A Massachusetts woman named Mary Jo Coady recently saw an image of Jesus Christ in brownish burn residue on an iron in her daughter's room. . .
Scientists at NASA see cones, pillars, and majestic flowing shapes abounding in stellar nurseries where natal clouds of gas and dust are buffeted by energetic winds from newborn stars. Others are inspired by the wonders of the God's creations and see something different. Look at this image from a distance, can you see the image of Our Lord, Jesus Christ, crowned by a sparkling ring of thorns as stars. . .
After seven months of a difficult pregnancy, Laura Turner looked anxiously at the latest ultrasound picture of her unborn son. She was reassured to see not just the baby sucking his thumb - but what she believes is an image of Jesus watching over him. . .
The face of Jesus has been spotted in a toilet door in a Glasgow branch of Ikea. . .
There are so many more examples of the face of Jesus seen in everything from potato chips to fog on a car window to a stain on a towel. . . I had to stop the search but you can Google it for yourself and see what I am talking about. . .
There are so many people so very desperate to see Jesus that they will settle for a vision of Jesus on an article of clothing or a piece of food or a household appliance or, dare I say it again, a toilet seat. I feel for them in their search to connect to Jesus Christ in a tangible way -- beyond feelings or thoughts. Theirs is a search echoed in the hearts and minds of so many. Yet it is an ultimately sad one with a tragic ending. For no matter how clear the image of a face of Jesus may be to anyone, that image cannot address the hurt and longing in their lives, cannot nourish or feed their faith, and cannot bestow the fruits of His redeeming work. But there is a place where such a hunger can be satisfied.
As Lutheran Christians who use the lingo of Word and Sacrament almost like a mantra, we have an answer for those who long to see Jesus, to experience Jesus, to receive from Him grace upon grace. I am not sure that we ourselves take the reality of these means of grace seriously or whether we too play at what it means to confess the water where the arms of Jesus claim us or the Word where its voice speaks forgiveness in personal terms or the bread and cup where we eat and drink His body and blood and so abide in Him and He in us. I am not sure that we take it all that seriously or there would be fewer parishes in which the Sacrament of the Altar were absent on Sunday morning or the Sacrament of Baptism were not banished to a private service just for the family and candidate. But if we did take it seriously, think what we could offer to those so desperate to see Jesus!
Think what it would mean to a people whose Jesus inhabited only feelings and thoughts to see in baptism's water the face and hand of our Lord claiming, forgiving, enlivening, and sealing our lives in the grace of this new birth. Think what it would mean to a people whose Jesus was only real in their hearts and minds to taste and see the goodness of the Lord who feed us with His flesh and gives us His blood to drink for our forgiveness, for our union with Him, and for our strengthening and equipping of faith to good works. Think what it would mean to a people who had to tell themselves they were forgiven if only they could hear the living voice that speaks absolution to the repentant heart and releases the burdened from the weight of sin and its guilt.
It is such a sad thing to read week after week of those who claim to see Jesus in the chips on the table or the iron on the board or the glass in the window... when Jesus wants to be seen where He IS -- in the Word and Sacraments that impart Jesus to us, with the fullness of His grace and mercy and all the gifts that flow from His redemptive work of sacrifice and death. To a people yearning so to see Jesus, we have something to say, if we can find our voice. To our parishes and to our people we have something profound to offer, if we can find our voice.
This is what confessional renewal is all about. This is what liturgical renewal is all about. Those who try to make it about the choice of words in a doctrinal statement or the appropriate gesture at the appropriate time in the liturgy -- they miss the whole darn point of why we take our confession and our liturgy so seriously. This is where we have something to offer those so desperate to see Jesus -- not some contrived experience driven by percussion and solo voice or images flashed on a screen but in the genuine places where Jesus says I AM... the water of baptism, the voice of the Gospel (in proclamation and absolution), and the bread and wine of the Holy Meal...