Sunday, 18 November 2012

We are the second coming

Today I’m going to tell you a secret. It is a secret kept fiendishly hidden from us by the fact that it is completely out in the open and is so obvious we don’t even notice it. That is sometimes the best way to hide things.
“Christ will come again” we say and then we say “We are the body of Christ”. But we have the utmost difficulty putting those two things together and coming up with the obvious truth and realising “My God, we are the second coming”
The words “Second coming” by the way never appear in the new testament. They are derived from a Greek word “Parousia” which means presence.  We are the continuing and future presence of the spirit of Christ in the world.
 God is everywhere of course but as a focussed presence where God’s presence is revealed and unveiled in the world, just as it was in Jesus, is now located in us. And it is because there are so many of us that Jesus says in John 14
“Truly truly I say to you, he who believes on me will do the works that I do, and greater works than these will he do, because I go to the Father”
This second birth, being born again, this re-incarnation of the Spirit of Christ is symbolised in the well known parable of Pentecost. When the Spirit is poured out on everyone who believes in and follows in the way.
Christians have tried to interpret the Prensence of Christ in two other main ways.
First, the very early church of the first generation of Christians believed that the end of the world was nigh – literally; and Christ would re-appear to take the righteous to heaven.  Paul was amongst them which colours his attitudes and early letters. 
Once it became clear that Christ wasn’t going to return, the belief had to be modified to mean that he would come back at some indeterminate time in the future and this view was still potent enough to make it into the Nicene creed written in 325 AD and which we recite to this day despite 2000 years of our increase in knowledge and perception – so the belief that he will literally appear one day  persists.
Another modification of the notion of the presence of Christ when he didn’t return was to say that his real actual flesh and blood became truly present in the bread and the wine at the Eucharist. This came originally from the words of Jesus at the last supper – “This is my body”.  Spiritually, this sense that there is “oneness of being” – that Jesus in his own body say to people holding a piece of bread “This is my body” was a huge spiritual step forward because the Spirit that animated Jesus was then at least incarnated in matter and not located somewhere else and carried with it the added theological benefit that we then ate and drank his presence, taking it into ourselves.
The drawback with this approach though was that the Eucharistic prayer came to be seen mechanically rather than spiritually as a magic spell that could literally change bread to flesh and wine to blood – another idea that has doggedly persisted in our consciousness. The other drawback is that the burden of change is transferred to bread and wine rather than ourselves
It was Paul who realised the truth of the matter that when the Spirit of Christ is recognised and revealed in the hearts of individual Christians we collectively become the “Body of Christ”. “Now you are the body of Christ and individually members of it” (1 Cor. 12: 27).
All three understandings of Presence exist rather uneasily in the church of today but when you think about it, the perception that we are the “second coming” is a far more beautiful, though daunting, and personally empowering concept than all the others. It comes down to trusting our understanding of who and what God is and using that to be the change we are looking for in the world.
For Christ to come again into the world he needs our co-operation to be co-creators with God. This was never put so beautifully as it was by the 16th Century mystic  Theresa of Avila who expressed this understanding in her poem  called “Christ has no body”.

Christ has no body but yours,
No hands, no feet on earth but yours,
Yours are the eyes with which he looks
Compassion on this world,
Yours are the feet with which he walks to do good,
Yours are the hands, with which he blesses all the world.
Yours are the hands, yours are the feet,
Yours are the eyes, you are his body.
Christ has no body now but yours,
No hands, no feet on earth but yours,
Yours are the eyes with which he looks
compassion on this world.
Christ has no body now on earth but yours.

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