Monday, April 17, 2017

Jesus, the First and Last Word

So today we enter the Easter season...the festal season that lasts for fifty days, but is often seen as one long feast day. Joy!

Like many other Lenten and Easter journeys, Michael Card's songs have been playing through my mind and heart (and sometimes literally playing via CD or digitally). During different years, different ones come to mind most often. This morning, I woke up with "Final Word" spinning on my heart's turntable:

You and me we use so very many clumsy words.
The noise of what we often say is not worth being heard.
When the Father's wisdom wanted to communicate His love,
He spoke it in one final perfect Word.

He spoke the incarnation, and then so was born a Son.
His final word was Jesus, He needed no other one.
Spoke flesh and blood so He could bleed and make a way Divine.
And so was born a baby who would die to make it mine.

And so the Father's fondest thought became flesh and blood.
He spoke the living luminous word, at once His will was done.
And so the transformation that in man had been unheard,
Took place in God the Father as he spoke that final Word.

And so the Light became alive and manna became Man.
Eternity stepped into time so we could understand.

(~Michael Card)

I think this song, like many others, eventually moved onto his recording "The Life," which collected many of the songs that he wrote about the life of Jesus over the years. And I think I have typically thought of it as belonging more to his Advent and Christmas collection than Lent and Easter, since it speaks primarily of the incarnation.

But as my precious daughter pointed out so wisely this Lenten season, as she reflected on her feelings about both seasons, you can't have one without the other. Had Jesus not been born, he never would have experienced death.

In other words, had Jesus never taken on "flesh and blood," had manna not become Man, then there would have been no entry into Jerusalem, no upper room, no death on the cross, no third day and wondrous resurrection!

The song playing in my head yesterday was, not unexpectedly, Charles Wesley's "Christ the Lord is Risen Today." The verse that kept really speaking to me was this one:

Love’s redeeming work is done, Alleluia!
Fought the fight, the battle won. Alleluia!
Death in vain forbids him rise; Alleluia!
Christ has opened paradise. Alleluia!

(~Charles Wesley)

What the Scriptures emphasize for us, over and over, is that Jesus, the incarnate Word, is truth and reality from first to last, from A to Z, Alpha to Omega. He is there from eternity ("He was with God, was God") and he spoke the first word ("Without him was not anything made that was made"). But he also spoke the last word. "It is finished." Which means, "Love's redeeming work is done. Alleluia!"

And yet...isn't it amazing that even after that ultimate, final word on the cross, he spoke again when he rose again in power? The decisive blow had been struck with great finality, and yet what it brought to fruition was a new world order, a new kind of life, a total newness of life that only Jesus could bring. Everything ended, and yet everything began again in a way that would never end.

Why Card can speak of Jesus himself being the "final word" is that no other word was needed. Old Simon in the temple knew it as soon as he saw the baby Jesus. He could finally die in peace because he had seen what he has spent his whole life waiting for: God had sent the promised deliverer into the world.

And Jesus would speak  through his whole life, from his first baby cries to the many words he spoke to those he ministered to and mentored, to the last words on the cross. And yes, to the post-resurrection words he spoke to his followers, promising them the Holy Spirit, giving them their charge to go into the world and make disciples. But all those words he spoke were just part and parcel of the reality that he himself WAS the Word, from first to last. The initiating word that spoke the world into being, ("Let there be light!") -- that brought into existence things that were not, to the ending word that brought life where death tried to reign, that made it clear he was the master of death as well as life.

This is the Word we are invited to embrace, to love, to sing, from our own first day to our last. It is so wonderful to know that it is Jesus the Word who has written our lives, created our stories, and breathed his Spirit into us so that we can become living letters, walking-around-epistles, for others.

Sometimes I think of us not just as letters (messages) but as actual letters, as in the letters of the alphabet. I imagine Jesus writing each one of us in beautiful calligraphic lettering, in the alphabets of every tribe and nation. I imagine how God the Father, the author and finisher of our faith, puts together all the millions and millions of individual letters to create words, sentences, stories that make sense, that reflect the true Story, that at their Spirit-soaked best can become miniature loving versions of his Son, the Word from all eternity. The Word of life and power. The Word who became flesh and dwelt among us and helped those who could not speak to speak anew. The Word that spoke at the very beginning and whose words have continued to keep and hold the world in being. The Word who has already spoken the decisive final word on the cross, in the moment when he died, who spoke again when he came out of the tomb, and will speak again at the end when he comes in power and glory to bring his eternal kingdom to total and complete fullness. One day we will see him face to face, and we will know the Story from beginning to end. And we will sing his praises forever.

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