Category Archives: Easter 2012

The Never-ending Jesus

by Marjorie George

Richard Lacayo, observer of the arts and writer for Time magazine, asserts that it was the artist Rembrandt who changed our image of Christ from celestial concept to man on the street.  In the 17th century, says Lacayo, the Dutch painter effectively invented Christ as we tend to picture him now – “not as a remote divinity but as the ideal human being, a profoundly complex and gentle man” (“The Halo Effect,” Time, Aug. 15, 2011).

Throughout Rembrandt’s lifetime of painting, his presentation of Christ changed from an otherworldly, remote and divine figure to a consoling Christ, “quieter, more meditative, somebody who would listen,” says Lacayo. He wonders if this shift in perspective is a result of Rembrandt living life – experiencing the death of his beloved wife when she was but 30 years old, the death of three of their four children in infancy, his mounting money problems, his descent into debt. The result, says Lacayo, is that “In Rembrandt’s late, great reckoning with Christ, the natural and the supernatural are one and the same.”

It is exactly this “living life” that the disciples and first followers of Christ are now experiencing in the gospel narratives between the resurrection of Easter Sunday and the giving of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost. The life they had been living with Jesus is different from the one he calls them to now. Once they had been the followers; now they are in charge. Once the mission had been ethereal, noble, righteous, a cause worth dying for.  Now their feet would be sore, their backs would hurt, people would slam doors in their faces, and dying for the cause would no longer be just a theory.

Do we not find it ironic that the intangible, ghostlike Christ who floats in and out of the disciples’ lives during these 40 days becomes the Christ of their present and future reality? Perhaps we can learn something from scrutinizing those 40 days.

Of the four gospels, only John devotes more than one chapter to the 40 days; he gives it two.   (See Matt 28:1-20, Mark 16:2-19, Luke 24:1-53, John 20:1-21:24.) Acts presents the continuation of the saga in 1:1-26. In the stories we do have, we find Christ coming among the disciples most often in their ordinary lives – as they fish, as they walk along the road, as they share a meal, as they pray, as they gather together for comfort and support.

But in these commonplace incidents, we hear the words that become the stuff of church banners and bumper stickers:
“Go and make disciples of all nations, teaching them about me.”
“I am with you always, to the end of the age.”
“You are my witnesses.”
“Follow me.”
“I will send the Holy Spirit to help you.”
“Don’t be afraid.”

Easter, we are beginning to find out, was just the beginning. For the disciples – as for us — the rest of the story unfolds in the living-out of our commonplace, sometimes dull, often difficult, lives. As a professor of mine once said, “After the ecstasy, the laundry. “

E. Stanley Jones, the American Methodist writer and missionary to India, says that the disciples “went out not remembering Christ, but experiencing him. He was not a mere fair and beautiful story to remember with gratitude – he was a living, redemptive, actual presence then and there . . . The Jesus of history had become the Christ of experience” (“The Christ of Experience,” in Bread and Wine: Readings for Lent and Easter, Orbis, 2003).

The lure of Christ calls us; the hope of Christ sustains us; the Spirit of Christ enables us. But the experience of Christ, ah, that is what changes us.

Marjorie George is editor of Reflections magazine and ReflectionsOnline. Reach her at marjorie.george@dwtx.org.  

Is it Good Enough?

Wednesday in Easter Week, April 11, 2012

 

by Marjorie George 

News flash: “good enough” is the new “perfect.”  This generation grew up being told we could do everything, and we took that to mean we should do everything, and we should do it perfectly.  Whatever we do, we can do better. We just need to try a little harder, work a little longer, lose a little more sleep.

Now there is a move afoot that says we don’t have to be perfect. Good enough is OK. It’s OK if the house is a little dusty; it’s OK if the lawn needs to be mowed; it’s OK if the kid makes a 95 instead of a 100 on her spelling test. If the family is reasonably happy and healthy, if we are doing pretty well – good enough. (See the book Good Enough is the New Perfect by Temple and Gillespie, Harlequin 2011.)

Some of us meet this news with great sighs of relief; and some of us are horrified. What? It’s OK to be less than perfect? But what will I do, who will I be if I am not busy being perfect?

Sadly, some of us enjoy the struggle of getting through life. If it’s easy, it’s not worth doing. If it can be made better, we are duty-bound to make it better. As evidence of how right we are, we give you Robert Browning: “A man’s reach should exceed his grasp.” Our exhaustion is proof of how hard we work (corollary: and you should appreciate me more).

