A Share in Christ

Isn’t that fascinating? According to the framers of the catechism there is a symbiotic and inextricable relationship between Jesus Christ and those who love and serve him. Now there is something to live our way into! There is a remarkable scene in C. S. Lewis’s The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe where the great lion Aslan (who, I think we all know, in our world is Jesus Christ) and his army of creatures are readying themselves for battle with the evil Witch of Narnia. As Aslan summons his creatures to arms he calls out, “those who are good with their noses must come in front with us lions to smell out where the battle is.” While the summons was a call for all to join in, it had special meaning to the lion that was standing next to him who responded to the call with giddy enthusiasm, “Did you hear what he said? Us Lions. That means him and me. Us Lions. That’s what I like about Aslan. No sides, no stand-off-ishness. Us Lions. That meant him and me.” The lion was thrilled to think that he had a share in Aslan’s life.

I am telling you this because I have a similarly giddy reaction to the answer to question 32 of the catechism. “But why are you called a Christian?” The answer of course is that we are members of Christ and share in his anointing, which is then spelled out specifically to mean that we are anointed to confess his name, to present ourselves as living sacrifices, to strive as best we can against our sins, and then finally to reign with him throughout all eternity. Amazing! We share in Christ. Us! Christ and “us”—we’re in it together!

Just like Adam and Eve in the garden being summoned to have dominion over all that they could see, and like the disciples called to be the salt of the earth and the light of the world, we are called and have been anointed to be coparticipants with Jesus Christ in his redeeming purposes.

So how exactly do we participate with the living Christ? Maybe we could find our answer, at least in part, by looking at some who understood what this meant and lived accordingly. And we do have some splendid examples in our family album. Do you know the name of Phoebe Palmer? She pumped revival into the boroughs of New York at the turn of the nineteenth century with a Bible in one hand and a soup spoon in the other! She shared in Christ. It was Christ and her!

How about Dietrich Bonhoeffer? He who did not count academic privilege a thing to be grasped but emptied himself (like somebody else we know), until he was hung out to dry in the howling winds of Nazi hatred (like somebody else we know)! He shared in Christ. It was Christ and him!

Or how about Simone Weil, or Millard Fuller, or Mother Teresa? Or what about one of the most noteworthy coparticipants of our time? In a single afternoon, with the rhetorical force of the Sermon on the Mount, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. reshaped our social consciousness and made it impossible to live easy in the land with racial hatred in our hearts. He shared in Christ. It was Christ and him!

I once saw this question and answer to the Heidelberg Catechism in living color in the person of Cornelia Dalenberg. I had the unspeakable honor of being her pastor near the end of her life. Cornelia, as a missionary nurse, served nobly in the Arabian Gulf for most of her life. She was so loved and honored by the Muslim people she walked among, like Jesus in Galilee, that they lovingly called her “Sharifa,” which is interpreted as “Princess.”

Once, Cornelia was hospitalized following a serious surgery. I visited her early one morning. I slipped quietly into her room at Rush-Presbyterian-St. Luke’s Hospital while she was sleeping. I stood at her bed, not wanting to wake her. She opened one eye and greeted me, saying, “Good morning, Pastor.” Cornelia Dalenberg calling me “Pastor” was like listening to a symphony. She then said to me, “Pastor, I saw Jesus this morning.” I thought to myself, “This is my chance.” So I asked her, “What did he look like, Cornelia?”

She then described in vivid detail the physical appearance of Jesus of Nazareth, and it made all the sense in the world. He had, as she described him, dark, deep-set eyes, fingers tapered and tender to the touch, and a furrowed brow that dripped with perspiration. All of this made sense since he was a Galilean known as “the Great Physician.” She went on to say, however, that he wore spectacles and a green skull cap. “He also had a stethoscope around his neck,” she added hastily. “Cornelia,” I interrupted, “you are describing your physician to me!” “I know,” she said, “this is how Jesus came to me today.”

What was she teaching me then and us now? She was teaching us all that we share in Christ and are “anointed to confess his name, to present (ourselves) to him as a living sacrifice of thanks, to strive with a good conscience against sin and the devil in this life, and afterward to reign with Christ over all creation for all eternity.”

Now there is something to live our way into!

Timothy Brown is president and Henry Bast Professor of Preaching at Western Theological Seminary in Holland, Michigan.