Sunday, December 18, 2011

A Life Spent Waiting (Advent Series, Part 4)

We have dedicated this series to the memory of those who waited on the Lord. We considered Zechariah, Mary, and Simeon, each of whom entered a time of waiting. Some waited better than others, but they all waited for the right thing: God himself. Let us take this fourth and final Sunday in Advent to consider one more waiter: Anna.

It is fitting that we conclude with Anna, for of all these waiters she is the one who waited the longest. According to Luke, she was "very old" (2:36). She spent between fifty and sixty years as a widow, waiting on God in the temple. Anna's was a life spent waiting.

Consider this life spent waiting. She could easily feel spent, useless, forgotten. She was surely tempted to become bitter, angry, or simply paralyzed. Is a life spent waiting a life well spent?

Many of us spend our lives waiting. Waiting for the next thing: to succeed, to graduate, to get a job, to mature, to have children, etc. And it is easy to feel spent, useless, forgotten--tempted to become bitter, angry, or simply paralyzed. Is a life spent waiting a life well spent?

Others of us spend our lives hurrying. We believe that spending a life waiting is not a life well spent, and so we rush through life. It is the same struggle as those who wait: the fear of being spent, useless, forgotten. It's just a different coping strategy. Is a life spent hurrying any better spent than a life spent waiting?

But consider again Anna. In her we see and hear the good news that a life spent waiting on God is a life well spent.

Note well: not just any waiting, but waiting on God. Some of us wait because injustice blocks our way. Not all waiting is right. Some of us need to hear the good news that now is our moment for action--that God is calling us to resist those who make us wait for their gain. But all of us are called to wait on God. Only then, when the time is right, will we know we are acting in good faith.

Not only did Anna wait on the right thing (i.e., God); she also waited on God well. In fact, she waited on God the best of all our characters in this series. Consider how well she waited on God.

First of all, she waited on God the longest. The text goes out of its way to indicate her age. There may be some symbolic significance to these numbers, but at the very least they highlight the length of time she spent waiting. Hers was a life spent waiting. And since she was waiting on God, her life was well spent.

Second, she worshipped while she waited. She "never left the temple but worshipped night and day, fasting and praying" (v. 37). She knew that waiting well does not mean simply going about her business till God does his thing. No! Waiting well is an active practice of hastening the Lord's coming by seeking him worship. Worship is not only thanking God for what he has done but also anticipating God for what he is about to do. Waiting and worship belong together. A life spent waiting in a posture of worship is a life well spent.

Finally, she testified to what she saw. She waited a long time, and so when the fulfillment came she burst forth with thanksgiving to God and proclamation to others: "Coming up to them at that very moment, she gave thanks to God and spoke about the child to all who were looking forward to the redemption of Jerusalem" (v. 38). Unlike Mary, who "cherished these things in her heart" (waiting to tell Luke many years later), Anna joined the Shepherds in proclaiming the good news of the coming the Lord immediately. She waited till the time was right. But when it was, boy did she let loose. Her testimony was greater because she waited for it. She understood fulfillment because she understand the waiting that necessarily precedes it. These words of testimony at the close of her life render the whole of her life as a testimony to the faithfulness of God. A life spent waiting for an opportunity to testify is a life well spent.

More could be said about Anna. And much more could be said about the theme of waiting. More Christmas characters could be added to the mix. And many more characters from the whole of Scripture could be considered. But my hope is that you might this season embrace the occasions of waiting in your life as opportunities to answer to call to wait on the Lord. May these lives spent waiting inspire you to wait well, to find a manner of waiting that brings joy both to you and the Lord. At the very least, may you join Israel and the Church in the great act of waiting on the Messiah's coming. For a life spent waiting on God is a life well spent.

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Waiting with God (Advent Series, Part 3)

[Cross listed at the Seminary's blog]

This advent series has focused on the act of waiting. I have been asking what it means to wait well. The most important thing about waiting is the one for whom we wait. If we wait for God, then we are waiting for the right thing. Just simply waiting does not necessarily have any inherent value.

