Some transitions take time
I almost lost my breath as I was hit by a solid wall of cold air as I started to trudge down the steps, one hand near-frozen as I held onto the rail while I grabbed my cabin luggage in the other. Sadly there was no airbridge provided as we disembarked at Manchester airport on Tuesday So we were forced to cross the tarmac a hundred metres or so to the Arrivals door in the icy blast. I was traumatised. Only a few hours earlier we had been driving in the bright sunshine to Tenerife South Airport, temperature a pleasant 23 degrees or so. The contrast was startling. Even so we were fortunate – we were one of the last flights to land before the airport was closed by snow. But this is one of the effects of jet travel –sudden transition, in this case from one climate zone to another. An extreme example from the early days of international jet travel was the trauma experienced by US soldiers suddenly arriving home from the conflict in Vietnam. One moment hunkered down in a war zone, next moment strolling through a Mid-West shopping mall. Of course, they long to go home – it’s where they belong, where they will be safe, feel secure. However, this sudden return was often too great a transition for the combatants’ mental health. Nowadays there is a staged return to everyday life.
Nevertheless as baseball player Willie Stargell astutely observes, “Life is one big transition.” However, most of us don’t do sudden transitions very well either as individuals or a society. We usually prefer change to be gradual, a step at a time, even when we are going in the right direction. So hold on tight for Friday, 29 March and it doesn’t help not knowing what is going to happen as we exit the EU – assuming we do. It could well come as a sudden shock for many people but not, of course, a surprise. However, at the heart of our Christian faith is a sudden, abrupt transition. As we read in the New Testament: “ (Jesus’) death marked the transition from the old plan to the new one, cancelling the old obligations and accompanying sins, and summoning the heirs to receive the eternal inheritance that was promised them.” (Hebrews 9:16, Message translation) And the purpose of this transition? “He brought together God and his people in this new way.” (Hebrews 9:17) ike Brexit, the cross of Jesus was flagged up well in advance; in fact, the entire Old Testament prepares us for this pivotal event. But when it came it was sudden and abrupt. You cannot overestimate its effect as God’s new creation takes effect. And to say the obvious, this is wonderful news to a dispirited and disordered world. What our hearts long for – an opportunity to escape the war zone and go home to our Father’s house. However, the New Testament relates how those early disciples found it hard to adapt to this totally new situation, both as individuals and a church. I’ve just finished Tom Wright’s excellent biography of the apostle Paul. In fact, it is not so a biography but an account of Paul’s theology in chronological order. It’s worth reading. In the first part of the book entitled Beginnings, Wright relates how the young Saul of Tarsus encounters the risen Christ on the Damascus road, a textbook example of a sudden and complete conversion, a truly radical change. This stunned scholar goes right away to the synagogue in Damascus to announce that Jesus of Nazareth is the Son of God. There he baffles baffled the Jews living there by proving that the crucified Jesus is the long-awaited Messiah before escaping from a death threat through a basket lowered from the city wall. But what happens next Wright calls Paul’s “hidden years.” Paul tells us in his letter to the Galatians that he leaves Damascus for Arabia. Wright argues that this means that like the prophet Elijah centuries before, the apostle goes to Mount Sinai. The reason is to make sense of what has just happened to him. Then after a brief visit to Jerusalem, Paul heads home to Tarsus -where he stays below our radar for ten years. There he reorientates his whole world view. Such a process takes time. But that’s the Christian life – we spent a whole lifetime making sense of, again in the words of Paul, being grabbed by the love of Christ. It can be unsettling, even painful, as our basic assumptions are challenged and changed. And it never stops, Some of us are in the slow learners group – like many in the early church - as we allow the Holy Spirit to change our whole way of thinking, a totally new operating system for our minds. But the apostle is in no doubt what our responsibility is. “So if anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation: everything old has passed away; see, everything has become new!” (2 Corinthians 5:17). As always it’s catching up with what God has done both in history and in our lives, a huge transition by any standards.