Thursday, June 2, 2011

A Now That Does Not End

Driving by a church sign that proclaimed, "Celebrate Salvation," Mary and I started talking about the difference between celebrating salvation and celebrating resurrection. I remarked, "This could be a blog entry," so here goes!

Easter was in April this year, and it is, of course, a day when many Christians think, talk, and rejoice about resurrection. For the fifty days following Easter the church calendar tells us we are in the season of Easter. At the end of fifty days is the observance of Pentecost, which you can read about in Acts 2.

During the season of Easter, I frequently make references in my sermons to Resurrection Power. I differentiate between resuscitation and resurrection. Resuscitation is bringing something back to life. To me, that implies reviving what already existed. Resurrection, on the other hand, is about making something new. What used to be has died. That no longer exists, but a transformation takes place.

To "celebrate salvation," as it commonly is understood, suggests that a person has been kept or protected from something. In this case, he or she has been kept from eternal separation from God. Certainly, that is a good thing! However, talk of salvation tends to focus on what happens later, in the future, after a person dies. It is as if when a person turns to a relationship with Jesus Christ, and is thought to be "saved," a resuscitation occurs. They are forgiven their sins, but they still are the same person as before. There will be a "reward," salvation, later.

Celebrating resurrection, or embracing Resurrection Power, seems to me a new path or direction in life. The person no longer is the same because former priorities, goals, choices, and behaviors have deceased, and he or she lives in the Realm of God now; eternal life is now; God is known and experienced now. It's a now that does not end.

To me, this seems to be illustrated in a couple of ways of looking at the church. Someone recently told me that a church member, who has a flair for design and decorating, wants to work on the artificial plants that decorate the building, and has plans to paint a large gathering room. "She thinks when people come to the church and see that it is attractive and clean, they'll know we care about the church."

I should have held my tongue, but I remarked, "I see it in just the opposite way. I like to see a church that looks a little scuffed up and used. That shows we're doing something." What I didn't say was it demonstrates that we're engaged in ministry with people -- whose lives often are not neat, tidy, and clean.

Somewhere along my journey I was the pastor of a church like that. My time there was a happy period of my life and work. The building, while clean, showed signs of activity and ministry. There were bulletin boards with notices of relevant community and ecumenical events, invitations to the various recovery groups that met there, and reports of wider church responses to natural disasters and justice concerns. A day-care program for disadvantaged children was housed in the building, and from my office I could hear the squealing, bumping, pitter-patter of little feet, laughter, raised voices of teachers, and all the rest that goes along with it. I saw the children when they lined up at the water fountain or made their trips to the rest rooms. They saw me and looked with wide-eyed innocence when our paths crossed. A local feeding program stored canned goods and supplies in one of our spare rooms. Sunday school classes had the requisite tempera paint masterpieces on display, crookedly held in place by masking tape. It was evident by the look of the facility that something was going on, and that people were being nurtured and cared for.

Antiseptic, neat-as-a-pin church buildings where everything is bright, shiny, and in place convey to me a different feeling.

I see in these two cases the shades of differences between resurrection and salvation. Again, salvation is a good thing! But, to me, resurrection is a richness that changes lives.

I see a now that never ends vs. something that comes later. I see life abundant and everlasting, filled with energy, excitement, and joy vs. life in heavenly glory (about which we really know nothing).

I see creativity and freedom vs. caution.

I see faithfulness vs. the practice of religion.

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