Jesus: God: person: deity
Mine. Yours. Ours.
Not private, but personal.
Not mine alone, but shared with many.
Yet, there in the most private
recesses of my heart,
in the darkest corners
of my fear,
in the secret promise
of my wildest dreams,
in my glorious successes
and abject failures,
within the shouts of my
most unabashed joy,
at the core of my being,
and centered squarely
in every one of my relationships—
the human and non-human interactions
there he is, Jesus.
I have experienced Jesus
since before I knew
it was he I experienced,
and I will experience him
there is anything
for me to experience.
For this is my faith.
John 20:11-16— The Message
But Mary stood outside the tomb weeping. As she wept, she knelt to look into the tomb and saw two angels sitting there, dressed in white, one at the head, the other at the foot of where Jesus’ body had been laid. They said to her, “Woman, why do you weep?”
“They took my Master,” she said, “and I don’t know where they put him.” After she said this, she turned away and saw Jesus standing there. But she didn’t recognize him.
Jesus spoke to her, “Woman, why do you weep? Who are you looking for?”
She, thinking that he was the gardener, said, “Mister, if you took him, tell me where you put him so I can care for him.”
Jesus said, “Mary.”
Turning to face him, she said in Hebrew, “Rabboni!” meaning “Teacher!”
Who is Jesus to me? Let me begin with a statement, and then let me unpack it. I do believe that Jesus is my Lord, and the Second Person of the Trinity–God in other words, my best friend, companion (one who walks with me and talks with me), helper, and the one whom I trust for whatever will happen to me in eternity. So, what in the heck does that mean? Am I a Fundamentalist for believing this? An ultra conservative Christian? No, all it means is that I am a person of faith.
My understanding of Jesus begins in my early childhood. Jesus was my friend and companion and fixer of bad things. The legend in my parents family was that when I was three years old I got my little chair that my father had made for me (I remember helping him), and took it into my bedroom, got down on my knees and asked Jesus into my heart. I don’t remember doing it, exactly, but I remember being told about it enough times that I owned it for my own. I do remember my father, who was a Fundamentalist minister, saying that it was good for now, but at some time in the future, when I was ready, I would need to do this publicly. I was never ready.
I have never felt I needed to do anything special to be loved by Jesus. I cannot remember a time I have not felt his love. I have felt distanced from God, but never from Jesus. I am not sure what it is I mean when I say, claim, pray to, Jesus, but whom/whatever it is, I trust in an unfailing love that nurtures, protects, guides, forgives, and inspires me.
When I was little, around seven-and-one-half I came down with rheumatic fever. This was in a time just before penicillin became available to use for it. I somehow got it into my little head that when I went to bed at night to sleep, if I could hear my own heartbeat it meant I was having a heart attack and was dying. My mother was a hysteric about my little self, and I knew that if I said anything she would come completely unglued, so I just lay there going to sleep and waiting to die. AND, because when one lays their head on a pillow in the quiet of night what they do hear is their own heart beating, I went to bed most every night waiting to die. But I had a picture hanging on my wall that my Grandmother Furnish (my mother’s mother) had embroidered for me that read, “Now I lay me down to sleep, I pray the Lord my soul to keep, if I should die before I wake, I pray the Lord my soul to take. If I should live for other days, I pray the Lord to guide my ways.” You might say that this is my embroidered truth claims. As you have already guessed, I did not die, but I did get a unique understanding of Jesus as friend and comforter.
Later, in seminary, I was taking a class on the Psychology of Religion from Valerie DeMarinis, who is now at Uppsala University, Sweden. She asked us to consider our truth claims. She said that we needed to know what they were or we would be a danger to ourselves and to others around us. I asked her what a truth claim was, and she said that it was that one thing/idea/belief that was our bottom line and we would not give up. I remember spending a lot of time on the question. It was also a time when I was surrounded by quite a few Unitarian Universalist seminarians who challenged everyone who might admit to thinking Jesus was anything other than a past distant should-be-forgotten individual. And that if one claimed Jesus as central to their lives, then that person had to be a Fundamentalist, or worse… I remember thinking rather strongly that actually it was Jesus that was my truth claim—the one whom under no circumstance would I give up.As my spirituality has matured as a Christian, a theologian, and a minister, one thing has come clearer and clearer to me—while I seem to believe more strongly in the risen Lord, I, concomitantly, seem to know less what that means. I am not sure it matters if there was a “resuscitated corpse” or not, whether or not the stone was rolled away, or if Thomas actually did stick his hand into Jesus’ wound. What is important to me, as a person, a Christian, a minister, is that I believe Jesus is alive and living in and with us right now. I have some suspicions as to how that might work, and I am going to be less literal or scientific and more mystical and metaphorical, so brace yourself.
