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In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.
Here’s a word for you: recapitulation. Doesn’t it have a Christmassy ring to it? Today, it’s mostly used for summing up an idea or an argument. At the end of what is said, there is a recapitulation, or recap, for short. It’s a word that comes from Latin root words for “again” and “head.” To put it literally, we might say something is “brought to a head.”
Both John and the author of the Hebrews bring things to a head for us. Hebrews says that in many and various ways God spoke to our fathers by the prophets. Read Isaiah, Jeremiah, Hosea, and Ezekiel, and you’re going to find all sorts of weird ways God spoke to the people by the prophets, from eating scrolls of God’s Word, to burying a loincloth by the river for a long time, to remarrying a prostitute over and over, to sitting around naked for a long time, to cooking bread over burning manure. In many and various ways, indeed.
But now, he says, it’s all been brought to a head. Now, in these last days, He has spoken to us by His Son. All of those prophets, all of the books of Moses, all the sacrifices, the priesthood, the tabernacle and temple—everything is brought to its head in Jesus. Everything is restated, redone, summed up, and put into its proper light and context. The prophets and the apostles had the words of God, but they did not see them in their fullness until they had the Word of God in flesh.
John gives us the first hint that this is a redoing. He starts his Gospel with “In the beginning….” Automatically, we’re back in Genesis, which means “beginning.” We’re back at the beginning of creation, with a God who is the Creating Father, the Word that is spoken, and the Spirit who broods over the unformed waters. And Jesus is remaking it all, from the beginning on. God said, “Let there be Light,” and the Light appeared in the world, growing in the womb of the Virgin and then lying in a feeding trough in Bethlehem. Where Eve had said no to God’s word, Mary said, “Let it be to me as you have said.” God created a body for Him out of the earth of Mary’s body and then breathed that Word-made-flesh into life, and He became the living creature.
As an infant, He was under the threat of death from a paranoid tyrant, so Joseph led Him to safety. Out of Egypt God called His Son, a new and final Exodus. God didn’t put that Son not into a Garden paradise, but into a wilderness overgrown with sin and death. Instead of crossing the Jordan into the Land of Promise, He went out into the wilderness, where rebellious Israel wandered for 40 years. Even though they had come into the land, they still lived in the spiritual wilderness of darkness. The people who lived in that wilderness did not receive Him with joy because their long-awaited Messiah had come. They didn’t welcome Him as their deliverer. They fled the light to retreat into the darkness of their evil works. But the new Adam did not shrink from the darkness; the Light cannot be extinguished. Not that the darkness and those who love the darkness didn’t try: they crucified the Lord of glory, the height of all blasphemies.
But even there, even then, Jesus was recapitulating the history of this world. He was not content to remain a baby in a manger, a sweet and sentimental picture of innocence. He is not a representation of what can happen if you really follow Him, or sincerely do the commandments of God, or completely surrender yourself to the will of God, whatever you might imagine that to be. He is not a representation, but a recapitulation. He sums up the entire history of this exhausted world in His own body, and that means summing up the only end we have ever known: death. He recaps the worst of what humans can conceive and do, and He brings it to its head in His own death. That’s the conclusion of all our works and all our ways, and Jesus has no intention of leaving things half-done.
But this recap has a surprise ending, because Jesus goes farther: He enters death like every other person, but He is the first to come out the other side, whole and deathless. He brings everything to its proper head, and crowns death with His own everlasting life. The thorns have become the many crowns of the King of kings. He is Himself the recapitulation of all creation: the Image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation; by Him and in Him and for Him all things were made. He is before all things, and in Him all things hold together. And He is the head of the body, the Church. He is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, that in everything He might be preeminent. In Him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, and through Him to reconcile to Himself all things, heaven and earth and everything in them, making peace by the blood of His cross (Colossians 1:15-20).
He is not a body-less head. He has a body, the Church, which He created out of the earth into which His blood poured from the cross. The one who was born as an infant now begets new children of God by water and the Spirit—new creations remade in the Image of Jesus, to which we are now being conformed (Romans 8:29). This recapitulation is in reverse. From His death, He gives life to the dying. And from His eternal, resurrection life, He makes the dead live. How can a man, when he is old, enter into his mother’s womb and be born again, Nicodemus asked Jesus. It seems that a man’s life flows in only one direction, from birth to death. But Jesus has reversed that: from His death flows the new birth of the Spirit, by which the children of God are born. Those are the children He nourishes, feeds, and refreshes with His own eternal flesh and blood.
So now death is just a formality, a way to kill off once and for all what we inherited from our first parents. And on that day, finally, everything will be brought to its head, summed up in Christ, remade, redone, restated, and recapitulated. Because where the Head goes, the body must follow. From death to life, and through death to resurrection. On that day, the recap will be complete: all things remade, all those in Christ raised to life, and all things holding together in Him, so that God may be all in all. “Since all He comes to ransom, by all be He adored, the Infant born in Bethlehem, the Savior and the Lord” (LSB 383:4).
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, 12/20/19