Looking for a Dead Jesus
It has been a few weeks since I last wrote anything on this blog, and in that time I have experienced some significant developments in my attitudes and approaches to ministry. I hope to share more soon about the high school retreat we led during this time and the healing prayer conference I attended. Both of these have helped reshape and redefine ministry for me. A major theme in this new vision is to carry an expectation that God will move in visible and powerful ways, and to invite that movement of God. My own faith was strengthened recently in seeing people receive physical healing, emotional healing, spiritual gifting, and personal words from God in prayer. As I witness more of this, I think, "Man, this is exciting stuff!" This is very quickly followed by, "Why don't we see more of this?" As I pondered this latter question, the story of Mary Magdalene in John 20 came to mind.
On the first day of the week, Mary of Magdala came to the tomb early in the morning, while it was still dark, and saw the stone removed from the tomb. Mary stayed outside the tomb weeping. And as she wept, she bent over into the tomb and saw two angels in white sitting there, one at the head and one at the feet where the body of Jesus had been. And they said to her, “Woman, why are you weeping?” She said to them, “They have taken my Lord, and I don’t know where they laid him.” When she had said this, she turned around and saw Jesus there, but did not know it was Jesus. Jesus said to her, “Woman, why are you weeping? Whom are you looking for?” She thought it was the gardener and said to him, “Sir, if you carried him away, tell me where you laid him, and I will take him.” Jesus said to her, “Mary!” She turned and said to him in Hebrew, “Rabbouni,” which means Teacher.
There is plenty of speculation (and room for speculation) about why Mary failed to recognize Jesus initially. The most common explanation I hear is that Jesus was now in his glorified body and so would look somehow different. But for the first time, I considered a new possibility. What if the reason Mary didn't recognize Jesus was because she was looking for a dead Jesus? What if she never stopped to look the "gardener" in the face because she was searching for a lifeless body?
ARE WE LOOKING FOR A DEAD JESUS?
I think it's worth asking whether we haven't been largely guilty of the same thing in our churches today. Are we looking for a dead Jesus, a merely historical Jesus who lived a long time ago? As far as dead men go, what is it that we find most important about them? It's the things they did while they were still alive and the teachings they left to posterity. And then we will draw lessons from these relics from the past and attempt to find meaning for them in our present day life.
But when it comes to a living person, we are most interested not in what they have done, but what they are doing. If Jesus is really alive, as we profess him to be, then I think this is the most important question we can be asking of him - what is he doing, right now? And if Jesus is the same, yesterday, today, and forever, then shouldn't we expect him to be doing the same things today as the Gospels tell us he did long ago?
Where I am being challenged in my ministry today is to rely less on my own teaching and more on the power and presence of God. I am growing in boldness to pray with others and expect God to actually do something right then and there.
I have much more I hope to share along these lines in upcoming posts, but much of what is on my heart has already been expressed very well by other writers. In particular I would point to the following two sources:
In his blog post, Boom Goes the Dunamis, Keith Strohm summarizes by stating: "Christianity without power is simply philosophy! And the world does not need another philosophy...it needs the Presence and Love of God made manifest." The whole article is an inspiring and energizing read!
After allowing Keith to stir you up and energize you, the three-part article The New Evangelization: Authority and Power by Fr. Anthony Co will provide you with some practical advice for shifting your ministry to more explicitly invite the power of God.