Past Filling Present (I Corinthians 15:1-2)

by | May 24, 2017 | Formation, Reflections


Past Filling Present (I Corinthians 15:1-2)

At this jubilee time we come to celebrate so many years of Vincentian service and gospel witness, years that number up into the hundreds. And as with any anniversary it’s a time to look back to all that’s happened, but also to pay attention to what is happening in the here and now. Jubilee weaves together past and present.

That notion (past and present mixing together) suggests something similar that St. Paul sets out in his letter to the Corinthians. The Gospel those believers heard at a particular time in the past is still coming to (and at) them in the present. They might think of that born-again event as something that occurred years ago. But the fuller truth is that this same Gospel (the good news of God’s love) was happening to them right then and there.

Paraphrasing Paul: “You are standing in the power of this revelation in this very minute. You’re being saved by it as we speak. True, it came to you at some particular date in the past. But that all-freeing experience back then is occurring now, brand new, in the present. So not only were you saved by it, but you are being saved by it.” As someone else once quipped, “this Gospel is a happening thing.”

And so in both the joy of this jubilee and the power of the gospel, we encounter this same interaction of past with present.

To this glory-filled affirmation of Paul (I’m reminding you of the Gospel in which you are now being saved), we put this question. Why does he bring the past into his consideration of what’s going on in the present?  What does reminding the Corinthians of what already happened (they had the gospel preached to them) add to the appreciation of what is going on with them right now (they are now standing in the gospel)?

One answer is this. Recalling what happened in past times can bring so much richness, texture and substance to what is happening in this present time.

And so for instance Jewish people at their Passover celebration this very year.  “It’s true,” they might say in faith, “that Yahweh is with us here at this Seder meal in 2017. But how much more drama and tone is poured into this belief when to our awareness we bring back the glorious happenings on that shore line of the Red Sea. That liberating event of so long ago, brought forward into the present moment, injects so much more color and backdrop into this freedom-celebration we’re sharing in right now. Reminding ourselves of the great graces we received then fills out our appreciation for the favors God is giving us here and now all those centuries later. The memory of what happened at that time shapes the way we take in things right now, and gives so much more solidity and texture to our hopes for the future.”

So it is with Paul. The reason he’s reminding them of the day when the gospel came to them is not just for reminiscence sake, but also to inject some of the energy of those past events into their experience of being saved by that gospel right now. Remembering the past, he knows, can warm up the present. More than spinning memories, it can heighten and stimulate the vitality of what’s going on now.

And so back to this celebration of jubilee. Can’t those memories of years past do more than just bring on waves of nostalgia? Can’t they also, like a river, flow into this celebration now and bring it added energy? Can’t these recollections run down into all the days of this anniversary year and give them that extra heft and life?

So a quick exercise. I’d ask you to close your eyes for a minute and just let float up some of your decades-long memories of life in your special branch of the Vincentian Family. It could be anything – people, events, the days of your first fervor, going to or leaving an assignment, someone you helped or who helped you, even a dark night or two.

Now let that memory seep into this setting here, even into this chair in which you’re sitting.  Inject it into what’s going on here right now, and allow that past event to knead itself into the feel of this present moment.

Over time, might this exercise do things like:

– pour some of that color of those past events into what might feel by comparison like a less colorful present time.

– trigger that sense that we’re standing in a more solid present.

– even heighten our awareness that in fact we are being saved right here and right now.

Remembering the past in such a way that allows that past to spill into the present, letting the content and meaning of what went before shape how it is that we look to what’s going on now. Doesn’t that progression strike a very familiar chord?

For isn’t that just what we do at every Eucharist? We let a past event, the death and Resurrection of our Lord, come into this present moment and fill it up. We re-enact, re-present this meal that was saving then, and so have it flow in this hour of this very day to save us now in the present.  It’s “Doing this in memory of Him,” and so being taken into God’s love right here and right now.

St. Paul to the Corinthians, Jubilee anniversary, Eucharist – all three realities focusing on how the graces of past moments flood into, shape, and unleash the grace of this moment.

I recently heard a twist on a familiar phrase that catches the idea — “Now, hear, this,” with the spelling of ‘hear’ transposed into ‘here’(“Now, Here, This!”). God’s love, being poured out upon us, in the Now, and in the Here, and in the This.”