Living Between Already and Not Yet
Delivered March 27, 2016 (Easter Sunday)
At the UNMC
It’s wonderful to be here on Easter Sunday with all of you—friends we know and friends that we have yet to meet. Please know that whether this Sunday is your first time here or your 101st time here, we are glad you’re here.
We are here in community to observe the Easter holiday along with millions, if not billions, of other people in this country and around the world. But there’s an odd phenomenon surrounding the way that we all view this holiday, and I’m here to talk with you about it for a brief moment this morning. That odd phenomenon has to do with the lens or the filter with which we’ve been trained to hear stories—and particularly this story. This phenomenon plays out in an odd way and I’ll describe that odd way for you this morning.
I’ve talked in the past about the way in which we hear the Bible’s stories differently from the people who originally told them, and I’ve shared that this difference has to do with the fact that we live in what has become nearly a completely literate culture. Of course, what I’m saying is that we live in a culture where nearly everyone can read—and I’m saying that this differs from the culture where the Bible’s stories, including the Easter story, was once told.
A scholar named Robert Fowler wrote about this in an article that is controversially titled, “Why Everything We Know About The Bible Is Wrong,” and he shared that there is a gap in interpretation that often happens when the Bible is read in the 21st Century. He wrote about how this gap colors every bit of the way that stories are consumed and understood in our culture.
Our way of hearing the Bible’s stories is very different from the way people heard, understood or consumed stories in the first century.
This matters because we are trained to read stories in a linear way. Every story has a beginning, a middle and an end. A play is some combination of acts and scenes, but rest assured, there’s a beginning, a middle and an end. Nowadays, our visual stories can be watched on DVD or on Youtube, or Netflix, or Hulu or at the movie theater—and all of these mediums will tell you the exact number of minutes that the show will last. We can even watch the little time bar creep across the screen during the show if we want—and this time bar will represent for us the beginning of the show, our progress in the middle of the movie and the exact number of minutes until the end.
But the concept of story for the Bible’s hearers was much different—and this is where the phenomenon I mentioned comes into play. The Bible’s first storytellers and story hearers had a different understanding of time, and they infused this understanding in the way that they told, heard and later wrote their stories. For these folks, every element of life was inextricably tied to history and the future, but they were under no delusion that they were living in a finite present. Everything they knew of the world was connected to a phenomenal and supernatural history, and every part of their present world was tied to the mystery of the Divine, and their understanding of the future was saturated in expectations of the miraculous.
And so we commonly tell a story of Jesus that has a beginning, a middle, and what feels like an end. We start in the manger—the beginning, and talk about his healings and miracles, the middle, and then we reach the Resurrection, and we assume this is somehow the victory or the end. The Resurrection is why we’re all here today—to commemorate what many consider to be the great victory of the Christian story. It’s the big thing that happened—the grand finale, the apex of the story. It’s the happy ending. The End.
But only for us. Not for the story tellers. And that’s a little bit problematic.
We forget, however, that the scriptures tell us that this is all the Beginning of something greater. God, according to our stories of old, desires nothing more for this world than peace, and reconciliation, and justice for all humankind. The people who originally heard these stories knew this. They were thrilled with the beauty of the resurrection story, but had an even greater hope in mind. They understood the magnitude and deep abiding truth of the Resurrection—they saw this narrative as the story of God’s power to defeat every force in the Universe, including death. And because they regarded God as powerful enough to overthrow death, they also regarded this God as powerful enough to set the world right. And they would have thought of their own world as one that was suspended between two miracles—with one miracle being the Resurrection, and the next miracle being the day when God would bring peace to Earth, not as an end—but for eternity.
They were suspended between a miracle that had already happened, and a truth that had not yet come to fruition. They were trapped between Already and Not Yet.
And the question was: What should we do in the mean time? What should we do after the miracle? What do you do after the Resurrection? What do you do when you’re suspended between already and not yet? What do you do—not when you’re in between tragedies, but when you’re in-between miracles?
Now, let’s be honest here. If you’re in-between miracles, chances are that you’re in a valley somewhere. Our miracles—whether supernatural or not—are high points in our lives. The miracles may be high points in our collective existence together. When I talk about being in-between miracles, I’m talking about being in-between jobs, right? What do you do when you’re in that rough patch between the wonderful thing that happened yesterday and the great thing that isn’t scheduled to happen for another 6 months. If you’re living from paycheck to paycheck, what do you do, when you’re between paycheck, and well, paycheck.
I’ll frame the question in a different way.
What do we do now that it’s after the Resurrection, when we turn on the news and see a bombing in Belgium. What do we do when we turn on the news and see that a law has been passed, blocking protections for gays, lesbians, bisexual and transgender people? What do we do after the Resurrection when racial tensions erupt and riots break out in Baltimore?
What do we do when the Resurrection has happened and people are at war all over the world? What do we do after the Resurrection when we have to step over homeless people in our streets in order to get to church? What do we do after the Resurrection, when we are surrounded by more people through technology than ever, and yet we still feel alone. What do we do after the Resurrection when we reach out for God, but we aren’t sure that a God is really there?
What is the relevance of the Resurrection when we’re in-between miracles?
Some folks have asked me, “Crystal you are so nontraditional in your spirituality and you could choose to walk away from ever reading the Bible again. Why are you still so fascinated with this old book, you big old heretic?” I’m not ashamed to tell them that I still read my Bible because the people in these texts were always in-between miracles, and they knew what to do until the next miracle came.
I turn on the news and I see the hateful things that we say and do to one another. And I think about the Israelites, and how they walked around Mount Sinai for 40 years until the new generation outnumbered the older generation. And I tell myself—you have to prepare the next generation for greatness when a civilization is in between miracles.
I think about the people in this city and this country and this world who sleep on the sidewalk. And I think about children who go to bed hungry at night. I think about people who live in poverty, and I think: we have to dig deeper and give more in those moments when it’s clear that our world is in-between miracles.
I think about the disunity between religions, especially in this country. I think about the agony of our friend Imam Mehmet—the intense horror and scrutiny that he and members of his mosque endure whenever unkind words are said in the media about Islam. I think about the wars that never seem to end in our world. I think of how you can’t even mention Israel or Palestine in a public place without causing extreme tension. I think about the acts of social, physical and political violence that we commit against one another and I think to myself: We have to find a way of committing to living in peace with every single person on this planet—all of us, while this world is in-between miracles.
I think about the doubt and loneliness that we all encounter sometimes, especially when times are hard. I think about how easy it is to lose hope. And I remind myself that we have to have faith when we’re in-between miracles.
I think I’d like to close today by suggesting to you that life is itself a collection of miracles, high points and celebrations. We’re always either right in the middle of one miracle or on our way to the next one. While it matters that we celebrate our miracles when they happen, it matters equally what we do in-between miracles. It matters how we take care of ourselves when we’re in-between miracles. Our perspective matters when we’re in-between miracles. How we spend our time matters. What we do and don’t do matters… What we hold on to matters when we’re in-between miracles… What we let go of, matters.
May you all remember that life is a procession of miracles. And may you have the strength, the resolve and the ability to always lean into your place of hope when you’re in-between already and not yet. Happy Easter and God Bless.