The first and the last word

“To become and to be a Christian is not at all an escape from the world as it is, nor is it a wistful longing for a ‘better’ world, nor a commitment to generous charity, nor a fondness for ‘moral and spiritual values’ (whatever that may mean), nor self-serving positive thoughts, nor persuasion to splendid abstractions about God. It is, instead, the knowledge that there is no pain or privation, no humiliation or disaster, no scourge or distress or destitution or hunger, no striving or temptation, no wile or sickness or suffering or poverty which God has not known and borne for [people] in Jesus Christ. He has borne death itself on behalf of [people], and in that event He has broken the power of death once and for all.

“That is the event which Christians confess and celebrate and witness in their daily work and worship for the sake of all [people].”

—William Stringfellow, My People Is the Enemy: An Autobiographical Polemic

Christian spirituality worthy of the name must steer clear of two pitfalls. On the one hand, we dare not let our spiritual lives become disembodied and abstract. To do so would be a denial of the Incarnation. Christianity is lived out in the world Christ lived and died for. As a central Christian testimony would have it, “God so loved the world…” (John 3:16). On the other hand, we dare not fall into despair when we notice the insufficiency of our own this-worldly action, considered in and of itself. Our action finds its meaning through witness to a victory already won by Another, who invites us to become his partners, without taking away the all too human character of our works. Because Christ has broken the power of death once for all, we are called to live as if death were not.

This stance, rooted in him, affects everything from our politics to our family and community life to the ways we suffer and grow throughout our lives. For the Christian, these are all a witness to the crucified and risen Lord, who has indeed broken the power of death. Because of this one saving event, Jesus Christ (in his mercy and justice) has the first and the last word. And, whether in the halls of Congress or the most intimate details of our human relationships, it points to our profound lack of faith and the pervasive power of sin that we still listen to other, far less gracious words. To be a Christian is to live out the implications of our baptism in the world as it is, without ever conceding the last word to scarcity or death.

For we have been sealed by the Holy Spirit and marked as Christ’s very own.

Bill Carroll

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