A new dispensation

March 29, 2010

The promise of Isaiah 65 is that
God is doing a new thing: a new heaven and a new earth. In this new
dispensation things are going to change big time. “The wolf and the lamb
shall feed together, the lion shall eat straw like the ox.” No longer
must one consume another to survive in this new world. The old ways—dog
eat dog, human eat human, male against female, race against race, nation
lifting up sword against nation—no longer apply.

If
there were no God, human beings would have invented religion to keep
from eating each other. We might be the highest-order mammals, but that
still makes us animals. Like survivors of a plane crash, we are all just
a tragic incident away from facing cannibalism as a real option. If
there were no God, we would have to invent one so that we have the
self-control to turn the other cheek, be exploited rather than
retaliate, and willingly die rather than kill.

The
truth is, God is our best hope for human maturity. Every person has
some form of conventional morality – only God can serve as a divine
enforcer who keeps us from exploiting another when we see an
opportunity, killing another when we feel threatened, or eating another
when we are starving. We’re just a circumstance away from becoming
cunning, murderous cannibals.

But
Jesus changed all that on Good Friday. Like Jesus, we must embrace the
cross fully even as we anticipate the resurrection. But we need to
distinguish between a longing for Jesus who makes all things new, and a
fetish for novelty that mars our present society. We need to distinguish
between anticipation and impatience. To anticipate is to believe that
God will act decisively in God’s good time and judgment. To be impatient
is to wrest the mantle of authority from God and to judge God as slow,
uncaring, or even evil.

Once we
give in to impatience, we have opened the door to violence as a means to
an end, however good that end might be. Jesus will not wage war to
bring peace. He will not adopt violence to end violence. In Christ the
wolf and the lamb, the lion and the ox break bread together and commune.
In Christ, “we will all be changed, in a moment, in the twinkling of an
eye, at the last trumpet.” Our very impulse to impatience, vengeance
and violence will be changed not by a violent inauguration of the last
dispensation, but by the eschatological pull of God’s kingdom on all
creation, old and new.

Violence
itself was crucified in Jesus. When we follow Jesus unto death, on the
third day we are raised in power to embody this new dispensation by
renouncing the violent ways of the world and living into the call to be a
new creation. In the risen Christ, we, the risen people of God, are the
peace and justice that the world has been waiting for.

He is a candidate for
moderator of the 2010 General Assembly of the PCUSA.

More Easter Sunday lectionary notes:

On Easter generally: