In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. The same was in the beginning with God. All things were made by him; and without him was not anything made that was made. In him was life; and the life was the light of men…
In classical theology the passage is understood to be speaking of the “pre-existence” of Christ. God the Son, the Word of God, exists from all eternity with the Father. Everything is made through Him. It is an utterly essential understanding of the Christian faith. For many, this “pre-existence” means little more than that Christ is “Divine.” He is God as the Father is God. However, for these same Christians, Christ remains hidden from view until His birth. He is absent from the stage of history until the first Christmas day. In this understanding, the God encountered in the pages of the Old Testament is God the Father. The Old Testament is seen as the history of the Father’s dealings with the world and with His chosen people Israel. The Son remains hidden – though occasionally hinted at in the prophesies of a messiah who is to come.
This “historical” approach to God is the view that I learned as a child. It was the culturally assumed world-view of my Protestant childhood and remains the dominant view of Evangelicals today. The Old Testament is holy history, the revelation of the Father’s actions in creating the people of Israel from whom He would bring the Messiah.
This view is not untrue, but neither is it true. It misses the point and certainly fails to understand the meaning of St. John’s prologue. The Word, who exists from all eternity “in the bosom of the Father,” also exists within the words of the Old Testament – and not simply as a referenced future. He Who Is to Come, is already He Who Is.
One of the great problems with the modern historical model (and thus a potential problem in the historicist reading of Scripture) is that in modern theory, history is opaque to itself. The time of the past and the time of the future are somehow exclusive of one another. Even the mention of things that “will be,” brings a hint of things that “must be,” and are thus felt to be a limit on the freedom of the world. The meaning of the Old Testament, therefore, can easily be reduced to the “lessons of history.” We conclude that God is like this because He did that.
But the pre-existence of the Word makes history transparent, or at least iconic. It is no longer the record of things that have been done, but also the arena of Him Who Is. Christ, the Logos, is the logos of history as well. As such, history itself tends towards Christ. He is the fulfillment of every legitimate hope.
It is this presence of the Word in the word that underlies the New Testament’s reading of the Old. Christ is the Old Testament Lamb of Passover. And here details become important. The New Testament will not say, “Christ is like the Passover Lamb.” He is Christ our Passover.
The New Testament uses words such as shadow and type to describe this indwelling of Christ in history. The sacrifice of the Passover Lamb is both the sacrifice of Christ and not yet the sacrifice of Christ. It participates in the one sacrifice of Golgotha.
This distinction (between being like something and actually participating in something) may seem minor at first. But it has to do with our own time and history as well. Like all of creation, time is sacramental. The opening chapter of Genesis is replete with this reality. God not only creates all that is – He does so in days – and the numbering of the days is significant. The patterning of time in the beginning of creation (seven days) shapes the life of Israel and the Church. That Adam sleeps on the Sabbath (the 7th day) and that Christ sleeps in death on the Sabbath (Saturday) is seen as deeply significant in the writings of the fathers and in the patterning of the Church’s prayers. The time of creation was patterned on Pascha from the very beginning. It is the logicity and iconicity of time.
The liturgy of the Church also understands that the End of time is not the end of a linear stretch. The End of time is the fullness and fulfillment of time. It is Christ Who is the Beginning and the End. Where Christ is, there also is the End. It is for this reason that the liturgy of the Church is filled with treatments of time that do not fit within a linear, historical view. In the liturgy of St. John Chrysostom, the priest gives thanks for “all those things which have come to pass for us….the glorious Second Coming.” How do we give thanks for what has not come to pass saying that it has come to pass? The liturgy does not stand outside of time but stands at the End of time as well as in its historical moment. Thus the Eucharist is the Passover, the Manna in the Wilderness, the Feeding of the 5,000, the Sacrifice on Calvary, the Entering into Hades, the Resurrection of Christ, the Mystical Supper of the Bridegroom, the Meal at the End of the Age, the Second Coming.
For all things are yours: whether Paul or Apollos or Cephas, or the world or life or death, or things present or things to come – all are yours. And you are Christ’s, and Christ is God’s (1 Cor. 3:21-23).
Note that St. Paul writes in the present tense: things to come are yours.
Time is a sacrament. History is filled with Christ who has shaped all things according to His Pascha. The book of Jubilees, echoing Exodus 12, describes Passover as an eternal feast.
For it is an eternal ordinance, and engraven on the heavenly tablets regarding all the children of Israel that they should observe it every year on its day once a year, throughout all their generations; and there is no limit of days, for this is ordained for ever (Jub. 49:8-9).
The wonderful mystery of time, like all of creation, holds the image of Christ within it. In a culture mired in the rush of life – one where we seek to manage time (like everything else) – it is good to stop and participate in the reality which it bears.
All time is present.