But how we wait matters too. In the first installment of this series, we saw that Zechariah waited for the right thing (i.e., God), but did not wait well. Last week, we saw how Mary not only waited for the right thing, but also waited in the right way.

However, one might wonder if Mary waited well because she did not have to wait long. How hard is it for a young girl to consent to the Lord. She has not waited long enough to have tasted disappointment. Zechariah had been waiting a long time. No wonder he demanded assurance. He didn't want to get his hopes up, just for the to be dashed like they have so many times before.

Is waiting well simply something the young and naive can do? Must the old and mature merely wait for the Lord with begrudging obedience?

As we read on in Luke, we encounter two more people who waited on the Lord, both of whom were old: Simeon and Anna. And each one waited well. They demonstrate that a life spent waiting well is a life well sent.

Let's take a look at Simeon this week, saving Anna for next week.

In the brief story of Simeon, we catch a glimpse of one who waited well. Again, the crucial factor is the object of his waiting: "He was waiting for the consolation of Israel" (Luke 2:25). Note that he was waiting for the saving action of God, not merely for himself, but for all of Israel. Simeon waiting for the right thing.

But Simeon also waited well. The text goes on to say that "the Holy Spirit was upon him" (v. 26). Waiting was not an empty activity. He was filled with the Spirit even as he waited for the fulfillment of the promise. Even in his waiting, God was present to him. Simeon not only waited for God; he waited with God.

Such a manner of waiting makes all the difference. For one who waited on the Lord without waiting with the Lord can so easily become confused, anxious, bitter, and/or afraid, so that even when the promise is fulfilled they might miss it. We see in the story of Simeon how waiting in the Spirit makes all the difference. A life spent waiting for God with God is a life well sent.

First, we see that Simeon is open to the Spirit's revelation. "It has been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he would not die before he had seen the Lord's Messiah" (v. 26). One must wait on God to hear from him. One who waits for God with God is open to hear the Word of God.

Second, we see that Simeon is sensitive to the Spirit's movement. "Moved by the Spirit, he went into the temple courts" just in time to see Mary and Joseph bring in the child Jesus (v. 27). To see the promise he had to be in the right place in the right time. The Spirit guided him there, and he was apparently waiting calmly enough to sense the Spirit's movement. One who waits for God with God is sensitive to the Spirit's movement.

Third, we see that Simeon is ready to praise God. "Simeon took [Jesus] in his arms and praised God, saying… you now dismiss your servant in peace, for my eyes have seen your salvation!" (v. 28-30). By his long anticipation of the saving work of God, Simeon stored up his praise. He knew what he was looking for, and so knew what to do once he saw it. One who waits for God with God is ready to praise God.

Fourth, we see that Simeon is ready to bless others. "Then Simeon blessed them and said to Mary, his mother…" (v. 34). He does not get to directly participate in the great events to come. But he indirectly serves God's larger purpose by speaking a word of blessing to the right person and the right time. He spent his life waiting, and so has nothing left to give but his blessing. But that is enough, for his purpose was to deliver this Spirit-inspired blessing. One who waits for God with God is ready to bless others.

If you in a hurry, running from your past and rushing to create your own future, then see in Simeon the promise that a life spent waiting is a life well spent. And if you find yourself already in a state of waiting, embrace it as a calling from God. Either way, be sure it is in fact God you are waiting for. And seek to wait well, like Simeon, who waited for God with God, i.e., in the power of the Holy Spirit. Let your moments of waiting be an opportunity to hear God's voice, be moved by his Spirit, to ready yourself to praise God and bless others. For a life spent waiting well is a life well spent.

Monday, December 05, 2011

Waiting Well (Advent Series, Part 2)

[Cross listed at the Seminary blog.]

The call of Advent is to wait. This is a call we all need to hear. For those of us who do not wait on God must repent of our attempts to create our own future. Those of us who already wait on God must learn how to wait well, i.e., in joyful obedience rather than angry bitterness. And we all must learn to wait not just for ourselves but truly to wait on God.

