“Look, I am coming soon! My reward is with me, and I will give to everyone according to what they have done. I am the Alpha and the Omega, the First and the Last, the Beginning and the End.” (Revelation 22:12)
In my office I have a few spring-loaded tops shaped like spaceships, with cute little aliens in them. A couple windings of the cockpit on the thruster base loads the top, and one push of the button sends my little friends whirling in a frenzied motion on the desk.
During moments of more contemplative introspection, how often I discover the feeling that perhaps I am the one spinning. The varied and unexpected vicissitudes of life bear an uncomfortably analogous relation. As my little green dervish in its erratic pirouette knocks into my keyboard, or a mug, or, when I am especially introspective, other tops, I cannot help but recognize myself. For no matter how tightly I wind the spring, no matter how smooth the surface, no matter how clear the path, eventually the spinning comes to an end.
The End. In its colloquial sense, all we can see in the ‘end’ is finality, cessation, stasis. Something is over, like the rolling of the credits when the movie ends. As such, I have always been mystified by Jesus’ words that he is “the beginning and the end.” The beginning I can somewhat (albeit imperfectly) grasp- he is the source of all that is, the wellspring of being. But what about the ‘end?’
For Christian theology and philosophy, ‘end’ is not encumbered by the colloquial chains that weigh it down. It is not cessation or finality, but is rather something quite different. It is the direction, the purpose, the goal of something. Ultimately, a thing’s ‘end’ tells you why it is and what it is for. Thus, when Jesus says he is the ‘end,’ he is saying that our purpose is found in him; we are made for him.
In a way, death has become the colloquialism of our ‘end.’ When God created everything, we are told that he saw it and declared that ‘it was good.’ Creation is birthed out of love, love that overflows and goes out from itself, because that is its nature. We were created for union with God. Our sin, however, carries with it quite the sting, as St. Paul tells us that “the sting of death is sin.” Far from the blossoming of love that creates and gives life, our sin has hijacked our existence, my sin has hijacked my existence, leading me to an end God never intended, an end that I cannot escape.
When I think about Lent and Good Friday and Easter in these terms, I am breath-taken. That God would lower himself into this hijacked existence, would unite the purity and infinite-ness of his indescribable nature to the broken and dying nature of us all is nothing short of amazing. We find the God who created everything out of the over-abundance of love re-creating everything again. When God created all things, we are told he spoke creation into existence. John tells us in his Gospel that this same Word, this same Logos took upon himself our flesh and ‘dwelt among us.’
But in Jesus, God died. Does this not then mean that death, in the final analysis, has the last word, triumphing over God’s creative Word? Is humanity’s end, after all, to dissolve into the oblivion of death?
The Resurrection is proof that death is not the ‘end.’ We were not made to fall into the abyss of nothingness, sinking into a chasm of shadows and darkness bereft of the light of being. Jesus’ death defeated death precisely in that in Jesus we find a new direction set forth for humanity, we find the reality that the union of God and man is stronger than death’s ability to dissolve it. As God brought forth creation from the chaos and emptiness of nothing, so in Jesus God is bringing forth a new creation, as St. Paul tells us that “if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has gone, the new has come!”
Fully confident of our true ‘end’, we can have hope amidst the turmoils of this fleeting existence. Jesus, as the scriptures tells us, is the Word, the Logos, the wisdom of God. The earliest Christians took courage in the unshakable hope that there is Reason behind everything that is, that the universe is not flung to and fro by the winds of fate or the caprice of the gods or the meaninglessness of chance, but is created and directed and sustained by God. Death can erode this confidence, introducing chaos, despair, hopelessness. The Resurrection is the vindication of the belief that God is good, that God is love, that God has not abandoned us.
Ultimately, we are not the tops that have been dropped into place, to spin and bang around aimlessly without direction, without purpose. In the Resurrection we have a sure hope in the face of the death of a loved one, the loss of a job, the results of the biopsy coming later in the week. In the Resurrection all of God’s promises all fulfilled. In the Resurrection we find that death is not the ‘end’ we are meant for; rather, we find in Jesus the overwhelming love and grace of God to send us on a new trajectory, until we come by faith in Jesus Christ to share in his heavenly kingdom and the union of love with God.