Practicing Resurrection: Why the Shema Matters


We Christians tend to place importance on the things Jesus said. While we argue over what he actually said and what was attributed to him by various authors many years removed from the events (and defining the term “author” is what masters degrees are made of), we generally agree that Jesus=important.  But why they are important is another source of tension among many Christians. Do we focus on the words that confirm Jesus’ identity as the Anointed One (mashiach, Hebrew; christos, Greek, from which we derive Messiah and Christ, respectively) and orient our religion (and subsequent actions) toward the next world? Or do we focus upon the passages that instruct us how to live lives of justice, meaning, compassion, love, mercy, and kindness? Obviously, a balance of the two is optimal. I believe that most Christian individuals–and every political State that has ever been led by Christianity–struggle to find that balance, often resulting in tragedy.

I do not know that happens in the next world. I have hopes. Desires. Comforting thoughts, like the possibility of encountering my brother again. Maybe it won’t be in that body, but I hope our energies will reconnect. I miss him. I love him. He was beautiful, and while I carry him with me, my world has not been the same since he left. But I do not follow Christ because I have a resurrection hope. I follow Christ not for the six hours he spent on the cross, but as a result of the thirty years he spent in the world. The imitatio christi  is kinda huge for me.

I wrote last night about practicing resurrection; I made some grandiose claims about how it is the secret of the Christian life. I hope that it was not a “Two Corinthians” moment, but I am completely serious. The concept of resurrection is something each Christian must sort out for him- or herself. For me, it is both now and not yet, much like God’s kin-dom. We see resurrection all around us; gardeners throughout the congregation are champing at the bit to see it happen before their eyes. I see it in a survivor of cancer who returned to familiar pews after an absence. I hear it in the hopeful but realistic words of a man doing time. Serious time. Time stretching before him in an uncertain path, but his hope abounds. It affects others. It affects me.

But how do you practice resurrection? Jesus let us know by grounding himself in his Jewish faith. When asked what is the most important commandment, he quoted Deuteronomy 6:4-5, known as the Great Shema (shema means “listen” or “hear” in Hebrew). “Hear, O Israel, the Lord your God is One. You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your mind, and all your strength.” Hebrew scholars and revered rabbis have written thousands of pages on the Great Shema. It is the core of the Jewish faith; it is the core of my own. It was certainly the core of Jesus’.

The oneness of God is fundamental to my faith; I am not a polytheist. I believe that there is a common source for all life, and that this force continues to pervade, direct, and shape the lives and experiences of all things known and unknown. I confess a Trinitarian faith, but the language falls away in the face of God’s unity and singularity.

Love is God’s gift. It gives birth to us and we give birth to it; we nurture it and direct it as it shapes and animates us. Loving God means loving life; loving life means relating with creations; relating to creation means a willingness to be vulnerable; vulnerability permits growth–sometimes through great pain–and growth creates Wisdom. Loving God means that we are immediately in relationship; with ourselves, with others, with God.

How are we to negotiate this uncertain world? Through the love God provides, we battle with false promises of love. If I’m rich, I can buy love. If I’m thin, I’ll have love. If I’m powerful, I’ll earn love. If I’m strong, I can force love. We must negotiate many experiences of love, and gauge if they are authentic. How? We feel love emotionally, but we also can conceptualize it intellectually. Through our experiences, we develop standards of behavior that comport to a healthy understanding of love. We craft language to express love, to communicate our needs and desires. We make it clear language we will not accept directed at us. We perform acts of love, and we receive acts from others. We declare acts to be unloving.

If we love God, we love ourselves; if we love ourselves, we are capable of loving others. The Great Shema lets us know that the are three components needed; love of God, self, and others; love that is of the heart, mind, and strength. Thoughts, words, deeds. The Great Shema teaches us that all must be in line.

And that is the struggle. We haven’t even talked about Jesus addition to the Shema. That’ll have to be another post. For today we’re just wrestling with this idea of resurrecting through love. A loved love. An all-encompassing love. A love that we receive and that we give. A love that is freely given and one that we should bestow extravagantly.

So keep practicing, friends. This resurrection thing is all about dying a bit so that you may life.*

*Yeah, you read that right.


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