The question of this series as introduced Click last week is What does it mean to wait on God? This question has two aspects: (1) for whom we are waiting and (2) how can we wait well. Last week we considered Zechariah, who waited for the right thing (i.e., God) but did not wait well (i.e., in his doubt he demanded assurances). This week we consider Mary, who not only waiting on God but seems to wait well. Let's take a look at Luke 1 and consider how Mary waited.

As I read this passage with the theme of waiting in mind, three things jump out at me. The first is that while we wait it is okay to be troubled and confused. When God sends Gabriel to her, Mary is greatly troubled by his words. Interestingly, his words are of divine favor and presence. Though in hindsight these are obviously positive words, Mary was surprised by them. She did not know what they meant. Gabriel lets her know that she will be with child, and she is further confused: "How will this be, since I am a virgin?" Recall the contrast with Zechariah: they both have their doubts, but whereas he asked for gurantees, Mary simply asked to see the plans. It seems to me that there is nothing wrong with Mary (or Zechariah's) confusion and fear. They are surmountable obstacles to the work of God, not sins against God. When we wait on God, it is okay to be troubled and confused. Waiting can be troubling and confusing. Share your troubles with the Lord. Ask him questions in your confusion. Just don't stop waiting.

The second thing that jumps out at me is that Mary consents to waiting out her identity. At the end of her conversation with Gabriel, she declares, "I am the Lord's servant. May it be to me as you have said." A lot is made of her consent in the second clause, and rightly so. But it is easy to miss the first clause: "I am the Lord's servant." Her consent to the Lord's will is rooted in her identity as the Lord's servant. What is a servant? One who waits on another. Hence the term "waiter" for one who serves you dinner. To be the Lord's servant is to be one who waits on the Lord. Mary consents to the Lord's promised action because she is one who waits on Lord. When we are called to wait, let us wait because it is who we are. Waiting need not be a burden--one more moralistic duty. Waiting can be simply an expression of who we are, or at least who we are becoming. When the Lord asks you to wait on him, to wait for him to do something he plans to do through you, you may wait with joy because you are already a servant of the Lord. He is just giving you a chance to do your thing. While you wait for an opportunity to consent, say: "I am a servant of the Lord. May it be to me whatever he may say."

The third and last thing that jumps out at me is that Mary waits with others who wait well. Immediately after hearing this news, Mary hurries down to Judea to visit her cousin Elizabeth. There is much that goes on in this famous scene. But there is a little fact that is easy to miss, on which I want to dwell. At the end of this scene, it says that Mary stayed with Elizabeth for about three months. Now this might seem a random fact, except that earlier the text notes that Gabriel spoke to Mary about six months after he prophesied the birth of John the Baptist. In other words, Mary stayed with Elizabeth for the duration of her pregnancy! Now this is not particularly out of the ordinary. It is the sort of thing family members do. And Mary had her own reasons for slipping away for a bit, given what was happening in her life. But I think it worth noting that Mary immediately began to wait with others who wait well. Waiting can be very lonely. But Mary knew she was not the only one who was waiting on the Lord. She joined another who waiter, one who had waited a much longer time than her. Mary had a lot to learn about waiting on the Lord. She may have declared that she was the Lord's servant, but that doesn't mean she knows what that looks like. So she waited with others who wait well. Let this be both a promise and a command to us. When we are called to wait, we are free to wait with others; we needn't wait alone. When we are called to wait, we are called to join others who wait on the Lord--especially those who we know wait well.

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Waiting for God (Advent Series, Part 1)

Cross-posted at Wesley Seminary at IWU blog:

I hate waiting. I especially don't like waiting in lines. That's why I avoid Black Friday. I don't care how great the deals are--they aren't worth the lines.

Perhaps you feel the same way. You might not mind lines, but you probably can't stand some sort of waiting. Our modern culture forms us for immediacy, and so waiting is perceived as aberrant. Waiting is out of step, out of date, out of touch. Waiting is so last year.

