This is my personal blog. The views expressed here do not necessarily represent those of the congregations or presbytery I serve.

Wednesday, January 17, 2018

Living in Fulfilled Time.

The first words Jesus utters in the Gospel of Mark proclaim that “the time is fulfilled.”  On one level this may mean that the 500 years since the building of the Second Temple, after the return of the people from exile, have passed.  Some non-canonical writings, like the Book of Jubilees, seem to predict that the Messiah would appear at this time.

But on a deeper level the Lord proclaims a radical understanding of time itself.  Instead of living in the linear time which the Greeks called chronos, and which has always characterized secular, imperial, economic time, the time in which memories of the past and fears/desires for the future dominate present existence, Jesus talks about time as already fulfilled.  Fulfilled time — the Greek words used by Mark are pepleirotai ho kairos — indicates a unified, coherent, interconnected, and undivided view of time.  In other words, fulfilled time sees time all together, not cloven into lost past and unknown future.  This kind of time presents itself as kairos, which means time as opportunity, grace, openness, transformation, destiny, and origin.

We see fulfilled time in the places where the Scriptures describe God as the One “who was, who is, and who is to come”.  It has to be stated in this somewhat awkward manner because human languages (at least English) don’t have a way to talk about time in a unified way.  Chronos infects even the way we speak and therefore think.

We see fulfilled time as well in God’s seminal self-identification to Moses in Exodus, as “I Am Who I Am,” which in Hebrew includes “I was who I was” and “I will be who I will be”. 

What would it mean to think and act in terms of this fulfilled time?  Can we even imagine rising above history, which is the record of how humans persistently choose to live in lies, tragically resulting in our inflicting violence and injustice on each other?  Our literally chronic misunderstanding of time-as-divided spawns human sin.  How much does fear about an unknown future determine our whole existence?  It leads us to concoct self-serving interpretations of the past, which dump us into the classical deadly sins.  In these practices we mangle, corrupt, debase, and destroy the world and people.

If we could lose our misconceptions and come instead to understand time in a unified way, especially coming to see the future as a beautiful and beneficent reality available even now, and which no amount of ignorance and violence can prevent, we may emerge into what Jesus calls “the Kingdom of God.”  We may realize in our own lives and relationships the glorious presence of God.  We may come into focus, while the rest of the world, still chained to the broken vision of chronos, falls out of focus, and appears as ultimately unreal.  

This sense motivates Christian worship and spirituality.  Centered on Baptism and the Eucharist, we see how everything works to change our way of perceiving and thinking — a process called repentance (metanoia = new mind) — so that we may live according to the truth — the values, practices, insights, vision, and wisdom — of fulfilled time, the Kingdom of God, the Real.

The Eucharist in particular explicitly places us in Jesus’ fulfilled time.  Jesus gives us this specific way to “remember” him, but this does not mean looking back into the past.  This kind of re-membering brings the past into the present.  The Eucharist both re-presents Jesus’ offering of himself on the cross, and presents his coming again, making him spiritually present and available in the community and in the elements of bread and wine.  Jesus makes himself present in the Sacrament, and we feed on him.  Thus we literally become him, sharing in his Presence, his eternal life, his fulfilled time.  In this Sacrament, then, God delivers us from our broken and distorted world of chronos to the real, unified, integrated world of kairos.  Thus we do not remember his saving death just as a historical event.  Nor do we merely wait for his coming again in the future.  Rather, we participate in his being lifted up for the life of the world, living the new life of resurrection and eternity, now.

God gives the commandments — reimagined and intensified in Jesus, especially in his Sermon on the Mount — as the shape and pattern of this life in the Kingdom/Kindom/Realm/Reign/Commonwealth in eternal/fulfilled time.  (And, frankly, embodying this in actual structures and procedures is the purpose of ecclesiastical polity.)

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