The January Paradox

January is a paradox.

She bursts onto the scene with global celebration, promising fresh starts and a new beginning. With wide-eyed optimism we turn the page on the calendar and expect everything to be different.  But now, just a couple weeks into the New Year and 2014 looks eerily similar to 2013. Most of us returned to work and school this week to be met with the same deadlines and assignments, the same frustrating co-workers and classmates and the same existential crisis we faced last year.  We long to believe that something new is possible, that the hope of a new world is within grasp, but reality is convincing us otherwise. The start of a New Year serves as a microcosm for our Christian discipleship journey, reminding us of both the promise of God’s new creation as well as the uncertainty experienced while living between the ascension and appearing of Jesus.  Mark’s Gospel captures this tension between promise and reality as a new world is introduced, only to be eclipsed by fear and ambiguity. Look again at his prologue:

“The beginning of the gospel of Jesus Messiah.”

Anyone with ears to hear should hear the reverberation of Genesis 1:1.  Mark’s bold proclamation insists on the fundamental regeneration of the world through the life, ministry, death and resurrection of Jesus.  The promise is clear, despite the fatigue of world history, and with millennia in the rearview mirror, there is indeed another first time for creation.(1) It seems that Isaiah’s ancient oracle “I am about to create new heavens and a new earth; the former things shall not be remembered or come into mind”(2) is finally coming true.  This apocalyptic declaration is the foundation for Christian ethics and Christ-like praxis within the current space, time universe.  And though the promise of new world is genuine, it sure seems like a distant reality.  Even now, some 2,000 years after resurrection, we join the souls under the alter asking, “How long oh Lord” must we wait for your Kingdom to completely come?  How long must we struggle to find meaning and purpose in life, how long until old habits and addictions cease gnawing at our flesh, and how long will the wounds of broken relationships bleed?  We’ve been told a new world is on the horizon, but this old one just keeps spinning round and round.  Jesus’ own followers were not immune from this apprehension.  Do you remember the ending to Mark’s story of new creation? On the first day of the week, the women come to Jesus’ tomb to anoint him for burial and…

Entering the tomb, they saw a young man sitting on the right side, dressed in a white robe, and they were afraid. And he said to them, ‘Do not be afraid. You seek Jesus of Nazareth, who was crucified. He has risen; he is not here. See the place where they laid him. But go; tell the disciples and Peter that he is going before you to Galilee. There you will see him, just as he told you. And they went out and fled from the tomb, for they were trembling and astonishment had seized them, and they said nothing to anyone, for they were afraid.(3)

Here, among trembling, fear and an inkling of hope, Mark’s drama ends.  There is no sighting of the Risen Lord, no hands in his sides, no Road to Emmaus, and certainly no glory filled ascension.  It’s a strange way to end a story of good news. And while most of today’s Bibles tidy up the story by adding an alternate ending, of the nearly 6,000 ancient Greek manuscripts available, none of them have the remaining 11 verses we read today.  By leaving the story incomplete, Mark invites us to provide the ending. His discipleship drama will only continue if the apostles, and if we the reader, choose to accept the call to ‘Go and meet Jesus in Galilee’, to continue the pursuit of Him even in the midst of fear and uncertainty.(4)

New Testament scholar Richard B. Hays writes, “The abrupt ending without a resurrection appearance points emphatically to the still future character of the kingdom of God.  Jesus’ disciples at the end of the story find themselves suspended between the news of the resurrection and the experience of the risen Lord.”(5)  This is the exact same place we find ourselves.

The end of one age and the beginning of another have overlapped in this “time between times”; our future hope is near, and yet we are entreated to join in Christ’s work and suffering in the present.  It is precisely the conviction that the new world is ‘here but not yet’ that motivates each of us to join in the unfinished, genuine struggle for new creation.(6)   The Gospel is about accepting and serving in the midst of this mystery.  

As we embrace the hope that another year brings, let us do so with the divine diligence of God, who is slowly restoring His good creation.  God is still patient, and as long as He is patient, we must be also. The good news is that Jesus’ bodily resurrection is the watershed event ushering in a new world.  Our call within this regeneration of creation is to function as a new version of the human race, living as His faithful presence, embodying the power of resurrection (new creation) to a world in the midst of renewal.  So let us go even unto Galilee to meet him.  And when we find Him toiling for peace, justice and reconciliation, we join Him.  And in unifying our lives with His, we help bring the present rushing forward into the ultimate consummation of His promised future, when God will be all in all as the waters cover the sea.

How about you? What do you think of this perspective on Mark’s Gospel, and the tension of living “between the times”? How do you hold onto new year’s hope, even when the ultimate hope is “not yet”?

(1) Via, Dan. The Ethics of Mark’s Gospel—In the Middle of Time.  pg. 45.
(2) Isaiah 65: 17.
(3) Mark 16: 5-8.
(4) Myers, Ched. Binding the Strong Man. pg. 401.
(5) Hays, Richard B. The Moral Vision of the New Testament. pg 198.
(6) Ibid., pg 21.

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