Moses is only a few feet away from the land that was promised to Abram and Sarai when he dies.
It was a heartbreaking, movie’s ending to a life well-lived. This is the same child who was rescued by Pharaoh’s daughter while floating down the Nile in a woven basket to escape infanticide. God raised him up and spoke to him through a burning bush until he freed his people through the Red Sea and entered the long, wilderness journey. Moses received the covenant from God at Mt Sinai. Here is the man who taught his people, interceded on their behalf, berated them, forgave them, and loved them till the end.
After forty years of wandering in the wilderness we find a strong, 120-year-old man whose knees don’t even wobble as he takes his final hike up a mountain. Scripture says that Moses was full of vigor (use your imagination) as reaches the top of the mountain, with vision so strong that he doesn’t even squint to make out the new home for his people. He has nothing left to do but walk down the mountain. Instead, Moses makes his home in an unmarked grave, left to rot by the people he loved dearly.
The Lord says to him, “I have let you see it with your eyes, but you will not cross over into it.”
And Moses dies on the mountaintop.
Our culture is absolutely terrified of running out of time, but I suspect COVID-19 is teaching us something about stolen time. Most of us tend not to think about time until it’s taken from us; we don’t appreciate the gifts until they’re gone. The kids are now thirty, I’m sixty five, and I’ve only blinked twice. That’s the truism, anyway.
In our case, a whole crop of students had no idea that they were walking out of classrooms for the last time this semester when they left for spring break. Our goodbyes were stolen. Pledge periods abruptly changed. Sports seasons were cancelled before they even started. What about the recitals and performances from the stage? There was nothing left for the seniors to do but to walk across the stage and receive a diploma. I don’t get to fill out a bracket for March Madness so as to lose five dollars in the family pool. And we forget, blinded by our selfishness, that entire lives are being cut short every day.
For a while we fooled ourselves by living as if time was a commodity that we could control. We talked about ‘spending and saving time’ like it was a piece of money. ‘I need to find a way to buy some more time,’ we said, as if it was something we can purchase more of when it runs out. We talked about ‘making time’ as if we could somehow create more. We had sun-dials, calendars, watches (by the way, stop looking at your Apple Watch when you’re talking to me) to get our hands around time, but all they really did was try to measure our location as we revolved around the sun.
It was all a farce.
Time overwhelms us and then, it eludes us.
We have experienced some kind of death on the mountain—some worse than others. A thief in the night snuck up and took our most prized commodity: time—the one thing we can never get back. This one of a series of profound disappointments that life will bring. There is an unfinished quality to life—there will be births unwitnessed, trips not taken, relationships left broken. Life is never fair. And the platitude that we deserved more time and better time was put to death when Moses died on the mountaintop.
Can stolen time be redeemed?
The God of Israel, the God who led Moses up the mountain, is the same God who redeems all of our time and refuses to let it go to waste. The God of temporal infinity makes possible all the time in the world to make our time, our memories, redeemed.
Another Scripture is helpful, here. Paul says that there is a way to redeem time. He writes in his letter to the Ephesians: “Be careful then how you live, not as unwise people but as wise, making the most of the time, because the days are evil” (Eph. 5:15). The days are evil, so make the most of your time. I’m sick of those memes, to be honest. “Make the most of your time” is a fine byword for our culture. It’s the ancient version of YOLO. Isn’t this why ‘social distancing’ is so difficult? It’s a waste of time! Let’s go on vacation. Become insta-famous. Write a novel in the span of this three month hiatus. Can’t we just lament?
But Paul is not saying that we should fill every moment of every day with some kind of instagram-able moment. Unfortunately, the Greek word, exagorazo, means literally to “redeem” or to “buy back” time. Redeeming time is more difficult to get our hands around. How do you buy back wasted opportunities or closed doors and dormitories? How do you redeem Baccalaureate or a spring formal? Once it’s gone, well, it’s gone.
The word Paul uses, exagorazo, was a word used in the market place. It meant something like, “snag every bargain on the sales table.” In other words, rescue the moments that you are given now, the moments that will otherwise be lost. It’s a fitting word because all we’ve got left is the sales table, the leftovers, the moments that no one wanted. These are the moments that are marked down 75% off because they didn’t sell. He’s telling us to go to the sales table and get the WebEx classes, the FaceTime cocktail parties, and the group text message threads and transform them into service of God. Paul believes that even these cheap, plastic, mass-manufactured moments can be made holy. Every moment is pregnant with possibility. In other words, transform what’s left of your time together into something Godly, because nothing is wasted in God’s economy of time.
Can we be creative in our social distancing, this wilderness season, so as how to learn to love God and our neighbor in a new way? Can even the dark moments of our lives be bent into service of God? How will the last six weeks of your semester become holy? Will we live as beautifully as we could? Or did we take even the sales table for granted? Will you waste what’s left?
The days are evil, but our love is stronger. Let us have the obstinate hope that no one will rob us of our love for each other, even though we are physically separated. And so, our time will be redeemed.
As always, we’d do well to pay attention to Jesus. Folks constantly asked Jesus when their time would run out. What did Jesus say? He said,
“I don’t know. And you don’t know. So just repent, ok?”
Live fully and love deeply and know that the time will pass by too quickly. There’s never enough time. Even if we returned to campus for six more weeks, it wouldn’t be long enough. We could try to catch each present moment, but they’d disappear before we could grasp them in our hands. Redeem the time and give your moments to God.
Jesus’ time ran out when he was in his thirties. He went to the top of a mountain, like Moses, and he was put on a cross. There, he showed us exagorazo—that forgiveness is stronger than hatred, Paradise is brighter than hell, love is stronger than death. That’s what it means to redeem the time. At the top of the cross, he saw the promised land and three days later he rose from a tomb and brought it to earth. There will come a time, like Moses and Jesus, when we’ll climb up a mountain and we won’t walk down. But the good news is that we’ve already been shown the promised land—it’s resurrection.
COVID-19 has taught us that time does not belong to us and our futures are uncertain—but it never did and they always were. But we’d also do well to learn this: the future is good, because the future is in God. And God has chosen not to be God without you. You are a part of God’s time—eternally. And because God’s story never ends, yours won’t either.
If this is true, then time has been redeemed because time has been resurrected. And now, we have all the time in the world.
Love all of you,