Thursday, August 16, 2012
In Time but not Of Time...
Time is not incidental to Christian worship -- no, not the clockwatching that usually defines how we connect time to what happens in the Lord's House on the Lord's Day -- but a sense of time, unfolding time, fullness of time, and time fulfilled. In the context of the Sunday morning liturgy, time is held in suspension. Yesterday (the day of Christ's death and resurrection) are not past but present. Tomorrow (the day of His coming to bring all things to their culmination) is anticipated -- already here but not yet fully here. The present enfolds the past and contains the future (at least the fullness of the glimpse that we are allowed for now). Nowhere else does time live in its suspension except in the context of Christian liturgy with its proclamation in word and in sacrament. In the Word we are so very conscious of the the Hebrews verse: In many and various ways... but NOW. Now in the hearing of this living voice the past is made present with all its salvific effect. Ini the same way, the Eucharist, the foretaste of the feast to come, is also the witness and proclamation of the Lord's death until He comes again.
It is not simply a different calendar but a different understanding of time. Unlike the relentless clock that ticks away at the minutes, hours, days, weeks, months, and years of a life marked by death's boundary, the Church knows time differently. It is the arena of God's grace, the disclosure of His mercy, the redemption of the fallen, and the freedom of life from its captivity to decay. We do not beat to a different drummer when it comes to the measure of our days, we have a completely different measure of those days. Because God has unfolded in the past the ever present redemptive work of Christ (through the preaching of the Gospel and the administration of the Sacraments), we are free from the chains of our yesterdays and see that time as the domain of God's redemptive work as well as our fallenness. Because God has filled the present moment with His presence in the means of grace, we do not live on bondage to the moment. The present becomes God's domain as well and our refuge for grace, mercy, forgiveness, and redemption. Here the absolution is the key to the freedom for goodness and holiness and righteousness (that in which we were clothed in baptism). In addition, in the present moment, God has hidden the future. It is not fully revealed but glimpsed by faith and where the Word is rightly preached and taught and where the Sacraments administered according to Christ's institution.
The Church does not enter the world in competition with the time and calendar the world uses. We engage in no tug of war. It is gift and grace. In the midst of time with all of its fears, God unfolds the answer to those fears and ushers in the era of mercy while the days, weeks, and months peel away the pages of our earthly calendars. Christ was incarnate not only in our flesh and blood but also within this earthly realm of time, the ticking time bomb of death and amid all its fears and hastened pressure to complete our bucket lists, Chris stands as Lord of the day, the night, and all time. He does the unthinkable in reclaiming what sin stole by manifesting His Kingdom amid the precious seconds and minutes of our decaying lives and world. We come to the world not as those who have a different time but as those who know within time the eternal. That is why the Church Year is so important. It manifests the eternal amid the very temporal and temporary domain of our days. It is a gift to us and to the world, inherited from the Jews but fulfilled in Christ to extend past the markers of the ancient rhythm.
When we fail to bring new people into the domain of the Church Year, we leave them helplessly exposed to all that time lost in the fall with but an mental image of God's gift. The Church Year and its ordering of liturgical time points us to more than an idea but the experience of this gift in time but not of it, the blessing of the eternal within the temporal. The fight for the Church Year is not some battle for bragging rights, it is the opportunity to see in the midst of time the eternal that is Christ and His gifts. The loss of the Church Year is not a loss of externals but the surrender of the gift of time to its evil foes of the devil and death. The Church calls the faithful to make the year of grace their very own that the gift of time might be manifest within earthly days, the place where we are daily made new in Christ. The unfolding mystery of Christ heralds His life before us and the world, beginning with the expectation of his Advent to the days of Pentecost and then in the ordinary time when events give way to teaching (doctrine). And it all begins anew in Advent again. The repitiion of the liturgical year is itself part of the preaching of the Word, the sanctification of our lives, and the anchor of the eternal amid the ever changing experience of mortal life.