John Mark Reynolds, 2004.
Tonight I stood before God in a service I did not create. I didn’t sit with my other friends and make up the work of the Church as I went. The Church was not emerging tonight, it was standing on a firm foundation. They did not have to hear my words, for Cranmer had written timeless words to express my thoughts. Wounded from the battles of the evil times we live in, I stood on the rock that is Christ. The Church was not listening to my authentic experience, polluted by sin, instead pure and holy She taught me the value of her experience. My culture may be post-foundationalist, but my Church and God are not. We had not stolen religious practices we dimly understood from reading some internet web postings. We are not experimenting with our souls, we are finding healing. There was such rest and joy and liberty. Liberty it turns out is not finding a trendy outfit and having dialogue. Liberty comes in worship where we are unified by a mighty theology greater than we are or the spirit of our age. This is but one time after all and tonight was timeless. Thank God I was not authentic to myself, but Christ in me, the hope of glory, was authentic to Himself.
Tonight with my wife and children, all Christian words those, we stood and obeyed Christ. Do this, He said, in remembrance of me. Memory that is more than even total recall, but is real. As so many who came before from Peter to Chrysostom to Luther to C.S. Lewis, we allowed total and utter grace to cleanse us. I lost this time. I lost myself. United with Christians all over the world who stood in their places, we obeyed the Maundy, the command. Love burned in me. How can I express this? We are an ironic age and I long to use the words of a passionate lover to say what I felt for the Churches one foundation, Jesus Christ, our Lord. He does not conform to me! What a comfort! He does not need me, but He wants me. He can take my hardest question, allow me a time for dialectic, but then in the corporate worship of the Church silence my heart and draw me to himself. Me. Selfish me. And then I thought how I have failed in love. It pierced me to think of all the students who see only the bluster and the arrogance. God help me. Let me be willing to show how nothing I am and how great You are. May I be passionate for holiness and as opposed to my own sin as I am to that of others. May I stand without condemnation to go and sin no more. Then we said the old words, written by a Reformer and blessed by Antioch:
We do not presume to come to this, Thy table, trusting in our own righteousness but in Thy manifold and great mercies. We are not worthy so much as to gather up the crumbs from under Thy table. But Thou art the same Lord whose nature is always to have mercy. Grant us, therefore, gracious Lord so to eat the flesh of Thy dear Son Jesus Christ and to drink His blood, that we may evermore dwell in Him and He in us.
God lets us approach Him, it is not longer me. And the “we” does not just include our sick post-modern time or the earlier degenerate modern times. The “we” includes the church of all the ages saying creeds, immovable rocks, that they still stand on with us. The great hosts of heaven were joined to our little parish in this Southern California of strip malls. God allows all of us freely to know Him and become part of Him. The humble act of eating simple food is transformed. And I am not made nothing, but transformed. This loss of the time in which I live has made me (oddly enough) timeless and so authentic. At last, I am free of the tyranny of now. I am no longer alone, because I am not trying to create or imagine or dream. Jesus is Lord. Jesus Christ is Lord. He is Holy. He is a God of War and the Prince of Peace, but it will be peace on His terms. We must bend the knee. Eternally, not because it is trendy or because it has always been done, but because it is His command that every knee bow. I have not come to a community, but to a monarchy with one King. Before us, glowing in the light, we saw mosaics. Some say the Church is a mosaic, where doctrines, practices, and ideas can be replaced without destruction. But the church is the frame, form, and pattern of the mosaic. Each living member becomes a piece of the mosaic, but in Scripture there is an absolute foundation for truth, goodness, and beauty. The Church may see more clearly, but it never changes what is has seen. Gradually God’s revelation in the person of Jesus Christ becomes plain to Her. The Holy Gospel in four precious books sits unchanging for me to read. “Take and read.” I do not have to be afraid of anything, not the spirit of the age or my own sinfulness, because my own times and my own self are so small and so loved. The Great King is also my heavenly Daddy who will hold me.For the last thing they do is strip the alter. The soldiers arrest Jesus. Our little church hears the words of the Psalmist. “My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?” God who is so glorious and unchanging has allowed Himself to be stripped and laid bare. He is not worthy of honor. He is a criminal in the hands of Roman law. God help humanity, that we would do that to You. Yet somehow this is the most comforting thing of all. He has seen us at our worst as we beat Him and mock Him and make Him suffer. Still He love us. Jesus Christ knows all and still loves us. He loves his foes. The religious people who would miss him in legalism or the emergent churches of His day who said that Rome had changed everything so that Scripture itself would change. Pharisees and Sadduccees. He saw them, rebuked and damned them, and still loved them. And Zealots like me, burning to reform and harming in their foolish, messianic zeal, trying to bring the Kingdom to Earth. He rejected the cause, but loved Simon the Zealot who became simply Simon, the Apostle. The glory of it all is beyond hope of communication. I do not reject the new and trendy, the liberal and up to date, because I am afraid, but because I am in love. I am in love with the unchanging God in Three persons: Father, Son, and Holy Ghost. I am a single cell in the pure bride that is His Church of all ages who did not create herself and who is His to govern, Hers to obey. I am obedient in order to be happy. For my greatest happiness, happiness really experienced, is in the holiness, sound doctrine, and passionate experience He is allowing me to find. I have invented nothing, can create nothing. I can only taste and see that the Lord is Good on this Maundy Thursday, the day of commands.