A good book draws you in the story. This mesmerizing effect especially applies to works of sci-fi and fantasy. The Harry Potter series wonderfully transported the reader to Harry’s side as he walked the halls of Hogwarts, fought Voldemort and fell in love with Ron’s sister. Yet after the last page was turned the spell was broke and the reader returned to her old hum drum unmagical life. Quite cruelly in the end the audience realizes what they knew all along; they were never in the story in the first place. The Gospels can feel the same way even to Christians who believe that Jesus is more than a great literary epic. It is the greatest story! Jesus does amazing things in the Gospels. He begins from nothing; working class parents and manger. He heals the sick, casts out demons and even raises the dead. He draws outsiders, sinners, and savages into His light and mercy. Finally and climatically He suffers and dies amidst mockery and shame only to rise again triumphantly from the grave never to die again!
What a tragedy turned on its head. What an epic for the ages! What an archetype for all heroes. Yet how many find themselves at the end of this story not feeling any different than after reading the Lord of the Rings. The book closes and they are left to return to their ordinary lives where the dead don’t rise, miracles don’t happen and God seems ambivalent at best. Many in our congregations may applaud the sermon and the story but not see the connection to themselves. I remember thinking exactly that. Good for Jesus! But what does that have to do with me? Where do I fit in the story?
Now for sure most Christian church bodies want the congregation member to feel connected to the story. They want the reader to believe it all happened for them! Some say something like, “you just have to believe!” Others perhaps encourage the Christian to look for miraculous signs or feelings that confirm that she is part of the story.
Yet the story did not end with Jesus' death and resurrection, or even with the Acts of the Apostles. Jesus continues its pages through time and across space into 21st-century lives. When He commands His disciples to go make disciples by baptizing and teaching, the benefit of the cross and the victory of the resurrection transcends the pages into water upon flesh! When He tells His disciples to ‘do this as often as you drink it in remembrance of me’, He includes you into the Gospel pages! The Lord’s Supper is not a recreation of something long ago, it is an extension of that original table to those who were indeed once on the outside looking in. It is extended to sinners undeserving of God’s presence or the Father’s gifts.
While not every sermon a Pastor preaches needs to point to these tangible connections of water and supper, many of them should! Just as a Pastor does well to not only talk about Jesus but speak Jesus. Don’t just tell repentant sinners about forgiveness like we tell stories about heroic rescues, say to those sinners, “As Christ has commanded me, I forgive you in the name of Jesus!”
The Greatest Story Ever Told includes you! Not theoretically or ethereally but literally and physically through the Church and the work of the Church, just as literally as an empty tomb and a bloody cross. Jesus succeeded in His rescue mission, one which even Adam and Eve anticipated, conquering sin, death and the devil, for you! His story is your story!