This Sunday we celebrate Pentecost and the end of the Easter season. Thanks for journeying with me this season of Easter where we have been “walking in the resurrection” with Myron Augsburger. After last week when I was wondering whether his writing was perhaps a bit dated, I was pleasantly surprised by how relevant and prophetic were his words in the final chapters. So, I simply conclude the way I began, with a few quotes:

“At Pentecost God created a new community, a new people bound to each other in a covenant of love, and expression of the life of Christ.”

“Walking in the resurrection is to live as a new humanity, to live by a standard which finds its norm in Jesus Christ, who in his resurrection introduced us to the ultimate humanity in which we share.”

“First, we must always affirm the ultimate value of human personality above mere things. And second, we should never ask anyone to give [their] life for our things. We can adjust our expectation to live without things, but we cannot replace lives that have been lost.”

“Christianity is the most materialistic religion in the world, said William Temple. The reason? Because it takes the material order seriously. As disciples we do not withdraw from life to be more holy. But as we have seen, the grace of God restores to us a true humanness in the renewal of [God’s] image within us. Just as the incarnation is God’s great affirmation of humanness, and the resurrection [God’s] expression of the eternal pattern for the humane, so we find God’s call for us to live in holiness as a quality of life in the midst of the material order.”

“How important that we recapture the awareness that work can be participation with God in God’s providence in the creative necessities of life.”

“The disciple looks at ecological concerns, not just from the perspective of [their] own security in the universe, but as part of [their] responsibility under God as a steward, as a concern of both love and hope for the generations yet to come who should have a ‘good’ world in which to participate in life.”

“To be led by the Spirit is not static.”

We walk on in hope.

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My view of the church—and I would say even the church’s view of itself—has evolved since 1976 when Walking in the Resurrection was written. I am with him on the opening statements that “the church is a fellowship and not an institution…The church is an expression in the world of a new humanity, a people reconciled to God, a people in whom the restoration of God’s image keeps coming through as a transparent quality.” It exhibits the idealism of the Jesus movement going on at the time but I still like the definition. Sometimes I’m not sure how useful are such idealistic definitions because we are more realistically a fellowship of sinners than a fellowship of saints. Most normal churches are often a very poor representation of a new humanity that do not look at all like the one we claim to follow. But being too idealistic and hard on ourselves will probably not help the matter much. Practicing grace and forgiveness for ourselves and others might.

“The concept of the invisible church is a man-made doctrine which claims that ultimately only God knows the heart of each person who is a genuine believer. But as disciples of Christ this is a false perspective. The church by its very nature must be visible.” I too have preached this in my Anabaptist theology class and it was a helpful response to Christendom and still is a helpful response to western individualism. At the same time this view has nurtured ethical legalism and an ethnic superiority complex among Mennonites over the past few centuries. Again, take with a dose of grace. That too is part of walking in the resurrection.

The other critique I have is Augsburger’s view of evangelism, i.e. proselytization, as the primary work of the church. “Changing lives will change society.” Since 1976 the missional church movement has helpfully broadened and deepened the mission of the church as articulated by Darrell Guder, Chris Wright, and others. God’s mission is the restoration of all humanity and all creation and the church’s mission is to give witness to God’s work in the world. Rather than doing missions and evangelism, the church is missional in character; our mission is simply to be the church, gathered and scattered. This involves not only verbal proclamation but also structural work for social justice. Augsburger’s final chapters on “relating to government” and “God and Mammon” will hopefully get into this.

In the chapter (7) I just finished reading, Augsburger articulates the traditional “two-kingdom” theory that most Anabaptist/Mennonites have held for centuries. This made perfect sense for a persecuted and fleeing minority in 16th century central Europe and beyond but it is presently problematic in numerous ways which I will not get into at this time. I have problems with a few other details in this chapter but my purpose in the present reading is not to be critical but to be inspirational so I will focus on a few quotes I find helpful for my personal and communal present.

The chapter opens with: “One of the most revolutionary convictions one can hold is to believe in the present, spiritual, universal kingdom of Christ and to give it loyalty above all else” And then goes on to emphasize that “[the] conviction of the Christian church regarding the ultimate destiny of [humankind] and the world is severed from its roots if it speaks only of a future happening in Christ’s return. It must also see the faith as grounded in the resurrection and being currently expressed in the building of the kingdom moving toward its fuller expression.” [italic emphasis mine] It is about God’s resurrection power in personal spirituality but I would add that it also has profound relational, social, economic, ecological, and political implications. God’s reign of SHALOM is about all of life. The important thing is that it is primarily present and current and not about some pie-in-the-sky-by-and-by. This reminds me of another quote from an old Anabaptist classic: H.S. Bender’s “Anabaptist Vision” of 1946. “The Anabaptist vision was not a detailed blueprint for the reconstruction of human society, but the Brethren did believe that Jesus intended that the kingdom of God should be set up in the midst of the earth, here and now, and this they proposed to do forthwith.”

“One cannot fully experience the new birth (resurrected life) without discovering what it means to love all people, to do violence to no one, and to live modestly in the midst of status-seeking humanity. The new life calls us to show love for our neighbour. Today as never before we must find ways to minister to the needy, to share the world’s resources with the malnourished, and to bring deliverance to the suffering.” So, what does this mean for me on an ordinary day in the spring of 2019? Perhaps with a bit more intentionality, I will continue my work of preparing a lecture and sermon on a subversive economic spirituality from Luke 16, cycle home, tend my suburban garden, and invite a neighbour who is lonely over for dinner. What will it mean for you?

