Church tradition gets a bad name for being meaningless, stuffy, and boring and sometimes rightfully so! Occasionally we do something for so long we forget why we started doing it in the first place. Yet it’s worthwhile to give meaning and value to traditions, in this case, the liturgical calendar, or how we tell holy time. When the early church formed its calendar, they were using their theological thinking caps. Time tells us not only about whether we are late or early but also about theology, which is to say, about the justifying God and the sinning man. Therefore we should put on our thinking caps as well, especially as we move from Lenten time into Easter time.
The evangelist Luke is a prime example of thinking theologically about time. Luke sets a precedent right out of the gate. His Gospel, unlike the catechetical style of Matthew, will be a “narrative of the things accomplished among us” and specifically an “orderly” narrative so that the Christian reading the Gospel can have “certainty concerning the things you have been taught” (Luke 1:1-4). In this introduction, Luke claims that he followed the events of Christ closely, interviewed eyewitnesses, and collected sources so that his Gospel could be as accurate as possible. As a result of Luke’s eye for detail, his gospel is the most chronologically concerned and filled with time markers, historical referents, and landmarks. It’s only twenty-four chapters so go read it and see! Time is everywhere! Which is why the last chapter is such a surprise for the astute reader. Luke 24:1 sets us “on the first day of the week, at early dawn,” and everything that follows seems to happen on this same day, Resurrection Sunday. What’s even more strange is that we know from the other Gospels that there is a sizeable gap between Jesus’ resurrection and his teaching/ascension. Jesus is on the earth teaching and preaching to the disciples for many many days, not just one. So what gives? Why does Luke leave us frozen on resurrection time?
Why does Luke leave us frozen on resurrection time?
To answer this, we need to go backward to another passage in the Bible where time theologically stops. For this, we have to go all the way back to the beginning. In six days, God created the heavens and the earth, and on the seventh day, God rested from His work. The seventh day is when we say creation is officially done, but Luther also claims in his Genesis commentary that this is the same day creation is undone. The fruit is eaten, eyes are opened, and Eve and Adam are cast out. This reality has been aptly described as being “East of Eden,” and this is the reality we have been stuck in since the so-called “Fall.” The actions of Adam have left us stuck on fallen time, stuck on the seventh day, and stuck in our sin.
Christ triumphantly brings about a new day, an eighth day, the first day of a new week.
With this theological lens for time, the events of Holy Week can be seen in a new light. Christ’s work during the week He died is no longer simply a chronological work week, but it is also a creational week. Echoing the first creation, it is a time of new creation. Christ dies on the sixth day declaring, “It is finished!” He rests on the seventh just like He did in Genesis, and finally, something new happens. Christ triumphantly brings about a new day, an eighth day, the first day of a new week. On the “first day of the week, at deep dawn,” Christ the new Adam doesn’t repeat the cycle of death, sin, and pain, but breaks it. Christ is resurrected on the eighth day and breathes life into the world. In Christ, all things are made new including the time in which we live. We are no longer stuck on the sinful seventh day but in the life and resurrection of the eighth day!
We now see that Luke isn’t making a mistake, but instead a profound theological point. We live, move, and have our being in resurrection time, and in this new time, certain things happen. As in the eighth day of Luke’s Gospel, God is busy presently working on and in His saints as we live on resurrection time. He walks with them and catechizes them. He teaches His church that it was necessary for the Christ to come, to die, to rise, and that forgiveness of sins be preached (Luke 24:25-27,46-47). Christ also sits with His disciples and eats with them. He breaks bread, and in the breaking of the bread, Christ opens eyes and hearts to receive forgiveness and comfort (Luke 24:30-32). He also stands among His disciples and declares a specific word to them, “Peace be with you.” This is the Gospel word of absolution. To betrayers He brings peace. To doubters He gives certainty. And to those with no hope, He gives the hope of the promise (Luke 24:36-45).