I used to think it was odd that Jesus desired an intimate relationship with me (John 17:11). The idea was odd because Jesus is in heaven, and well, I’m not…at least not yet.
There’s space between us. There’s distance. There’s some kind of barrier which appears to keep his affections at arm’s length from me.
It appeared that Jesus was unable to share with me even the simplest form of affection—for example, a hug.
And yet this was the very type of affection that I longed for the longer I walked with Jesus. I longed for the sense of security that results from a physical embrace. I longed for something more than just spiritual intimacy. I longed to traverse the barrier between heaven and earth.
Maybe you have longed for such things as well. Maybe it wasn’t a hug from Jesus. But maybe you longed for a sense of physical security. Or maybe you longed for a real experience of Jesus’ physical presence. And maybe you too have felt frustrated by the barrier between heaven and earth that seems to keep Jesus “up there” and you “down here”.
What are we to do?
Has Jesus left us longing for an experience we simply cannot have this side of heaven?
Is it possible to get a hug from Jesus?
I have come to see that actually, it is.
There is a reason that in the New Testament there is no such thing as a lone-wolf Christian. What I mean is, the early church could not have conceived of a person “trusting Jesus as Lord and Savior” but not being a part (and really what we would call today a “member”) of a local church.
Part of the reason for this was practical and part was theological. Practically speaking, when people became Christians, calling Jesus Lord, they were performing an act of treason by no longer calling Caesar “Lord.” They were walking away from their current culture and kingdom and becoming citizens of a new kingdom—the kingdom of God. This led to individual Christians being misunderstood and ostracized by family, friends, and their community. Thus they had a real need for a new family, new friends, and a new community. Membership in a local Christian community (a local church) met this need.
But there was another reason no Christian would have just had a “personal (and by personal I mean individual) relationship” with Jesus. And that was because the early church understood that although Jesus ascended into heaven, he still (in some sense) left a body here on earth. His body was called the Church. And it was in, among, and through this Church that Jesus would make himself known on earth.
Early Christians were even told that Jesus had given every member of his body special divine gifts in order that they might display and communicate his presence on earth (1 Corinthians 12). And Christians were also told that each of them had been commissioned as Jesus’ ambassadors on earth (2 Corinthians 5:20). The result was that early Christians, the members of Christ’s body, actually believed that they were given the authority and privilege to do things for themselves and others on behalf of Jesus. They believed that they were real mediators of Jesus’ physical presence on earth.
And this was and still is a big deal.
Because it means Jesus provided a way, until he returns, for us and others to receive acts of physical affection from himself. True, the affection is mediated through another person. But if the person is part of the body of Christ then the affection is from Christ (whether either person knows it or not). This is why the Apostle Paul wrote “Greet all God’s people with a holy kiss” (1 Thessalonians 5:26). The kiss was from Jesus.
So the next time you or I want a hug from Jesus, all we have to do is go where the body of Christ is. We simply need to open ourselves to the kindness of the members of his body, the Church.
Sure we might not be open to all people in his body in the same way. But this is why we have small groups, and different age and stage ministries. These groups exist so that every member of Christ’s body can experience the love of Christ and begin to know Christ in a way that transcends the barriers of heaven and earth.
For now, and until Christ returns, the mediation of his physical presence by his body, the Church, will always be imperfect and incomplete. But knowing that all who represent Christ are imperfect and incomplete should not lead us to give up on our longings for Christ’s presence. Rather such knowledge should prompt us to prayerfully seek out those representatives of Christ who are, well… actually representing Christ. If we do this, we will find the deep, intimate, real relationship with Jesus we have been longing for all along (hugs included).