Friday, April 10, 2009

But We're Up To The Third Coming

There was a lovely little driblet of Jesus data served up by the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life yesterday. Funny how these things always come out during Holy Week. Drawing from an exhaustive survey of American Christians done back in 2006, the report gives us a picture of what self-professed Jesus followers do and do not believe about the second coming.

As always, I find myself either 1) in the minority or 2) just not on the map at all. The study shows that of American Christians, 79% believe in the return of Jesus, although once you get to asking how and when and why, things get a bit murkier. 21% don't believe in the Second Coming, don't know, or just don't care.

I guess I'm in some variant of the latter category. Though this is not particularly orthodox of me, I can say it without reservation: anticipation of the bodily return of Jesus of Nazareth is not a central part of my faith. If it happens, fine. But it's not the focus.

I tend to feel this most strongly around Easter. As I read through and pray over the story of Christ's passion, death, and resurrection, I tend to become more and more annoyed with the folks whose faith seems to revolve entirely around hollering about his physical return in the mothership. Though Jesus in the Gospels teaches mostly about 1) the immanence of the Kingdom and 2) his interwoven relationship with God, somehow most of Christendom has made itself theologically indistinguishable from pre-Jesus Judean messianic belief. This seems to render all the things that went on in Christ's previous appearance almost irrelevant. Or, to be frank, his appearances.

Jesus comes the first time. He teaches us everything we need to know to live as God wants us to live. Then, he shows us the depth of God's presence in Him by embodying that life right up to and including a particularly unpleasant death. That's...well...isn't that the First Coming?

After that, we hear that even that death can't stand against His grace, and His disciples witness that He returns from death. "Resurrection" means "again-rising," so if you're doing it again, that means you're not doing it for the first time. If we're being fair about it, isn't that technically the Second Coming?

And then we hear that the Spirit that filled him poured out upon his disciples, and that through that Spirit he was present in them and they were all made part of Him. Unless the Holy Spirit is somehow not actually fully God, doesn't this count too? As a Progressive Pentecostal, I'd say this one is much more important than we generally make it out to be. Not only that, but it would take us up to arrival number three, which is still in process.

And yet still we're waiting around, pointlessly dithering about when and where and who and how. I mean, gracious, how many times does Jesus have to show up before we get it?