Sunday, October 19, 2008

What Would Mary Magdalene Do?

"Ascension and Pentecost work together," writes Michael Horton, "to keep us attentive both to the differences and similarities between Christ and his church." He continues:

Apart from Pentecost, ecclesial performance of this script could only be on the order of imitatio Christi, a hopeless series of attempts to re-create the original work or translate it into a contemporary idiom. Holding on to a few scraps of "sayings" (always ethical), we might focus all of our energies on answering the question, "What would Jesus do?" but then we would have no connection to what Jesus has done, is doing, and will do for the ungodly.
I would concur with Horton that Pentecost ushered in a truly new era of redemptive history of which the previous generations of saints knew nothing other than by way of yet-unfulfilled promise (this is why Horton remarks that "the 'distance' between Peter-the-Disciple and Peter-the-Apostle is greater than that between Peter and us."). Because of the gift of the Spirit at Pentecost,

... the church's performance here and now is not "based on a true story," but is part of it: a living liturgy of covenantal action and response. It originates in the heart of the Father, unfolds in the life of the Son, and is brought to fruition by the graciously disruptive power of the Spirit.
But none of this would be possible without the "real absence of Christ" occasioned by his bodily Ascension. If it is the immediate presence of Christ in the flesh that we desire, then we must await his bodily return in like manner as he left us. It is precisely because of Jesus' bodily absence that the church militant must be content not to be triumphant just yet. Instead, we know him not after the flesh like the disciples did, but by the Spirit, who makes Christ more present to us than he was even to those whose hands handled him. "It is the Spirit who causes us to recognize the Jesus of history as the Christ of faith (II Cor. 5:16-17)."

This Spirit bridges the eschatological distance between the already-consummated Jesus history (the age to come) and our existence in the last days of this present age. Nevertheless, the church is part of that story always at a different place than its lead character. He is ahead of us, in the last act, yet is keeping our history moving toward him by his intercession and work of his Spirit.
Though Horton does not make this connection, one may legitimately wonder if the evangelical-slash-emergent fixation upon the earthly Jesus, and concomitant discomfort with Christ's real absence, is a subtle form of the Maglanenean grip that hopes to prevent the Ascension altogether?