Because of Jesus, I believe we can feed, heal, forgive, and raise people from the dead. We can be Jesus.
There's often a moment when I'm hanging out with a group of Christians—usually liberal Christians, the kind who care about global warming and inclusive language—and I see them glance at me as if I'm a total freak.
I've embarrassed them by talking too much about Jesus. As if he were real.
Most Christians know so much more about the faith than I do. They grew up in Sunday School; they know their church's history and creeds by heart; some have even been to seminary and can read the Gospel in Greek. But when I tell them I met the risen Jesus in actual food, they often pull back a bit, as if I'd declared I saw the Virgin Mary on a tortilla. (Which, by the way, would make me very happy.) And when I tell them that Jesus said we can go ahead and heal the sick, that we don't have to wait for authorization from our bishops to raise the dead, they look worried.
It's like the point I used to reach with my secular friends and family, who were fine, intellectually, with the idea of religion. They were broad-minded and reasonable, and agreed there were lots of beautiful stories in the Bible. "But damn, Sara," said one, finally. "You mean this?"
I do mean it. I still can't fully explain who Jesus is, but I see him at work everywhere, still breathing in all kinds of people: poor men, crazy women, middleclass retired couples, little kids. They're feeding, healing, forgiving, raising the dead.
It doesn't take that much to feed. You don't have to run a food pantry and serve eight hundred people a week. You could start a nonprofit restaurant--or give peanut butter sandwiches to homeless guys in the park. Or you could just invite a stranger to dinner.
It doesn't take that much to heal. You don't need to change careers and become a nurse like some people I've known. You could volunteer as a chaplain. Or you could just tell an addict the truth about your own addiction, hug a friend instead of giving him advice, sit with a dying woman and not try to pretend.
It doesn't take that much to forgive. Well, to be honest, it does: it took me almost ten years to forgive someone who'd hurt me. But then one afternoon, unprepared, I just gave up: what the hell, I thought; I wish him happiness.
And raising the dead? This is what Christians do every Sunday, after all, when we stand around in our boring churches, eating little wafers or pieces of whole wheat pita, saying aloud that Christ is risen. It's what we do whenever we continue in simple, literal acts: breaking bread, praying without hope of perfect outcomes, admitting our weaknesses, and loving people who don't deserve it. It's what we do when we remember that death is not the end.
I once went to a camping goods store to buy some sunscreen, and after about fifteen minutes I left with one of those headaches I only get in the presence of too much consumer choice. On the first floor alone there were hundreds of different kinds of backpacks made of super-space-age bulletproof fabric with special zippers and pouches and solar water purifiers and GPS devices and headlights. I remembered how, when I was a kid, going camping meant we took a blanket to sleep in, and my dad maybe packed some marshmallows.
There seems to be an idea in the contemporary church that following Jesus requires a similar kind of outfitting and preparation. Apparently, Christians can't feed people without a permit from the state, a certificate from the church insurance fund, and a resolution at a denominational convention. You can't teach without audiovisual aids and rooms full of approved Christian gear. You can't touch sick people without 125 hours of supervised clinical instruction and latex gloves. You can't proclaim repentanceunless you've been to seminary—and even then it's a bit dicey. And God forbid you should claim authority to act in Jesus' name without a feasibility study, a mission statement, a capital outlay of ten thousand dollars, and at least six months of committee meetings.
But ordinary people still hope, suspect, and believe they can be Jesus.
The formulas of religion may be so overfamiliar that many believers have a hard time acting as if this most surprising narrative is true. They may doubt themselves, and not understand why Jesus trusts us to do his work. They may be sick to death of the institution, tired of propping up a dysfunctional church, and trying to coast by without caring too much. They may, like me, be anxious because there's no way to be Jesus on your own private terms: you have to jump in and do it alongside your Boyfriend's other lovers.
But Jesus is real, and so, praise God, are we. Every single thing the resurrected Jesus does on earth he does through our bodies. You're fed, you're healed, you're forgiven, you're pronounced clean. You are loved, and you're raised from the dead.
Go and do likewise.