Life today is an odd mash-up of a pandemic, the resurrection, and ordinary time. Our emotions ping-pong back and forth from social media and the news channels to an empty tomb and a risen Lord. What a bizarre moment in history.
I find myself strangely removed from the COVID-19 headlines. The numbers of people infected and the tally of deaths seem distant from my personal experience. I don’t want to be cold-hearted but statistics don’t always grab my emotions. Then Tom’s email arrived.
My friend Tom survived the coronavirus without requiring hospitalization. He lost fifteen pounds but he’s recovering. The distant headlines were now personal to me. The statistics had a face. This can happen with the resurrection. – it remains a headline without a personal connection.
The resurrection is the grandest headline ever published. Our Lord is risen from the dead! In one dramatic act, God made provision to “reconcile to Himself all things” (Colossians 1:20). Through the cross he has “disarmed the rulers and authorities” (Colossians 2:14), defeating evil. The headline reads that he created “in himself one new man in place of two (the Jew and the Gentile)” (Ephesians 2:15) — a seemingly impossible act.
The theological headlines could go on. When do they become personal? How does the theology of the resurrection find a home in our hearts? Here’s how the headline became personal to one woman . . . and to us.
In the dim early morning, Mary Magdalene and her friends arrived at Jesus’ tomb to discover that it was empty (John 20:1). Several rapid-fire events then happen: she runs to alert Peter and John, she meets two angels, and she encountered a “gardener.”
“Where did you take the body?” she asked the gardener. It was a logical question to ask. After all, a gardener’s job was to maintain the tombs. After asking the question she turns her back to the stranger to explore the tomb. One word turned her around to face the stranger. One word made the resurrection personal to her.
“Mary,” said the gardener.
This one word turned Mary’s world upside down. The simple word “Mary” told her that it was the risen Lord not a common gardener. “Rabboni!” or “my dear teacher,” she exclaimed (John 20:16). The gardener became the good shepherd; the shepherd who knew her name and whose voice she recognized (John 10:3-4). The distant headlines of the resurrection became personal to Mary. The theology of the resurrection found a home in her heart. Many of us have had a similar experience to Mary’s — the headline became personal when we placed our faith in the risen Christ.
What did she do? The passage implies that she either embraced Jesus or fell at his feet, clinging to his ankles. He urges her not to “cling to me” (John 20:17). I don’t think the issue was about touching Jesus, after all He later invited Thomas to touch him (John 20:27). One commentary suggests that because of the urgency of the moment, Jesus didn’t want Mary to stay too long in an embrace because he had a mission for her.
Mary needed to “go to his brothers” and tell them what she had seen (John 20:17-18). Jesus cut short a deeply personal moment to send Mary on a mission; a time of devotion must end to carry out an assignment. This call to mission doesn’t end with Mary. Later that evening, Jesus appears in a locked room, commissioning his disciples, “As the Father has sent me even so I am sending you” (John 20:21).
Now comes “ordinary time.”
For the past two years, I’ve been following the church calendar. This good Baptist has attended Ash Wednesday services, Maundy Thursday services, and made some Lenten sacrifices. These experiences have enriched my walk with God. What has surprised me is the term the ancient church used for the months between the ascension of Jesus to the beginning of advent. It’s called “ordinary time.”
Ordinary time is when we live out the resurrection in the everyday cycles of work, child care, school, and yard work. Our day-to-day routines become what one author calls the “splendor of the ordinary.” Ordinary time is what the Apostle Paul calls “living in the quiet” (1 Thessalonians 4:11). Our life in the quiet is always one of mission. Mission and the resurrection are almost synonymous with one another. We live out the resurrection by living on mission in ordinary time. How do we do this?
One simple phrase captures resurrection/missional living — its called “faithful presence.”
The term “faithful presence” was introduced by author James Davison Hunter. The term means that “Christians are fully present and committed to their spheres of social influence.” Our goal is to“bear witness to and to be the embodiment of the coming Kingdom of God” where we live, work, or play. In other words, we live out the resurrection life in our everyday routines and responsibilities, practicing the faithful presence of Christ in our circles of influence.
A faithful presence lends itself to excellence at work (Proverbs 22:23), living a quality marriage (Ephesians 5:32-33), serving our neighbors (Galatians 6:10), having a good reputation (1 Thessalonians 4:12), and serving in our communities (Titus 3:1). A faithful presence naturally engages people in gospel conversations (1 Peter 3:15). All of these are ordinary acts, faithfully carried out in the everyday presence of ordinary routines. We are people on mission, living out Jesus’ resurrected presence in life between Sundays.
My pastor friend Geoff calls this “living on assignment.” He challenges men and women in his church to discover the Lord’s unique assignment for each of them as they shelter-in-place, mitigating the spread of the virus.
I’ve established a simple assignment for myself. It includes writing, investing in leaders, shepherding our church’s Adult Bible Fellowship, and “pastoring” our neighborhood. Peggy and I are touching base with neighbors, sharing stories, and taking walks together. I tell my neighbors that I’m praying for them — that the virus would not enter their house and they would experience hope and not fear. This is our mash-up of a pandemic, the resurrection, and ordinary time.
So, here’s my challenge. What is the Lord’s assignment for you in this once-in-a-lifetime moment? How are you practicing His faithful presence — the resurrected life — in your ordinary relationships and responsibilities? The pandemic has created a unique moment-in-history for us. Will we faithfully live on mission — carrying out the Lord’s assignment in this mash-up of a pandemic, the resurrection, and ordinary time?