Commas have been on my mind since Tuesday when I read the following from Richard Rohr.
If you worship in one of the liturgical Christian traditions, you probably know the opening words of the Apostles’ Creed by heart:
I believe in God, the Father Almighty, creator of heaven and earth. I believe in Jesus Christ, his only Son, our Lord, who was conceived by the Holy Spirit, born of the Virgin Mary, suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, died, and was buried; he descended into hell; . . .
But have you ever noticed the huge leap the creed makes between “born of the Virgin Mary” and “suffered under Pontius Pilate”? A single comma connects the two statements, and falling into that yawning gap, as if it were a mere detail, is everything Jesus said and did between his birth and his death! Called the “Great Comma,” the gap certainly invites some serious questions. Did all the things Jesus said and did in those years not count for much? Were they nothing to “believe” in? Was it only his birth and death that mattered? Does the gap in some way explain Christianity’s often dismal record of imitating Jesus’ life and teaching?
As I’ve been reading through Matthew 26, that comma has stuck with me – about all that I’ve read the last few days that seems to be excluded from the creed. (Side note – I know a creed can’t cover absolutely everything and other creeds have attempted to focus on the area in between the birth and death). Just in the last few days there have been teachings on the greatest commandment (love God and love neighbor), Jesus teaching on the consistency between the inner life and the outer life, calls to be prepared for the coming of God, parables about watchfulness, the anointing of Jesus by the woman in Bethany, the Last Supper, and so much more. In all of it, a Jesus focused on being faithful to his call, caring for people in need, and teaching about the Kingdom of God not just sometime into eternity but the Kingdom here and now. There’s a lot in that Great Comma, as Rohr put it.
So, the last few days, I’ve been looking for literal and figurative commas. On the literal side, just going about in daily life other than in what we read in books, articles, etc, commas are not that easy to find. Not too many signs or billboards have commas – basically the only ones I saw were talking about locations – City, State – or the one pictured here at Planet Fitness about their “Lunk Alarm.”
And there’s something pretty telling here on the figurative side of things. In the church, it is easier to focus on the birth and the death/resurrection of Jesus – the idea of a greater focus on the life to come rather than the life here. Focusing on saving souls for eternity rather than making a difference here in the ways the Kingdom is lived out for people here. Yes, the eternal picture is important but we cannot do that to the exclusion of being a part of the transforming work of God in the here and now.
I want to do the work of the comma. I want to celebrate and share the birth of Jesus and to proclaim the hope of what Jesus’ death and resurrection mean for all people. But I also want to be a part of transforming the lives of people here and now. I don’t see it as an either/or but truly a both/and. What does that look like? It looks like a willingness to sacrifice some of what I want (or what even I feel like I need) for the sake of others. It means listening to others with whom I don’t see eye to eye. It means welcoming the stranger, the refugee, and the hurting. It means being a light not only for the eternal kingdom but also for the kingdom here and now.
Going to still look for and live in the comma.