You see, I believe that it is about the food. I think that the key stories about Jesus’ life after death are less found in the resurrection stories, and more in the stories surrounding food. First there is the Loaves and Fishes event, then the Seder/Last Supper story, after that there is the story ending in the inn at table on the Road To Emmaus. There are the two times the Disciples experienced him risen when they were eating at table in the little room where they were hiding, and the story by the sea side where Jesus cooks them fish for breakfast. Then add to that all the small house church agape celebrations that the disciples had following the Temple services. Add to this what a strong emphasis the early church placed on the Presence of Jesus’ body and blood in the bread and the wine, and it all adds up to a very different understanding of a risen Christ, than the ones about the empty tomb.
I have come to believe that the stories, all the stories, support a risen Jesus. The empty tomb filled with light and angels, Jesus in the garden speaking to Mary: the metaphor concerning whether or not we have Jesus in our hearts; the phrases, “This is my body broken for you, this is my blood poured out for you”: all these contain elements of truth, but not the whole or complete Truth.
I believe that as time passed after Jesus’ crucifixion (which, by the way I do believed happened), and as Jesus’ intimate friends and disciples gathered for a meals after their Temple services, and during the meals they called “Love Feasts,” they broke bread and shared wine and told the stories as they remembered them about Jesus. I believe that in the sharing of Bread and Wine, and in the telling of the stories, that something happened to them. I think the key is in the story of the Road to Emmaus. THEIR HEARTS BURNED WITHIN THEM!!! AND, within each burning heart, rose a Living Christ, a Risen Savior, a friend returned from the grave, having victory over death itself!
To understand how this might have been possible we must turn to the Greek work anamnesis, which is part of the anaphora, in the Roman Catholic Eucharistic Prayer. Anamnesis, is a Greek understanding of a Hebrew concept. It simply translates, “in memory there is life.” Within the culture of the ancient Hebrew people there is evidence that if there was a concept of life after death it was vague if at all. There are extant writings that show that they honored the memory of their ancestors by hauling their bones around with them as they moved from place to place in their nomadic lifestyle. The very culture of the early disciples allowed them to bring Jesus to live as they remembered him.
I am not trying to trivialize the Easter Event. I hope I am showing how the stories were constructed. There is precedent for my model. There is more than a little evidence that after their escape from the Egyptians, and their time wandering in the desert, and the building of the Kingdom of Israel, the writers of the Pentateuch, revisited the older Ancient Near Eastern mythologies, which were their baseline, and foundational national stories, and rewrote them with the God they had discovered out in the desert as the main character. This telling and retelling of the historical group story as a means to understand the present, was a matter of course for all ancient peoples. THEY WOULD TAKE AN ACTUAL AND MEANINGFUL EVENT, AND RETELL IT OUT OF WHAT IT MEANT TO THEM BASED ON THEIR PRESENT SPIRITUAL AND CULTURAL FAITH. This is how religion and theology are born.
I suggest that as those early disciples met to share bread and wine, that something, some event, occurred to them and in them and with them that was so huge, so powerful, so mind-bogglingly intense, that they had no doubt left as to whether or not Jesus lived. He did! I believe that at this Table, and because of this Table, we know this as well. JESUS LIVES! JESUS IS RISEN! JESUS IS IN US!
So, in the end, while I still believe in the Jesus of my childhood, I do not believe in the same way. and that is to be expected, because I am not the same. But in the heart of hearts of his theologically trained minister, in that place where I am still a child with childish fears, childish hopes, childish dreams, childish disappointments, and childish tears, he still walks with me and talks with me and still holds my hand and tells me I am his own. And I am comforted. This is the Jesus of my embroidered truth claims!