As Cynthia and I became more committed to our church, we accepted leadership roles and served on committees and boards, and I took a turn teaching Sunday School. My knees shook and my voice trembled during worship one Sunday morning when I stood before the congregation, confessed the sins of my wretched life and witnessed to what God had done for me.
I was so thankful to God for freeing me from the shackles of alcoholism that I wanted to serve him in any way possible. I detested self-righteousness among church people, but tried to accept hypocrisy, mine and others’, as an innate, human characteristic of the Body of Christ. I reasoned that the church faithful were at least making an effort to follow Jesus and that only the head of the church, Christ, was perfect. I tried to walk the Christian walk but confessed to falling short, although my sins were primarily confined to my “thought life,” except for occasional cursing, especially at tailgaters. But I accepted that God loved me just as I was and that he had forgiven me and continued to do so.
During this phase of spiritual maturation, I experienced another epiphany, an experience so real that I can’t say if it was only in my head and heart or if it was a corporeal manifestation of my Lord. But the truth is that Jesus Christ appeared to me one way or the other. This marked the third major manifestation of God in my life beginning with the nocturnal visit in my boyhood home, followed about four decades later by the message and sign from God in the form of a Cross of Clouds. Now this.
This manifestation occurred while I was deep in meditation, a spiritual discipline I had practiced for several years. My daily devotional routine included Bible reading and study, prayer, and oftentimes a period of scriptural meditation known as “Lectio Divina,” meaning “holy reading.” I sat in a relaxed position in a quiet place, paid attention to my breathing, and meditated on a particular scripture, usually a short verse, phrase or single word.
While thus meditating, I endeavored to “be still” in the context of Psalm 46:10, “Be still, and know that I am God,” as I contemplated the Living Word and waited for God to speak. Prayer, I had come to believe, should be a two-way conversation, and I was guilty, and still am, of doing too much of the talking, especially of asking for God’s help and intervention. What might God say if I would only “be still” and wait for him?
On this particular day, I was home alone meditating in the stillness of our living room. I don’t remember the specific scripture on which I was contemplating, but as was usual, my effort to “be still” and open myself to God was interrupted periodically by the intrusion of thoughts and images unrelated to scripture. But I endeavored to let them pass on through as I continued opening myself to God.
On this day, something amazing, something beyond my mind’s ability to imagine, something supernatural happened. Suddenly Jesus was in the room with me. I saw him clearly as he hung from a cross, suffering horribly and near death. His limbs were nailed to the beams and his head hung limply against his right shoulder. Blood and water gushed from a wound in his right side.
I watched from the foot of the cross as Jesus hung in agony, dying a horribly painful death. I was overcome with sorrow but at the same time felt amazingly cleansed and right with God. I don’t know how long I was in His Presence, but I knew he was real and was there in the room with me. I was left in awe, maybe shock, bewildered but grateful for the extraordinary experience.
What was I to make of this revelation? Would anybody believe me? Was I to share what had happened?
I called Cynthia and then I called my church and made an appointment to discuss it with my pastor, the Rev. Ken Land. I was anxious to know what he would say. When I went to see him, Ken listened patiently but made little comment and didn’t seem surprised. When I finished, Ken left it to me to delve into the meaning of it all. “What do you think it means?” he asked. “What do you think it means?”
I had been so mystified that I had given little thought to God’s purpose in the epiphany, what it meant, and what I was to do. But now, with Ken’s urging, I began to contemplate and pray about the meaning of the manifestation. My thoughts and feelings were jumbled; I was scared, elated, confounded, and thankful. I prayed and prayed for God to tell me what the revelation meant. What did he want me to make of it? How was I to share it, if at all? “Please God, I know your Son appeared to me, but now tell me what this manifestation means.”
On the third day following Jesus’ appearance, God answered my prayers and gave me his answer. With a divine whisper from his heart to mine, he said with clarity: “Don’t leave Jesus out.”
I had the answer, but precisely what did God mean when He said, “Don’t leave Jesus out”? I prayed about and mediated on the meaning and how I was to react. Surely, it meant not to leave Jesus out of my personal life and the life of my family. But it meant more, too, I felt. My eyes had been opened to the truth that Jesus is often not the main focus in his own church. Our Savior gets lost in the shuffle of church business, of pettiness and bickering, of jealousy, of apathy, of materialism, of insincerity, of inflated egos, of doubt without the requisite seeking and searching.
I shared God’s explanation of Jesus’ manifestation with Cynthia, Ken Land, and others, and since then have tried to be mindful of keeping Jesus at the center of my life and of church worship and activities. I have not always succeeded in my personal or corporate efforts, but when I recall the startling epiphany, I am reminded that Jesus is what the Christian church is about. Christians are about a person, a Risen Savior.