Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Royal Telephone

When I was a kid, we sang a song about a “royal telephone to glory.” Its interesting to me how folk culture adapts spiritual language to the inventions of the time. Generations before had sung about how “Life is like a Mountain Railroad.” Before that, people talked about taking a trip in a good old gospel ship.

Frederick Lehman wrote Royal Telephone in 1919 and I am thinking about it today because on today’s date in 1886, Alexander Graham Bell shouted in the world’s first telephone, “Watson, come here; I need you.”

By 1919 most Americans had used a telephone. They were amazed at how the human voice could find its way over miles and into a receiver at the other end. Lehman envisioned a telephone wire stretching from earth to glory. It would be a trouble free line, where “central” – the place where the switchboard operator made the connection between callers – would never be busy.

“Central’s never busy, always on the line. You may hear from heaven almost anytime.”

It was the lyrics of a Christian explaining his faith in an era of instant communication.

Every generation has done that: explained how the connection works between heaven and earth.

Of course, sooner or later, the explanation always comes back to Jesus.

In the One Year Bible reading today, we read about Jesus before the Sanhedrin.

It is not an easy thing for a believer to read. It seems so unfair and bitter.

The heart of the story, though, is not about the tragedy of it. It’s about the connection that the death and resurrection of Jesus opened up between earth and heaven. The metaphor of a “royal telephone” leaves a lot to be desired, but aims in the right general direction.

In every religion, the faithful people who follow it want to imitate their founder’s life and to obey his teaching. Christians are no exception. Christ was a great man. He was a wonderful teacher. If we try to imitate His life, we will become better people. However, we must admit that a person would also be a better person if he imitated the Buddha’s life, or Socrates, for that matter.

Imitating the life of Christ, as important as it is, is not the main thing for a Christian.

The New Testament teaches that the main point in serving Christ is not imitating Him, but participating in His life! (See 2 Peter 1:3-8)

As a person follows Christ, he or she should expect the character and power of Christ to penetrate his or her own being. Such a person, to use a phrase from St. Paul, “puts on Christ.”

Jesus began the process of “colonizing” our human nature, when He, “for us and our salvation came down from Heaven … became incarnate from the Virgin Mary, and was made man.”

Why did He do it?

Certainly Jesus came down from heaven in order to reveal God’s love to us.

Without a doubt, He also wanted to live an exemplary life, so that we would have an example to follow. The imitation of Christ is a vital part of our spirituality. He also wanted to show us how to die – in submission to God.

Even more importantly though, Christians believe that Jesus lived and died as one of us because the deep structure of the universe required a “settling of accounts.” The connection between earth and heaven was broken and needed to be repaired. Christians believe that this was accomplished through the vicarious death, (that is, a death in the place of) of a man who was wholly innocent, Christ Jesus.

Alexander Graham Bell probably invented the telephone because his mother went deaf when he was a child. He had experimented for years with various acoustic devices, trying to discover a way for her to hear again. How often great things are born from compassion seeking to bring relief to those who suffer!

Our Lord was led into the Sanhedrin in today’s reading to the jeers of religious people. They didn’t believe in his mission. They didn’t know who he was. He had to suffer mockery of the crowd and the denial of his followers.

Just a few hours later though, as he gasped his last breath on the cross, he mustered up enough strength to moan, "it is finished.”

The connection had been made. A call could get through from anywhere on earth, from any person speaking any language, at no cost whatever.

The Royal Telephone was in full service mode and has been ever since.

There will be no charges, telephone is free,
It was built for service, just for you and me;
There will be no waiting on this royal line,
Telephone to glory always answers just in time.


Anonymous said...

I have never heard of the song The Royal Telephone - which is hard for me to believe - I must search for a copy in order to hear (love the songs of old, though not always, a later in life appreciation but now I digress) however I remember the song we use to sing, over and over and over and over and over, well you get the point... "Jesus on the Main Line... call Him up...".

Thank you for the lesson in how it is more than "imitating Christ" it is "putting Him on"... my little mind is growing... actually is being learning to be used, 90% of it has just been lying dormant... ha! :)

Anonymous said...

Obviously it's not learning "word placement and grammer" so well... I'll blame it on lack of coffee, seems fair to me. :)