There are some things I can only enjoy once: a mediocre football game, The Da Vinci Code, an easy puzzle. The first time was enough because now knowing the ending or the outcome, these things lose their appeal. I’m no longer invested because the unknown ending was its only offering. Now some things I could experience over and over again even though I know exactly what is going to happen: a sunset on the beach, Casablanca, Silent Night on Christmas Eve. I know the ending, but it doesn’t dissuade me because these experiences are so much more than a good ending. The Book of Revelation is written to a suffering community to proclaim that God wins, that love wins in the end. Knowing God’s victory is not a spoiler because being in relationship with God is more than simply knowing that it’s going to work out in the end.
I’ve always been fascinated by time, especially what we call “the present.” The past is a memory and the future is a dream, but now is what truly exists. The amazing thing about the present is that it is the only moment of which we are aware, but the moment we are aware of it, the moment is in the past. Revelation is either spoken of as a book about the past, a hopeful message to Christians suffering persecution thousands of years ago, or it is understood as a book only about the future, giving us hints and clues about the end of the world. The author of Revelation, John of Patmos, proclaims that both of these interpretations can miss the point. He writes, “Grace to you and peace from him who is and who was and who is to come.” Notice the order of his greeting. He begins with, “Grace to you who is.” It is profound to read the present tense in a two thousand year old greeting. It’s like the angles’ proclamation of Jesus’ birth to the shepherds in Luke’s Gospel. Chapter two begins with “In those days,” and “Mary gave birth,” and “In that region there were shepherds in the field.” The whole introduction is written in past tense, except when the angels’ speak. They say, “Do not be afraid; for see—I am bringing you good news of great joy. To you is born this day in the city of David, a Savoir, who is the Messiah.” Because it is present, it is timeless. I ask that you act surprised if you hear that four weeks from now. “Grace to you from him who is.” This is the timeless truth that we are not abandoned. In the midst of suffering, we are not alone. God is, and God is with us.
Not only is our God the God of the present, God is also the Lord of the past: “Grace to you from him who is and who was.” God is Lord of the past, which is why forgiveness is possible. Knowing that God is a God of past means that our sins may be forgiven, that God can heal wounds from long ago. When Jesus appeared to Thomas in His resurrected state, Jesus still had wounds. The wounds had been healed, but they were there. The wounds of crucifixion were the worst of humanity, and even these were resurrected and healed. If God is not a God who was, then we who are would never know forgiveness. Not only that, but worshiping a God who is and a God who was means that our past matters, at least, the goodness you offer today by loving God and loving neighbor, creates a foundation for tomorrow. “I’ll seek salvation tomorrow,” is not a Christian bumper sticker. As Paul says in 1 Corinthians 15, “Now I would remind you, brothers and sisters, of the good news that I proclaimed to you, which you in turn received, in which also you stand, through which also you are being saved.” Salvation is a process, and it begins today! Did you catch that? “Salvation begins today,” is in the present tense, which means that if you say it ten years from now, it will still be a present reality? My how the world would be different if this is the mantra Christians used each morning.
Grace to you from him who is, and who was, and who is to come. A God who “is” means that we are not abandoned. A God who “was” means that we are forgiven. A God who is to come means that God can be trusted. Last week Christie and I had dueling 10:30 Friday morning Thanksgiving programs to attend. Those of you farther along the parental train have already figured this kind of thing out, but for us, it was a brand new conundrum. I started at the Broadmoor Day School to see Annaleigh stand and not sing a word. Then I snuck out to head over to Eden Gardens for 11:00. Now, there are some things Isabelle doesn’t care about, but the schedule is not one of them. If we say we are going to the park she wants to know which park, what time we are leaving, and what time we are expecting to leave said park—and Woe to the person who deviates from the agreed upon schedule. So, Thursday night I told her that I was not going to be in her class room at 10:30, but that I would meet her on the playground at 11:00. Well, when I got to the school, three teachers met me on the playground saying, “Isabelle will certainly be glad to see you.” I saw her coming from a distance with tears rolling down her face, pony tail all out of wack. I gave her a big hug and said, “I told you I was going to be here.” A God who is to come is a God whose promise can be trusted.
What are the promises? John writes, “To him who loves us and freed us from our sins by his blood, and made us to be a kingdom, priests serving God” (Revelation God loves us—present tense. This is the work of the God who is. God who freed us from our sins—past tense. This is the work of the God who was. A God who made us to be a kingdom—future. This is the work of the God who is to come. God loves us, has forgiven us, and has given us purpose for the future beginning today as servants to God and for each other. Through faith in Christ, our present, our past, and our future are held together in grace. Then we come to a time in which past, present, and future no longer make sense. John writes:
Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth;
for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more.
2And I saw the holy city, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God,
prepared as a bride adorned for her husband.
3And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying,
‘See, the home of God is among mortals.
He will dwell with them;
they will be his peoples,
and God himself will be with them;
4 he will wipe every tear from their eyes.
Death will be no more;
mourning and crying and pain will be no more,
for the first things have passed away.’
So now you know the ending of the story. I pray that knowing the ending doesn’t spoil it for you; rather I pray it gives you hope. Soon we will tell the story all over again as we light the first candle of Advent and sing “Come Thou Long Expected Jesus.” I pray we never tire of presently living a story that “was” about a promise, which will be. Salvation is a process, and let it begin today. Amen and Amen!