Sunday, March 28, 2010

People of Heaven - People of the Earth

What is the preferred nature of people who claim to follow Jesus Christ? At the very least it can be said that they strive to be like him. But what "trinkets" emerge when one "unpacks" the notion of acting like Jesus. The answers are many, but among the weightiest are those that take into account the mystery of his Incarnation. Reflecting further on the Incarnation of Jesus Christ should leave one more stymied the more it is contemplated. It is a mystery that simply cannot be fully understood, only confessed and appreciated. The doctrine of Incarnation primarily affirms that Jesus was fully God (in every way like the Father in essence, power and glory), and that he was simultaneously fully human (in every way like us, accept without sin). For this reason, the Incarnation teaches that he is the perfect One to represent the Divine will to humankind, AND the perfect one to represent humankind to Divine judgment. No better representative to us could have been sent; no better representative of us could have won Divine acceptance. He brings heaven to Earth, and in doing takes any from Earth to heaven that follow him. He's heavenly AND earthy.

For this reason, those that desire to be like him are called to a similar paradox. It is not to them to "escape" this life, pining away for the "sweet by and by." Nor is it to them to be so attached to this life as to forget where ultimate loyalty is properly directed. The tension is the thing. The goal is to maintain "dual citizenship" in Heaven and on Earth until Christ causes the two to meet fully. Therefore, to follow Christ is to pursue, with focused passion, heavenly AND earthy values. With souls in the clouds and feet in the dirt, Christians expand out into the world embodying the mystery of how heaven and Earth meet ("Christian" originally meant "little Christ"). They mystically enter heavenly courts in worship, and simultaneously express the elation conjured there with "earthy" elements of joy.

This is my reflection on the music our church frequently finds playing on the porch following the morning service. Instead of needing a "program" to schedule this, it occurs naturally. Mandolins, guitars and violins all emerge and the folk music fills the entire block. Neighbors peer out their front doors and muse over the joyous sounds traveling from around the corner. Passersby turn aside to see what manner of revelry is being conjured in the courtyard.

The folk songs come one after another. The tunes of the Earth flow freely. One envisions the same hands that pluck the strings also working the land, plowing the field, pulling weeds and trimming branches. These are the songs of those who appreciate honest work, changing seasons, community and cultural festivals. The dancing and clapping convey deep happiness that touches the entire human condition. It's heavenly joy expressed on Earth's "terms." It's intensely Christian.

These "people of Heaven" are also very much "people of the Earth." They demonstrate the mystery of the Incarnation, collectively participating in liturgies that ascend into the throne room of the Lord of Lords, but then seamlessly expressing the fullness of life gained there in ways firmly planted on the ground.

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