"Children on the Seashore, Guernsey", 1883?, Auguste Renoir
The way into blessed freedom may be not to live in too great a dependence on the passage of time, on the inexorable approach of tomorrow and mortality. The sense of joy in Renoir's Children on the Seashore seems to flow from the timelessness of their experience. It is not a real world, with its softly colored pastel background made up of a blur of bathers, and with the children themselves half melted into their context of color. They are responsive only to the immediacy of their sun-filled leisure. We feel that this holiday will be recalled, in the future, as joy, though perhaps not yet fully realized as such.
Jessica and I like to go for walks in the neighborhood. For her it's about exercise, for me it's about her. We get a chance to talk, undistracted by the phone, the needs of the world around us. We fail at it constantly since our phones are mobile and our attention span is short...but every now and again it's a place of deep connection.
The other day, we were sharing our memories of being partners and parents for more than two decades. As each of us offered recollections, we noticed that some were unique to either one of us, while others were shared. We lived the same life, even if we weren't by each others side 24 hours of the day. But some things stuck out as important to one or the other of us. We had to coax each other into the remembrance. Sometimes we were successful. A world of shared space would open and reveal itself. Amendments to the larger vision started to trickle in from the periphery. Events that happened a long time ago, suddenly burst forth with the feeling of warmth, laughter, fear, guilt. The past was present.
We've all experienced time as relative. A split-second where our life flashed before our eyes. A meeting that could've been a phone call or an email where time just drags on. Joy and anxiety greatly color our sense of time. In the Church it's no different. Time turns elastic.
As we approach Holy Week and Easter, we are reminded of something done in the past. Christ died for the sin of the world almost two millennia before you were born. So what effect does it have on my life in the present? Or we think, Why do we remember this event annually. I've done Easter before, what's the purpose in repeating the celebration? I can imagine it's useful for newcomers; the people who have never heard the story...but what about us for whom this is "the old old story of Jesus and his love"?
Let me say first, that we as human beings inhabit these places in elastic time already. We all know what it's like to seek after these moments escaping the present. We're worn from responsibility at work or our daily labors and so we sit for a moment, surfing the channels on the TV for something to get lost in. We don't like the current state of affairs and we get nostalgic for a perceived "golden period" in our past: before the divorce, before the current administration, before we worried about gluten or people's pronouns. Or we dream about a different future. What if Vladimir Putin grew tired of the body count piling up, and he just retreated from his aggression? What if there was a day in the future where our trust of leaders grew? What if there was a time where we could discover a form of economics where everybody had enough? We all spend time in one or both of these polarities. What used to be, and what's possible? The trouble we discover, is when spending time in either of these spaces with too much passion, we tarnish the present.
In the Church, we are given gifts to relate to this time differently. We don't have to imagine a brighter future, we are promised the Kingdom come in all its fullness. We don't long for a golden era in the past, instead we are given the sober truth that there has never been one.
That's why Jesus died, to save us from the bondage of making each generation a living hell.
What the Triune God gifts us instead is the witness of God who is LORD of all time, present to us here and now.
The God of the patriarchs, our fathers and mothers in the faith, leading us in a story that points to fullness of time in Jesus Christ. God's future Kingdom, his conquering sin & death, his making 'all things new', his uniting a divided world into one new humanity...that future promise comes crashing into the present in Jesus' life, death and resurrection. The future has arrived.
For us, we may perceive that as an event in 'our' past...but as we hear God's word proclaimed from the pulpit, and we gather around God's table, the power of that past event becomes strangely present to us. Sometimes we even feel the emotional weight of our personal sins forgiven, a weight lifted...the absence of a particular pain like the felt absence after a bad tooth has been removed. We hear the words "in the name of Jesus Christ you are forgiven" and the "you" means me, in that moment, right here, right now. The power, presence, and effect of Jesus Christ's death and resurrection in 33 AD has come home for you in 2022. Time turns elastic. The difference is, the life of God in Christ by the power of the Holy Spirit covers all time. We name this truth in our communion liturgy: Christ has died, Christ IS risen, Christ will come again. The LORD of all time bears his power in the present. His past and his future become freedom in our present.
In the best of times, we discover that's exactly what we need. We don't go searching, in our own power for a lost past, or a hoped for future, we discover God's past and God's future as gifts for our present. Forgiveness enjoyed. Reconciliation, where male and female, slave and free, Jew and Gentile fade away, and what is practiced in the present is one diverse but unified body "in Christ" gathered around his table. These promises are for all creation.
Why do we celebrate Easter annually? Maybe it's because our memories are short, fragile and subject to the power of death. BUT....But God in Christ by the power of the Holy Spirit is stronger than death. God brings the past and the future into the present, where we are too confused to remember and too tired to dream. God grants that gift, and he promises it to us in Word & Sacrament. Here. Now.
Singer songwriter John Prine died over the pandemic. He recorded one last song. I don't think of this as nostalgia so much. Maybe gratitude for recognizing life as a gift, and God bringing to mind all those times and places that time (in our hands) forgot. In Christ, nothing is forgotten save for our sin. Thanks be to God.
who art in Heaven,
Hallowed be thy name.
Thy Kingdom come,
thy will be done,
on earth as it is in Heaven.
Give us this day,
our daily bread,
and forgive us our trespasses,
as we forgive those who trespass against us.
Lead us not into temptation,
but deliver us from evil.
For thine is the Kingdom, the Power and the Glory.
forever and ever. Amen.