Sunday, March 31, 2013

The Man Who Lived

Therefore God exalted him to the highest place

The worst way to get yourself to live forever, according to Paul’s letter to the Philippians, is to try and live forever. Which is ironic, given that trying to live forever has been the abiding preoccupation of humanity in most of recorded history.

Today is Resurrection Sunday; the culmination of Easter Week and a celebration of the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead. It’s a celebration of one who has succeeded where no-one else has; in conquering death, the last enemy. However, how he did it, and what it means are things that are probably completely foreign to us.

It is remarkable that Jesus was not actually preoccupied with living forever, or preserving his own life, or making a name for himself. The way he chose was not immortality, but mortality, and he sealed it by getting himself killed. Not a good strategy, you’d think.

Christ humbled himself, and God raised him up. Its counter to our instincts. If it were up to us, we would reverse the roles by raising ourselves up so that we can look down on God. We are the ones who want to make a mark, who want to be remembered, and who want to make a name for ourselves. We want to go to heaven when we die. But, where we would fill ourselves with these things, Christ emptied himself.

So should we, says Paul.

Paul was onto something here. To him, and to the rest of the Christian community, Christ didn’t simply lay down a template from which you could construct your own immortality. Christ demonstrated what life is in the present tense. His way is not simply a program for living forever in some future eventuality – a kind of religious cosmic life assurance policy in which you deposit now and withdraw later. It is illumination for living in the present.

Because Christ humbled himself, says Paul, so should we now, in our present circumstances. Christ is the example that inspires us to consider others to be more valued than ourselves - a sure recipe for any successful human community. If we live this way now, heaven will come to us. Indeed, it will be with us already.

It’s so against our nature, and so against all logic. It’s irrational. It cannot be done without faith. Without faith, we would struggle for our own survival. We would be like the drowning man who flails at his rescuer, or the patient who grabs the surgeon’s knife at the critical cut. We would be like the man who listed his virtues as he tried to bargain his way out of death. That’s me – the one who cannot bring himself to trust his redeemer. Theologically, that's Adam, the one who brought death into the world.

If that’s you, don’t panic. Know that just as God raised Jesus from the dead, so He will also raise you.

For he who becomes like the Heavenly One has heaven within himself
(Theophylact of Bulgaria, circa 1050 to 1108, commenting on Matthew 19:29, in his Explanation of the Holy Gospel According to Saint Matthew)

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