I stumbled upon “Shrek: the Musical” on Netflix this winter. And so I spent far too much of December singing show tunes. (“Mom, please no singing at the table.”) The song that got most fully lodged in my head was “I Know It’s Today”, from the flashback to Fiona’s tower-bound childhood—rewritten (of course!) in my head to suit the themes of Advent. “And I know he’ll appear, ’cause there are rules and there are scriptures. I believe the Holy Books I read by candlelight.”
That part of the show—the previously untold agony of Fiona’s long wait—was hard to watch. I cannot fathom waking up every morning for 20 years still holding on to the hope that this was the day everything would change.
What does life start to look like if it isn’t as much living as it is… waiting?
(Cue another musical number:
“And so I’ll read a book or maybe two or three,
I’ll add a few new paintings to my gallery;
I’ll play guitar and knit, and cook and basically
Just wonder when will my life begin?”)
The thing I loved most about Disney’s “Tangled” was how Rapunzel didn’t wait. Her story didn’t happen to her. She took her frying pan and went out looking for answers. All the adventure and true love stems from her own decision to leave her tower.
We are part of a “take our frying pan and go out looking for answers” Church. Waiting made sense for a while. And then it didn’t. We took our story into our own hands. We got used to the idea that there were going to have to be some long-term plans made.
Christ has died. Christ is risen. Christ will come again. But probably not today.
So Paul’s words, written to a still-waiting Church, fall strangely on our ears as we seek adventure far from the tower. We marry, and mourn, and rejoice, and buy, and deal with the world. And we raise our children to know that Christ has died. Christ is risen. Christ will come again. (But probably not today.)
But this is not a fairy tale, and Paul is not a wicked witch or dragon, keeping us waiting against our will. The words that he writes to his own Church are part of the Holy Book for our own time. He still has things to say to us.
It strikes me that some of the things Paul tells us to live “as if we are not” echo the excuses given to the Host in Jesus’ parable of the Great Feast. I cannot come—I have married. I cannot come—I have bought land, or oxen. There is much to be said in favour of marrying, buying, and selling. But all of these actions involve obligation. And there is a danger of putting off the Kingdom; putting off the things of the Spirit; putting off the feast to which we are invited, while we attend to these other pressing obligations.
Can we, who do not live in most ways as if the appointed time is growing short, hear in chapter 7 an invitation to the same kind of freedom that Paul was writing about last week in chapter 6? Be married as one who joins your body with another’s temple for the Holy Spirit. Grieve as one who is a member of Christ. Rejoice as one for whom not all things are beneficial. Buy and sell as one who will not be dominated by anything. We who have been bought with a price, how do we glorify God in all of our dealings with the world?
If we are members of Christ, then all these other obligations fade in the light of the one obligation: to live a life that is worthy of our calling. Here at the end of chapter 7, Paul is still building on what he wrote in chapter 6, and working towards what is coming up in Chapter 13. Freedom is our gift, and love is our obligation.
What would my marriage look like if I were bound not by the obligation to keep 16 year-old promises, but by a daily commitment to love? (And isn’t that every wedding sermon you ever preached?) How would my buying and selling change, if I was truly committed to the notion that the bodies of overseas factory workers are indeed temples of the Holy Spirit? How is my grieving and my rejoicing transformed when I can bring both, in vulnerability, to share with a community that strives to bear all things, believe all things, hope all things, endure all things?
These are valid questions, I think, for those of us who live as though the appointed time is not really growing short. It’s a big, bright beautiful world, and marriage, grieving, rejoicing, buying, selling; this is the stuff of life. And it matters how we go about it. Because Christ has died. Christ is risen. Christ will come again.