New Awakening: Exile

From the day after Easter until Advent, we live in two seasons of the Christian year (Eastertide and Pentecost). In this longest stretch of our liturgical journey, we say “the risen Christ is with us.” It is summed up in the word ‘Immanuel.’ [1] It is the time to remember God is with us—a time to mine the meanings of Christ (excarnate and incarnate) to open ourselves in ways that make our hearts Christ’s home. [2]

But there’s something else. When we say “the risen Christ is with us,” we raise the question, “Where is Christ with us?” That’s one question the disciples had to ask beginning with sunrise on Easter morning…and everyday since. We ask it still. Where is Christ with us?

The Lectionary readings link his presence to places, a room somewhere in Galilee and an island in the Mediterranean Sea. And it is good to remember that when we say, “the risen Christ is with us,” we mean right where we are here and now. As we sometimes put it, Christ is present “in the midst” of us.

But the where-question is also linked to an experience. It is described in the word ‘exile.’ Reading John’s introduction to his letter to the seven churches in Asia (Revelation 1:4), I remembered today that he wrote as an exile. And that recollection expanded into a fresh realization that from Easter morning until now, we are followers of Christ in exile.

Awakenings are exilic times—times between the times. [3] They are times when the old is passing away, but the new has not fully come (2 Corinthians 5:17). They are messy times, hard times, challenging times—times of dislocation, literally and figuratively. But they are also times of promise, transformation, and restoration. Awakenings lead us into times filled with hope (Jeremiah 29:11).

The kingdom of God is here, but not yet fully realized. Christ is alive, but not fully in charge. We live in exile. Exile is the reminder that we, like the first Christians, must choose over and over whether we live in radical ways that declare “Jesus is Lord” or choose to live in conventional ways that say, “Caesar is Lord.” From Easter sunrise until now, that is the essence of our life choices.

Christ is with us in exile, with us when we have to decide between the kingdom of God and the kingdoms of this world. This is never easy. Thankfully, it is not always an either/or decision because there are many good things in the world, and we are free to enjoy them. But as our current new Awakening is revealing, it is a choice we must yet make. Because we are exiles.

This world is not what defines us and gives us our identity. Our citizenship is in the kingdom of God. That’s why Christian Nationalism is so evil. It is a faux faith which tries to have its cake and eat it too by allowing the world to define the faith (e.g. materialism, self-interest, and power), to the extent that it would have us to believe it is “of God,” which it is not. Christian Nationalism is not the way God calls us to live in exile. We must reject it, call it out, and resist it.

Living in exile is living another way. The first letter of Peter is a primary document for learning how to be Christians in exile. I am diving into it and may write more about it in this series. For now, I point to it as a guide for exilic living. Christopher Hall’s introduction to the letter sums up living in exile as living faithfully, courageously, with perseverance, and with love. [4] These are the words that provide the pattern for exilic living.

Today, the second Sunday of Easter, we declare “the risen Christ is with us.” And in that declaration, we remember he is with us in exile. Today we renew our commitment to living as an exilic people in the light of his promise, “I am with you, to the end of the age” (Matthew 28:20).

[1] ‘The Life With God Bible’ (2005) produced by the Renovaré spiritual formation ministry is designed in relation to the Immanuel Principle.

[2] Robert Boyd Munger’s booklet ‘My Heart, Christ’s Home’ develops this metaphor. It is a beautiful devotional classic still in print.

[3] In his pattern of transformation, Richard Rohr calls this phase “disorder.” He offers the pattern in his book ‘The Universal Christ’ (pp. 243-248). He expands it in his book, ‘The Wisdom Pattern.’ Walter Brueggemann sees the same pattern (orientation, disorientation, reorientation) in his book, ‘The Psalms, the Life of Faith.’ Diana Butler Bass writes from the same vantage point in her book, ‘Christianity After Religion.’

[4]’The Life With God Bible,’ 434 NT.

About Steve Harper

Dr. Steve Harper is retired seminary professor, who taught for 32 years in the disciplines of Spiritual Formation and Wesley Studies. Author and co-author of 43 books. He is also a retired Elder in The Florida Annual Conference of The United Methodist Church.
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