There is time for everything. Revelation 1:4b-8. John 18:33-37
Everybody remembers the scene of Charlie Chaplin in “Modern Times” when he was caught in the relentless assembly line and winding up in the actual gears of the machinery. He made comic fun out of the tragedy of our enslavement to measured time.
But fundamentally it was no joke—beneath Chaplin’s antics lay the torture of the time table, the time line, the deadline. Since the invention of clocks, time has been our master. I just learned the other day that when the sundial, the first chronometer, was invented, the Roman writer Plautus bemoaned its existence saying, “We don’t need this—my stomach tells me what time it is.” Time was St. Augustine’s least favorite subject—he said, of course I know what time is, until somebody asks me what it is.
Now that society measures time, we feel trapped by it. So there are a few myths about time that I want to dispel.
They say, time flies. Wrong, a crow flies.
Time is running out. Wrong again, only people and dogs run.
Prisoners do hard time. Time is neither soft nor hard.
What do we mean when we say, there is no time like the present? What other kind of time is there?
We speak of quality time, hang time, high time, crunch time, and payback time. Where on your watch are these indicated?
We tell someone, “Take your time.” But isn’t it everybody’s time?
Even in our New Testament, it is written that the “end of times” is approaching, that the world is coming to an end—but it hasn’t. Yogi Berra confirmed this when he said, “It ain’t over till it’s over.” That is, when somebody says, “time’s up.” Of course, time is neither up or down!
So we have conferred upon time an importance in excess of its reality and have managed to make it an instrument of our own exploitation.
We only have to look upward to the heavens, as has been done since time immemorial (!), meaning way before clocks existed, and see the sun passing every day and the stars wheeling by every night. And so it is that, inescapably, we have completed another, measured year. A church year ends today, and a new year starts next Sunday, the first Sunday of Advent.
Christians recognize the passage of time, but not as torture. Christians look at time rather as fulfillment. Christians took up a distinction that the Greeks made between chronos, measured time, and Kairos, the fullness of time. The Kairos puts us in a dimension when something unique happens or is possible—a fourth dimension. Chronos is a function of nature relentlessly the same, whereas Kairos signifies time pregnant with potential difference, like when you walk down the street and your feet don’t touch the ground. For Christians the fullness of time represents any point in your life when you know that redemption is possible, when the experience of forgiveness reveals completely new possibilities for you. It is a “moment” that has no duration, when truth makes itself known and purges accumulated lies. Christ is another name for redeemed existence. When we know Christ, we live in the fullness of time.
I don’t think we can live in both chronos and Kairos at once. I believe we live in one existence at a time, while being aware of the other. We can be stuck in the workaday world, competing, maybe living from paycheck to paycheck, or riding high on the ever-rising stock market, and only suspect there is another way of being.
Conversely, we can live in the redeemed “moment” which has no time span, and still have to earn that paycheck or bank that fortune. I pray there are many who drive themselves every week from pillar to post to make ends meet whose feet don’t touch the ground because they are redeemed; the same even for some millionaires who are not making their big money for themselves.
Christ is another name for redeemed existence, I said. When we know Christ, we live in the fullness of time, we are residents of another “kingdom,” of which Jesus is the “king.” That’s why Pilate was confused about Jesus. Pilate was of course asking if Jesus was a king, like Pilate’s boss, Caesar, was a king. Jesus appears to evade the question, but he was actually only trying to communicate a counter-intuitive answer to Pilate. And many times, Christians get confused about this, too. We take “kingdom” literally when what it means is community, a community not of this world, as Jesus said, in that it doesn’t play by this world’s rules, or clocks.
By the time that the Book of Revelation gets written in 90 CE, the Christian community has begun to realize the enormous significance of Jesus for this world. And so the small figures of the peasant Jesus and the ragtag apostles and the persecuted martyrs and the harried church get magnified and portrayed on a huge canvas, in very emotional tones. Because Jesus has shown us a door to true life, he has revealed the life abundant, the Kairos, that was always there, though perhaps not labelled before as such. John of Patmos introduces Jesus in the same terms as the Lord God, as the Alpha and Omega, as the beginning and the end, he is the bookends, so to speak, of timelessness, what we call eternity, a quality that does not stretch forward in time, because there is no more time, but rather stretches inward.
However, we are not free of the imposition of chronos—we look at our hands, our bodies, our faces in the mirror every year, and not just once a year—nature will still have its way with us. Nor are we free of the combat between two competing visions of America—we can’t avoid the anguish and the anxiety of a nation that has just legitimized armed vigilantes.
But we can—we should, we must—choose to live in Jesus’ Kairos community, that place of rich and ever-surprising possibility, that we simply access through the door of forgiveness. Imagine, a whole book like Revelation with its images and emotions, based on so simple and small a human matter as forgiveness. Jesus didn’t invent forgiveness, neither did Judaism. But each, in succession, expanded its power and importance for human society exponentially.
Pilate asked, “Are you the king of the Jews?” Well, no, they don’t acknowledge me as such. But, yes, inasmuch as God’s mercy and lovingkindness is enthroned in me, the same God who said, “I am that I am,” “I will be what I will be,” “I am the One who endures.” When Jesus said there would be no more Temple, and when John of Patmos said there would be no more Temple, it was meant that the Kairos community has no need of walls. We are such a community, Eliot Church is—we may have walls for a temple, but the walls are not the point, are they? We are here today, and we welcome everyone and anyone here every Sunday, to get a taste of the fourth dimension and come on through. God has chosen you before you have chosen God.