The only time is now.
We often conceptualize time as linear, as if the garden of Eden stands at one end of time and the New Creation stands at the other. But the truth is that the only time is now. In the words of Doctor Who, time is more like “a big ball of wibbly wobbly, timey wimey. . . stuff.”
Right now we experience the breathtaking wonder of new creation, of new relationships, of new discoveries.
Right now we experience the heart-breaking disillusionment as the thing we once thought was perfect is in fact shown to be as ordinary and corrupt as anything else.
Right now, if we are brave, we experience the joy of relationships mended, and of creation restored. The wonder at seeing that which we were convinced was ordinary and corrupt, made divine — cracks, wounds, and all.
One of my professors sometimes says that we experience this present moment as the space between memory and anticipation. The past and the future all bound up into the present moment.
In the Old Testament reading, God names Jeremiah as a prophet, and Jeremiah’s immediate response is fear. He denies his own voice and agency.Fears about our own capacity to do the work God has invited us to join in with are a failure of imagination. God has equipped and empowered us to feed the hungry, to satisfy the needs of the afflicted, to restore relationships, to repair the land, and to rebuild our cities and communities.
Fear says, “I don’t have enough bread.”
Fear says, “I’m not enough.”
Fear says, “That relationship is too broken.”
Fear says, “The world is too big, climate change is too much.”
Fear says, “Our cities are too dangerous.”
Fear is our failure to imagine that God is actually who God says God is, or that we actually are who God has named us.
Fear is a sign that our imagination is marked by a static theology, which has not equipped us for the present moment.
This is why prophets are so important. Prophets give us new theologies for the present moment. God responds to Jeremiah’s fear, saying, “Don’t be afraid. I am putting my words in your mouth.” The prophet acts in the present moment, giving us fresh imaginations for the future, which are grounded in the realities of the past.
In our New Testament reading, the writer of Hebrews tells us that not only will Earth be shaken, but also the Heavens. Our God is on the move, speaking through the prophets, and inviting us to join in the work of co-creation. God continues to reveal Godself to us, revising our theologies and refining our fears along the way.
The passage reminds us that Moses and the Israelites were scared to be near a mountain where God was present. Over time, God has slowly and consistently refined our fears and theologies, moving down from the mountain, into a human body in Christ, and then in our very own bodies through the Holy Spirit. God, we now understand, is present wherever two or more are gathered. And this work — this movement of God from the high and lofty place into real presence continues into the present moment.
In the gospel text, Jesus is confronted by a woman who is literally bowed down by something no one but Jesus can see. How many people in our world are bowed down by things which we cannot see? By systems of oppression? By a lack of healthcare? By depression? By segregation? Jesus sees the thing that is bowing her down and does what he does: he sets her free. Jesus invites the woman to participate in Sabbath, and then he liberates her from the invisible oppressor that no one else could see.
The Pharisees, with their outdated theologies and fears of the unknown, protest. They can’t imagine that a woman might be healed on the Sabbath — but really, they simply can’t imagine that she can be healed at all, and so they immediately, in their cognitive dissonance, latch onto the theology they already know and trust. Deep in their subconscious, the Pharisees lives in a world where miracles don’t happen, in a world that depends on the brokenness of other people. They have grown comfortable with the sight of a woman bowed down low to the ground. When Jesus heals the woman, suddenly the world the Pharisees have accepted as true is threatened. They don’t know how to be powerful and successful in this world where miracles are possible, and so they immediately grasp onto a theology that sets their world “right” again. Jesus is the one who sinned, because he did work on the Sabbath.
In response, Jesus (who always seems to know what’s going on in the subconscious minds of those around him) reminds them that they don’t even keep their own theologies — that none of them truly keep the Sabbath.
“Hypocrites!” he cries out in response. ““Don’t each of you on the Sabbath untie your ox or donkey from its stall and lead it out to get a drink?” Then isn’t it necessary that this woman, a daughter of Abraham, bound by Satan for eighteen long years, be set free from her bondage on the Sabbath day?”
What better day for liberation than the Sabbath?
Later, after he was assassinated by these same kinds of imagination-lacking religious leaders in partnership with an imperial state, Jesus will be busy doing the work of liberating all creation on a Sabbath. Since the earliest days of the Church, we have understood that during the time Jesus was in the tomb–we call it Holy Saturday–he journeyed down into the deepest depths, breaking every single lock and chain that held creation enslaved to sin and dependent on the brokenness of others. Jesus, it turns out, does his best work on the Sabbath.
Religious leaders who lack a theological imagination are still at work assassinating Jesus. When we turn the liberating, life-giving, generative good news of the gospel into prohibitive rules about what we can eat, drink, say, and do, we kill it. Time and time again, these religious leaders and theological thinkers have done their best to try and kill the Gospel, because in their poverty of imagination, it’s creative power always becomes a threat to the order of their own religious institutions and communities.
The truth is that no one — not even God — can truly practice Sabbath until we are all able to rest, until all creation is free from oppression and we have what we need. Only then can we fully experience Sabbath. However, the work of liberation often seems unending. We loosen one bond, only to find ten more appear before our eyes. Practicing Sabbath in the midst of this unfinished work, then, becomes an act of faithful imagination. We must trust that one day this work will indeed be complete, and take delight in that coming completion.
God, however, is not confined to our often-linear experience of time. While it may be true that God cannot practice Sabbath until all of creation is free, it is also true that for God, the work of liberation is already complete. Jesus already loosed those bonds. God invites us to step out of our limited conceptions of time and work, and to participate in God’s sabbath which stands at both the beginning and end of time.
And so time collapses into the present once again. On the Sabbath we are confronted with both the beginning and the end of the work of liberation, and the challenge is to take delight at the prospect of both.
So what fear is God calling you to challenge? What work has God called you to do? What words has God placed in your mouth? What theologies do you need to make room for?
As we turn toward the table, and prepare to re-enact the breaking of Christ’s body and blood, we remember that Jesus came to break every bond, every chain, every system and structure of oppression.
As we receive God’s body into our own bodies, we remember that God is present in and among us.
So don’t be afraid. God is truly with us.
May we go forth, boldly proclaiming that right now, in the present moment, every bond has been destroyed. May we be emboldened to speak truth to power, to lean into the work God sets before us, and may we dare to imagine a better, more beautiful world is not only possible — it is already right here among us.