Thomas struggled.  He was not taking anyone’s word that Christ had risen and had stood among them. He had to see it for himself, he had to do the hard work of investigation. The others might take the easy way out – just accept that a miracle had occurred. Not Thomas; he needed to struggle a little bit more. The tension of the past week — the disappointment of his team losing, the heart-rending sorrow of the crucifixion, then the tenuous possibility that Christ might yet have overcome – Thomas needed to grapple with this just a little bit longer. 

And Christ obliged. “Come here, Thomas. Give me your fingers. Touch my side. Give up the struggle.” As Christ gazed upon this silly, wonderful, imperfect disciple – for surely Christ loved him no less than he loved the others – Christ pronounced what is true. “You believe because you have seen it for yourself. Blessed are those who take it on faith.” (John 20:26-29)

But perhaps Christ is not so much chastising Thomas as he is calling us all to give up the struggle, and commenting on how it is when we don’t. Christ is not proscribing – telling us what isn’t allowed; he is prescribing – showing us what will happen if we continue to live a certain way.

We can live the life eternal that begins here and now through our own hard-fought methods. We can struggle our entire lives and reach the Kingdom triumphant but exhausted. But those who lay down their own egos, who say, “I don’t have to understand this to accept it,” ah, those are blessed.

They have recognized that we come to God not through our perfection but through our imperfection. Our stumbling, inadequate, limited understanding of our relationship with Christ is good enough. We need not wait until we have it figured out perfectly to reach out and touch Him.

Marjorie George

Marjorie George is editor of Reflections magazine and ReflectionsOnline. Reach her at marjorie.george@dwtx.org or leave a comment below.

Creeping Things and Flying Birds

Monday in Easter Week
April 9, 2012

by Marjorie George

Psalm 148:3-10
Praise the Lord:
3 Praise him, sun and moon;
praise him, all you shining stars!

4 Praise him, you highest heavens,
   and you waters above the heavens!

5 Let them praise the name of the Lord,
   for he commanded and they were created.

6 He established them for ever and ever;
   he fixed their bounds, which cannot be passed.

7 Praise the Lord from the earth,
   you sea monsters and all deeps,

8 fire and hail, snow and frost,
   stormy wind fulfilling his command!

9 Mountains and all hills,
   fruit trees and all cedars!

10 Wild animals and all cattle,
   creeping things and flying birds!

 

It is Easter morning, just after day break, and my backyard is all a-bustle. The squirrel is at the feeder, wrestling with an ear of corn. He maneuvers his little face through the chicken wire that holds the corn in place, plucks off a kernel with his teeth, then sits back on his haunches, nibbling on the kernel that he holds in both paws. I will find empty corn cobs on the ground later today, stripped of every morsel.

During the winter he is likely to grab a kernel then scamper down the tree and across the yard to one of my big terra cotta pots, where he buries the corn in the rich mulch that protects the sleeping plant. Throughout the next spring, as my plants emerge from their winter nap, green foreign stalks will also shoot up. When I pull them from the dirt, I find a corn kernel at the root. Silly squirrel. 

At the bird feeder this morning, the wrens jockey for position at the rim, crowding in, pushing each other off, burying their beaks in the abundant feed. Seed flies everywhere, falling to the ground like rain, where the bigger birds – the doves and the grackles – peck, peck, peck the ground, eating vociferously. (The crumbs falling from the table?)

Around the garden, the yellow long-stemmed bulbines and the mound of tiny-petaled white pentas, and the thick, creeping lantana are greeting the day. The morning dew glistens on their leaves and stems. At the fountain, more birds are washing down breakfast with a drink of water, and a big grackle is taking his morning bath, dipping his whole body into the water then shaking it off in an elaborate dance of feathers and spray and clucking about.

It is Easter morning. Do the creatures, and the creation, know? On that first Easter morning, did not all of creation sing in awe of this new thing? For resurrection is not something old reworked; it is something utterly new. Each blade of grass is somehow transformed, each tree leaf created anew. Nothing is the same as it was, and the creation in my backyard is the beneficiary all these thousands of years later.

“The whole universe is God’s tongue speaking,” says Steven Chase in Nature as Spiritual Practice. On this day, the language is that of praise; my joy is that I get to participate, right here in my own backyard.

 Marjorie George is editor of ReflectionsOnline and Reflections magazine. Reach her at marjorie.george@dtx.org or leave a comment below.