From Back to Front

 

When it was evening on that day…and the doors of the house where the disciples had met were locked for fear…Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you…As the Father has sent me, so I send you.” When he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven…”

John 20:19-31

The Christian story begins at the end, at the resurrection. It is by the light of the resurrection that we begin to see what’s really happening. Until then, we are shrouded in what T.S. Eliot calls “hints and guesses.” It’s only when we see through the eyes of the risen Christ that we begin to make sense of Jesus’ life and our own.

This takes time, usually a lifetime.

Perhaps this is why it took so long for the Gospels to be written. Most scholars date the earliest Gospel (Mark) around 50. A.D., and the last Gospel (John) around 100 A.D. In fact, the Gospels were written after most of Paul’s letters had begun circulating. Why the long wait for something so important? If I’ve learned anything by experience, it’s that it takes years to be formed by the reality of the resurrection so that we can re-narrate life in a way that is faithful to the reality of the Gospel.

Let’s be honest, our lives are not a simple sequence of events, one thing unfolding after another. That’s not how we make sense of our existence. We don’t narrate our lives in the order we live them-front to back. We narrate our lives in reverse-back to front. The problem arises when we don’t have a point of departure, a place of discovery, an awakening, an interpretive key that unlocks the mystery of our life.

James Alison makes a distinction between what he calls the “order of logic” and the “order of discovery.” This distinction is critical to how the spiritual life unfolds.

The order of logic is all too familiar. We begin at the beginning. We faithfully tromp through life in chronological fashion till we reach the end. When we apply the order of logic to our faith, we begin reading the Bible in Genesis and end in Revelation hoping it will all make sense. It doesn’t! To read the Bible front to back is to die a slow and painful death. I’ve tried it many times. We get to Leviticus or Numbers, and if we haven’t given up because of sheer boredom, we give up because of the bloody, gory mess. We dutifully claim the Christian story, but if we are honest, when bound by the order of logic, the story lacks coherence or life.

The order of discovery is different. It begins, not at the chronological beginning of the story, but at a point of departure-a point at which something happens that awakens us, and changes how we see. It’s from this point of departure, or what is classically called “conversion,” that we re-narrate the past, but now from a whole new perspective. It’s from this place that we make meaning. It’s from this place that our lives are re-membered. The past becomes present to us in a whole new way.

The resurrection is the Christian point of departure. That is why, if we are to read Scripture Christianly, we read it through the eyes of the resurrected Christ. If we are to live our lives Christianly, we begin here, in the resurrection.

So, here we are in the first week of the resurrection with the disciples, locked in a room, filled with fear, unable to make sense of the events that have taken place. Suddenly, there is a divine break-in-the risen Christ enters into our prison and stands among us, completely and utterly at ease and unconcerned with all the ways we’ve betrayed and denied him. Not a hint of resentment! In fact, the first word of the risen Christ is “Peace.” He says it three times in this week’s passage!

Easter Peace is the place from which we begin to make meaning. It is the place from which we can see things as they really are. Easter Peace is the ground from which we begin to discover the truth of who God is. It’s from this place that Jesus breathes on us and we discover ourselves being forgiven. To give and receive forgiveness is what it means to bear witness to the resurrection. This is how we participate in the ongoing act of creation.

Perhaps now we can see why, for most of us, it takes a lifetime to faithfully narrate the gospel story at work in our lives. I am so glad the Gospel writers waited as long as they did to put pen to paper. Imagine how differently the story would have been told if they had written too soon, only half formed by love and mercy.

T.S. Eliot said it this way, “We shall not cease from exploration, and the end of all our exploring will be to arrive where we started and know the place for the first time.”

Kris Rocke
Executive Director
Street Psalms