Jesus in a White Dress

On Sundays, when I write, I do so at length on some topic of religion, Christianity, Jesus stuff, or faith. Beware. When my grandmother died, Sylvia was there at the funeral, dressed better than me and all of my relatives. Her white dress was newly pressed, without a wrinkle to be found. There in my grandmother's living room, her presence was immaculate, both physically and socially. And it was then I learned why Sylvia had come to the funeral.

She was there at the end. When my grandmother came home from the hospital with only days to live, Sylvia was there to comfort her, fetch her water, stay the night, bathe her, clean up, and offer relief to aunts and sisters who were worn out. This was Sylvia's job, of course, to be a nurse and caregiver, but thankfully for the sake of my family and my grandmother she took pride in her work. Each patient was special. Each patient had a name, a story, a family, and a soul and it was Sylvia's priority to make sure her patients were comfortable, clean, and cared for.

She didn't have to come to the funeral. She wasn't on the clock. Maybe she did it for every patient. It didn't matter. She was there.

I introduced myself and heard more about the work Sylvia did. She said nice things to me about my grandmother. She introduced me to her friend and co-worker she had brought along. I asked more about her work and family.

Somewhere in that funeral small talk I saw Jesus. Compassion is rare these days. Our ability to viscerally feel and understand the pain of others is often muted by movies and video games that desensitize us to the reality of pain, suffering, and death. We can love and empathize with those closest to us, but it takes a godlike heart to have compassion upon those we just met.

Sylvia did the dirty work that many of us don't want to do and would never do. And here she was to celebrate a life she only knew briefly, offering sympathetic nods and kind smiles to people who had come and gone throughout my grandmother's life.

Sylvia was one who was there. She was one willing to sit and be. To listen and understand. To offer her presence, ear, and understanding.

I don't think Jesus is coming back one day. I think he's here, now, and I think we're missing him. 

We like to think Jesus will show up one day with trumpets and swords, and maybe an all-you-can-eat buffet, like one of those faux jousting restaurants. We need him to be masculine, chiseled, and strong, like a Men's Health cover model or one of those actors from 300. We want him to take charge and rip the sky in half. But while we're busy waiting for violence and pomp, Jesus is busy bathing people who are about to die and holding the hands of those who have had to say goodbye to people they love.

He's selling newspapers at intersections and teaching kids how to read. He's cleaning up spills and going for walks with the lonely. He's taking care of animals and sending anonymous letters of encouragement. He's not running for president, trying to build a Fortune 500 company, or hoping to get mentioned in USA Today. And he's probably nowhere near a pulpit.

My guess is that Jesus doesn't want to be emblazoned on stained glass or in an oil painting. "Enough with hanging me places!" he's probably thinking. He'd rather quietly interrupt our lives when we expect it the least. He'd prefer showing up as a black woman at a Mississippi funeral, clad in a pressed white dress because he was there at the end.

The Jesus who interrupted fishermen as they were about to get to work and who interrupted a woman as she was going about daily chores also breaks into our days and shuffles past, dressed in a white dress or GAP khakis or a crossing guard uniform. He is completely ordinary.

And we miss him. Our narrow definition of who he has to be limits what we think he can do and who we think he can be. And if he showed us anything, it's that we haven't seen anything yet.

And just like the first being last and how in losing our life we save it, by defining Jesus we miss him entirely. Our attempts to dogmatize or codify who our God can be place restraints on a God who can be everything.

God tends to surprise, I've found. At funerals, in the park, at a coffee shop, or on a long drive. I have no idea where Jesus will show up next, but I do know where I saw him once.

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