It seems a key verse in this book is 2 Corinthians 5:17—”If anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation: everything old has passed away; see, everything has become new.”

“Walking in the resurrection is living in this newness, this fulfillment in Christ.” We walk with a new perspective, a different perspective than the prevailing tired old one that rules the empires of our society: sexism, racism, militarism, consumerism, etc. “We put on a new life—a new life of love, kindness, humility, meekness, patience, forgiveness, peace, thankfulness, joy, reverence, and obedience (See Colossians 3:12-17).” These are inward qualities that are necessarily displayed outwardly, as clothes are! And these are all relational qualities, practiced in relation to others.

We need other people, and to live with other people in harmony, to be whole persons. “[People], created in God’s image, [were] created in and for community. No person is complete [in themselves] without the ‘other.’ Fellowship is not a luxury; it is the stuff out of which the true nature of the soul is formed… None of us is complete without our interrelationship with others… Faith is not a concept that we hold; it is a fellowship in which we live…in Christ… Paul recognizes this [communal] perspective approximately 265 times.” We need each other to be fully human.

How can we live in the resurrection, in this new way of life? “The nature of God’s transforming grace is not automatic, nor is it impersonal in a way that would violate our personality or psychological structure. The identification with death to the old life and resurrection into the new is an identification of faith, not an impersonal fact of change…But there is more to this change. Sharing the resurrection life also involves sharing life in the Spirit… This mind-boggling reality, the indwelling presence of the Spirit, makes the new life dynamic and creative.” How does it look to live with dynamism and creativity? Perhaps we need to look to children, athletes and artists, as our models of dynamic and creative living; they know how to play and use the imagination, they rejoice in their bodies, they are open to surprises and possibilities.

Ask most Christians in any church about why Jesus came to earth they would probably answer, “Jesus came to die for my sins.” But in this book Augsburger counters this common perception by emphasizing the resurrection as central to following Jesus. “Without the resurrection of Christ, there would be no reconstituting of human life and existence by God… Early Christians regarded the raising of Jesus from the dead as the decisive act of God’s saving work.”

It seems that part of Augsburger’s purpose is to carve a way between charismatic/pietistic Christianity that focuses on personal experience and the dead legalism of ethical forms of Christianity. “Our relationship with the risen Christ keeps our discipleship from becoming legalistic. The emphasis on following Christ keeps our experience from becoming merely pietistic… Believing is behaving in relationship.”

One line that has been used at least twice in the opening chapters is: “God is like Jesus.” In other words, there are many ways God has revealed Godself to the world through creation, through the Old Testament, and throughout history but the fullest and best picture of what God is like is found in the person of Jesus of Nazareth as revealed in the Gospels.

A good word to those of us who work and study in the context of an institution dedicated to biblical study: “The ultimate goal of [biblical] exegesis is fully attained only when this faith is subsequently achieved by us. The dynamic aspect of [biblical] interpretation is not in the concepts so much as in the expression of a transformed life. We are to live our understanding, to be walking in the resurrection.”

Easter is not a day; it is a season. Easter lasts from Easter Sunday until Pentecost Sunday, which is June 9 this year. My Easter Sunday post did confess my belief in the physical resurrection of Jesus as well as some contemporary people. But a few comments from unnamed individuals in the past few weeks have got me thinking about the significance of the resurrection in Christian thought and experience.

The first came from someone who was “tired of all the blood” they were hearing about in sermons leading up to Easter. (This person would probably not appreciate Mel Gibson’s rendition of Jesus’ last days which came out some years ago.) A second comment was someone wondering what it meant when Jesus said on the cross, “It is finished.” Does it mean that the work of Jesus Christ to redeem humankind was finished? If so—and it is often assumed that is what is meant—then why care about a resurrection? If Jesus’ death finished the job by dying then the resurrection seems somewhat anticlimactic. A third comment I have heard quite often for most of my life: “Jesus came to die for my sins.” Again, if Jesus primary purpose was only to come to die for my sins, why do we have the four Gospels tell stories about miracles, relationships, parables, sermons, confrontations, healings, etc. and why end with a resurrection account?

I don’t know why, but the name of an old book popped into my head when I heard one of the comments: Walking in the Resurrection by Myron Augsburger. I may have read the book during my first year of Bible college shortly after it came out (1976) and I know I have a copy on my shelf but I have to confess that I have no recollection of what it is like or what it is about other than the title. The title is provocative and seems to indicate that it is more about lived spirituality than trying to prove the historicity of the resurrection event. So my idea is that in the seven weeks of Easter I want to read this book and hopefully gain some appreciation for the significance of the resurrection in my life. I invite my readers and “followers” along for the ride.

I’ll make another confession at the outset. Although as a professor it is my job to read books, I have not read very many in the past few years due to my mental health. I used to have half dozen on the go at any given time and read at least 12 a year with a novel in the summer. During my last sabbatical/study leave I had no problem reading more than 6,000 pages in six months—besides a few writing projects! But unfortunately, my capacity has been greatly reduced. So my goal is modest. All I want to do is finish reading a 150 page inspirational book and write about it a few times with a posture of curiosity and openness to surprise.

Resurrection was easy for you:

encounters in the garden,

walking through walls,

breaking bread, breakfast on the beach,

a cruise on the clouds

to go back where you came from.

But what if going back where you came from

was back to an alley

full of dumpsters and rubble

where you overdosed on fentanyl

because your pain was unbearable?

Then resurrection would be hard.

What if going back where you came from

was back to a disease

that caused you to starve till you fainted,

puke till your heart attacked

and stole your very selfhood?

Then resurrection would be hard.