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“From the One who was and is and is to come.” We’ve heard this benediction before. It points to the God, to the Savior, who spans time and eternity. In many ways that sense of past, present, and future fits much of our lives and much of our thinking during also this Holy Week. We remember events from long ago. Yet we do so knowing they have everything to do with our present time, too. Ultimately we look to a future in-breaking of Christ’s holy kingdom and the renewal of all things. Of course, in the ultimate out-of-time moment in the Christian experience we will this coming Sunday experience Easter. We will engage in “the remembrance of things hoped for.” We will, as the German theologian Wolfhart Pannenberg noted, remember the one past event that was actually an in-breaking of our collective future.
Ask certain theologians “Was the resurrection historical?” and you may get a variety of responses. Some answers will clearly be attempts to dodge whether a living human emerged from Jesus’ tomb. Other answers will unequivocally answer in the affirmative–Jesus rose again from the dead just as surely as you can remember the day of your own wedding! Still other answers might seem at first to be a dodge on historical reality but are actually wrestling with deeper truths. Yes, the resurrection did occur at a concrete moment in history. But to peg Christ’s being raised from the dead as only historical in the same sense of your wedding day is not enough. Here is an event that does not really belong in the ordinary flow of history because it is actually a future event bursting into our collective past. What happened to Jesus, we say, is the first fruits of what will happen to us all one day. Jesus is our future. Jesus is our future happening in our past. It is an out-of-time event so grand that to only say it was “historical” misses the full, mind-blowing impact of what Easter represents.
In any event, I have been thinking about past, present, and future a bit these last days. Two senior colleagues in the ministry of the Christian Reformed died two days in a row end of last week. Revs. Howard Vanderwell and John Timmer were lifelong pastors, authors, preachers. Both received the Distinguished Alumni Award from Calvin Theological Seminary where I work and from which I also graduated. Both touched more lives than either was ever aware of, no doubt. That’s how ministry goes. And so as former friends and colleagues, we are moving through this Holy Week attending visitations and funerals for these two pastors.
Of course, doing so focuses the meaning of it all in keen and vivid ways. As we follow Jesus from his mixed-bag entry into Jerusalem and through the final days of his teaching, we follow him ultimately through betrayal, denial, false charges, and ultimately death. All of that for Jesus was long ago and far away for us today, though when worship is done right and the Word is preached well, we really do re-enter into that story, which is finally also our own story. The past becomes the living present to us in a way no other historical event ever could. That, in turn, charts our way forward into also the future.
This year all of this coincides also with what feels like a tumultuous time in our society if not in the world generally. This past weekend witnessed massive anti-gun demonstrations by especially the nation’s youth but by people of all ages. But such protests were themselves protested by others, including those who seem to think the proper Christian stance is somehow other than what many of those high school students articulated. Washington is in turmoil, a porn star has gone mainstream, and people who seem to like it best when the drums of war are being banged are getting put into positions of frightening power and responsibility.
So as I write this on this Monday of Holy Week, I do so feeling a bit spent, a bit sad, a bit burned out. I stared at that blank computer screen a long time before starting to type the first sentence of this post. Maybe that’s a proper way to feel during Holy Week. Perhaps that’s why we need Holy Week and all it portends for God’s good plan of salvation in the first place.
In this world, after all and as Jesus himself once said, we will have trouble. We will lose loved ones. We will fret the prospect of war and lament the violence and the scandals rampant in the land. But Jesus also said to take heart–he has overcome this world. He has overcome this world of violence and carnage and death and he did so by taking all of that into himself. This was no salvation by remote control. Redemption did not come by some powerfully spoken divine fiat.
Salvation comes from the One we follow into scandal, through death, and clear onto the other side where past, present, and most especially future intertwine, coalesce, and finally burst forth into glorious hope and new life.
Will we, too, be raised unto new life in our own resurrection one day? Yes. I know it will happen because it already did happen. And you just can’t change history. Thanks be to God!