So this weekend, some buddies and I had a guys night. It was wild. And by wild I of course mean that we went and watched the new A-Team movie, adding it to the growing list of movies I’ve seen that is an 80’s throwback. And about halfway through the movie I started thinking about this. What about our culture makes us so receptive to this?
Have you noticed how much nostalgia is in these days? (I miss the days when it wasn’t.) From the Ford Mustang to Starsky & Hutch or Miami Vice, we have focused a lot of our energy on the past.
In John 20, after the resurrection, Jesus runs into Mary. The same Mary who he’d spent so much time with before. And then Jesus tells Mary this:
“Do not hold on to me, for I have not yet returned to the Father. Go instead to my brothers and tell them, ‘I am returning to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.’ “
I’ve always wondered what in the world this could mean. It seems pretty strange if you think about it. Here is one of Jesus’ closest friends, one of the few who didn’t leave him when things had gotten dark. She’s stuck with him through it all. So why does Jesus pull away?
I heard a preacher say once that Jesus is trying to make a point here. Mary is trying to immediately enter back into the same old relationship. She’s wanting thing to be like they were, but they couldn’t be. Something new and unexpected was happening, and nothing would ever be the same.
Now I know it’s a bit of a stretch to go from Miami Vice to the Resurrection, but I do think that something is going on in our culture that Easter can speak a fresh word into. For some reason we are looking backward a lot. And there is something about hindsight that makes it pretty rose-colored. We can forget that things weren’t always that good back then. But the real danger is when the church does it.
N.T. Wright once said, “Far too much traditional church has consisted of too much tradition and not enough church.” And here’s what I think he means by that. Tradition is not inherently a bad thing. Anytime a church forgets the roots of the historic Christian faith, of the men and women whose shoulders they stand on, it can become very toxic. There is a danger of idolizing, or even over-privaledging, novelty. But the flip side to that, the side that has to be addressed, is that God didn’t raise us up for that time, He raised us up for this one.
It’s easy for churches to fall into thinking about the glory days. The days when God was working through them in a mighty way. And that’s understandable. It’s good to be a part of a community that has a past, that God has used to do things in the world. But when we begin to just look backward we lose sight of what God is doing right now.
Obviously, this isn’t new to churches in the 21st century. It’s not even new to Christianity. Well before Jesus’ feet hit the ground, the people of God could get into ruts. The Israelites could celebrate God’s emancipation for their great-grandfather while owning a slave themselves. The first Christians prayed for Peter to get out of jail on Passover (which celebrated the Exodus, the greatest jail break of all time) and then not believe when God actually answered their prayer.
Toward the end of Isaiah, God begins to makes some pretty outrageous promises to his people. He promises them that one day the exile will be over, that things will be better, but more than just their national exile will be over. The current state of affairs will change. It’s some of the greatest promises in the Bible, swords will be traded in for plowshares, predators and prey will be at peace, thorns and thistles will be turned into Cypresses and Pines. But here’s how God puts it:
“Behold, I will create
new heavens and a new earth.
The former things will not be remembered,
nor will they come to mind.
Now this is not our cheap idea of novelty. It’s God’s way of saying the systems, the cultures that we have constructed will not stand forever. Some things will last. Some things will not. But all things will be made new.
I preached yesterday out of Hebrews 11, and in preparing that sermon I noticed something that I hadn’t noticed before. The author of Hebrews is telling us that these heroes of the faith, Moses and Noah and Abraham, the Flannelgraph charaters that we grew up with, are waiting on us to be made perfect. They are waiting on us.
They had their time, their moment, in God’s redemptive history. And now they are watching, cheering us on for ours. And while it would be dangerous to minimize their stories, we must remember we carry the baton now. God is doing some new, in you, now.
But I still want to see The Karate Kid.