living the narrative of jesus christ

This is part of my final exam for Theology of Spiritual Formation:

In a world defined by success, accumulation, and the delusion that the individual is capable of re-writing her or his own story, control has become the idol of the age. The Church offers an alternate story that frees the world from the need to author itself. For the Christian, there is only one story: that of life, death, and resurrection as embodied by Jesus Christ. This story is narrated in countless ways.

To live the story of Jesus Christ, we must live with an expectation of real, painful deaths with the reassurance that resurrection lives on the other side. The resurrection is not a mere resuscitation of what was prior to death; this is not the God of CPR. Rather, resurrection implies a transformation, new life, new possibilities that are only available on the other side of death and not even imaginable from where we stand now. “If the heart of ‘meaning’ is a human story, a story of growth, conflict and death, every human story with all its oddity and ambivalence, becomes open to interpretation in terms of God’s saving work.” Each life is a unique narration of the Jesus story.

Church is where the individual learns to embody the story in the particularities of her or his own narrative. Salvation through death and resurrection is not only illustrated by Jesus, but constituted through him. When the individual becomes enfolded into the story through baptism, the old remains but is now brought into something now. This first death refigures the individual’s story with that of Christ, offering a new telos and new way of being. The community is important not only as a witness to this first event, but as a space in which Christians learn to sacrifice their very self to the community’s needs and narrative texts. The learning is always in process as the individual continues to allow their being to be interrogated by the texts and as the individual learns new ways of offering into the community.

The gospels are storied. It is not enough to simply have heard the teachings or Jesus, to know the truths intellectually. The form chosen by Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John points to a deeper truth: the story must be lived. The significance of the storied gospels are that character and circumstance are most themselves through their interaction; Jesus is the unity of what he did, the way he did it, and what was done to him. Such a reality “cannot be explained, but only described.” The identity of Christ is constituted by the narration of intention as it is carried into action. Only characters who carry complications of a past and expectations of a future are open to the possibility of tragedy and transformation.

Too often we jump to the resurrection, to the happy ending. We must be reminded of the death of our divinity upon a government torture device, and the hours after this death in which the ending of the story was not known. This requires a dual lens: that of the Christian who knows Christ is risen, and that of the Christ follower who does not yet know, but only experiences the reality of God crucified. Because we know the resurrection as both an event that has already happened and a reality that is always happening, “the Christian meets pain in acceptance and hope. He or she confronts it, identifies with those experiencing it, and then struggles through it to grow into a new humanness.” The story is to be lived by entering into the dark places in our own lives and communities, knowing that new, transformed life is offered only on the other side of death.

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