The world of belief-systems and worldviews is a complicated playground of stories, storytellers, and allegiances. What makes it most complicated is perhaps what is often our inability to perceive these interacting powers in the first place. That which permeates our surroundings, subconsciously molds our understanding, and continuously informs our vision of reality is not always easy to articulate. The dominate culture shapes our world in ways we seldom even realize, and often cannot realize, until something outside of our culture comes along and introduces us, and the scales fall from our eyes.
Further complicating the great arena of narratives is the fact that we often do not even recognize certain systems for the metanarratives that they are, or else we grossly underestimate the story’s power. Whatever versions of the story we utilize to understand human history—atheism, capitalism, pluralism, consumerism—their roots run very deep in the human soul. This is why Bishop Kenneth Carder can refer to the global market economy as a “dominant god,” consumerism, economism, and nationalism as religions.(1) These deeply rooted ideologies are challenged only when a different ideology comes knocking, when a different faith-system comes along and upsets the system in which we have placed our faith and ordered our worlds.
This is perhaps one reason the Bible calls again and again for the action of remembering: Remember the story, tell of the acts of God in history, remember that there is one who has come near. For into this world of belief-systems and worldviews, God repeatedly tells the story of creation and the pursuit of its redemption and re-creation. God himself comes and proclaims in a body a kingdom both among us and entirely other. The narrative we discover introduces us not only to a new world, but a kingdom that jarringly shows us our own world and a savior who shows us what it means to be human.
The signs and scenes of Jesus in the gospel accounts challenge many of the cultural norms we have grown accustomed to unthinkingly, turning upside down ideas of authority, power, and glory, presenting us a kingdom that reverses everything known. What kind of a king crouches down to his subjects to wash their feet? What kind of a leader tells those under him that the way to the top requires a dedication to the bottom? What kind of meal promises to lift us to another kingdom where we are ushered into the presence of the host? What kind of host claims he is the meal? “And he took bread, gave thanks and broke it, and gave it to them, saying, ‘This is my body given for you; do this in remembrance of me.’”(2) This action of remembering the presence of God among us is far from a mental exercise for an ethereal world. It is a formidable protest against forgetting that grounds the one remembering in a communion with true grit.
The gospels bid us to confront these last, earthy moments of a rabbi and his disciples—a meal shared, a lamb revealed, feet washed by one who is both king and servant. But so they also bid us to join another story, inviting us into a kingdom entirely different than the one before us, connecting us with the God who reigns within a realm that is both here and now, and also approaching. Remembering something such as this can never be passive. In the Lord’s Supper, we are literally “taking in” this story, a meal that unites us with Christ in such a way that feeds us to live as he lived.
When the apostle Paul called early followers not to be conformed to this world but to be transformed by the renewing of their minds so that they might discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect, he was reminding them that there are overlapping and contradicting stories all around them, but that the story of God is an orienting narrative. In other words, we are not left the option of living unaware of all the subconscious ways in which we are formed by the world. Living into the kingdom of God means recognizing the power of God’s story beside every competing narrative. We destabilize these foundational stories by living into God’s reality in Christ by the power of the Spirit. Likewise, as we live further into the story of God’s nearness, with our very lives the world sees the subversive power of a narrative that moves far beyond the systems of “consumerism,” or “nationalism” or “pluralism.”
We cannot escape the world’s formative stories nor should we want to escape the particular place where we have been given the gift of time.(3) But the story of Christ’s last days on earth presents a narrative that upsets any convenient embracing of lesser kingdoms and invites us to remember something more concrete. The more we find ourselves drawn into this different kingdom, a world breathed by the Father, proclaimed by Christ, and revealed by the Spirit, the unchallenged, unseen storylines of the world come further into focus. The more we taste and see of the kingdom of God, the more we taste and see the goodness of God on earth as it is in heaven. Like Paul, at times something like scales fall from our eyes and the Spirit compels us to stand up and see anew. We are given strength to move further into the unlikely reign of a suffering servant, where we are mysteriously given strength in his wounds, communion with the maker of heaven and earth, and a story to tell.
Jill Carattini is managing editor of A Slice of Infinity at Ravi Zacharias International Ministries in Atlanta, Georgia.
(1) Kenneth Carder, “Market and Mission: Competing Visions for Transforming Ministry,” Lecture, Duke Divinity School, Oct. 16, 2001, 1.
(2) Cf. Luke 22:19.
(3) Jesus himself prayed, “My prayer is not that you take them out of the world, but I ask that you protect them from the evil one” (John 17:15).