I recently finished Practice Resurrection: A Conversation on Growing up in Christ by Eugene Peterson, his fifth and final volume on conversations in spiritual theology. I have absolutely loved this series, eagerly anticipating the arrival of each volume, so I am a little sad to see the series completed.
While Eugene Peterson writes in such a manner that invites and encourages participation in the Kingdom of God, he in no way mixes his words. Since Practice Resurrection is a book on spiritual maturity, he speaks out against much of modern American Evangelicalism: “The American church runs on the euphoria and adrenaline of new birth – getting people into the church, into the kingdom, into causes, into crusades, into programs…. Americans in general have little tolerance for a centering way of life that is submissive to the conditions in which growth takes place: quiet, obscure, patient, not subject to human control and management” (pp. 5-6).
Throughout the book, Eugene Peterson immerses us in Ephesians arguing that the process of maturity comes about as we get acquainted with the persons of the Trinity – how Father, Son, and Holy Spirit work, how they talk, how they invite, all that they do together in relation – and then as we live in community with the people around us, most notably and forcibly the church, but also in the family and in the workplace.
The process of sanctification has its place in the day-to-day living conditions of normal human life. How I interact with Claire, how I interact with Liz, Thomas, Kris, Seth, Theresa and my other coworkers, how I interact with the named people, like Harry Brandt, sitting with Claire and me at the church we are beginning to attend, contributes more to my growth than any crusade, any week at camp, or any two week missions trip to Africa ever could. All except Claire, I do not get to handpick the people I am in relationship with on a day-to-day basis as I go through life; Jesus has placed them in my life. And while they may be difficult to love at times, and they, in turn, find me difficult to love at times, these named people whom I rub up with on a daily basis must never be reduced to “Its,” nor must the community ever refer to others outside the community as “Them.”
Eugene Peterson explains:
“God reveals himself in personal relationship and only in personal relationship. God is not a phenomenon to be considered. God is not a force to be used. God is not a proposition to be argued. There is nothing in or of God that is impersonal, nothing abstract, nothing imposed. And God treats us with an equivalent personal dignity. He isn’t out to impress us. He’s here to eat bread with us and receive us into his love just as we are, just where we are” (p. 87).
Yes there are moments where Jesus lavishes me in his love and goodness and there are meals that are extravagant and abundant. After all I am now a citizen of God’s Kingdom – a Kingdom in which God has blessed me, chose me, destined me, bestowed his grace upon me, lavished me, and made known to me (Eph. 1:3-14). There is no shortage of God’s goodness to his children, or as Eugene Peterson writes, “Get used to abundance” (p. 63). But where I can easily get myself into danger is beginning to think that those moments are normative and dismiss the ordinary as purely physical and devoid of meaning.
And this is where I would draw the correlation between sanctification and food. If sanctification occurs in the ordinary, there is nothing more ordinary than eating. I have to eat everyday, and if I can train myself to see the Risen Jesus in this most simplest of acts, I may begin to realize that Jesus is at work in me and everyone else around me far more than I ever realized. The ordinary is no longer so plain and dull, but rather filled with hope, love, grace, abundance, and richness. (After all, a perfectly ripe tomato is just as beautiful as white truffle risotto.) I then might be able to see the named-others around me as full of that same hope, love, grace, abundance and richness.
When Jesus returns, I, along with my brothers and sisters, will be ushered into the beauty and grandeur of the Marriage Supper of the Lamb, but until then, I shall feast on the bread and the wine, for Jesus has commanded me to remember him through the breaking of an ordinary loaf of bread and an ordinary glass of wine.
“When [Jesus] was at table with them, he took the bread and blessed and broke it and gave it them. And their eyes were opened, and they recognized them” (Luke 24:30-31).