Hope in the final
act: It's our scene
Weve all read Shakespeares dramas. Weve learned about his characteristic five-act structure. The characters come alive. The plot line thickens and unrolls. Theres power and coherence in how the whole drama holds together.
New Testament scholar Tom Wright suggested that the five-act structure is a helpful way to consider Gods great drama:
It all concludes with curtains: The end of history; Gods kingdom comes in its fullness.
Did you notice what we missed? We missed Act 5 Scene 3: thats open because thats our scene.
Our task in life is to write and act out that scene, but we dont have complete freedom in doing this. We are limited by the characters who have gone before us. God calls each one of us to write our own scene. God calls our faith communities to act out different scenes within the trajectory of the great story line, in other words, within the tradition. We do that by exploring who God is and the purpose for which God has created us. We live by the story we tell, and creating and acting our story lines is one way of talking about mission.
Eleanor lost both a husband and a child to cancer, yet she was the recipient of grace upon grace while teaching at Goshen College. She couldnt pray but she knew the prayers of her friends carried her. Friends gave time, they gave blood, they gave prayers, they gave money. How does a person repay a debt like that? It gave her hope, as well as a motive for her life. As a recipient of generosity, she is called to live a life which is generous to others. She lives out of the story of her past.
As Christians, we recognize that Gods story is an odd story. There
are unexpected wrinkles, surprising twists and an extremely unlikely cast
But then imagine a God who chose to work not through Caesar but through Jesus.
Imagine a God who prefers to work through people who are not newsworthy.
Imagine a God who knows that the only way forward for humanity is through what the world considers foolish through Jesus and his way, through surprising, nonviolent, unconventional means, through Gods own suffering and not through the conventional means of strutting and dominating and killing. What an odd story; its upside-down.
We learn our story line by worshipping the one who is and who was and who is to come. In the now, we look back. We tell the story and give thanks and receive strength and guidance to continue the story, wherever the plot may take us.
Thats a way of talking about mission. Its joining our lives into Gods big story, working with the grain of Gods purposes.
How do we know those purposes, those directions of Gods reconciling work? We learn in worship, in meditating on the love and character of God. This came to us clearly in a recent visit to the remote village of Taizé, France.
A group of idealistic young Catholic and Protestant men went to Taizé to found an ecumenical monastery devoted to the disciplined tasks of working and praying. It was hard to get to Taizé, but that was what they wanted to be undisturbed.
Things have changed. The fields around the village are now filled with tents of thousands of camping youth. In the village, a new chapel holds thousands of worshippers. And people come, mainly young people and mainly to worship. Because the rumor is out God is at Taizé, and the youth of Europe want to find God.
Here the monks had found this wonderful place to pray and the youth were making noise, asking questions and simply crowding them out. Some of the monks left to find another place of silence. Most stayed.
When we visited Taizé, people gathered in the huge, sprawling chapel full of candles, icons and incense. There was a great stillness.
Young people came in and knelt. Chants began: In the Lord is my true salvation, in the Lord my lasting joy. The monks filed in. Scripture: Come to me, all you who are weary and heavy laden, and I will give you rest. More chanting. Some kissed a cross.
The monks filed out, but young people stayed in the chapel, praying, long after the service had ended. We were caught up in a timeless worship of the Lord of history.
Like European youth seeking God, our imprisoned Anabaptist forebears also experienced God in a static timelessness of worship and prayer. This is where we encounter God and where we gain perspective and energy for our lives.
In worship, the past comes alive in our present and it sets our course for the future. We worship the one who is and who was and who is to come. This shapes our mission; it sets our direction towards the coming of Gods reign. This is our scene, and it overflows with hope.
Alan and Eleanor Kreider of Elkhart, Ind., led GCs Spiritual Awareness Week in October with chapels and focused sessions with students.
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