Canon Jim Irvinethe penultimate WORD
January 2001
Heaven and earth will pass away;

my words will never pass away.


The Irvine Tartan  My monthly column in The New Brunswick Anglican


Some times I enjoy being surprised.  But most times I don’t.  The trouble is, surprises inevitably change the way things are.  And that’s what bothers me about surprises.  I think that it bothers all of us.

It wouldn’t be so bad if surprises didn’t have such an adverse affect. 

But surprises take us beyond our expectations; or else they fall short, and we are disappointed.  Surprises are beyond us, beyond our control and for that they frighten us.

At least they frighten me.

You, on the other hand, may be thinking of some surprises that didn’t frighten you.  Surprises you knew about.  But then they weren’t surprises.

An epiphany is a lot like that.  Oh, I don’t mind the discovery of the baby Jesus by the Iraqi magi.  That was their surprise, their epiphany.  And I don’t mind the discovery of the Messiah by Jew and Gentile alike.  That, after all, that was their epiphany.

What I mind are the surprises that touch me!

I had such an epiphany not long ago.  I discovered it …  Now, isn’t that just like us with such surprises?  We do the discovering!  I know that I find solace in asserting that I do the discovering.  Truth be said, God in Christ discloses and all I can do is respond to his gracious gesture of revelation.  I may call the response, “discovery”, but I know better!

I was reading Luke’s account (but I could just as easily have “discovered” this in Matthew or Mark as well). 

Jesus said, “Heaven and earth will pass away; my words will never pass away.”

Earth will pass away.  I knew that.  But I wasn’t prepared for Jesus’ words.  Heaven and earth will pass away.  Heaven and earth!  I had read the words before… but I hadn’t heard them. 

It’s fairly straightforward.  What we accumulate on earth will pass away.  That may be upsetting, but who’s to argue?  We have seen it and we know it to be true.  No surprises there.

But Jesus said, “Heaven and earth will pass away.”

Heaven isn’t going to last?  Heaven is going to pass away?  You mean, the whole point of this isn’t “heaven”?

I re-read the verse.  Yeah, I read it correctly.  “Heaven and earth will pass away.”

But Jesus continued… “But my words will never pass away.”

So, it’s the “words” that are important.

Earth isn’t important.  Heaven isn’t even important.

It’s Jesus’ words that are important. 

How come?  That’s what jarred me.  Frightened me, really.

“Earth”, as limited as it is in mortality, is solid enough.  It’s real.  Passing, but real.  As for “heaven”, I’m not the only one who has understood “heaven” in spatial terms.

It’s Jesus’ words that are elusive.  They are abstract.  They evade me.  I avoid them.

But then I allowed Jesus’ “words”.  He knew what he was talking about all right!  Heaven has passed away, and many times over for me.  A gate made of pearls certainly has passed away, and so has the “old-man-in-a-white-beard” image of my youth.  More of “heaven” has passed away that I had realized.  And as for “earth”, I discovered that it has already begun to pass away with every personal loss and diminishment.  I’ve already begun not taking it with me, as it were!

As for Jesus “words”, well they place themselves in sharp contrast to the loss of things celestial and things earthly: Jesus’ words give life!  An epiphany!

Been surprised lately?

Copyright © 2001 James T. Irvine

Series 2001

Festivals of Light

penultimate WORD - Festivals of Light Series | Epiphany