“He is the image of the invisible God.”
COLOSSIANS 1:13 (NRSV)
Everything I had heard about black holes led me to think that black holes were invisible. Physicists and astronomers had ways of knowing that the black holes were there, but the way they knew was based on mathematical calculations and gravitational theories, not from actually seeing a black hole. The idea was that the gravitational pull of a black hole was so strong that nothing could ever escape from it, not even light. So, it was a black hole. Invisible. All you would see was blackness. Until the past week.
This past week, scientists revealed an image that they called the first image ever seen of a black hole. A picture of a massive ring of radiated light surrounding a black hole was circulated across the globe. Even scientists were awestruck as they described this never-before-seen phenomenon. It was a paradigm break; a worldview reorientation; a new way of understanding; all burst into being this past week in the sphere of physics and astronomy and perhaps more.
An even bigger breakthrough occurred almost 2000 years ago this week in the realms of biology, chemistry, physics, psychology, theology and perhaps more. On Good Friday, Jesus was crucified, dead, and buried. Everything anyone ever heard about death led them to think that death was final, at least in this world. Some believed that there was an afterlife but it had nothing to do with your earthly body, only with your spiritual soul. To believe in life after death you would have to trust unseen evidence of spiritual teachings. There were occasional resuscitations, when somebody died and was brought back to life by healing interventions. In His ministry, Jesus brought several people back to life after they were dead, and it created remarkable wonder and no little consternation. Of course, all of those who had been brought back eventually died again and their bodies were buried just like everyone else.
But in the breakthrough of this week, not only would Jesus be brought back to life after being dead. This week, He would break through the realm of death itself. What was, until then, thought to be an inescapable pit of death that pulled everyone and everything into its grip was now revealed to be something else. In the Radiant Light of His Resurrection, Jesus undoes the power of death and rises into a new life that will never die. He breaks loose from the inevitable gravitational pull of death and in so doing undoes the power of death and its concomitant sin, ushering in a new creation. The reverberations of that revelation have changed the world forever. Life-saving grace bursts forth to redeem all who will receive it from the grip of what was once thought to be the inescapable pull of sin and death, and lead us on the way of everlasting life and love.
Every year, on Easter morning countless throngs gather in wonder and praise to worship the Risen Jesus and enjoy the blessings of this grace. The glory of God, hidden for long ages, is at long last made visible forever in the life, death and resurrection of Jesus. That is both the explanation for why the Church exists and the reason for why the Church has a mission.
Long after the excitement has faded from seeing the image of that black hole’s light, the blessings of Jesus’ Resurrection will continue to flow with the joy of salvation to the world.
I have been pondering about how Jesus describes those blessings.
In the Sermon on the Mount, He says, “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the Kingdom of heaven. Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted. Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth. Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled. Blessed are the merciful, for they will receive mercy. Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God. Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God. Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the Kingdom of heaven. Blessed are you when people revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.” (Matthew 5:3-12, NRSV)
The recipients of these blessings fill our congregations and our world. People experience depleted spirits, grieving hearts, humbled dispositions. People are determined to put things right, to show compassion, to have an uncompromised conscience, to reconcile differences, and to endure suffering if the cause demands it.
Of course, it is not the same people who experience all of this. The blessings of Jesus flow to a wide range of people, who may actually have little in common with one another. Someone who is thirsting for righteousness may not be merciful. Someone who is mourning may not be pure in heart. Someone who is poor in spirit may not be a peacemaker. And so forth. The blessings of Jesus are not singular in its focus; they are diverse. The one thing all of these recipients have in common is that Jesus has blessed, is blessing, and will bless them all.
A church that seeks to define itself by excluding any whom Jesus blesses is a church that is failing to see the invisible made visible. My prayer is that the United Methodist Church will not become such a church. May the blessings of this Holy Week and Easter season flow through the coming days with wisdom, courage, hope, and love peculiar to God’s preferred future, the invisible made visible in Jesus Christ, for us all.
Grace and Peace,