This past week I’ve spent as much time as possible drawing and photographing the day lilies as they’ve come and gone in the garden. Trying to get as many different views, angles, shapes, gestures and colors as I can before they finish blooming. It occurred me to that this is what the evangelists, and Paul, were doing when they began to write about the experience of Jesus of Nazareth and the experience of the risen Christ. Each began with experiences, experiences told and retold. Brief encounters with a man who would change Western civilization, whether he intended to or not. So, Paul from his experience on the Damascus Road wrote letter after letter (there are more than likely more than we have which have been lost) trying to convey that experience and how it transformed his life and inviting others to see that living in Christ, could possible change their lives as well. You don’t retell or image an experience or event unless it has had a profound and positive effect on your life. The evangelists, like me trying to capture the beauty and experience of the day lilies that wouldn’t be here very long, also took the stories of the experience of Jesus and each in their own way began to find shape and contour to the Christ-event and what that experience looked like. Reading through the gospels you come to see that what is conveyed in each instance is an encounter with someone that made such an impression, and often made a profound difference in their lives for the better, that they wanted to tell that experience with others. They wanted, I believe, to give that experience to anyone who would listen.
We will all be changed Paul says. Changed from sin to being alive in God. From the old written code to the new life in the Spirit. From flesh (as that which is fleeting) to Life according to the flesh in the Spirit. From rejection to acceptance. From evil to good. From captivity to freedom. From weakness to power (power as the ability to act for the good). From being servants and workers to growth and empowerment. From class and hierarchy to equality in Christ. This is not a Christianity as a burden but as a freedom. As a presence, something, Someone living we can be touched by. A faith as the experience of Someone who touched others, ate with others, prayed with others, spoke and went about with others, and had a love so strong that his being dead could not keep him from his own. We are all his own.
Lately there is a lot of chatter about the state of the churches. People are leaving the churches. The body is in danger of dying. The lamenting is loud. The doctors have been called in. Prescriptions written. Two thousand years of the church not getting it right – oh, the list is long – is in part summed up by what I said previously. Being a Christian has been presented primarily as a burden rather than a blessing. Reading St. Paul turned into picking only the parts that served the agenda of a Roman Empire whose institution of religion was much like the art it made: derivative, without imagination, staid, a pale copy of the real thing. And you can go as far back to James and Peter in Jerusalem and how they ‘altered’ some of Jesus’ examples – like ceasing to have table fellowship with ‘outsiders’ – being chief among them. So the church became who’s in and whose out. Who’s called and whose not.
Carl Jung says one of the problems with Christianity is that it’s all out there. All ‘going to church’ with little attention to our inner lives, without any sensibility of the experience of Christ. Kierkegaard said that we are in the soup we are in because Christianity changed into doctrine. He would go on to say that we need to ‘compel the age to take notice, to teach the age what it is to become Christian.’ To attend to the person and experience of Christ Jesus. Because that is what transformed all who encountered him, what transformed the evangelists and St. Paul, who through their writings are trying to give us the experience of an encounter with a Person.
What would our lives be like if we had the experience of the risen Christ? What would our lives be like if we experienced for just a brief moment the Christ-life in us and all about us? We all know how it feels to be in love. To want to be with and near that person as much as possible. The way suddenly the world seems to revolve about that person. In first century Palestine people were drawn to him. Men and women loved him. And they knew he loved them too. Crowds followed him. The needy sought him out. St. Paul says nothing can separate us from the love of Christ. We now need to have the experience of that love.
The church may need to die. Jesus did. He got into the hands of the wrong people. If the body today is going to be resuscitated then perhaps it is by breathing the lived awareness of the love and the experience of Christ back into our every day and in our hearts.