The last of three meditations on the Mystery of our Faith, “Christ has died; Christ is risen; Christ will come again.” The Mysterium Fidei – as familiar as it is unfathomable, and what it means for us in the gritty reality of our days.
Having encountered Jesus in His death and found strength in His resurrection, the proclamation “Christ will come again” asks that we rest in the tension of the “already” and the “not yet.” It is as when a runner, having just crossed the line to secure his win, now awaits the conferring of his gold medal later that afternoon. In the same way, we look with sure hope to the day when this work – begun in the most unexpected of places, the cross of Calvary – is brought to beautiful completion in the reality of Christ’s return.
In the meantime, every single thing we do, however insignificant, will have its place in a new creation that we can now barely even imagine. This gives me unspeakable encouragement.
You are not oiling the wheels of a machine that’s about to roll over a cliff. You are not restoring a great painting that’s shortly going to be thrown on the fire. You are not planting roses in a garden that’s about to be dug up for a building site. You are, strange though it may seem…accomplishing something that will become in due course part of God’s new world.
Every act of love, gratitude, and kindness; every work of art or music inspired by the love of God and delight in the beauty of His creation; every minute spent teaching a severely handicapped child to read or to walk; every act of care and nurture, of comfort and support, for one’s fellow human beings and for that matter one’s fellow nonhuman creatures; and of course every prayer, all Spirit-led teaching, every deed that spreads the gospel, builds up the church, embraces and embodies holiness rather than corruption, and makes the name of Jesus honored in the world –
All of this will find its way, through the resurrecting power of God, into the new creation that God will one day make…
N.T. Wright, Surprised By Hope
The implications for this are enormous and far-reaching. Let’s briefly consider just four:
- Culture & Creativity – Cultivation (literally, “culture-making”) is celebrated from cover to cover in the Bible. It opens with the greatest burst of creativity the world has ever seen – God as gardener and artist, getting His hands dirty in the mud from which He formed us, as He sings all creation into being (Genesis 1). It’s how God soon afterwards invites His people to participate in adorning His own dwelling place (Exodus 36), and how Jesus Himself chose to come, as a tradesman-carpenter (Mark 6). At the end of time, the Bible’s storyline closes with a vision of the radiant city of God, adorned in spectacular, artistic beauty (Revelation 22). From cover to cover, our world is understood as the creative outpouring of an infinitely creative Artist, one who steps back and notes of His work, “It is good!” And astonishingly, it is also the future for which we’re headed (Isaiah 60), a future in which our highest and best offerings of creativity will be poured out as fitting thanks before this same, joyful God. (I love the imaginative way J.R.R. Tolkien’s short story “Leaf By Niggle” illustrates this.) The Bible presents an incredibly high view of the arts and creative professions – both present and future.
- Environment & Conservation – As humans charged with the task of stewardship & nurturing of God’s creation, then, I’m afraid we will have a lot to answer for when its Creator finally returns. We don’t have a great track record when it comes to ensuring the earth’s flourishing, tending instead to exploit nature’s vulnerabilities far more often than protect them. Even the pristine Himalayan kingdom of Nepal – like many developing nations – faces massive pollution issues in Kathmandu, its capitol city, and intractable challenges with natural resources throughout the rest of the country. While I can do little at present to address ghastly vehicle emission standards or the pervasive habit of littering here, I can at least grieve the current state of things, pray for its renewal, and anticipate with hope the day when this land is restored to its original state of wholeness.
- Justice & Social Renewal – We have already seen that because of Jesus’ close identification with the marginalized, we are called to fight injustice with our whole selves. This includes oppressive social structures, as we anticipate the day when even massive systemic inequities will be put right. In light of this, one would be hard-pressed to find a sector in which the hope of Christ’s return, and the restoration He’s bringing with Him, would not impact one’s own vocation. Take, for instance, the service provided by those of you who are educators and mentors. This, of course, touches on a hot issue in America today, and perhaps elsewhere around the world, considering the vital role of education in “breaking the yoke of oppression” in our communities. In a recent interview with Krista Tippett, Bruce Kramer described education as “an act of faith.” I like that, because the work of an educator is really a kind of “paying it forward,” requiring trust that the investment of our time, energy and care into students will pay off down the road. An act of faith, indeed. And a robust investment in hope.
- Community & Friendship – What a gift friendship is! And to think that even the best and most joyous relationships we enjoy here are mere shadows of the full knowing we will share with one another in God’s coming Kingdom – it’s hard to imagine, really. In anticipation of that hope, I’d like to suggest prayer as one of the best ways of preserving, honoring, nurturing and furthering community. My friend Tricia once shared with me, many years ago, her vision of prayer as the act of weaving a tapestry. She described each prayer offered on behalf of others as being heard by God, remembered, and woven into the fabric of friendships we enjoy now, binding us even more tightly in that day to come. To see our present relationships that way, with a vision that transcends distance, time and culture, is to me the most stirringly beautiful part of Christ’s promise that He will come again.
(Each of these could be – and indeed have been – developed into entire books, so check out the four heading links above if you want to delve a little deeper…)
If Christ is indeed returning, then let us be ready – living lives that are prayerful, steadfast, expectant, joyful. And let us also seek to finish well the task He has given us – sharing with others His beauty, love, healing and grace in whatever sphere of influence He has placed us.
I think only of two days – this day and THAT day. ~ Martin Luther