In Christ, Now Being Real

Mary Magdala Community

Rev. Jim Ryan, PhD —

Co-pastor of Mary of Magdala, Apostle to the Apostles Community

6th Sunday of Easter, May 17, 2020

We’re at that point in the Easter Season that we anticipate the arrival of the Spirit – the gift giver, the fire of life.  We are full of Resurrection joy that Christ has shared as in today’s Gospel passage, “I am in God, and you in me and I in you.”  (John 14:20)

Yes, the promise is already fulfilled, as Jesus taught at the beginning of his ministry that the reign of God is now.  Yet, the Spirit comes to heal us because we are not fully transformed in God.  So, how is it possible that we can honorably say we are Christ in and for the world – the Word made flesh, made One in God’s love and at the same time acknowledge our need for healing due to our human weakness and sin?

Here’s the moment we get to rely on that time-honored, well-used thinking process of theologians called the coincidence of opposites.  Hold two seemingly different ways of looking at reality in one mind.  This view celebrates what is already fulfilled, namely being One in Christ, while acknowledging that our human condition is not yet whole.  So, in the already and the not yet we get to use another theological term, and that is Eschaton.

Stepping back a little, it may be that when you hear the word Eschaton you think of End-Time, the End of Days, Armageddon and all that.  These days this isn’t what eschaton is all about.  It’s about God’s love already fulfilled in Christ and our lives not yet fully transformed.  This is what, for the last almost 100 years has been called “realized eschatology” first coined by CH Dodd in 1935.  In other words you and I have more to do with making real the presence of God in our world than we may have thought.

In 1952 Rudolph Bultmann, the New Testament scholar and pioneer in this understanding of eschaton, had this to say about the message of eschatology.  In his book, “Theology of the New Testament,” he wrote that the eschatological message is about two things:  1) the idea of God that operates in it, and 2) the idea of human existence that it contains.

On the idea of God, particularly when we believe that God is more about here and now than about some future end-time, I take my lead these days from the Irish philosopher, Richard Kearney.  In a world of people who have lost and/or walked away from God only to return later to a new understanding of God (Kearney calls it “God-again) it’s all about possibility, as in God who may be.

To have the idea of God who is possible is not to deal with possibility as fantasy or something just conjured up.  I’ll tell you about possibility.  It has to do with forming our community.  We are a possibility that has become real – a community that trusts in God’s future.  Before forming this community we heard it all, “You can’t do that!”  “What you’re thinking of doing is impossible!!”  And yet here we are 10 years later – an inclusive community that believes priesthood is of, with, and in all people (1 Peter 2:9)  We have made a reality from a possibility.  Our idea of God is about fulfillment already of divine Promise.

The second piece of eschatological message according to Bultmann has to do with the idea of human existence that it contains.  In the time of covid-19 it seems to me we have all become totally aware of the limits and weaknesses of human existence.  Yes, we are in Christ and Christ is in us – each of us, which is the reason we are fully confident in our God of possibility.  Yet we have constant reminders of carelessness, disrespect and social ineptness (to be kind).  It can seem that we really don’t care about others – it being all about me and my personal freedom.

This weekend in Lake Geneva, Wisconsin, the resort town 10 miles south of us and 4 miles from the Wisconsin/Illinois border the traffic lines in and out of town were as endless as on a pre-covid Summer weekend.  The word is out that Wisconsin has been “opened” by its heavily politicized Supreme Court.  Up here the Republican controlled legislature wants to embarrass and make politically impotent the Democratic governor.  So the legislature went to the 5-2, Right-Left, split Supreme Court who did their bidding.  (Let me say that this is not being overly political in a sermon.  Everyone in Wisconsin is aware that this is life in the gerrymandered Badger State – not unlike the Democratic Party’s control of more than a few southern States in the first half of the 20th century.)

Anyway, Lake Geneva was packed – bars, shops, restaurants were overcrowded.  Now we get to wait three weeks to see the data on covid cases in our local county.  The idea of human existence that is contained here may or may not have surprised Bultmann, who after all was a Nazi survivor.  But the crass disregard for a community’s health is weakness bordering on sinfulness.  Who gives these people the right to put at risk the health and thelives of our community’s medical caregivers and first responders?

Here are two opposites that we hold in our minds these days.  They make eschaton as real as it gets.  You and I while already being One in Christ who is in God are not yet living a human existence that is totally respectful of and caring for the other.

So, we find ourselves in the 6th week of Easter – mostly socially distanced and isolated from each other.  We miss praying and serving with one another.  Remember, we are a people who have made a reality from a possibility.  So our idea of God is about the future of all that is possible.  We also seek the Gifts of the Spirit to be healed of our weakness and sin.

Every day we live both the already and the not yet.  Not only does that make us proper theologians considering the coincidence of opposites, we are also beloved children of the God who may be.

A Prayer  (JR)

Praise to you, Holy, Eternal, and Gracious One, who fills us with gratitude as we prepare for the Pentecost of the Spirit.  The flowers in their colors and scents, the birds in their song, the water flowing over rocks – all these are your gifts that connect us with you, our Creator.

Praise be to you as we become gifts in turn to all creatures, all creation.  Renew, restore, resurrect us as we become filled with the Spirit of fire and of life.  We pray through Christ, our Savior and our Peacemaker.   Amen.

Easter Litany    O = One voice;   A = All voices

O:   The whole universe exists in the puzzlement of time and space.

A:    Come, Holy Spirit, and clear up our puzzled ways.

O:    Make clear the good that we are called to do.

A:    Come, Holy Spirit, and light the path of goodness.

O:    You are One in God and in me as God is in me – One in Christ.

A:    Come, Holy Spirit, and fulfill in us what you have already begun.

Presider:    Let Easter joy and happiness reveal the Resurrected Savior among us:  Let                   the Spirit who is to come sustain our hope in all  creation creation.             A:    Amen

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