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He Came to Pass
David K. Weber

The Corpus Clock outside the Taylor Library in Cambridge, England, is a mesmerizing moving sculpture. The clock was a gift from the late physicist Stephen Hawking, who famously authored the book A Brief History of Time. The main feature of the clock is an eerie, metal, Locust-like beast called the Chronophage or time eater, who keeps time by chomping away at the seconds while producing the grinding sound of time being consumed. The clock expresses Hawking’s view that time measures the relentless movement of all that exists toward entropy. Entropy is the essential feature of the second law of thermodynamics, which states that everything moves like heat’s movement from lively warmth to deathly cold. And to cut off any cut-rate metaphysical/religious comfort, Hawking famously declared in 2011 at Google’s Zeitgeist Conference, “Philosophy is dead.” Entropy is not a theory; it’s the law.

Across the street is the King’s College chapel, where on every Christmas Eve the service of Lessons and Carols presents a very different interpretation of time. In that service, time is not savagely consumed. Rather, time moves toward consummation, carried along by readings and music that tell the story of the incarnation, where, from heaven above, God entered into the thick of human history. The truth of God’s incarnational movement is captured in the arresting phrase, “And it came to pass.” I want to juxtapose the phrase, “And it came to pass” with Thomas’s post-Easter doubt in order to contemplate the meaning and significance of Jesus’ post-resurrection greeting, “Peace be with you” (John 20:19).

Thomas doubted the testimony of the others because they reported a foreign—by which I mean freaky—understanding of the meaning of resurrection. Whatever Thomas thought the word resurrection meant, it would have drawn from two dominant understandings, roughly speaking: the Greek and Jewish versions. 

The Greek version was that resurrection, if it was desirable at all, was nevertheless impossible. It was the stuff of myth because there is no conceivable escape from the underworld. When myth conceived of an escape, it was in the story of Orpheus, who, in deep anguish because of the death of his beloved Eurydice, put his sorrow into a song. This music moved Hades, the god of the underworld, and his wife, Persephone, to offer Orpheus the chance to reclaim Eurydice with the one stipulation that Orpheus not look at Eurydice until both had departed the underworld. But Orpheus, moved by passionate impatience, turned back too soon, and Eurydice was lost forever.

The Jewish understanding of resurrection was defined by a long dispute between the Pharisees and Sadducees about the meaning of Elijah and some scattered passages in the Psalms and Ezekiel. Jewish thinkers agreed that IF there was a physical resurrection, it would take place at the end of history. This would most likely have been Thomas’ view, although that view would have been complicated by the raising of Lazarus, the surprise appearance of Moses on the mount of Transfiguration, and Jesus’s promise of Paradise to the thief on the cross. The point is that nothing prepared Thomas for the kind of resurrection reported to him by the others.

Thomas doubted the testimony of the others because they claimed that flesh and blood had suffered a gruesome, disfiguring death and had returned, within time, with a transfigured glorified body. Thomas doubted this notion of resurrection and so needed to test the truthfulness of the testimony. And he made clear that the wounds would tell the truth because bodily wounds, the kind that crucifixion inflicts, unambiguously distinguish delusional wish-fulfillment from a fulfilled promise. If Christ’s wounds were healed, the meaning of death would be altered, and Thomas could believe the prophet Isaiah’s claim that “by his wounds we are healed” (Is. 53:5).

Before submitting to Thomas’s test, Jesus greets Thomas by saying, Peace be with you. The greeting stakes a doxological claim that the peace that was “in the beginning” before time, and “ever shall be” at time’s end, “is now” in the broken middle between beginning and end.
“Peace” is the term that captures the changed meaning of time, that changes our coming and passing. Time is no longer necessarily measured by the Chronophage’s movement to entropy. The alternative time measures our movement toward fulfillment and is existentially experienced as the peace that comes of the presence of the one who is called “The Fullness of Time.” Jesus is our peace because he did not come to stay, nor did he come, see, and conquer. He came as the Lamb of God, who willingly came and passed to take away the sin of the world.

Last Christmas Eve I had the privilege of attending the Lessons and Carols service at the chapel of King’s College in Cambridge. During the service, I found myself contemplating the phrase “And it came to pass” while enjoying the coming and passing of readings and music. After the fourth reading, the choir began to sing John Tavener’s setting of William Blake’s poem, “Little Lamb.” The music triggered an immediate rush of repressed sorrow because, eighteen years earlier, I had put this piece of music on a playback loop to help me through a rough patch in my life. Repeatedly listening to this piece of music sustained my hope that this grief that had come would pass, like the words and music come and pass and come together in an experience of beauty. I wanted to believe with Thomas that by Christ’s wounds we continue to be healed.

On Christmas Eve, in a setting where so much wartime sorrow had been met with these readings, prayers, and music, I was struck by the sadness and joy of Christ’s birth. The Lamb of God had come to pass in order to sustain the wounds that would heal us from the tyranny of the time-eater. The Lamb of God came to pass so that his little lambs might likewise come and pass and rest in his peace.

 

David K. Weber is lecturer in theology at Valparaiso University. This essay is adapted from a sermon he gave at the university's Chapel of the Resurrection on April 8, 2018.

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