Wednesday, April 08, 2009

Palm Sunday meditation

From ministry given on 4-5-2009, North Meadow Friends Meeting, Indianapolis

Many years ago, I discovered Jesus and welcomed him into my life like a king. He was going to extricate me from a dead-letter childhood religion. He was going to give me ammunition to fight against an oppressive and regressive government and social system.

So I hailed his entry into my life with joy and elation. I carried and read from the little red book, Quotations of Chairman Jesus and quoted them to every overly cautious adult I could find. I even grew a beard and long hair and wore sandels to look like him. I was supported in my commitment by the fact that there were others who shared my point of view. It just made so much sense to me, and I took pleasure in kidnapping Jesus from the establishment that claimed to speak for him.

But after a while, things began to go wrong. As I ushered him into the temple of my heart, instead of reinforcing me in the reasons I asked him in, he began to point out that it -- that is to say, me -- was full of lies and lust. I was not what I pretended it was. And he didn’t just point out the discrepancy he brought out a whip and demanded that either the lies go, or he goes. But the hypocrites he chased out were old friends of mine, and I literally couldn't imagine being without them. So I began to hate him and plot what any Self-respecting person would do.

It did not take me long to neutralize him, as the military would say. It was surprisingly easy, actually. All I had to do was turn him from the powerful, Self-disturbing force I discovered he was into a mere teacher, prophet, philosopher, and a good example. I made him two-dimensional, like a cartoon figure, not a living being. In truth, I basically admitted what I had always thought about him, but without the pretense of his being anything more. So I wrung all the life out of him and buried him in the same stone sepulcher with the rest of them. In a honored place, at first, but what does it matter whose urn is on the upper shelf?

And I went on with my life.

But then something began to happen. Doubts arose. Was I certain he was nothing more than a good teacher or moral example? Was it possible that he was of a unique character? Perhaps even who he said he was? I no longer thought so, but I wasn't as certain as I once was.

Then I heard about a group of people who testified that they had actually found this dead prophet alive again. They reported that as they met together regularly to wait for him, he appeared to them in spirit and in truth -- simply, directly and unmediated by a priest or scholar. And that as they listened to him, they began to align their lives with his. There was something about their witness that was particularly convincing: it was not merely the testimony of their mouth, but of their lives that brought me to believe that they had, in fact, seen a Living Christ, and not the dead Jesus that I had killed so long ago.

And so I began to wait with them, and have been for more than 30 years now. I don't think I realized it at first -- in fact, hardly anyone in the group spoke in such terms at all -- but gradually I discovered that waiting for him -- and then listening to him -- was exactly what they were doing. While I can’t say that I’ve ever had as dramatic experience as the first-generation apostles as described by Luke, over the years I’ve had enough glimpses of the Living Christ’s presence in the midst of the waiting community that I have kept coming to wait with them.