This blog is about how time travel is possible. Now I’m no Stephen Hawking but I’m pretty sure I’ve cracked it. And I’m going to tell you how…
The first Bible reading of Lent is Mark 1:9-15, let’s start out by reading that.
In those days Jesus came from Nazareth of Galilee and was baptized by John in the Jordan. And just as he was coming up out of the water, he saw the heavens torn apart and the Spirit descending like a dove on him. And a voice came from heaven, “You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.” And the Spirit immediately drove him out into the wilderness. He was in the wilderness forty days, tempted by Satan; and he was with the wild beasts; and the angels waited on him. Now after John was arrested, Jesus came to Galilee, proclaiming the good news of God, and saying, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near; repent, and believe in the good news.”
It’s the beginning of Lent so naturally our Bible reading is Jesus in the wilderness. We get a lot less detail in Mark’s description of Jesus’ time in the wilderness than either Matthew’s or Luke’s. The other gospels give us tons of details about the temptations Jesus faces but with Mark Jesus seems to be out of the wilderness in a flash. This is typical of Mark who seems to fly through the story of Jesus life and whose Gospel is the shortest of the four. This isn’t an accident though, it’s a choice the Gospel writer made about the way he portrays Jesus’ story. Mark uses the word ‘immediately’ forty times throughout his Gospel. This is a Gospel where time, the order of things, the speed at which things happen matters. And when it comes to this particular reading we realise that the concept of time is even more important than it is usually for Mark. Jesus comes out of the wilderness and says ‘the time is fulfilled!’ The time is now.
This is the very beginning of Jesus ministry, he has been baptised, he is loved by God unconditionally, he has been tested in the wilderness and is now about to embark on his ministry. The trouble is with the way Mark tells these events, and his obsession with time, is that it can seem very linear. Step 1: baptism, step 2: testing, step 3: ministry. Like the gospel writer Mark, we too live time-obsessed lives. Our whole existence is controlled by alarm clocks, diaries, schedules, calendars… we live in a world controlled by ticking clocks…
In Alice in Wonderland the White Rabbit asks the King “Where shall I begin, please your Majesty?” he asked. “Begin at the beginning,” the King said gravely, “and go on till you come to the end: then stop.” That is the way we understand time. We start at the start and finish at the finish.
And so our natural temptation as time-obsessed people with this reading is to read it in one straight line as Mark tells it… baptism, testing, ministry as the order of things. But when we look closely we see that this isn’t quite right.
Although this is the story of the beginning of Jesus ministry, we see echoes of Jesus ending, too. Mark slips in that Jesus came out of the wilderness to Galilee ‘after John was arrested’ and this reminder of John and his arrest and death here casts a prophetic shadow over Jesus as he begins his ministry. When Mark describes Jesus arrest fourteen chapters later he uses the same word as he does in this sentence describing John’s arrest. This isn’t a coincidence, but a connection which links the death of Jesus to this moment.
In this story of Jesus’ baptism Mark uses a word to describe the heavens being ripped open. This word in Greek is only used one other time in the whole New Testament, at the moment Jesus dies on the cross and the veil in the temple is ripped in two. Again, this is a purposeful connection between Jesus baptism and death, his beginning and ending, his start and finish.
So our understanding of time as linear doesn’t really work. Suddenly there are endings in the middle of beginnings and beginnings in the middle of endings. As a famous poet wrote ‘in my beginning is my end… in my end is my beginning.’
But of course when it comes to Jesus his arrest and crucifixion are not his ending at all. In Lent we remember Jesus journey to Jerusalem to his death on the cross. But as we know, the ending of the story on Good Friday turns out not to be the ending at all. We are Easter People. And so the ending is actually the beginning of everything…
If you’re feeling confused it’s because God’s sense of time is different to ours. In the book of Ecclesiastes in chapter 3 it says: He has set eternity in the human heart; yet no one can fathom what God has done from beginning to end. We cannot fathom the way God works in time.
We humans are obsessed with timelines and timescales and our brains work in a very linear way. Our understanding of time is very chronological. But God surely doesn’t work in time in the same way that we do.
Peter writes in 2 Peter 3:8-9:
But do not forget this one thing: with the Lord a day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years are like a day. The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. Instead he is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance.
I think we quite often forget this one thing Peter tells us to remember! He doesn’t just say ‘a thousand years are like a day’ he also says ‘a day is like a thousand years’ which obviously doesn’t make any logical sense… how can it be both? But maybe God’s sense of time doesn’t make any logical sense, or at least in the way we have come to understand the world. God’s world is not logical anyway: we find life by going through death. This is Peter’s way of saying: we do not understand the way God’s time works, we cannot understand it.
God is so much bigger than our small understanding of the way time works… God’s sense of time is more about ‘all-time’, or ‘one-time’. God loves us and knows us before we were born. God is there loving us, loving our children and our children’s children and their children, loving our parents, grandparents, and our ancestors… loving us all at once in one moment, one time, God’s time, all-time.
But going back to that Ecclesiastes reading, it says God has set eternity in the human heart… and so although we find it hard to get our heads around it, our hearts do actually hold the secrets of eternity and of God’s time.
When we realise we are in God’s time, rather than in our own understanding of time, then everything changes. We realise that we are connected to everyone who has come before us and everyone yet to come… we are all part of God’s story, we are all a part of God’s eternity. And so the decisions we make and the way we live our lives are all connected, too.
As you might know, this year at All Saints we are thinking about our future as a church and what we should do about our church building. This feels like a big decision, and there feels like there’s a lot of responsibility to make the right decision. It feels like the time is now. But we must remember that we are in Christ’s time. When we make the final decision about this building, we must throw out of own limited understanding and we must think with the mind of Christ.
How do we think with the mind of Christ? Well, we time travel; we drop out of our own linear time and enter into God’s topsy-turvy time. And here’s the eureka moment, the good news… We don’t need a tardis, a time-turner or a delorian to time travel… all we need to do is turn to God in prayer.
In the reading from Mark, Jesus gives us some clear instructions: ‘repent and believe’. The word repent has loads of negative connotations but all it simply means is turning to God, which we do through prayer.
When we turn to God in prayer we align ourselves with him and his will, we allow his Kingdom to blossom within us and around us, our perspectives change, we see with the eyes and think with the mind of Christ. In a way, our prayer is a moment outside of our own limited understandings of the world and of time.
So this is why prayer is so important. When Jesus went into the wilderness he had a chance to pray, to turn to God, to prepare. In Lent we remember Jesus in the wilderness and Lent gives us a chance to pray, to turn to God, to prepare ourselves once again for his death and resurrection. Like Jesus in the wilderness, like Lent, our 24 hours of prayer at the beginning of Lent have been a chance for us as a church to get close to God. Prayer, like Lent, is about preparing, about refocusing, about listening, about realigning ourselves with God. About escaping our own limited understandings of time and entering God’s world.
So the next time we pray let’s remember: the time IS now! This IS God’s time… Enter into prayer and into God’s time with an open heart and maybe, just maybe, you’ll glimpse eternity.