I suppose this is why the modern church's experimentation with Advent is so awkward. Advent is a time to celebrate waiting. During Advent we are called to remember what it meant for Israel to await the first coming of Christ, and learn from Israel how to wait for Christ's second coming. But is waiting really something worth remembering, let alone celebrating? Is it not a condition to be avoided, a problem to be solved? We don't really wait during Advent. We rush, we hurry, we eat, we plan. But we don't wait. Or at least we don't wait well.

This Advent I invite you to wait with me. This is the first in a series of four Advent posts, each of which will explore what it means to wait. I am going to try to overcome my distaste for waiting. I am going to try to identify what makes waiting good and explore how to wait well. Please join me in searching the Scriptures for guidance on what to wait for and how to wait well.

Let us begin with the story of a man who was waiting for the right thing, but who did not wait well.

The man's name was Zechariah. He was a priest. He and his wife were very old. But they were also infertile. So they had been waiting a long, long time for a child.

At this point in the story they were both waiting well. The Scripture says they were upright in God's sight and that they followed all of God's commandments. They were waiting for the blessing of God, but they were not waiting to obey God. They knew that while we wait, we can still obey. The Scriptures also say that they had been praying to God, asking for a son. They knew that the best thing to do while waiting is praying. So while they waited, the obeyed God and prayed to God.

So, at the beginning of the story, Zechariah was waiting for God, and he was waiting well.

One day, while it was his group's turn to serve in the temple, the lot fell to him to burn incense. While waiting for the incense to burn, the angel of the Lord appeared. It turns out Zechariah was waiting in the right place at the right time! The angel told Zechariah that his prayer had been heard: Elizabeth will bear a child! And not only that: he will be great, for he will bring many people back to God, preparing the way of the Lord!

But here is where Zechariah's waiting went awry...

Zechariah asked the angel, "How can I be sure of this? I am an old man and my wife is well along in year."

It is clear from the text that this was not a good question. The angel strikes him mute because of it. But what's wrong with this question? It seems a perfectly reasonable point to highlight the fact that his age is a significant obstacle to the fulfillment of this prophecy. Not to get ahead of ourselves, but Mary points out a similar obstacle (namely, her virginity) to a similar prophecy to the same angel, yet she is favored by God and blessed by all generations. What gives?

I think it helps to contrast their two questions -- a contrast which the text invites with its juxtaposition of two similar stories. Both identify an obstacle to the angelic promise. But the questions differ ever so slightly. Mary asks, "How can this be?" whereas Zechariah asks, "How can I be sure of this?" Mary believes the promise; she just wonders how it will happen. Zechariah wants to believe the promise, but he asks for a sign to shore up his faith. He asks for some assurances, so that he doesn't get his hopes up. Mary asks how God will work. Zechariah asks whether God will work.

This is our constant temptation when waiting on God. We ask for a sign. We ask God to make waiting easier by giving us assurances that we do not wait in vain. We are willing to wait, but we want the waiting to be a little easier. Now God gives signs from time to time. In fact, Gabriel offers the case of Elizabeth as a sign to Mary that nothing is impossible for God. But demanding a sign from God is a different matter. When we demand signs and assurances while we wait, we are not waiting well. We may be waiting for the right thing but we are not waiting in the right way. Zechariah waited on God, but he did not wait well.

Moralizing moment: don't demand signs! It just makes this worse! He looses his voice and so is barred from sharing the prophetic promise with others. Zechariah is a warning to us of the consequences of not waiting well: when we try to make waiting easier, it just gets harder.

The grace in this story, however, is that Zechariah still received the promise. God did not take it away from him -- for to do so would be to take something away from Israel. God had a bigger plan in place. But Zechariah was kept from sharing the prophecy with others. Unlike Mary, who signs her song before her promise is fulfilled, Zechariah has to wait to sign his song. But he still got to sing!

If you have demanded a sign, if your waiting has gotten worse not better, God still has something for you. The most important thing about waiting is for whom we wait. We wait for God, for his will and his blessing. When we wait for God, waiting is worthwhile. What makes waiting good is when its object is God. Zechariah got this most important thing right.

