— Nikolaj Velimirović, Bishop of Ohrid and Žiča
A simple statement, just five words, and we are handed the key to life, ‘Christ is looking for us.’ Does anyone ever remember hearing these words before, spoken to them by parents, or teachers, or priests? It’s probably one of a great number of such simple, short, but pithy and powerful truths that have assailed our unhearing ears over the course of our lives. We weren’t listening because we were tired, or bored, or rebellious against what we thought was a power trip to control us. Or, if none of the three authority groups just mentioned, but maybe someone we liked and trusted, a close friend perhaps, said those five words to us, maybe we were just not interested.
Well, a little-known, deceased Serbian bishop wrote these words. Maybe we don’t want to hear him, because he was a Serb. Everyone knows that the Serbs are the world’s scapegoat—oops! I meant to say, you can’t trust them. Remember Milošević. As for me, though, I know the truth when I hear it, and I want to believe it, if I let myself.
Yes, Christ is looking for us. Doesn’t that thought make you wonder what churches have been doing all these years? They say they’re all about Him, about Jesus, getting to know Him, but sometimes it seems the preamble to the actual ‘getting to know Him’ takes years and years, and after we’ve been indoctrinated and sacramentally doused, oiled, and spoon-fed, we’re no closer to understanding this great truth than we were before. In fact, sometimes the superfluous foliage of ‘church life’ hides it, hides Him, from us so well, that we wonder what it was that brought us there—to church—in the first place.
Then, suddenly, out of nowhere, a voice speaks, ‘Christ is looking for us.’ And if we believe what we have just heard, we realize that everything depends on one thing—that He find us—and that all we can do, and do it with all our might, is remove anything and everything that keeps Him from His goal. Now, it seems, we look at ‘church’ in a new way.
Does what it does with us, for us, and to us, help Jesus find us? Whatever does, we must decide here and now, to keep it. Does anything that it does keep Him from finding us? If there is anything that does keep Him from finding us, in no matter how small a way, it must go, we must go—sometimes—if what is keeping Jesus from finding us is what we call ‘church.’
Because sometimes—and we are afraid to consider this possibility—the very authorities that we expect to trust are the ones that keep Jesus from finding us. Yes, the major obstacle to Him finding us is—you guessed it—ourselves! The bishop asks, ‘Are we going to hide from him?’ and so, if we are honest, we have to admit that we have been hiding from Jesus for as long as we knew He was there.
Of course, at first we hid ourselves, like Adam and Eve, because we just ‘knew’ we were naked. We knew that human nature, at least our own, cannot stand before the Divine Presence and not be annihilated. Annihilated? Yes, revert back to the ‘nothing’ out of which He made us, because we can’t thank Him enough for making us, blaming Him instead. ‘You made me this way! I hate You!’ is what we are saying by our hiding, no matter what our lips say or our minds think. What a mess we’re in!
All the religions of the world, including the Christian ones, make out God to be the bogey, the scary one, the haunter, the one who will find out everything about us and use it to condemn us. That’s why we have to sacrifice. We have to bribe and cajole the Divine Nature, just so He doesn’t torment us in this life, and torture us forever in the next. With a God like that, who wouldn’t want death to be the end? Just black, unseeing, unfeeling, unthinking nothingness. Pure idiocy without knowing it. Yes, a better definition of She’ol can’t be found. Just clear gone.
Jesus of Nazareth, a historical figure we have heard about, comes and teaches, performs a few miracles, gets in trouble with the authorities, and is condemned to a shameful and painful death even without a hung jury. His followers later claim he rose from the dead, hung about for a few weeks, then disappeared up there somewhere. Afterwards, the followers get a weird tingling sensation and start spreading incredible stories about the man. Finally, one of the cult’s worst enemies and persecutors has a religious experience and takes over the cult, giving a better interpretation of its leader than he gave himself. Ding-dong! Twenty centuries later, it’s still time for church. And you were made to go, come hell or high water, until you were able to slug abed on Sunday morning and have the guts to tell your dad or mom, ‘I’m not going!’
Yes, Christ is looking for us. He really is. At its best, the Church tries to help Him. At its worst, it would even turn Him away at the Communion Cup, if He showed up, with the announcement that the Holy Mysteries ‘are only for the Orthodox, those who have been baptized and chrismated, and prepared themselves by confession and fasting.’ Then, what do we make of His, ‘whatever you do to the least of My brothers, that you do unto me’? No, of course not, we’d never do that. Anyway, what He said doesn’t apply to such things as who can come to Communion. Only those who have crossed all their T’s and dotted all their I’s can be admitted to the Holy Mysteries. Never mind the good thief. He was an exception.
Someone says, ‘I believe! Help my unbelief!’ and that seems to be the lot of all of us. So much has been told to us, and demanded of us, in Christ’s blessed name, that we had just better go along with it. But wait! A bishop once said, ‘Christ is looking for us.’ What could be easier than me trying to help Him? I don’t want to hide anymore. I don’t want anyone to hide me from Him until, like the bishop says, ‘death hides us from Him, from the world and from life.’ Church is the place where the finding is supposed to happen. It has to be! It’s the great ‘lost and found’ room where much more than a lost hat or scarf is waiting to be found and taken home.
And what, then, when He finds us, when He finds me? Does everything continue as it always has? Well, at least I have no cause to say, ‘I am looking for God’ or ‘I am seeking the Truth’ because the truth is, I never was looking, never seeking. It was He, all the time, through all my disguises, hideouts, and subterfuges, He the persistent and only lover whose love alone makes lovely His beloved. Religions pale in His presence, disciplines for their own sake die at His feet. He comes, impervious to all that would harm us, and takes each one of us by the hand. He leads, we follow, until the wall of separation dissipates, and it is ‘no longer I who live, but Christ,’ who is all in all.
Amazing grace… I once was lost, but now I am found.
Yes, Christ is looking for us.