Jesus Christ “has come to judge the quick and the dead.”
The Apostle’s Creed
I have a beloved colleague from Africa who served mostly white congregations in New England for a couple of decades. One Sunday morning she led a joyful song that was made to move one’s whole body in worship with clapping and dancing, or at least toe tapping. In the midst of a verse she looked out at the members of her beloved congregation and saw that they were still. She stopped singing and said in amazement, “I see dead people.”
There was a lot of love between her and them, and so this brought forth some laughter, even years later. Yet this episode leads us to wonder: when are we walking around mostly dead and when are we fully alive?
The King James’ version of the Apostle’s Creed uses the word “quick” for alive. This elicits not only speed, like our heartbeat after jogging, but also our core presence, the very center where life resides.
When I thought of Jesus judging the quick and the dead as a girl, I imagined him judging the sheep and the goats – deeming that some should live and some deserve to die.
But I see things quite differently now. What if this judgement of Jesus is not making a decision, but the ability to see what is already going on in our lives? What if Jesus looks at many of us in our day to day lives, in what we do and fail to do, and often sees that we are “dead people.”
What can keep those of us on this side of the grave from living fully? What can keep us isolated, depressed or bound to addictive consumption? Here are some of gate keepers of my own living tomb:
I believe such feelings are actually combined with thoughts. For a long while I couldn’t imagine living to adulthood because of my anxieties about the Cold War. I didn’t enjoy gym class or going to dances because I my body didn’t do what I thought it “should” do. I can be zealous against the grocer who mindlessly puts my meat in a plastic bag when I brought my own cloth bags to help save our planet.
I can see now how my inhibitory emotions developed during childhood in response to early traumatic experiences. When I get caught up in these feelings, they tend to keep me from feeling deeper emotions such as joy, sadness, wonder, fear, frustration, contentment and excitement. They keep me detached from my core, and disconnected from others.
Becoming awake to these forces within me helps me to do something about it. It is a gift of Jesus that he comes to help me discern between truly living and premature death. Jesus came to set us free from shame, guilt and the fear of death. He is ready to melt our angry hearts of stone. He offers so many means of grace to set us free to truly live.
How have anxiety, shame, guilt and anger kept you from fully living? What has kept you isolated, depressed and addicted?
What activities help you to get free?
One practice that has helped me through life is called Devotions in Motion. I’ve posted a few on this website under the Christ Centered Practices tab. Don’t worry – they aren’t all particularly “religious.” I’ll invite you to walk like penguins, and bears, and dance like a rag doll.
Sarah Mount Elewononi is an ordained Elder in the United Methodist Church. A member of the New England Annual Conference for over 20 years, Sarah now resides with her family in greater Pittsburgh. Sarah completed the requirements for her doctorate from Boston University on Christmas Eve 2014. She worked with Dr. Karen Westerfield Tucker and Dr. Nancy Ammerman to better understand worship and change - both how repeated acts of worship change us, and how and why worship changes whether we want it too or not, and why we can be resistant to that change. Her dissertation was focused on Methodist worship at New England camp meetings in the 19th Century. Sarah is a member of the North American Academy of Liturgy, the Order of St. Luke and the Girl Scouts. Currently she leads her daughters' Girl Scout troop and serves as a substitute teacher. She also teaches a variety of United Methodist Course of Study offerings in worship, theology and Biblical studies.