I want to continue my exploration of what it means to be a Christian. Some people would say that you have to be baptized and to keep the sacrament! That’s interesting. First of all, from my experience – those insisting on baptism would reject anything Jewish. But baptism was a Jewish rite of purification which John the Baptist, probably an Essen and definitely a Jew, preformed in the Jordan River where he baptized Jesus of Nazareth a Jew. And during the process of that baptism Jesus is identified as the Son of God as a Jew. This is the event to which people point for baptism as a requirement for being a Christian. It is all very confusing isn’t it. Some people who claim to be Christians reject all or some of the sacraments including baptism and the Eucharist. Does that mean they are not Christian? Some would say yes. I would not agree for I find the issue to be confounded by what we have accepted as part of our faith from our Jewish fore fathers or mothers, how we have transformed and made what was theirs our own, or just accepted what was theirs as our own.
What does it mean to be Christian? It means that we adhere to the belief that Jesus is the incarnate Son of God, that he suffered and died for us in order that we would be freed from our sins and reconciled to God. We need to follow some parts of the old covenant as well as to follow the parts of the New Covenant. The old covenant is based upon our taking in the stranger and our loving our neighbor. As far as the authors of Deuteronomy were concerned, it was more important for us to take in the stranger. The New Covenant seems to have emphasized loving our neighbor more. You may want to add to or emphasize one or more elements of faith here. I’ve tried to streamline them so that they are all-inclusive. You may emphasize some of these elements more than others. Some people would deny the two primary Deuteronomy Laws – love of neighbor and love of the stranger on the grounds that it comes from the Old Testament. I would suggest to you that you will find this same material in the Beatitudes, in James, in Paul’s letters, and in John’s Gospel. You see many of the people who founded our faith were Jews first. Some of them remained Jews all of their lives like Jesus did. Others like those that John wrote about in his gospel broke off from their Jewish synagogue. Still others were Gentiles, those persons who were not Jewish, a large portion of whom were Greek to begin with.
Easter as an everyday experience has a great deal to make it appealing to me. Principally, I think that one of the fundamental qualities of our faith is the development of relationships. I would suggest that this is true of all faiths that point to the ancient Jewish faith as a part of their origin and use what the Protestant Christians call the Old Testament as a major resource in their faith. In the Torah, the first five books of the Old Testament, God instructs us to love our neighbor and to take in the stranger. A much greater emphasis is placed on taking in the stranger if the simple number of times that we are told to take them in counts. We are most likely to find God in the acts or words of the stranger. In both relationships, that of self to stranger or to neighbor, we realize a variety of things. Often we discover God’s blessing or desires when we take in the stranger. When we concentrate on loving our neighbor, we realize our selves and others. In both types of relationships, there are discoveries made which important to us.
Easter is an everyday experience for those who need a personal relationship with another, which is all of us, for we are social animals. Relationships establish our place within community. They give us a sense of belonging and an identity. We know we are somebody because we are valued as a part of the whole. We live into our community when we become accountable to each other. Relationship establishes our accountability as a part of the present community. Resurrection is the light which enables us to see one another more clearly in the here and now. Any offer of eternal life is God’s offer; something that may be hoped for but nor realized in this life time. Bishop Charleston’s view of Easter and the Resurrection certainly offers us a great deal to think about. I for one am grateful for this offering. It gives me a broader and more hopeful way of thinking about this event in our lives.
I am aware that this past Sunday was Pentecost, but I think that it is important to spend some time discussing Bishop Charleston’s understanding of Easter and resurrection before we go much farther along. My discussion is based on Charleston’s book The Four Vision Quests of Jesus. Bishop Charleston is a Native American who spent years looking for the connection between his Native faith and Christianity. His understanding of Easter, the heart of the Christian faith, is that it is an everyday affair in which we form personal relationships that free us from violence and establish freedom and love for each other. Resurrection opens our vision so that we see each other more clearly in our everyday relationships. Something that the day of Pentecost brings home for we are divided by our differing languages.