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Sunday, February 18, 2018

THE JESUS ROMANCE [Sun, 2-18-18]

In the time of winter, the roses have no dew.

In seminary we made fun of C. Austin Miles’ 1912 song, “In the Garden.” We called it “Andy.” Andy walks with me, Andy talks with me, Andy tells me I am his own.

Someone told us it had been composed as a popular love song but had not made it, so the composer went to the religious market with it, where it became one of the great all-time hits. That first part was not true, but truth has little weight when we want to ridicule something.

I enjoyed making fun of the hymn, in the same way children enjoy making fun of the odd kid at school. It was a love song, not a theological song. It was sappy. It carried nothing of the realism and suffering and sacrifice and scandal of the real Gospel. It was the worst of self-centered Protestant individualism: “The joy we share as we tarry there, none other has ever known.” Talk about exclusive! The life of Jesus was all about blood on a cross, not dew on roses. That’s how we sophisticated seminarians saw it.

Miles, though, intended it as a hymn from the beginning, but it is also clearly a romantic love song. By Miles’ own account, it is a depiction of Jesus and Mary Magdalene, after Jesus’ resurrection, meeting “in the garden,” to share a joy that “none other has ever known.”

People like to speculate about the relationship between Jesus and Mary Magdalene, but no one really knows anything about it. I think Tim Rice speculates best when he has Magdalene say, “I don’t know how to love him… I’ve been changed… in these past few days, when I’ve seen myself, I seem like someone else.” [1]

It is popular, and not unreasonable, to think that the time after the Resurrection was springtime for Jesus. After all, he was going home, to “reign in glory,” and all that. But if you are the savior of the world, can you sit in heaven and be content with the world as it has been for these past two thousand years? No, this is a long hard bitter winter time for Jesus.

In this barren winter time of our culture, we have removed romance from sexuality. Sex is physical contact, only. It has little, if anything, to do with relationship, with love, with romance. People who look at Jesus and Magdalene assume either that they had a conventionally modern physical relationship, or that Jesus was beyond all that sexuality stuff. They forget about romance.

I wish there were a better word to put here. “Romance” usually means something shallow, only emotional. I don’t mean it that way. Romance, rightly understood, is about “the joy we share.” One of the great things about “In the Garden” is its low-key joy. Considering this long despairing two thousand year winter Jesus has had to endure, mostly at the hands of those who invoke his name as savior, I cherish for him that short romantic time with Mary Magdalene in the garden, that simple joy in just being together. One remembered moment of true romance, of a time when joy was shared when there was dew on the roses, one such moment can sustain a body, even a resurrected one, through the cold of winter.


I tweet as yooper1721.

At Story Church the other night, one of the main stories was told by a “Will & Grace” couple. They were thrown together by circumstances. Compressing their long story into just a few sentences, they said: We are in love. It’s not physical. It’s not husband and wife, although we live together. It’s not boyfriend or girlfriend. It’s not brother and sister. It’s not mother and son. [She is several years older.] It’s just love.

 1] Tim Rice and Andrew Lloyd Webber, Jesus Christ, Superstar.

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