January 28, 2015
Wednesday of week 3 in Ordinary Time
(Saint Thomas Aquinas, Priest, Doctor)
Jesus Is The Once And Future Perfection
By one offering he has made perfect forever those who are being sanctified.
How can Hebrews say we are “being sanctified,” being made holy, if we have already been “made perfect forever”?
Here we enter into a mystery that pervades Christian life and worship. We exist and act simultaneously in two time-frames.
First, there is the ordinary time-frame of human life, in which there is a past, a present and a future, all mutually exclusive. The past is gone, the future is not here yet, and we live in the present moment. That is what it means to live in time.
But there is a second time-frame—which, strictly speaking, isn’t one—we also live and act in “eternity,” which is not in time at all. Only God is eternal, and in God’s life there is no before or after; there is just one eternal “now.” Whatever we say of God, it “is, was, and ever shall be, now and forever. Amen.”
The problem comes when God, who lives in eternity, makes things happen on this earth, where they take place in time. Let’s pass over the covenant God made with Abraham, and all his interventions in the history of his Chosen People. Let’s get down to the present.
God has forgiven our sins from all eternity. But in the time and space of this earth, in our time-frame, there was nothing to forgive until we committed them, and then forgiveness didn’t take place until we repented.
Going deeper into the mystery, our sins were “taken away,” ceased to be part of our personal being and history, only because we died in Christ on the cross. That event took place in time: first, when Jesus was crucified two thousand years ago; and second, when we were crucified with him and in him on the day of our Baptism. On the cross Jesus was made to “be sin” by taking us into his body with all the sins we ever had or ever would commit. Now we are in a different time-frame. The sins we would commit twenty years later were already annihilated—in God’s time, which is not time at all, but eternity—on the day we were incorporated into the body of Christ by Baptism.
We encounter this same mystery every time we celebrate Eucharist. Jesus offered himself on Calvary once and for all. That sacrifice can never be repeated. But every day, in multiple places throughout the world, that unique sacrifice is made present to us—really present—in the Mass. During Eucharist we are simultaneously in time and in eternity.
This is why Hebrews can say that Jesus, who as Priest offered himself as Victim on the cross, “holds his priesthood permanently, because he continues forever. Consequently he is able for all time to save those who approach God through him, since he always lives [in eternity] to make intercession for them” (Hebrews 7:24).
And that is why the author can say, “By one offering he has made perfect forever those whoare being sanctified.” In God’s time-frame, which is eternity, the whole of redeemed humanity is already “coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband… clothed with fine linen, bright and pure… the righteous deeds of the saints,” to celebrate “the marriage supper of the Lamb.” We are all “without a spot or wrinkle or anything of the kind… holy (agia) and without blemish” (Revelation 19:8; 21:2; Ephesians 5:27). In other words, we are “made perfect forever.”
The Rite of Communion during Eucharist is meant to be an experienced preview of this. There, for a few minutes, all present are made one by the one Bread they have received. All are united to Jesus and to one another in the “peace and unity of the Kingdom.” It is a foretaste of the “blessed hope” that we await, the “manifestation (epiphaneian) of the glory of our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ, the King who was, who is, and who will be. What fills our heart is the assurance of Julian of Norwich: “All shall be well, and all shall be well, and all manner of things shall be well.”
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.
Through the unknown, remembered gate
When the last of earth left to discover
Is that which was the beginning;
At the source of the longest river
The voice of the hidden waterfall
And the children in the apple-tree
Not known, because not looked for
But heard, half heard, in the stillness
Between the two waves of the sea.
Quick now, here, now, always--
A condition of complete simplicity
(Costing not less than everything)
And all shall be well and
All manner of things shall be well
When the tongues of flame are in-folded
Into the crowned knot of fire
And the fire and the rose are one.
Little Gidding V, Four Quartets, T.S. Eliot (1943)
But in our time-frame, in the time and space of this earth, we are still “being made holy” (agia-zomenouv). We are still performing “righteous deeds,” “working out our salvation with fear and trembling” (Philippians 2:12). Paul, who professed so confidently, “It is no longer I who live, but it is Christ who lives in me,” nevertheless acknowledged that at the same time, “I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I do… For I delight in the law of God in my inmost self, but I see in my members another law at war with the law of my mind, making me captive to the law of sin that dwells in my members” (Galatians 2:20; Romans 7:19).
What “the Holy Spirit testifies to us” is true: on the level of the divine life, the “grace of the Lord Jesus Christ,” that we received in Baptism, God has fulfilled his promise: “I will put my laws in their hearts, and I will write them upon their minds… Their sins and their evildoing I will remember no more,” because our sins have ceased to exist. We have been “made perfect,” once and for all in the death and rising of Jesus.
But in time we have a future, and we must make every effort to achieve it. We are still “being sanctified.”
Jesus is the “once and future perfection.”
Do I choose to “be perfect as our heavenly Father is perfect,” confident that in the triumph of “the once and future king,” rex olim, rexque futurus (google it), I already am?
Pray constantly: “Jesus, be the now and future of my life!”
Practice: Live out in the present what you are in eternity.
Discuss: Can you believe that you already are what you are striving to be? Does this encourage you to keep striving?