Jesus’ prayer at the Last Supper with his disciples reveals something of this point of view. “I have brought you glory on earth by completing the work you gave me to do,” Jesus prayed, “And now, Father, glorify me in your presence with the glory I had with you before the world began.” Before the world began! Like an old man reminiscing— no, like an ageless God reminiscing— Jesus, who sat in a stuffy room in Jerusalem, was letting his mind wander back to a time before the Milky Way and Andromeda. On an earthly night dark with fear and menace, Jesus was making preparations to return home, to assume again the glory he had set aside.
All along he had planned to depart in order to carry on his work in other bodies. Their bodies. Our bodies. The new body of Christ.
Jesus left few traces of himself on earth. He wrote no books or even pamphlets. A wanderer, he left no home or even belongings that could be enshrined in a museum. He did not marry, settle down, and begin a dynasty. We would, in fact, know nothing about him except for the traces he left in human beings.
Would it be too much to say that, ever since the Ascension, Jesus has sought other bodies in which to begin again the life he lived on earth? The church serves as an extension of the Incarnation, God’s primary way of establishing presence in the world.
I find it much easier to accept the fact of God incarnating in Jesus of Nazareth than in the people who attend my local church — and in me.
A believer prays, and heaven responds; a sinner repents, and the angels rejoice; a mission succeeds, and Satan falls like lightning; a believer rebels, and the Holy Spirit is grieved. What we humans do here decisively affects the cosmos. I believe these things, and yet somehow I keep “forgetting” them. I forget that my prayers matter to God. I forget that I am helping my neighbors to their eternal destinations. I forget that the choices I make today bring delight— or grief— to the Lord of the Universe.
Jesus knew that the world he left behind would include the poor, the hungry, the prisoners, the sick. The decrepit state of the world did not surprise him. He made plans to cope with it: a long-range plan and a short-range plan. The long-range plan involves his return, in power and great glory, to straighten out planet earth. The short-range plan means turning it over to the ones who will ultimately usher in the liberation of the cosmos. He ascended so that we would take his place. “Where is God when it hurts?” I have often asked. The answer is another question, “Where is the church when it hurts?”
I remind myself that the apostle Paul’s soaring words about the bride of Christ and the temple of God were addressed to groups of hideously flawed individuals in places like Corinth.
To have the Church be what you want it to be would require the continuous miraculous meddling of God in human affairs …
If I cannot show love to such people, then I must question whether I have truly understood Jesus’ gospel.
A political movement by nature draws lines, makes distinctions, pronounces judgment; in contrast, Jesus’ love cuts across lines, transcends distinctions, and dispenses grace.
We in the church, Jesus’ successors, are left with the task of displaying the signs of the kingdom of God, and the watching world will judge the merits of the kingdom by us. We live in a transition time— a transition from death to life, from human injustice to divine justice, from the old to the new— tragically incomplete yet marked here and there, now and then, with clues of what God will someday achieve in perfection. The reign of God is breaking into the world, and we can be its heralds.
Philip Yancey, The Jesus I Never Knew