back from the future: God will be all in all
There’s a story I heard recently about a monastery in North Africa. A young tribal man used to come around the community often trying to figure out what these robed men were doing all day. Gradually he started asking questions and so the monks would explain different aspects of their life to him and various bits and pieces about Christianity. At one point one of the monks decided to give the young man a Bible and told him to start reading the Gospels. Well, the young man came back a few days later visibly irritated. The monk who had given him the Bible asked him what was the matter, the young man waved the Bible at him and said, “It says in here that he came back from the dead!” “Well, yes,” the monk replied. “Why are you so upset?” And the young man said, “Why didn’t you tell me that at the beginning?!”
I do think that we are a little embarrassed about the resurrection, maybe because we get all caught up in the science or the pseudo-science of it, and in doing so we miss the whole point of the story. At a popular level, it’s a lot easier to shift the attention to Christmas, as if that were the high point of the Christian year; the little baby is something with a lot more universal appeal than this awkward myth of someone coming back from the dead. A lot of times we hear that the gospels, especially the Gospel of Mark, are simply an introduction to the Passion narratives, and you could get that impression from films about Jesus, too. But no: the Gospels, even the Passion narratives, are really long introductions to the Resurrection. You could almost say the rest of the gospel is a kind of a flash back. I’ve yet to see a film about Jesus where they show the resurrection first and then go back and tell the story, but I think that would be most fitting. “Why didn’t you tell me that at the beginning?” Even all through the celebrations of the Easter Triduum, we already know the ending, and that’s what makes them so full of joy and anticipation.
So let’s relocate Easter and Jesus’ resurrection, and recognize it as the high point of our Christian year, because it is! It’s the supernova, it’s the explosion at the very center of our faith, and all our hope and love are based on this. Let’s let go of the science and the pseudo-science around it and just stand in awe before the mystery of it, because without the resurrection Jesus is just another wise philosopher, just another yogi with super siddhis, or another political radical who dies a martyr for the cause. Without the resurrection Jesus is another wonderful teacher pointing the way; but with the resurrection Jesus isn’t just pointing the way––he is the Way.
There was a popular movie some years ago now called “Back to the Future.” I’ve come to think of what happened at Jesus’ resurrection now as “Back from the Future.” And it all revolves around this one little phrase in St. Paul’s Letter to the Corinthians that has fascinated our mystics for generations: God will be all in all. Whenever I used to cite that line I used to misquote it by saying God will be all in all in Christ, but that misquote works theologically too, or maybe it’s better to say God is already all in all in Christ. And that is somehow what is going on at the resurrection. I could say it 100 times and still not fathom the depths of it: God will be all in all! God will be all in all! God will be all in all! This is our idea of the ultimate end of all things, and this is what our hope is based on; this is why we get up in the morning: God will be all in all! Nothing is going to get left behind! Everything is going to share in the glory of God! That’s what the future holds. And in the resurrection of Jesus we see it already happening. Even the matter of his body gets taken up again into the glorious self of Him-who-was-not destroyed-by-death. And it’s important to note that when Saint Paul says this famous line––may I say it again? God will be all in all!––it’s in 1 Corinthians 15, not when he is talking just about Jesus; it’s when he’s talking about our death and resurrection. God will be all in all! God will be all in all in us! This is the ultimate destiny of the human race––to be in God and God in us––and the ultimate destiny of all creation too, which is groaning and agony as we await this redemption of our bodies. God will be all in all! That’s why I say that Jesus has come back from the future: at the resurrection we see that God has already become all in all in one. That’s the Omega point; the end already exists. Jesus has come back from there and from then on out that Omega point, that high point of human history is drawing us to himself, to itself. Now, as a friend of mine used to say, you can go there kicking and screaming or you can come along nice, but God will be all in all. God already is all in all in Jesus; and God will be all in all in you, in us, and in all creation.
I’ve come to see that for the most part we misunderstand what Christianity teaches about the end goal of life. We think it’s all about dying and going to heaven. But it’s not. My going to heaven is too small a thing; the big picture is not all about me! The end goal of all things according to Scripture is a new heaven and a new earth. The resurrection shows us that Jesus isn’t just in heaven; Jesus is already the beginning of the new earth! That’s why that empty tomb is so important. The matter of his poor crucified broken body wasn’t left behind; even it was taken up into glory, which means that the new earth has already begun. If I may quote my current favorite N. T. Wright, left to ourselves “we lapse into a kind of entropy, acquiescing to the general belief that things are getting worse but there’s nothing much we can do about them.” But we are wrong about that too. “God’s new creation has begun and we have a job to do!” Our task is to “live as resurrection people in between Easter and that final day” when God will be all in all, in anticipation not only of heaven but in anticipation of the new earth, as a sign of Easter––a people of hope in action––and as a foretaste of the fullness. Our job is to implement Easter and wait with joyful hope for that final day when God will be all in all; our job is to be a sign of Easter and a foretaste of that great day when there will be a new heaven and a new earth. And if we could get that through our thick heads, everything would change.
I often like to think of faith as the content of our belief; hope as the energy that faith provokes; and love as the action. So if the content of our faith is the resurrection, then our hope is that in the end God will be all in all, our hope is in a new heaven and a new earth, and that hope should give us the energy for love––for action, to build God’s reign here. And that’s why we build communities of faith such as monasteries––we’re not sitting around here waiting to die and go to heaven; we’re finding a new way to live, as Easter people! We’re part of the new earth! Jesus resurrection isn’t about death; it’s about new life! That’s why we take care of our bodies, and that’s why we take care of the poor and each other, that’s why we write songs and plays and poems, that’s why we work to change political structures and grow beautiful gardens and build energy efficient homes––as a sign of Easter and in anticipation of the great day when there will be a new heaven and a new earth, because the new earth is already happening in us too, through our Baptism, through our sharing in the dying and rising of Jesus, always carrying in the body the death of Jesus, so that the our gift to the world will be his life.
God already is all in all in Jesus; may God be all in all in you, in me, in us; may God be all in all in the church and the world, and may God be all in all in all creation.