This is an entry in the “Acrostic Contemplations.”
In-between is the adjective that describes the state in which we we always live. We exist between events, duties, relationships, careers. The Bible is full of examples of individuals and communities on the move from one place to another, living as nomads, or sent into exile, between their past experience with God and looking forward to God’s promised deliverance and redemption. We enter into Lent this week, a time of preparation for Easter and a remembrance of the forty days when Jesus “was led by the Spirit in the wilderness.” As Christians, we are no longer of this world, but we are not yet in the world to come so we walk on living in that tension and living in-between.
These intermediate (and sometimes seemingly interminable) periods of our lives, between relationships and jobs, can evoke biblical remembrances of the exodus and exile. While most of us do not literally wander in the wilderness (and neither did the Israelites for that matter, they spent most of their time at Kadesh Barnea), we do often find ourselves uncertain of when or how we are going to get to our next destination, a location that is often unknown. What we often forget about these biblical examples is that God intended them not as a celestial “time-out” with the nation sitting in a corner, but rather to be opportunities for growth and life.
Jeremiah sends his letter to those already in exile in Babylon with the following surprising charge from God. “Thus says the LORD of hosts, the God of Israel, to all the exiles whom I have sent into exile from Jerusalem to Babylon: Build houses and live in them; plant gardens and eat what they produce. Take wives and have sons and daughters; take wives for your sons, and give your daughters in marriage, that they may bear sons and daughters; multiply there, and do not decrease. But seek the welfare of the city where I have sent you into exile, and pray to the LORD on its behalf, for in its welfare you will find your welfare.” (Jer. 29:4-7)
The people receiving this letter are leaders of Judah who are captives of the enemy, living as exiles in the midst of the enemies cities. In a World War 2 movie the commanding officer in the prison camp would be saying, “It is our duty to try and escape!” Yet the message from God is, quite literally, settle down. Establish your home, your family, your careers, right where you are. Oh, and most importantly, pray for the city of the enemy where you live because God has placed you there, pray for its peace. Our “time of exile” is also to be a time of growth and life.
I used to reflect in Easter sermons that we live much as the disciples in the period after the crucifixion but before the resurrection. But that is not quite true. The disciples, whatever hints they had, did not know that Jesus would rise from the dead. They lived in a period of complete loss, their friend, leader, and messiah had been brutally killed and laid in a tomb. It was over. We know, however, that the Crucifixion is the necessary precursor to the Resurrection, Easter Sunday follows Good Friday. We do not live in that space of in-between. We do live between the “already and the not yet,” as Christ’s sacrifice has been made, we are redeemed, yet we will not experience the full completion of that work until our resurrection and the establishment of God’s kingdom on Earth.
We live our lives in between. It is natural that we strain and pull, dissatisfied with the now and eager to get to what is next. (Or perhaps, we live in anxiety, so pleased and grateful for what we have now, but anxious about what might come tomorrow.) This time between should not be seen not a period of aimless wandering or bitter reflection. Instead, God wants us to flourish even now, even here, even as the details of tomorrow may remain uncertain. We can do so because while we don’t know what tomorrow may bring, we know that our ultimate destination is with and in Christ. We live not just in-between, we live today. And “so long as it is called “‘today'” (Ps. 95, Heb. 3), hold fast to the promise and knowledge that both the Crucifixion and the Resurrection have already occurred and enter into the rest that God has promised.