Did you know that our sun was destined to become a ‘red giant’? That’s the prediction for about 5 billion years into the future, for a star about the size of our sun. When a ‘red giant’ happens, the size of the sun expands greatly, encompassing the orbits of the inner planets, like ours. That will be the end of earth. A bit before that, earth will become uninhabitable because of the heat.
So what does that mean for Christians? Jesus comes to such a small place, preaches the reign of God, is killed, and we talk about his being raised up. We develop images of the renewal of the whole creation, the ‘new heaven’ and the ‘new earth’, which presume that the heavens and the earth are going to go on. But they’re not! I am challenged to ask ‘What does this mean to me as a Christian to know that the earth is going to be swallowed up by the sun?’ That is our ultimate future.
One of the ways that the Scriptures have dealt with this is to expand the image of ‘the Christ’ into the whole universe. John’s Gospel is the best example that I know. ‘In the beginning was the Word and the Word was toward God and the Word was God. All things were made through him.’ And in Colossians too we read “He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation; for in him all things in heaven and on earth were created, things visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or powers-all things have been created through him and for him. He himself is before all things, and in him all things hold together.” (Col. 1:15 ff). The letter to the Ephesians also echoes this dimension of Christ’s life when it says ‘With all wisdom and insight [God] has made known to us the mystery of his will, according to his good pleasure that he set forth in Christ, as a plan for the fullness of time, to gather up all things in him, things in heaven and things on earth.’
To think this way reminds me of an earlier reflection that I wrote about the composition of the universe. A scientist had said ‘The universe is composed of numbers.’ It is the numbers that tell us that the sun will become a red giant. But it is the Bible that tells us that the universe is composed of ‘Christ stuff.’ What ever the fate of the earth in the long, long run, what remains true is the simple phrase that can only be revealed, not ‘worked out’ “My life is hid with Christ in God.’: for all that this means, both personally and cosmically.
Which brings me to the Eucharist. At the invitation to communion instead of using some form that focuses on forgiveness like ‘come let us take this holy sacrament in remembrance that Christ died for you..’, I prefer to put this cosmic dimension into the foreground ‘Rocks melt like wax in his presence and mountains and seas are shaken to their depths, but in these holy mysteries we come near to the utter most depths of God.’
This is what we are doing! With our understandable focus on ‘the domestic’ it is easy to viewwhat we do on a Sunday as some little thing: ‘just a few struggling Christians singing a few hymns to remember a good man called Jesus who lived a long time ago.’
As those who are accused of saying that football is their ‘religion’ reply: ‘Religion? Football is much more important than that!’
Even those devoted to something as ‘human’ as sport, don’t actually get that on Sunday mornings, we are offered genuine communion with the Christ who set up the whole Universe as God’s creative Word.
But I must admit of a struggle. Like Augustine, I can say ‘Yes, I can believe in the Word of God who set up the Universe’ but I had never heard that ‘the Word became flesh’ in Jesus of Nazareth. How do I relate the ‘cosmic Christ’, who will be present at the end, long after the sun has swallowed up the earth, with Jesus of Nazareth, a ‘marginal Jew’ as he has been called? I think I have to say Jesus is God…for us humans: but the Christ transcends all that we are as humans, to fill the whole universe, and that these two are not going in different directions, but are the same reality: one ‘for us and for our salvation’ at the dimension of human life and God’s purposes for this small bit of the creation, the other for the future of the universe. God’s purposes in the Christ transcend humanity, and fill the whole universe. The future of the universe looks like the loving picture of God that appears in Jesus, the Christ. And it is this that is made available to us, every Sunday.
I ask then with Gerard Manly Hopkins, that, given this amazing gift,
Why do men then now not
reck his rod?
Generations have trod, have trod, have trod;
And all is seared with trade; bleared, smeared with toil;
And wears man’s smudge and shares man’s smell:
As a priest, all my life has been dedicated toward showing forth, and trying to live within the mystery of ‘God with us: Jesus the Christ present and on offer every Sunday’ to be confronted with indifference, or the belittling of the Eucharist with domestic affairs or the reduction of this mystery to a ‘matter of taste.’ No wonder Jesus was a ‘man of sorrows and acquainted with grief.’
These two weeks have been the week of the Jazz festival. We have turned our faces toward the festival to put on two great events. My hope is that for the people who came, something of the reality of the ‘cosmic Christ’ would have been revealed to them. I was told that in the past, a former priest here, Andrew Ling, would spend his days during the Jazz Festival walking along the lakeside speaking to people. What humility! What courage!
Thinking about the picture of my predecessor, I am reminded of another reality of the Christ: in him God is hidden. We are the possessors of a treasure, but in earthen vessels. The earthen-ness of the vessel, both of Christ himself in the person of Jesus, and of Christ in his body the Church makes the recognition of something ‘far more deeply interfused’ something that is not straight forward, something that, in the face of images of success that even many religious groups believe in, is not easily recognisable. Behold, I tell you a mystery! Our earth will be swallowed up by the sun, yet on Sunday mornings, the Christ who will be completing all things in himself at the end, even of time, offers himself to us: hidden in the earthy vessel of St. John’s Montreux.Take off your shoes, for the place where you walk is holy ground.