I've attempted to say some things this week that may have ruffled some people's feathers. Don't feel bad if your brain is tired from reading it––if that's the case, I'm glad you've stuck with me to this point. Even though I wrote it, I just re-read it, and I got tired. It's been a mental stretch, and for some of us a challenge to some long-held beliefs, but I want to wrap up this week's focus on the future aspects of Advent by reminding us of why it all matters.
1 Corinthians 15 is a tremendously important passage for us as Christians. There, Paul goes to lengths to remind the Corinthians about the centrality of the resurrection for them. He reminds them of the account of Jesus' resurrection, his appearances to disciples before his ascension and why it matters immensely to them that he was resurrected in a real physical body. He talks about that day when Christ will return and all of his people will be resurrected in imperishable bodies like Christ's (or transformed into them if they are still living on that day) when death is finally defeated for all of God's people.
Then, immediately after the climax of the passage where Paul emphasizes how "death is swallowed up in victory," he closes his long argument about the centrality of the resurrection for all Christians with a statement that might surprise us:
Therefore, my beloved, be steadfast, immovable, always excelling in the work of the Lord, because you know that in the Lord your labor is not in vain. (1 Cor. 15:58, NRSV)
Although we wouldn't say it this way, we tend to think the opposite: if Christ is coming again and everything will be set straight, with the world and even our own bodies being made new, we often think whatever happens between now and then is beside the point. Sure we intend to do well, but any efforts at discipleship and service are viewed as extras which will be nice if we get to them, but if not––as long as we're on Jesus' side at the end of all of it––we're okay.
That attitude can't exist within Paul's thinking. His point in urging us to be steadfast––precisely because of what he's said about Christ's return and how our own resurrection will happen as Jesus' did––is that our lives now are of interminable importance. Because we will be given new bodies on that day, what we do in our bodies now is a way of becoming either more or less prepared for the kind of lives with God that we will lead forever. And because we are made to extend God's reign in creation rather than to escape it, how we relate to creation now is practice for the responsibilities that will be entrusted to us according to the character that we have allowed God to develop in us.
Again, N.T. Wright's words are instructive:
The truth of the resurrection of the dead and the transformation of the living is not just a truth about the future hope. It's a truth about the present significance of what we are and do. If it is true that God is going to transform this present world, and renew our whole selves, bodies included, then what we do in the present time with our bodies, and with our world, matters.(1)
Every time we show kindness, it matters. Every time we manage something well, it matters. Every time we make a decision to do the right thing when no one is looking, it matters. Every time we choose to arrange our lives in ways that give God more space to abide in us, it matters. These things have effects now that will still be resonating on the day when our King returns. As he himself said, "just as you do it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me."
When we look at it in this way, we realize that our waiting doesn't only happen during Advent, but that every day of our lives as Christians is spent waiting for Christ's return. We open our lives to him in the ways we discussed last week (through prayer, reading the Scriptures, Holy Communion, solitude, silence, and loving service to others) as a way of waiting on his return. When he comes, we want to be found to be like him, already at home in the kind of world over which he will reign forever. So, we begin practicing the eternal kind of life now, and until we see him, we continue to pray again that great Advent prayer with which we began this week:
Come, Lord Jesus!
A Prayer for the Day:
Almighty God, who after the creation of the world rested from all your works and sanctified a day of rest for all your creatures: Grant that we, putting away all earthly anxieties, may be duly prepared for the service of your sanctuary, and that our rest here upon earth may be a preparation for the eternal rest promised to your people in heaven; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.*
A Prayer for the Week:
Merciful God, who sent your messengers the prophets to preach repentance and prepare the way for our salvation: Give us grace to heed their warnings and forsake our sins, that we may greet with joy the coming of Jesus Christ our Redeemer; who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.*
Readings for the Week*:
*Prayers are from The Book of Common Prayer and readings are from the Revised Common Lectionary. (1) N.T. Wright, Paul for Everyone: 1 Corinthians (Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 2003) 227-228.