Passing the Baton

One of the most tense races for me to watch in the Olympics is the 4x100 relay. It’s the fastest race human beings participate in. It’s because on each leg runners are already sprinting at the point when the baton is passed to them. The whole 400 meters are completed significantly faster than the speed at which any one individual could run 100. It’s tense because the hand off of the baton is critical and not simple. A small slip in the execution leads to a couple of missteps in the running of the receiving runner and adds vital milliseconds to the race time.

We’ve been following the resurrection appearances of Jesus in John’s gospel, and then have been reflecting on some of the teaching that Jesus gave the disciples in preparation for his death and resurrection. He prepares them for a critical baton passing. He won’t be with them anymore - from here on out the mission is on them.

That baton has been passed from those first disciples to those they first evangelized. It was passed from that early church down through many generations and is now being handed off to us. We have the same responsibility to take hold firmly of what has been passed onto us and to continue to faithfully run the race.

As Jesus prepared those first disciples for that first crucial transition there are some themes that appear. The crucial theme is relationship. It’s the question to Peter: ‘do you love me’; it’s the command ‘love one another’; it’s the mandate ‘abide in me’; it’s the sheep who ‘know his voice’. The counterpoint to the theme of abiding in Christ is the gift of the Holy Spirit - who will make that possible and who will empower the disciples in their mission.

Sometimes people will draw a false dichotomy between Christian faith as believing the right things and Christian faith as doing the right things. Is the Christian the one who has the right beliefs, or the right life? The answer is neither. The devil has all the right doctrine and plenty of atheists live exemplary lives. The locus of Christian faith can be located in neither place.

The emphasis of John’s gospel as Jesus prepares his disciples for his departure is not on right faith or right action. It is on right relationship. With Christ and with one another. The root of the word righteousness is in right relatedness to God. That right-relatedness to God no doubt leads to right-relatedness to one another. And that no doubt is grounded in right thinking and right acting. But it doesn’t start there. It begins with knowing Christ and being known by him. It begins with the Spirit.

The risen Christ still longs to be known in the church. Our response to the gospel begins not with thinking the right things or with doing the right things, but with coming into relationship with Christ.