Time, change and eternity

During this Easter season, I have been grappling with the concept of eternity. I’ve mentioned it in my sermons and meditations, I’ve been thinking about it quite a bit. It is appropriate to have such thoughts as we contemplate the mystery of Jesus’ resurrection and also contemplate our own mortality. The problem for me, at least this year anyway, is that my brain and my whole being seem to be focused in the temporal world.

My life is in the midst of some big transition. Of course that is true of nearly everyone as we adjust to the dramatic changes in lifestyle caused by the novel coronavirus pandemic. We have all had to learn new ways to do almost everything that we do. We gave up on handshakes, then we gave up on meetings, then we gave up on any form of physical distance. We made facemarks, we limited our trips to the store, we limited our trips anywhere. And we started to think about when this will get over. The end of the business slowdown is the topic of presidential news conferences and newspaper op-ed pieces. We all are thinking in terms of beginnings and endings and all of the frustrations that lie between.

Personally, all of this is compounded with the simple fact that 2020 was chosen as the year for us to end our ministry in this congregation. Two months from yesterday, I will preach my last sermon in this church. In the midst of learning to use new technologies, coming to the office every day for daily prayers, working as hard as I have ever worked, I have been cleaning out file cabinets and book shelves. Everything has to be sorted into keep, recycle, or trash piles. I guess I have a rummage sale category, as well, but that is part of the recycle in my way of thinking.

We are planning to move our household, but we are a long way from having our home ready to put on the market, and we are unsure of how the travel restrictions and other practices necessary to slow the spread of the virus will affect the timing of our move.

Even if we were to stay in the same home in the same town and retain the same jobs, we could not avoid big changes. We are getting older. In many ways I don’t feel older. I have been blessed with good health and fairly high stamina. I have been forced by circumstances to be as creative in how I do my work as ever. I’ve been inventing new programs and new processes and procedures pretty heavily in the past couple of months. I wake up excited and energized about the day ahead and I go to bed tired and feeling accomplished from having worked a good day.

Life, however moves on. As I was cleaning my office I paused to look at a picture I’ve kept of the first baptism in this congregation. That tiny baby in that picture is now an adult. She is a nurse serving on the front lines of the nation’s work to treat those who are suffering. She is one of the heroes of our story. I opened up Facebook to check on the comments about our expanded ministry on that platform and saw a comment by someone who was a teenager when we met and now is a grandmother. A friend’s birthday reminded me how quickly she had gone from her forties to her eighties - and I’ve been getting older each year at the same rate. Time passes. Things change.

We think in terms of time.

But life is more than just a hectic race through a barrage of change in a constantly shifting world. The challenge for each one of us is to find ways of staying grounded and centered. We know how things used to be. We do not know how things will turn out. We find ourselves in-between, struggling to hold on to our identity. I look at that picture, now a quarter of a century old and I remind myself that I am still the same person. I am still a minister. I still am called to care for the parents and the child. I still am bound my my promise of love and care and support to parents and child.

The Apostle Paul wrote to the conflicted church at Corinth about remaining grounded in rapidly changing circumstances. He reminded them that there are things that don’t change. “And now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; and the greatest of these is love.”

I have been extremely fortunate in this life. I was blessed with a family that loved me and nurtured me as a child. I married at a young age and now, nearly 47 years later am even more in love than I was back then. We were blessed with two amazing and wonderful children who have grown into responsible and incredibly talented adults. And they have found partners in their lives and become parents themselves. I have learned what an incredible blessing it is to know that your grandchildren have wonderful loving parents.

There are many things in my life that call me to remain centered. And each of these blessings is a glimpse at the eternal. I don’t understand eternity. I still think in terms of the passage of time, but I can at least formulate a concept that there is something beyond time.

The New Testament scholar N.T. Wright has reflected on what the Bible says about eternity and he makes the point that many Christians get it all backwards. They think that the core of Christianity is about Jesus coming to earth to bring the faithful to heaven. This, he says, is not what early followers of Jesus thought. Rather, they understood that in Jesus, God had come to live with them. Jesus’ resurrection didn’t mean that we all get to go to heaven when we die, but rather that God will never be absent from the world in which we live.

Easter and Resurrection are huge concepts that have taken generations for our people to begin to understand. It shouldn’t bother me, or anyone else, that we struggle with these ideas. I am fairly certain that one of the things that keeps me centered in all this change is that I enjoy wrestling with the big concepts and thinking about the big ideas and living the questions of this life.

Copyright (c) 2020 by Ted E. Huffman. I wrote this. If you would like to share it, please direct your friends to my web site. If you'd like permission to copy, please send me an email. Thanks!