Today is the last Sunday of the Christian Year. Next week will be the first Sunday in Advent.
I want to use a quote from Winston Churchills speech to the English people on the defeat by the English 8th Army together with the Australians at Tobruk and Alamein of Rommel’s Afrika Korp. In 1942 he said,
“Now, this is not the end. It is not even the beginning of the end. But it is, perhaps, the end of the beginning.” Winston Churchill.
For Christians today, there is an end and a beginning, there is fulfilment, finality, end but also hope. Fulfillment and Hope would be another way of expressing what today is in the Christian understanding of time. Our time, Our lifetime, the Lifetime of the world. This is the case since the Christian understanding of time is not based on the sun and the moon whereby in a rough manner, we understand time in terms of years and months. But the church understands time in terms of how God has and will act in his redeeming activity revealed in the incarnation of Jesus Christ, God’s eternal Word.
We understand time by the way we experience it as past present and future time. We indeed measure it by clocks and watches. This kind of time the Bible calls chronos, what Shakespeare described as “Tomorrow, and tomorrow, and tomorrow, Creeps in this petty pace from day to day, To the last syllable of recorded time”; on the other hand, the Bible has a name for the time which we celebrate today at the end and the beginning of the church year. It is called Kairos, that is time understood in terms of a purpose not as Shakespeare described our time, “a tale Told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, Signifying nothing.” (Macbeth spoken by Macbeth)
Today’s lesson from the Holy Gospel of St John speaks of Jesus role in the coming judgment of Christians and the world. They are cryptic words. Words which do not have an evident meaning in terms of how the world viewed and understands the One who speaks them, Jesus of Nazareth. He is on his way to the cross and in the next chapter of the gospel he indicates that only those who eat the bread of life, his body and blood, have eternal life.
Here Jesus cryptic words refer to his role in the coming cosmic judgment of the world. And what a contrast they express! The carpenter’s son from Nazareth with a band of semi illiterate disciples identifies Himself as the One who judges the world. That his being and presence in the world has this kind of cosmic significance.
What has this to do with where we find ourselves today at the end and the beginning of the Christian Year? Fulfilment and Hope, that is what it is about. An end and a beginning which must be understood from its pivotal point in the person of Jesus Christ. He it is who determines how our time and the time of world is understood. We come today to the end of time as measured by our experience of time as a fleeting past and present and an unknown future. But we come today and look toward a future time measured not by our experience but by Him who, having identified himself with us in his humiliating journey to the cross, now determines our time as a future with hope because of who He is and what he has done. For Jesus as judge receives His power as the humiliated and crucified One from God the Father. The way he is going, the course of his life, his time, is not a random series of haphazard events without meaning and purpose. According to Jesus words in St John He receives His authority from the Father as the Judge of the world. We know from St John in chapter one that this same Jesus is the co-eternal Word of God who was with God in the beginning and is the One through whom the world came into existence and that He is one with the Father: as the Nicene Creed puts it, He is “of one being (homoousios)with the Father.” That He receives authority as judge means that it is as the humiliated and crucified One, the One who become incarnate for our sakes. Became one with us to establish our righteousness through His self-emptying journey to the cross. He receives this authority not for His own sake but for ours. That he may be one with and represent us to the Father.
“For as the Father has life in Himself, so he has granted the Son to have life in himself, and has given him authority to execute judgement because he is the Son of Man.” John 5:26
Jesus, as the Son of God, is ever one with the Father and does not need to have life given to Him. He with the Spirit are ever one with the Father. But here Jesus says his capacity to have life in himself is a gift from the Father. He thus speaks as the One who has condescended to make himself one with us; who do not have life in themselves. He speaks as the one who will glorify the Father in His obedience unto death. He speaks as the one who is vindicated by the Father for our sakes, as He is raised from the dead. His being given the gift of having life in Himself is therefore to be understood as a gift He receives NOT for Himself, but on our behalf as the One who represents us in our alienation from God.
As this One He lives and rules the church and the world. According to his words his presence now in His word and sacrament is how the world under the thraldom of sin and death is judged.
” The hour is coming, and NOW is when the dead will hear the voice of the Son of Man and those who hear will live.” John 5:25
The presently active judgment of God of which Jesus speaks happens through His word. His word is the medium that now calls into being, actively creates the condition, whereby the cosmos, the world, is judged. The word of Jesus defines reality; Jesus word of promise changes the status of the world. Not simply as we perceive it and understand it; the power of Jesus word as that of the living crucified One is that which establishes the truth of our life before God, despite who we may think we are. It creates out of nothing a life of righteousness in the place of our sin, eternal life in the place of death. “The dead will hear the voice of the Son of Man and those who hear will live”. This judgment takes place despite appearances to the contrary, even though our experience of ourselves and the world contradicts it. This redefinition of reality by the word of Jesus is the foundation of our present hope, it alone sustains the church in its journey towards His final appearing.
Precisely the same paradox in respect of our time and the reality of our life of righteousness in Christ compared with how we experience ourselves and our time of sin and death, this very same paradox created by the presence of Jesus Christ, the living Word of God in the world, applies to the church and its relationship with the world.
Today, as we have just indicated, is an end and a beginning, fulfillment and hope, the end of the Church Year and the Beginning of a New Time when we look towards the Advent, the coming of Christ the Judge, who defines our time as past and future by the gift of His righteousness and the final destruction of sin and death. This is also true of the Church.
Fulfillment and hope are also how we understand the church and its life in the world. For like individual Christians and their pathetically feeble witness to Christ and His glory, compared with the promise of Christ’s Word that they know sustains them in righteousness before God. With the church it is no different.
What significance does the existence of the church really have in the tumultuous life of the city or it’s industry? What significance does the modest Sunday Service or Mass have
compared with what humanity usually sets up and deifies as the meaning of Sunday? What is the actual result of the church’s activity? Compared with the great or little achievements in other spheres of human activity, the discoveries of science and the inventions of technology, what is really accomplished in a visible and tangible form that can concretely demonstrated and of enough importance to be described in a meaningful way in the press?
What human beings do may be great or small but at least it is done in the light of day. What the church does in the world in all its uniqueness and cosmic importance never appears. It is hidden. This is the weakness of the church when compared with other human enterprises.
Yet in the weakness of its efforts and achievements there is concealed the active strength of the church. The church need not be ashamed of its weakness. In fact, it must seriously renounce all attempts to give itself the appearance of strength. It must see that its honour consists in the fact that its being unimpressive and unsuccessful is because it is in the company of Jesus Christ. It can therefore know its hidden but very real power. For the strength of the Christian community consists in the fact that in all its obvious weakness it is not concerned plainly and noticeably with the most important matters of the day, but with the matter which whether known or unknown by the wider community is determinative for all people. It is concerned with the decision taken in Jesus Christ in favour for all people: for their deliverance from sin and death, that they are free and not slaves, that they may live and not die. This decision and its coming revelation is that which holds the world together, whether the world realises it or not. If the world concerns itself with the periphery of things, the church concerns itself with the centre of all things that relate to human existence.
What other work, or accomplishment in politics and art, industry and technology, can be done with the unlimited confidence that the church has as it looks to the revelation of this decision of God in Jesus Christ. No other human work or activity has this strength concealed in its weakness. All other human work is done under the pressure of consequences, of success. The Church is free from this pressure because it may know and trust, can praise and confess the One who is the Coming judge of all things. This is the confidence, the strength, the hope that this word of God gives to us today.
“Truly, truly I say to you, he who hears my word and believes him who sent me, has eternal life; he does not come into judgment, but has passed from death to life.” John 5:24.
Pastor Dr. Gordon Watson