. I am not sure why. It cannot help that it is marked on a weekday. Also, it does not seem to have the same sentiment or drama as Christmas or Good Friday. Doubtless there are other reasons. For whatever reasons, this receding is a poverty in the life of the Church and the lives of we who love and follow Jesus.

Why is it a poverty? Lifted up to heaven to be at God’s right hand. It sounds interesting, even exotic. But what does the ascension mean? What does it mean for Jesus? What does it mean for the Church and for followers of Jesus? It means much – much more than can be discussed here, decidedly much more than I truly grasp intellectually or spiritually. Nevertheless, this much can be said – can be gladly grasped in mind and heart by each of us. The ascension signifies and certifies that Jesus is Lord of all of created existence, Lord of all people. Jesus, once abased in bleakest humiliation, now reigns on high. The incarnate, crucified, risen Jesus is the ascended Lord who reigns in glory.

However, while he reigns from on high and in glory, he reigns not from an unfathomable, unbridgeable distance. Because he ascended, he sent the Holy Spirit to dwell in the world and in his followers. Ascended, he yet exercises his reign deeply, intimately, and pervasively through the Spirit. Whatever the circumstances in the world, the ascended Jesus is Lord of the cosmos. Whatever the circumstances of life for you and me, he is Lord of you and me. It is a lordship he exercises in and through the Spirit. Thus, in the Spirit, he is deeply, intimately, and pervasively present with you and me. Christmas – Good Friday – Easter – Ascension Day – Pentecost. Because of each and all of these days, we can love Jesus, we can follow Jesus, we can trust Jesus – in all circumstances, in all of life.

Sunday, May 3, 2009

Considering the Death of Jesus

In considering the death of Jesus, of the Son of God, Second Person of the Trinity; of the sense of abandonment experienced by the Son of God on the cross; the heart-piercing, spirit-plummeting alienation from comforting Spirit; of God's thus taking into his very being for eternity the utter despair and pain, the abyss, of this abandonment: we must not think we have wounded God, as if he has that vulnerability and we have that capability. We must not think that in this abandonment, this death, we are the center, the central characters, of the action, the drama. The Trinity are, the triune God is, the center, the drama. Yet we must at the same time grasp that somehow, in God's freedom and sovereignty, not in any intrinsic vulnerability or intrinsic capability, not because of any central importance we bear, we have indeed sorely wounded God. Or rather, God in the Son, through the loving obedience of the Spirit, has chosen to be wounded. And into this divine drama has God graciously crossed his world, thus to be healed by that wound.