A few years ago I went back to school online. My major was Christian Studies, and it was a real joy to go through the Scriptures and other Christian writings, learning the foundations of my faith. For the most part I did really well.
One exception to that was when I did a paper about the sacrament of communion. I read the class text and even went to the school’s online library to research the topic. I turned in what I thought was a great paper. The professor didn’t agree with me – my grade was far below what I was used to getting.
His reasoning? I didn’t include enough mystery in my paper.
Brennan Manning has long been one of my favorite authors. Like a lot of people, I heard about him through Rich Mullins, then ran out and got a copy of The Ragamuffin Gospel. That book is still one of the most important books I’ve ever read. Manning talks about grace in the same scandalous way as Jesus.
But it’s not a cheap grace. Lately I’ve been reading several of Manning’s other books. In The Signature of Jesus, he introduces a concept called “paschal spirituality”, which means living life in the light of what Jesus did. That kind of life involves trust, risk, and sacrifice. Beyond that, it involves living the mystery.
What is this mystery that Brennan Manning and my college professor both referred to? Right at the heart of the Christian faith is the Paschal Mystery. Depending on your denominational background, you may not have heard that term before, but you are definitely aware of it. The Paschal Mystery is all of the events surrounding the death, resurrection, and ascension of Jesus. If you’re missing out on that, you’re kind of missing the boat.
Most people can read the Gospel accounts of Jesus and follow right along. He was born, and then he grew up to be this great teacher. Now, there are a couple of odd passages, where he starts talking about eating his flesh and drinking his blood. And there’s the part where the woman at the well asks if he is the Messiah and he responds “I am he.” But if you kind of gloss over all that, you have good little story about a good man. Other than a couple of little quirks, just about anybody can agree to love their neighbor and to give money to the poor.
Then things take a strange turn when Jesus goes into Jerusalem. What a weird week! He rides into town on a donkey and people welcome him as a hero. Then he proceeds to turn over the tables in the Temple. Maybe this guy isn’t who they thought he was? Then there’s that weird dinner where he starts up again about eating his body and drinking his blood.
That night he gets arrested, and the next day he’s convicted and crucified. A couple days later some of his followers go to check the tomb and he’s gone. For several weeks there are all these crazy reports of people seeing Jesus all over the place. Then he appears before a bunch of his disciples and speaks. Then he rises up through the clouds into Heaven.
All that crazy stuff? That’s the mystery.
I love that mystery lies at the heart of being a Christian. I love the idea because it is big enough to handle all of our doubts and questions – it even welcomes them. Instead of trying to reduce these God-sized concepts into little human boxes (like I was trying to do in my paper), we can carry these questions around with us. And that’s OK. It’s called faith.
If you don’t have a faith that includes Jesus dying on a cross, rising again, and then ascending into heaven, you don’t have a faith at all.
If you really believe all those things, your life will reflect it. You will live a life of joy and, yes, pain. But you will also live a life of great power, because the same power that Jesus used to conquer the grave is coursing through your veins right now.
It’s true. Don’t sell yourself short and don’t settle for anything less.
Live the mystery.