Before the Children’s Sermon yesterday, I went to Paul’s Church with (of all people) my Paul, and Daughter-by-Marriage. Some churches have “sunrise services,” which I’m fairly certain is a really ancient tradition and honours the fact of the women getting to Jesus’ tomb and discovering He was no longer in it, “at dawn on the first day of the week” (Matthew 28.1). I don’t know of anyone that still holds this service actually at dawn, but I did drive past a church yesterday that had theirs at 6 a.m., which I think is good enough, and I’ve never heard of a one that wasn’t outdoors. The service at Paul’s Church was only half an hour earlier than the earlier of the usual two services at Now Church, but it was still outdoors, and it was pretty frigid out there yesterday, so it still gave it that nobody-should-be-outside-of-their-beds-this-early-and-it-took-something-like-a-resurrection-to-get-me-here feel.
I wore a dress and sandals because it was Easter, and spring, darn it, but I also wore leggings under the dress (it was a maxi dress and you couldn’t even tell!) and a winter jacket over it, and gloves on my hands. I also had a camouflage neck-warmer from my Paul and a hat I bought in Montreal, both at the ready in case. You might wonder why I would put myself through all this when I was just going to go to another church service afterwards, at which I could be warm and in which my outfit could be a cohesive whole.
I’ll tell you why, and it wasn’t (which you may be thinking) that I have this sort of martyr complex and need to “suffer” a little bit to fully enjoy my religious holidays. It was because I really wanted to hear someone say, out loud, unequivocally, that Jesus Christ was alive. Really, truly, physically, literally alive.
Now Church is a unique place, and one of the things that I like the most about it, but which is also sometimes the most challenging, is that it is truly interdenominational. Which basically means, here anyway, that people have come to it out of varied and diverse church backgrounds, and they try to unite over the commonalities of the faith, but rarely does anyone give up the denominational distinctives which they brought with them. Usually, these turn into privately-held beliefs, and although they sometimes lead to some debate, they don’t come up very much. For example, I grew up in a Baptist church, and I believe very strongly that baptism, properly observed, is for people who have made the conscious decision to belong to the Christian family for themselves, rather than parents imposing the rite on babies (though I am not opposed to parents dedicating their children to God and vowing to raise them in the faith). On the other hand, I don’t believe that people who baptise the other way are going to Hell or anything. So the fact that Now Church performs infant baptism is something that, while I don’t personally agree with it, I feel I can live with.
As I say, this dynamic is one of my favourite things about Now Church, I guess because I like having to think about and wrestle with my faith a little bit, and when I’m in a place where everybody thinks exactly the same I get bored, or my faith gets flabby, or I stop listening, or some combination of all three. Most of the time, I can live with the tension of not quite seeing eye-to-eye with these members of my church family, but learning to love them (and be loved by them) through it all the same. But every once in a while, I hit a wall.
On my first Easter at Now Church, Pastor Ron preached a sermon. Naturally. I don’t remember much about what he said. I just remember that I was new and it was back when the youth group pancake breakfast fundraiser was on Easter instead of Palm Sunday and I was already in a bad mood about that, and sometime just before the end of the sermon, Pastor Ron said, “Now, some people here believe that Jesus literally came back to life, and other people believe that His resurrection was more spiritual, but it doesn’t really matter . . . ”
The listening part of my brain shut off after that because it was concentrating all its efforts on controlling my motor skills–keeping me from leaping out of my pew and yelling, in front of all these people I still didn’t know very well yet, “Yes it does!”
So here’s the part where I make a disclaimer that’s potentially going to be longer than the rest of the post:
I respect Pastor Ron. A lot. I also feel respected by him. We work well together and, though fully cognisant that our theological views are often quite divergent, we also, I suspect, appreciate each other’s backgrounds, personal journeys and even training that has got us to the points of view we have. We are able to joke about our differences and not take ourselves too seriously with each other. I don’t think either of us suspects the other of a lack of intelligence. Also, although there is a common past-time in some branches of the Church of trying to figure out who, of one’s professing-Christian acquaintances, is a real Christian (and although I have been guilty of trying to make this judgment in the past myself), I just want to make it really clear here that I am not calling Pastor Ron’s Christianity, or salvation, or anything like that into question. Honestly. I do think there is truth and error, and that it matters, but I’m also strongly convinced that even the most orthodox Christian alive, or the person closest to Jesus in heart, mind, body and soul, harbours some heresy somewhere. I believe that freedom (“salvation,” “eternal life,” whatever you want to call it) from the ultimate effects of sin is absolutely a gift of God, and therefore even our correct understanding isn’t what saves us. The Bible often states that our faith saves us, or is “credited to us as righteousness.” Even that faith, I believe, is God’s gift–I don’t think we can muster it up ourselves. So I’m certainly not qualified to decree who has “right enough” theology to be considered really a Christian, or not.
All the same, I so strongly believe that whether or not Jesus physically came back to life matters, that it was really hard to hear someone I respect say it didn’t, and what’s more to hear him tell a bunch of other people who may or may not have investigated the thing themselves, that it didn’t.
Let’s talk about that sometime. (No, seriously. Like, in the next post or something. Because I’ve given up all hope of ever being “Freshly Pressed” around here, so I might as well go fanatic, right?)
In the meantime, I went to Paul’s Church and a man, who wasn’t the pastor and maybe doesn’t have a theological degree like Pastor Ron has and I might be getting, stood in front of us and asserted over and over, but somehow not tritely, that Jesus was really, in every way, alive. And I could tell, because it seemed like Jesus’ Spirit was living in him and even speaking through him right then, like Pastor Ron would say His Spirit does. But I think–and I’ll tell you why, sometime–that the reason Jesus’ Spirit was speaking through that man–that ordinary, just-like-the-rest-of-us human, in that ordinary human body, was because every part of Jesus is alive. The physical, human part, too. I just wanted to hear somebody say it.