Of all the many things we await this Advent, be sure you are waiting for God above all else. We will explore in the next few posts how to wait well. We will see some other figures in Scripture who waited better than Zechariah. But at the very least we can join Zechariah in waiting for the right thing. When we wait for God, our waiting is worthwhile.

Tuesday, July 05, 2011

Barth on Hegel: An Unfinished Collection of Quotes


"Why did Hegel not become for the Protestant world something similar to what Thomas Aquinas was for Roman Catholicism?" (370)

"Is it not in Hegel that the man who is free from all the ties of tradition and from all conflict with tradition, who rejoices equally in reason and in history ... has for the first time achieved complete, clear, and certain self-awareness?" (371)

"In turning away from Hegel the age acknowledged that, having reached the summit of its desires and achievements, it was dissatisfied with itsef, that this was after all not what it had intended." (374)

"It was only in the course of centuries that Thomas Aquinas acquired the position at present accorded him in the Roman Catholic world. It may be that the dawn of the true age of Hegel is still something that will take place in the future." (376)

I. Hegel's Philosophy of Self-Confidence

"It was in him to ridicule the demand for a theory of knowledge by saying there was as much in it as the demand of the Gascon who did not want to go into the water before he could swin. The interests of the theory of knowledge, he said, were best served in the act of a truly rational knowledge." (379)

"Hegel's direct, independent linking-up with the Enlightenment was done in this way: the confidence in the right and power of rational thought was naive, untested and therefore unsecured, stuck fast in half-truths and open to all kinds of counter-blows. Hegel called this confidence in the right and power of rational thought to self-awareness, worked out and defended its deepest truth vis-a-vis its own weaknesses as vis-a-vis its attackers, and in so doing exalted it from the level of a one-sided view of the world to a comprehensive world principle." (380)

"And this makes for the peculiar momentum of Hegel's philosophy of self-confidence; it does not allow itelf to be surpassed in cold-blooded rationalizing by any worldling, nor in any depth of feeling by the most pious. It is Titanism to the highest degree and at the same time to the highest degree humility. The self-confidence it proclaims and to which it summons is at once and as such confidence in God." (381)

All quotes taken from Karl Barth, Protestant Theology in the Nineteenth Century (Eerdmans, 2002).

Thursday, June 02, 2011

To Hell and Back: The Ascension of Our Lord (Easter, Day 40)

So, my hopes and dreams for writing a blog post everyday for forty days between Easter and Ascension didn't exactly work out as planned. I kept a weekly blog for a few years and then I quit for a couple years, so trying to get back into by blogging by doing it daily was a bit of an overcommitment! Oh well. Let me at least bring this series to a close with a Day 40 reflection on the Ascension.

The Apostles' Creed has a nice symmetry to it with regard to the death and resurrection of Jesus:
He ... was crucified, died, and was buried.
He descended into hell.
On the third day he rose again from the dead.
He ascended into heaven.
The pivotal event in the story of Jesus -- and therefore the pivotal event in the story of God with us -- is his death and resurrection. This pivotal event is a genuine event, i.e., a movement, a history, a happening. Hence it is twofold in structure: first he died, then he rose.

Furthermore, each of these two moments in the story of Jesus is itself a movement, a history, a happening. Hence each has its own twofold structure: he died and so descended into hell, then he rose and so ascended into heaven. The death and resurrection of Jesus both involve a movement with a direction. His death is aimed toward hell. And his resurrection is aimed toward heaven.

The point of this line of thought is that Christ's ascension relates to his resurrection as his descent into hell relates to his crucifixion.

crucifixion : descent :: resurrection : ascension

So, then, let's ask how this analogous relationship might illuminate the event of ascension.

At its most straightforward level, the descent and the ascent of Christ both answer a spatial question. Where did Christ "go" after his death? Well, wherever dead people usually go, i.e., Sheol, the dead, hades, hell, etc. And where did Christ "go" after his resurrection? Well, wherever one goes to be in living fellowship with God, since that's the point of resurrection. Hence it fits that the descent and ascent of Christ each involve spatial terms in the creed: He descended into hell; he ascended into heaven.

