Chapter 4: Empowering the Christ
Far too many historical and contemporary christologies have been neglectful in their treatment of the role of the Spirit in the life of Jesus. In this chapter, Marshall sets forth a “pneumatically driven” christology that seeks to better explore the person of Christ as the Spirit-powered incarnation of God. A frequent image associated with the Spirit—particularly within the Gospel narratives—is that of the Spirit “overshadowing” those whom God desires to protect and empower. This “overshadowing,” Marshall argues, is evident throughout the entire life, ministry, and death of Jesus, beginning with Mary’s virginal conception and following Christ through his baptism, teachings, and execution on the cross, up until the point at which he “breathes out the Spirit” (ἐξέπνευσεν).
“Overshadowed even prior to his birth,” she writes, “he is the one in whom Spirit resides in an unprecedented manner; he is also the one through whom the Spirit works in unhindered freedom” (p.65). In the figure of Christ we see the Emmanuel, the “God-with-Us,” who is empowered by the Spirit to be God’s presence among us. He is the one made most fully alive. As mentioned in the previous chapter, however, the Spirit leads in directions that are often contrary to the whims of the established religious and social hierarchy, which brought Jesus into direct conflict with those who held the power to execute him. Yet in the resurrection we witness Christ’s vindication; the Spirit, the life-giving breath of God, works to sustain and revivify even in the face of death. It is from this position that Marshall is able to look next toward an ecclesiology of the Church as Christ’s continued Spirit-empowered presence in the world.
Chapter 5: Birthing the Church
I recently saw a comic by David Hayward in which the Church’s relationship to God was depicted in the following procession: God, at Christ’s baptism, claims, “I empty myself. Now you’re me!” Next, Christ tells the Spirit (represented, of course, by a Pac Man-like ghost), “I’m leaving. Now you’re me!” Finally, the Spirit looks to the Church as the People of God: “I’m neither here nor there. Now you’re me!” At this point, a worried-looking congregant turns to the rest of those gathered and says, “Let’s bring them all back so we don’t have to be so responsible!” Though perhaps a bit subordinistic in detail, the general impression of the cartoon rests on the understanding that in the resurrection and ascension of Jesus, the Church has now become the Body of Christ, empowered by the Spirit to be Christ’s ongoing presence in a suffering world. It is indeed, as Hayward’s cartoon humorously implies, quite the daunting responsibility. In Chapter 5, Marshall argues that the same Spirit which “overshadowed” Mary in her conception of the Messiah and overshadowed Christ throughout his life has become involved in the process of overshadowing and giving birth to the Church as an extension of the perichoretic Trinity on earth as it is in heaven.
This extension is accomplished, according to Marshall, through the two primary sacraments that have sustained the Church since its infancy: the ritual of baptism and the celebration of the Eucharist. Reclaiming the early Baptist/Anabaptist enthusiasm for baptism, Marshall suggests we set aside bickering about how it is to be done in favor of reflecting on what baptism accomplishes. After all, the early second-century Christian document known as the Didache seems to suggest that it doesn’t particularly matter whether one is dunked, dipped, or sprinkled:
Concerning baptism, you should baptize this way: After first explaining all things, baptize in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, in flowing water. But if you have no running water, baptize in other water; and if you cannot do so in cold water, then in warm. If you have very little, pour water three times on the head in the name of Father and Son and Holy Spirit. (Didache 7:1-3)
The earliest Christians clearly found the Trinitarian implications of baptism much more important than the method itself. In baptism, we share in Christ’s death and are raised into the newness of life empowered by the same Spirit by which Christ was resurrected. In other words, says Marshall, the Spirit “joins the believer to the life of Jesus the Christ; in baptism, the Spirit unites us to the birth, death, and resurrection of the Messiah of God” (p.82).
No less important than baptism is the Spirit’s presence in the common meal known to us as the Lord’s Supper, or Eucharist. In the sharing of the same meal that Christ ate with his disciples before his crucifixion, the Spirit unites us as children of the Living God. Like the disciples on the road to Emmaus, the bread and wine become the signifiers by which we recognize and identify with the risen Lord at the prompting of the Spirit. Pushing further, Marshall suggests that communion allows us—by the working of the Spirit—to recognize Christ’s presence in our midst and offer prayers to God incommunicable by mere words.
Chapter 6: Transforming Unfinished Presence
There is little question that humans are unfinished creatures. We are constantly “becoming”. It is for this reason that all of the chapters of Marshall’s book are gerunds, reflecting how we are, both as individuals and as a beloved community, always in process. It is this recognition that provokes Marshall’s reflection on the role of the Spirit in spiritual formation. Drawing from the rich, bubbling spring of the contemplative tradition and from 2 Cor. 3:18, she argues that the Spirit persists in crafting persons as “unfinished presence,” by which we actively participate in the life of God even while falling short of God’s desire for us to bear God’s image. The Spirit’s pairing of our brokenness with our hope of renewal is a constant beckoning toward transfiguration into the likeness of Christ. This process of spiritual up-building, what Gregory of Nyssa referred to as moving “from glory to glory” is never finished until at last we see the fullness of God and one another as renewed and whole persons “face to face” (1 Cor. 13:12).