In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
Have you ever noticed the sort of strange things we say about time? We say things like, “Time flies when you’re having fun,” and we mean that time seems to move more quickly when we’re enjoying ourselves. On the other hand we say, “In that moment time slowed to a stop; time seemed to stand still.” We mean that time seems to slow down at particular moments, and everything around us seems to stop. Of course, neither of those things are actually true. If you had a stop watch, you would see that the rate of time passing did not increase or decrease. However we feel about it, time for us never moves faster or slower. It always moves at the same rate of seconds, minutes, hours, days, weeks, months, and years.
And yet, even though time moves at exactly the same rate since Jesus’ resurrection as it did prior to the resurrection, the meaning of time has indeed changed. We see it in the last chapter of Luke’s Gospel. There are some time references in chapter 24: when Jesus is on the road to Emmaus with those two disciples, they tell Him what they’ve seen in the past few days, how Jesus (whom they thought was going to redeem Israel) suffered and died, and now it’s the third day since all this happened. And some women told them that they had seen the empty tomb. Then when it is toward evening, they ask Jesus to stay with them. And after He blesses, breaks, and gives them bread, He disappears from their sight, and at that very hour, they return to Jerusalem. That’s the last time reference in the Gospel according to Luke. They go back to Jerusalem and they are standing around talking to the other disciples; they’re all talking about what they’ve seen and which of them has seen Jesus, including Peter (though that is not recorded for us). All of a sudden, Jesus appears in their midst and says, “Peace to you!” And even though some of them have already seen Jesus in His resurrection Body, they are terrified because they think they are seeing a ghost. But Jesus tells them to look at His hands and feet; to touch and see that He has flesh and bones, which no ghost has. And just to prove that He’s not a ghost, or an illusion, or a hallucination, He asks for something to eat and eats the piece of fish in front of them. Then He tells them how it was necessary for Him to die and rise; how all of Moses and the Psalms and the Prophets speak of Him; how they will be His witnesses and repentance and forgiveness of sins will be preached to all people. Then He takes them all out to Bethany, blesses them, and ascends into heaven. Then they worship Him, and the last verse says that they are continually in the Temple praising God and speaking the good things which He has done.
Now we know from the Book of Acts that Jesus was with them for forty days before He ascended and that it was another ten days until they were clothed with power from on high. But Luke compresses all of it, and makes it seem as if it all happens on the day of the resurrection. For the disciples of Jesus, the resurrection has shifted even the meaning of time. So now all those who are joined to the living Jesus stand with one foot in the time of this creation, and one foot in the eternity of the new creation. We stand here and now in our sinful flesh, by sight, in time. We stand in the new creation by faith in Jesus, in eternity, in holiness.
I wish I could tell you that when you come here to the Lord’s House, on the Lord’s Day, the day of His resurrection, that this is time outside of time. That when you come here, you step out of normal time and all the things on your schedule, all the pressures on your time, disappear. That when you come into this place, all your distractions go away and you can focus on the things of God in Christ. But you know it isn’t true, and I know it isn’t true. In fact, when you come here, your distractions may actually increase; they may pull and tug on you even more—maybe literally. When we come to this place, I’m not sure time should fly because we’re having so much fun, but I’m also not sure time should seem to stand still. But we often focus more on time here than most other places that we consider good. The time is really very minimal compared to a lot of other things that we do, but here an hour and a half can sometimes seem interminable. What a strange thing to happen when and where the living Jesus meets us to speak His forgiveness into our ears and put His living Body and Blood into our mouths!
But Jesus doesn’t wait to show up until we’ve cleared our schedules. He doesn’t wait until all our distractions are gone. He doesn’t wait until we are free of burdens and pressures and worries and fears. If He did, when would He come and stand in our midst? Three times a year? Once a month? Twice a month? No, He shows up in the midst of all that confusion and doubt and fear and speaks Peace to the disciples. He says, “Why are you disturbed and why do doubts rise up in your hearts? It is Me!” The answer to their various concerns and doubts and struggles and distractions is the reality of Jesus standing in their midst, risen from the dead, in real flesh and bone and blood. So even if time doesn’t cease to exist; even if the schedules don’t go away and the distractions don’t disappear, Jesus still comes and stands in the midst of His people, wherever His word is purely preached and His sacraments given out according to His institution. That’s His promise. Wherever repentance and forgiveness are preached, the risen Jesus must be, because every single Scriptural word is fulfilled in Him. So when you come to this place it is, in a very real sense, a time outside of time. It is the eighth day, the day of resurrection that goes on and on. And every one of you who has been baptized into Christ shares in that eternity, even now. If you count the sides on that baptismal font, you will see that there are eight. And, in fact, if this pulpit were complete on the back, it would have eight sides as well. So when you come in here, you pass that font; and we begin by speaking the Name of the Trinity and making the sign of the holy cross as a reminder to ourselves that we are baptized. And that means that time is no longer the unstoppable force that it seems to us. Our urgency and our desperation in the face of passing time are not God’s. Jesus stands in our midst and speaks peace, and eternity breaks into the midst of time, whether we’re ready for it or not. Jesus is not subject to time any more, at least not in the sense of this creation. Because time for us always means death. That’s why we say things like, “Time goes so fast. Life is so short. Take your time and live moment by moment. Enjoy it.” Because we know that time passing means death. But Jesus is alive and cannot die any more. Death is no longer His lord, but He is Lord over death. So when Jesus comes, time must give way to eternity. He is not subject to time, or place, or circumstance. Where He is, time and place and circumstance are not as immovable as they are for us. He comes and His entire Church is present, because His Body can’t be apart from Him. Here we are singing the eternal liturgy of the angels of God, “Holy Holy Holy!” Here we are with archangels and the whole company of heaven, the whole communion of all the saints, regardless of time and space and circumstance, regardless of death. Here we receive peace that is not subject to time and place and circumstance. Here we eat a living Body and drink a living Blood that are not subject to time and place and circumstance. And here we stop along the way, to be refreshed and rested in the midst of all our times and places and circumstances and distractions, to eat and drink. Until the day when time does indeed stand still, where death is undone, and we see the eternity that we have now by faith, when we see all the great cloud of witnesses and worship Him continually in the bright light of the resurrection.
In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen. “And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 4:7, ESV). Amen.
– Pr. Timothy Winterstein, 4/18/15