So I was listening to a wonderful sermon for children about how Jesus is their friend, and how they can pray to Jesus, saying whatever is on their minds about how they feel or what they care about, when it dawned on me, they are being asked to befriend someone who died 2,000 years ago, and be befriended by him. They are being asked to imagine him as real in their lives now, this invisible person who lived so long ago. Why didn’t I see this before, what a stretch that is for my rational adult mind.
Or, maybe I did see it at some level. Maybe that’s why I have always prayed to God. God at least was never human, always was and always will be invisible. The great “I am.” I can even change my image of God knowing full well that that affects me more than God…for God is God after all. Its not that I did not recognize that Jesus was of God and from God and returned to God, or understand the essential importance of who he was and what he taught.
I accepted the significance of Jesus’ death and the empty tomb, and am aware of many variations and interpretations of what that means for individuals and religious communities. But here I was listening to someone tell children to pray to Jesus as if he was, well, alive. Dead and now alive. Alive for them. And for me?
This requires me to come to terms with how I see Jesus, the human being. And to accept the reality of resurrection without even a shade of doubt. Or, at least, to reinterpret my doubt. Jesus as present to us as God in real time, in our lives, is quite a claim. It does boggle the mind, or could boggle the mind. We are so used to the thought that we often don’t even stop to think about how amazing a claim it is, that he who was dead is alive.
Resurrection is embedded in the Christian faith. Roman Catholics, in addition to believing that they can pray to Jesus, also pray to Mary, the Mother of Jesus, and to the Saints. Death is not the end.
We have a person, well a being, or is it a Spirit, at the heart of our Christian faith who was alive, walked the earth, and is now living and even active in life. The Christ. Of course. That is what Christianity is about, how it all began. And in the simple affirmation that Jesus is alive today, though he died as a human, is the uniqueness of our faith. Jesus, alive and accessible.
In Judaism, some people believe in life after death and some don’t. (Probably, if truth be told, the same could be said for Christians.) But there is no human figure to whom one prays. In Islam, Mohamed is venerated for who he was, but in devotion, Allah is blessed and present. And Buddha, not one to whom people pray either. Though very present, it seems to me, in his teachings and in the practice and worship of his followers.
You might say that the Christian affirmation of life after death, based in the belief that Jesus, the once historical figure, is not only alive, but present and with agency, and part of the Trinity is unique to Christianity and blasphemous in some traditions.
In the beginning the Word was with God, came to earth, and returned to God, and speaks to us, one with the One. There it is, something we take for granted that is really a quite amazing claim.
Christians tend to have one person of the Trinity, God Creator, Jesus, or the Holy Spirit at the center of their worship life. But each of these expressions of God with us, is admittedly also real along with the one most real to them. A rich palette of possibility for not only what it means to be Divine, but also human.
Believing that Jesus is with us, Jesus who was once one of us, leads to the belief that we too share in resurrection. No, I am not praying to my forebears who have gone before. But their spirits are with me. Not just because I remember them (some of them I never knew), but, because I suppose, even while my rational mind sometimes objects, I believe that death is a transition to new life, a new life that I can’t even begin to imagine, but life that is beautiful and full. I don’t see the gold streets that some have imagined. But I do see the tree with its many different leaves for the healing of the nations and of the soul.
So, I am still not one who usually prays to Jesus, though every time we return safely from a road trip, I utter the words, from the depth of my heart, “thank you Jesus.” I am, however, one with those who do pray to or talk about Jesus as present as naturally as I talk with God, leaning toward the Spirit. I am now aware of how deep and clear a statement of faith it is for those who claim, “What a friend we have in Jesus.” And by implication, belief in resurrection itself.
Maybe I am just articulating what those children can take for granted as the Minister speaks. Jesus did say that little children would lead us. I just want to be clear about where they are being led. And obviously, I find myself still surprised!
Maybe the real issue is not the presence of Jesus in modern life, but where we think he is leading us. The old hymn “Onward Christian Soldiers, marching as to war…” pops into my mind. Wrong I say. Of course. Where then are Christians going?