Saturday, May 6, 2017

Christ our new Captain

Years ago, when we were first beginning to get to know this part of Mozambique and making our initial visits to different villages, I had two very different experiences.  When we arrived in one village, it seemed to be extremely disorganized and partially abandoned. Many of those that we met who had chosen to remain and live there were ill.   It was depressing and everyone with me seemed to notice a heaviness in the air.  We stopped and sat for a while, visiting with an older man and I asked him why things were like this in the village.  He replied by saying that the chief (leader) of that village was a bad person and doing a poor job.  So, of course, this gentleman noted, “his children,” the people of the village, would suffer.

In contrast to that gloomy visit, I remember another initial village experience where it seemed that everyone we encountered was healthy and happy – there was a palpable vitality in the air.  Villagers in that location gave credit to their leadership and spoke of how having a good chief set the tone for everyone who lived there.

This comparison between two chiefs, two village heads, has been a helpful way for me to talk about the contrast between Adam and Christ.  In Genesis 1 and 2, we see God placing the first human beings in their beautiful garden home.  God gives Adam authority over the garden – Adam even gets to name the animals!  But this sweet paradise quickly turns sour as Adam and Eve fail to follow God’s instruction and give in to temptation (even though they were told this disobedience would end in death).  When confronted about his action, Adam offers a lame excuse (“that woman YOU gave me… she did it… she gave the fruit to me!”) and a leafy outfit in an ineffective attempt to cover his shame. 

So, Adam, our chief, our leader, our captain… is a failure.

And as residents in Adam’s village we suffer the shame and pain of aligning ourselves with Sin, Satan and Death.  Interestingly, the most commonly used word in Makua-Metto for human beings is “Asana Pinattamu” (literally- “Children of Adam”) And as Adam’s children, we are subject to his leadership.  Even Jesus, surprisingly, submits to that status.  The title that Christ most often used to refer to himself was “Son of Man.”  In Makua-Metto that is “Mwanawe Pinattamu” – Child of Adam.  Jesus willingly becomes one of us and joins us in this village of death and despair.

But, thankfully there is more to the story.  The Fall does not ultimately define us.  With the Resurrection, God through Christ is putting the world under new management.  There is a new boss, a new head of creation (Eph. 1:10).
As the apostle Paul explains, “Christ has indeed been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep. For since death came through a man, the resurrection of the dead comes also through a man. For as in Adam all die, so in Christ all will be made alive.” (1 Cor. 15:20-22 NIV)

Joshua Ryan Butler puts it this way:
Jesus “is becoming the ‘new head’ of humanity.  The early church had a fancy Greek word for this: recapitulation, which comes from re- (‘new’) and capito- (‘head’).  Our English word captain comes from the same root capito – a captain is the ‘head,’ or authority, of a ship.  Jesus is being established as the captain of creation. And his goal is to right the ship.  Think of earth as a sinking ship.  God placed Adam at the helm, and he steered it into the rocks.  So God made Israel the new captain to set the ship aright, and they kept ramming it into the rubble as well.  And this isn’t only Adam and Israel; this is us. We’ve torn the ship of creation asunder: holes have burst through the sides; water’s flooding in; we’re heading toward the rocks and a watery grave.  We’ve sought to rule the earth without God, to live our lives independent of our Maker, to sever creation from Creator, and in so doing we’ve dragged creation back down into the watery abyss from which it came.  So God finally says, All right! I’ll take care of it myself. The Father sends his Son to take the helm and, in the power of their Spirit, they’re out together to set creation straight.  In Jesus, God is righting the ship: filling the holes, emptying the water, and steering it clear from the rocks.  Through Christ’s righteousness, God is rebuilding what our rebellion had destroyed.  The Captain is setting the vessel back on course.  And Jesus steers us toward a destination greater than the port from which we embarked.  Rather than simply return things to their original state, creation will be glorified through the indwelling presence of its Creator; humanity will be healed in union with God. The ship of life, with our great Captain at the helm is headed toward paradise – with us on deck. Captain and crew. God with us.” (The Pursuing God, 19-20)  
So, while Adam was our old chief and captain, Jesus is now the new head of humanity. 

We now have a leader worth following and one who has proven faithful to lead us through the shame of death safely to the other side.  He is our King – our Captain.

As I’ve been reflecting on this idea of Christ as Captain, I’ve been surprised to see echoes of it pop up in surprising places.  Recently, Rachel and I were watching one the Captain America movies and at one point a character asks Sam Wilson what he would do next.  Without hesitation, he pointed to Captain America and said, “I do what he does – just slower.”

Certainly, the Church has an infinitely better Captain (!), but I’ve been reflecting on how that response is a beautiful way to think about Christian discipleship.  When the world asks how we will live, we point to our Captain, the Christ, and say, “We do what he does –  just slower.”

The classic hymn “A Mighty Fortress” has brought me a lot of strength and encouragement over the past year.  So I decided to try my hand at writing a new verse that would incorporate this idea of Christ as our new Captain.  Here it goes…
A Mighty Fortress (new verse by Alan Howell)
Our Captain, Adam, did us fail, and wrecked us on the rocky shore.
We were all lost, and doomed to die, without someone to go before.
But Christ our Captain new, stands firmly at the helm. 
He set the ship aright, and he will guide us through, we will arrive at his fair home.
May we be a people who follow our new Captain and King all the way!

Grace and Peace,