The Church Re-Finding Our Place (Part 3)
In my last two posts I argued that the Church has an active role to play in the story that God is telling in the world. This story is restoration. God is actively reconciling and restoring all of creation back to God. Our role in this restoration is responsive - we do everything in response to Christ. I think this leads us to a view of Discipleship to Jesus that says: if Jesus lived in my city, drove my truck, worked my job, had my salary, lived in my home, had my friends, how would he live? The way we answer that question will be the role we play in restoration.
In the first post of this re-defining series I drew a contrast between us, 21st century Western Christians, and the Israelites. The Israelites were living with a seismic disconnect between what they knew (they were God’s people) and how they lived (stuck in the wilderness, worshipping golden cattle). I see this same disconnect in American Christianity. Often, I feel that our faith practices are distinctly more American than they are Christian. I see some of the Israelites in us today. We have a distinct call to be part of restoration and reconciliation. However, we often trade that call for glitzy programs and fancy fliers.
The point of this restoration isn’t ourselves - but so often we make it about ourselves. The way of Jesus takes what is dirty, broken, and lost and actively restores, heals, and cleans. Let me explain another way.
In Mark 14 Jesus is arrested. While still in the garden Jesus delivers this powerful line about not leading a rebellion and that the Romans come against him with swords and clubs. Everyone that was following him deserts him. They bail. These were the same people that saw him perform miracles and raise the dead to life but they crumble under the pressure. Then, before we see Jesus appear before the Sanhedrin (legal experts) we get this bizarre line: A young man, wearing nothing but a linen garment, was following Jesus. When they seized him, he fled naked, leaving his garment behind.
I’ve never been arrested but I imagine that escaping naked is the ultimate shame moment for the escapee. This man would rather lose the only thing he owned than be caught in association with Jesus’ arrest. However, it makes no sense why Mark - in the context of what’s going on around this young man fleeing - would choose to distinguish a particular young man and a particular state of being un-dressed. Unless it’s because he wanted us to pay attention.
A couple pages later we get what could be an answer. In Mark 16 we see the first Easter. Mary and Mary go to the tomb to anoint the body. They approach the tomb discussing how they will roll the stone away, just to see the image that many of us have heard preached of an empty tomb and the stone rolled away. What follows changes so much about the way I view restoration:
As they entered the tomb, they saw a young man dressed in a white robe sitting on the right side, and they were alarmed.
6 “Don’t be alarmed,” he said. “You are looking for Jesus the Nazarene, who was crucified. He has risen! He is not here. See the place where they laid him. 7 But go, tell his disciples and Peter, ‘He is going ahead of you into Galilee. There you will see him, just as he told you.’”
Now, in some readings of this story the white-robed figure is described as an angel. However, in the book of Mark he is exclusively called by the same descriptor as the man who was naked and ashamed two chapters earlier. Other commentaries would claim that the naked man in Mark 14 is the author’s signature. This would be Mark’s way of saying, “that’s me” - using self-identification to show authorial presence.
But what if something else is going on? What if its not a coincidence (and I firmly believe it’s not) that Mark chooses to describe the naked, ashamed man in Mark 14 the same way that he describes the young man clothed in white (the color of purification) at the tomb. This same young man is bearing the news of the resurrected Christ.
By the power of the resurrection the young man has been restored to what he was intended to be - a bearer of the gospel. The fully clothed man is a testament that to be part of following a resurrected God we must take full part in a resurrected life. That’s the power of Christ in us. That’s the restoration that Jesus came to initiate played out in that young man's life.
Where this lands with me is that restoration has to start with us. We are invited into personal confession and repentance. We are invited to shift ourselves from being naked, ashamed, and fleeing to being fully redeemed and restored by the power of Christ.
What if this didn’t stop with us? What if it was contagious? Like a light in darkness that can’t stop spreading. What if this personal restoration became the Church's restoration? What if it became the restoration of all things?