October 10, 2007

Work and Rest in Christ- a response to Not For Myself Alone

the following is a response to Dale’s blog, Not For Myself Alone (http://blog.myspace.com/index.cfm?fuseaction=blog.view&friendID=21653650&blogID=317845445)

“Therefore it is impossible that he should take his ease in this life…” I am going to take partial exception to this statement; though I understand the context clearly and it is nonetheless true; still – I will perhaps counterbalance it or affirm a theological reality that speaks to it and assures in it’s voice that he who understands it, will save himself from a the potential pitfall of a “works righteousness” mentality or an otherwise concurrent legalistic mindset.

Throughout Fundamentalist Evangelical Protestantism (which is how I would roughly describe my own self) there is a fractured misunderstanding of the Priesthood of the Believer. The common Prohibitionist position is an augment that “priests did not drink – therefore I should not either.” It is upon this point that the fracture in the foundation begins and expands further on outward.

The reason that the Priests did not drink is because Alcohol represents a medium of relaxation or literal downtime. To relax in ones job or do something that represents the idea that “I don’t have to be at work at this specific moment” is a metaphorical anathema to the understanding of the work of a priest – who under the Aaronic order, administered the law to the people as was given – and as we understand, it was both exacting, virtually unforgiving, it was truly; quite literally really never really enough, and it was never ever done or completed. You could do the best you could possibly do- and it was never fully enough. Only when Christ came – was the work of a priest in any literal sense really done – and the truth is, that everything he ever did, every sacrifice and ritual entailed therein both pointed to and culminated in Christ’s death on the Cross. For the priest, otherwise, his work carried too much responsibility to relax either with or without something that insinuated relaxation – such as an alcoholic drink (hear o lemuel; it is not fitting for either priests or kings to drink, lest you pervert the law) and was never done in any sense that he could ever literally relax while engaging in the priestly duties. This is why when I priest was not “on his rotation” he could drink wine; but when performing his duties – he could not touch it – it was forbidden; because of it’s metaphoric offense in that it was essentially saying; the priest had somehow reached a point where he could relax in his duties, and as long as salvation came through the law – this could never actually be the case.

Today – we have a likewise metaphorical reality that we must be cognizant of; that is- that while we must work and do the work of Christ; in a very deep and profound reality -we do have not just the right, but the commandment to rest. This is the ultimate revelation of the Sabbath; as Christ himself became not just the Sabbath incarnate- but also the Law. So in Christ we have the embodiment of a true Kinsman Redeemer; and yes we work for Him but that work is not for Him – as it was through the law, but it is through Him. The work that we do is made complete in Christ – otherwise, when through the law, it was always there, but not quite, perhaps almost done, but you had to work a little harder, it was almost done – but not quite. In Christ, we have reached the fullness of everything that we can be or do or arrive at. And while I may work ferverently in the fields, I am working through Christ and not in my own endeavors. And if I want to rest and take a break either literally or metaphorically – that is not just an ok thing, but it is also commanded in due season and time – because just like as I am working through Christ when I am working- the position of Christ and my relation with and through him persists, even when I am at rest. And so I can rest; and I can truly say contra Luther, in at least this theological dimension Therefore it is necessary that we should take his ease in this life – in it’s proper time and place. To put oneself into a mindset that the work is not done, and that I am must work harder perpetually is an offense to the finished work of Christ in our lives – and in effect, it puts us back into the shoes of the Aaronic priest -which we are not called to identfy with any longer – rather, as Hebrews tells us, our Chief priest is Christ – and is of the Melchezedec order not the Aaronic. How often we identify ourselves either directly or indirecty to something that we think we are but we are not; and in doing so bring reproach to our position in Christ out pure, inexcusable ignorance.

I once had a friend who worked in the inner city schools. She and I are good friends and have been for many, many years. There have been many times that I have had the privilege of being the shoulder that she cried on; and many of those tears have been over her students. This year, one student that she tried so hard to save, was killed breaking into somebody’s home in an act of home invasion. This former student of hers; one that she tried so hard to get back on the right path; could have written their own ticked out of “the hood” but the call of the streets was more powerful then the love of a teacher, friends, or even family. In the end – he passed from this life under a hail of bullets from an utterly terrorized homeowner; guilty of the most shocking criminal acts perpetrateable against another citizen. I watched the tears roll down my friends face as she deeply grieved the loss of yet another child. And again – I told the story that I had told her many times before; so many times that I need not even finish it: the story of the man walking down the beach throwing starfish back into the ocean, and the young man who comes up to him and says ” you old fool – what are you doing, what you trying to do does not matter – you can only throw so many of those back and there and tens of thousands of them out here today, why don’t you do something that is not an exercise in futility?” To this accusation that old man turned to the child and picked up a starfish in front of him and just before tossing it back into the life-sustaining salty water, softly spoke to him saying; “yes, son – that is all true; but what I am doing matters to this one.

It is important to realize that we have a responsibility but that, responsibility also entails an necessary acknowledgment of our position in Christ; and the ramifications of that relationship that permeate throughout the entirety of our lives – not just in the work that we do, but also in the rest. And so in setting our hands to the plow and not looking back, we realize that the work really truly is already done, and we are not working in an of ourselves but through Christ, and we are enabled and empowered to not just work, but to also rest – and that ability to rest comes from the same source that makes any of our work even worthwhile, completeable, or even attainable: the shed blood of Jesus Christ.