The whole point of the New Testament rewrite of Christ's life is to make it speak to this new awareness: that the new age was to be not a quick end but a new holy history. —Robert Taft, SJ
I think one of the most marvelous images of early Christianity is the early Church awaiting Christ's return any second now.
When I was younger, it was simply another example of the stupidity of past ages. Silly ancients, the eschaton can’t come yet, because Benedict, the medievals, Christopher Columbus, and Napoleon haven’t happened yet, you see. There’s so much history in the history books between you and me. And all of it seems to push the historical event of Christ into a watershed of history—a vital crux, of course—but one watershed among a whole village of them.
But now it seems so natural, dynamic, and miraculous—a relic of that first electric force of resurrection pulsing through the air.
Of course if someone you knew and loved rose from the dead and told you: i’m leaving, but I’ll be back, without specifying when exactly of course you’d think: well, he’ll be back soon. He’ll be back within our lifetimes. We can’t imagine someone returning to a world where we are not. That’s just not how human minds instinctively imagine things. Our first instinct is to imagine a reality that we will witness.
What a mysterious but significant footprint of the Resurrection, stamped into the theology of the earliest Christians, pressed into their history.
And what a thrilling liturgy has been born of that crisp, pure longing for what-will-be. The Christian life is not a celebration of the past. The liturgy—the life-blood of the church—is not an endeavor of nostalgia. Christianity began with the advent of something new, a new event entirely, and it continually celebrates the newness. It celebrates the new, unseen, that is here-with-us. The future we long for that is already among us.
The tension of this faith, inherited from the first faithful, is the tension between historical and the eschatological, between the past and the future, between “m memory and hope” as our liturgical theology professor says.
Of course these first followers were imbued in an eschatology that was immediate, sudden, and piercing. They awaited the return of Christ as we await the return of those we love most dearly. They await the person who has been here, who has walked with them, we have seen him, touched with our hands, and he has assured us he will return. There is no reason not to think that he will come back tomorrow, a kingdom without end will be established, and that our wedding will be in Jerusalem next year.