Jesus the living walking Bible

Growing up, I remember every so often, a preacher would come to our church who everyone called, “The Walking Bible.” He had memorized the entire New Testament, even the chapter and verse numbers. At the time, I thought only Jesus could do something so remarkable. 

When I got to seminary, I learned about a period of time, in Christian history, when the New Testament did not exist. There was between 250 -300 years, before the New Testament reached its final form. Today, the Bible has 66 books, 27 of which are in the New Testament. What did people do before the church had a New Testament?

There was a time before Christians knew to call themselves, Christian. There was a time before the New Testament became canonized Scriptures of the Church.  There was a time when all the church had, was the memory of Jesus, the memory of the words he spoke, and his many good deeds and rememberable actions.

Before the internet, before the printing press, before people wrote on papyrus paper, the ancients knew how to pass information from one generation to the next. 

Oral Tradition was the primary way for valuable information being preserved and continued. Before writing became the way to communicate between generations, there were two ways for information to be embedded in a culture: 

  1. set it to music or poems, like the Psalms – 
  2. Attach the teaching to physical movements and activities . 

Consider the Jewish celebration of Passover. Jewish people have remembered the night before their escape from Egypt for some 3,000 years. They formed an annual tradition that centers on a special meal. There are plenty of images like “having your sandals on.” Each item of food carries a symbolic meaning to evoke memories. 

Today, the Passover traditions are written down and published on the internet. But for many generations, this knowledge only existed in the people’s memories and in their hearts. First, they came to believe in the power of God through direct experience, and sometime later, those experiences were written down to share with future generations. 

In the modern church, there is something more powerful than “reading about Jesus.” We can experience Christ through the memories of our ancestors.

I can still remember the day my father taught me how to change a car tire. There was no book or illustration, the manual to the 73 dodge dart was long lost. He told me, “Watch me do it, and then I will watch you do it.” 

Today, I remember how to change a tire, not because I read a book about it, but because my father modeled it. First, he loosened the lug nuts, then jacked up the car. He slid the flat tire under the car, just in case the jack failed… Later in life when I was a college student studying education, I learned my father had given me a “Hands-on Experience” or Object Lesson.

For three hundred years, Christianity was practiced and passed on without the aid of “the New Testament.” Without any instructions written on paper, the believers simply had the memory of Jesus’ words and the images left from his object lessons. Jesus, the master teacher, had given the disciples profound hands-on experience.

The first followers of Jesus did not, “discover the New testament” and then decide to believe what they read about. Their beliefs originated from the eyewitness testimony of people who had direct, hands-on experience with the risen Christ.

Faith in Jesus Christ was founded on the memory of Jesus, how he conducted himself under stress and persecution, how he chose simple acts of love over actions of revenge or attack. like when he washed the disciples feet on the eve of his death.  Or, when he broke a loaf of bread and lifted a simple chalice, he said, “This is my body, this is my blood, given and shed for you, and for all people, for the forgiveness of sin.”

The Christian tradition began when a small group of disciples remembered the risen Christ. We find some of those women and men in gospel readings referred to as “Post Resurrection Accounts.” They saw the risen Christ with their own eyes. They touched the scars on his hand. They watched him eat.

From that Sunday forward, they gathered the community of believers to proclaim: Christ is risen indeed! And something unexpected happened, the experience of Jesus spread like wildfire, even people who did not see with their own eyes, when they attended the Sunday gatherings, and they heard the story of his life and death, and resurrection, they came to believe through experience.

Christians believe Jesus is the Word of God, come down from heaven, to live among the human world. This and everything else we know about Jesus, we have received from generations of Christians who lived before us. Some of those generations had the N.T. and others did not. But all through the ages, Jesus has been the living walking breathing Bible, God’s word, down from heaven.

Let us pray, Heavenly parental figure, show us the way to live by providing role models and mentors. Bless children who look to their parents for knowledge and guidance. May Jesus be alive and present among us, as we remember his life, death, and resurrection. Amen.

Sermon for Easter 3 Year B