However, we must acknowledge that hell and heaven are not "places" the way my office and my house are places, i.e., they cannot be located on a map. This is not to deny that they are real spaces, but to affirm the unique character of their spatial reality. "Hell" and "heaven" name the two final forms of creaturely relation to God. "Hell" names a final relation to God as one who is absent, one who has abandoned us. "Heaven" names a final relation to God as one who is present, one who has welcomed us into living fellowship with him.

Note well: these are final forms of relating to God, not just ways of relating to God in general. Certainly one can speak of hellish and heavenly forms of everyday existence by way of analogy. But it is insufficient to say that hell and heaven only name ways of being in the present without any reference to our final destiny before God.

Why does this affirmation matter? Because Christ's ascension into heaven is not about absence but presence! We all too often regard the ascension as initiating a time of Christ's absence. But absence and abandonment is the meaning of hell, not heaven. Treating the ascension as simply the removal of Jesus is to put him back into hell. The point of Christ's ascension is not his absence from us but his presence with God. And since he's one of us, he shares with us his fellowship with God. We are welcome at the great banquet of God because the one who eats with sinners now sits at the right hand of God the Father almighty. The ascension does not mean Christ has abandoned us to go hang out with his Father alone. Christ's ascension means that he has come home to his Father's house and that we have been invited to join the party rather than pout in the field.

So, the next time you partake in the means of Christ's promised presence (the preaching of the Word, the breaking of bread, fellowship with believers, serving the poor and persecuted, etc.), do not think of these means as substitutes for an absent Lord. See and hear in them the promise of the risen and ascended Christ: "Lo, I am with you always."

Any thoughts?

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

God the Creator, God the Resurrector - Part Two (Easter, Day 25)

Earlier this week I noted that I've been thinking about creation and its relationship to resurrection. My claim is that, according to the New Testament witness, faith in God the Creator is bound up with faith in God the Resurrector. I already discussed this claim with reference to Romans 4:17. I'd like to continue to reflect on it with reference to Colossians 1:15-20:

“He is the image of the invisible God,
the firstborn of all creation
He is also the head of the body, the church;
the beginning and firstborn from among the dead…” (Colossians 1:15, 18a)

The parallelism of this passage is so striking to me. There are two ways of thinking of Jesus as the Son of God. The first is that he is the first of all God's children in general, i.e., his creatures. Prior to creating all that he creates, God first had his Son. And so he is the firstborn (prototokos) of all creation, the elder brother to all creation. Now Col. 1:15 on its own won't get one beyond the Son as highest creature. But even if we need to say more than this, we must not cease saying this too. Jesus Christ is the prototokos of all creation, and as such is its prototype.

The second is that he is the first of all God's children in particular, i.e., his church. Prior to constituting the church, God first raised his Son Jesus from the dead. And so Christ is the firstborn (prototokos) from among the dead, the elder brother to all those who will be raised at the end of time. Now Col. 1:18 doesn't tie up all the loose ends. And it certainly doesn't conceptualize the relationship between these parallel appellations. But it seems appropriate to suggest that Jesus Christ, the double prototokos, is the prototype of both the first creation and the final creation. Therefore, to know what it means to be truly human, we may and must look to the risen Christ. That's the implication of the claim that faith in God the Creator is bound up with faith in God the Resurrector.

Any thoughts?

Monday, May 16, 2011

God the Creator, God the Resurrector (Easter, Day 23)

I've been thinking about creation lately. I just posted why that's so over at the seminary's blog. Check it out. But there's also a connection with the theme of my current series commemorating the Forty Days after Easter.

According to the New Testament witness, faith in God as Creator is bound up with faith in God as Resurrector.

There are two passages that stand out in this regard: Romans 4:17 and Colossians 1:15-20. I'll discuss Romans today and Colossians tomorrow.

