Monday, February 19, 2007

Real Presence

Since I'm Lutheran, I'm all about confessing. Therefore: I confess that I suck at blogging. In my pastors sermon a number of Sundays ago he mentioned that Flannery O'Conner would sit in front of her typewriter every day, whether she felt like she had something to say or not; you never know when the muse will strike. Sounds like advice tailor made for me.

I just turned 39 (40 right around the corner!) and I received a gift card to a near-by used bookstore as a present (I love used bookstores). So, the next day I stopped by and purchased a number of books, one of which was: The Evangelizing Church: A Lutheran Contribution. Besides the absolute silliness of buying another theology/religion book (you should see the stack waiting to be read), it's about "evangelizing" which always seemed, to my Lutheran ears at least, a code word for proselytizing. (What's the difference? Good question. I'll have more to say on that topic (and this book) in the future.)

And yes, I'm aware this is the height of irony coming from someone who is a member of the Evangelical Lutheran Church.

I read something in the third chapter that struck me quite powerfully and I'd like to share it with you. The author of that chapter posed a question from a hypothetical Christian about the difficulties of evangelism. The premise is that it was easier for the Apostles to evangelize because they had the benefit of actually being with Jesus. The question was:

Since Jesus is no longer living with us bodily, how can we actually 'hear' his voice or 'feel' his healing touch?

The author answers the question thusly:

The heart of evangelical theology and preaching is that Christ is alive and present among us -- concretely and unmistakably. Jesus' word and presence are real, direct, graspable, and available for us -- today!....We do not act *as if* Jesus Christ were present in the Christian community. The gospel message is that Jesus, actually, is alive and is really present with us in Christian community as he promised. That's the good news. It's the great gift of salvation.

The writer then goes on to describe how, exactly, Christ is present to us:

Now, the secret of Jesus' real presence is this: the way he freely comes to people today is through the proclamation of his word, the celebration of the sacraments, and the life and witness of the Christian community.

And a little later on he quotes Bonhoeffer:

If we want to hear his call to discipleship, we need to hear it where Christ himself is present. It is within the church that Jesus Christ calls through his word and sacrament...To hear Jesus' call to discipleship, one need no personal revelation. Listen to the preaching and receive the sacrament! Listen to the gospel of the crucified and risen Lord! Here he is, the whole Christ, the very same who encountered the disciples. Indeed, here he is already present as the glorified, the victorious, the living Christ. No one but Christ himself can call us to discipleship...That was true in the same way for the first disciples as it is for us.

These bold statement shouldn't have been very surprising; and yet they were. Do we as Lutherans really understand how important and relevant these ideas are? Shouldn't we be embracing this theological heritage and put it to good use?

There seems to me a crying need for this idea of the real presence of Christ (without too much ecclesiastical baggage). Contrary to popular belief, I think post-modern Christians want and need something that is solid and non-relativistic and real. Can you get anything more real than Christ crucified and risen given to you every Sunday?!

More later.