Romans 4:17 speaks of Abraham's faith in "the God who gives life to the dead and calls into being things that were not." Now, in the near context, this is speaking of God's capacity to fulfill his promise of a son even through a barren woman. But in it's wider context it points to God as the one who raises the dead, i.e., "gives life to the dead." The resurrection of Jesus comes up later in the passage, so we're not just filling gaps here. Then, in an even wider context, it points to God as the one who creates out of nothing, i.e., "calling into being things that were not." Here we are filling in gaps, but the witness of Scripture as a whole points in this direction. What is so striking is that, once we put it all together, we have a picture of God who doesn't just happen to create and happen to resurrect, but that the one God is the Creator and the Resurrector for one and the same reason, i.e., to keep his promises!

Any thoughts?

[To be continued...]

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Forgiven Sins, Restored Fellowship (Easter, Day 17)

It is a commonplace to point out the contrast between Peter's triple denial and Jesus's triple restoration in the form of the question, Do you love me? What I'm thinking about today is the cosmic context in which this very personal event takes place: i.e., that Peter denies Jesus during his passion, and that Jesus restores Peter during the forty days. It seems to me that this suggestions something about the meaning of the cross-and-resurrection as the one twofold event of God's reconciliation of the world to himself.

It seems to me that both the words of Jesus ("forgive them for they know not what they do" etc.) and the teachings of the apostles ("he died for our sins" etc.) confirms the notion that forgiveness was actualized in the cross of Christ. As a fan of the resurrection, I understand the temptation of those who might recoil from this cross-centered "atonement" theory. But it seems to make sense to me, so I'm not going to give up on it just yet.

Hence the sin of Peter, his denial, is in a certain sense already forgiven on the cross. But he doesn't know it yet, and so it does not yet make a difference in his life.

For what we do not yet have in the cross of Christ is a restored fellowship with God. The barrier to fellowship, i.e., our sin, has been removed. Hence the cross is the decisive event, the turning point in the story of God. But the aim or purpose of removing our iniquities is to welcome us into fellowship with God.

And this restoration takes place in Christ's resurrection.

Objectively, Jesus is our elder brother, the firstborn from the dead, whom the Father has welcomed into eternal living fellowship by raising him from the dead. Subjectively, Jesus comes to his own, breaks bread with them, and welcomes them into his fellowship so and also into fellowship with his eternal Father. He comes to Peter, puts the question of love to him, and commissions him for his missionary task. He restores fellowship with Peter, and sends him to the ends of the earth as an ambassador of the reconciliation achieved in the cross-and-resurrection of Jesus.

So, in a word, God forgives our sins in the cross of Christ and restores us to fellowship in the resurrection of Christ.

Perhaps too clean and simple. But I think that gets at least some of what needs to be said about the good news of the forty days!

Any thoughts?

Monday, May 09, 2011

Strength for Today, Hope for Tomorrow (Easter, Day 16)

Easter is an event about Jesus. But it is also an event about us. This twofold refrain has rung out throughout this series, and is repeatedly attested in the words and deeds of Christians. Easter includes both faith in Jesus and hope for us and our world.

I want to keep reflecting on the connection between Easter faith and Easter hope. I pointed out earlier that Easter faith in Jesus's resurrection points not only to a past event but has present and future dimensions. Jesus not only was raised but is risen and lives eternally. In the same way, Easter hope in our resurrection is not just directed to a future event but also a present reality. Yes, the resurrection will happen to us at the End, just as it happened to Jesus at Easter. But we already live in the presence of the risen, living Jesus. He is with us.

The power by which the risen Jesus is present is the Holy Spirit. As Romans 8:11 puts it, not only will God the Father raise us by the same Spirit by whom he rose Jesus, but already that same Spirit dwells within us now!

So, it is not just a sentimentality to say "Strength for today, bright hope for tomorrow." The two go together in the New Testament. They must properly distinguished, ordered, and unified. And they must be grounded in the Easter event that is prior to, above, and beyond our own personal needs and desires. But, with all that said, Easter hope really does speak to the power of the Spirit in and among us now. That should give us not only hope that endures but hope that strengthens.

Any thoughts?