All Souls, Berkeley
Palm/Passion Sunday Year B
Mark 14:32 – 15:47
Time can be funny, shifting gears in seemingly random ways. Life, in its unfolding, has a way of slowing down and speeding up, and there is little to nothing we can do to change it.
Except that we have the ability to make meaning from the variability we experience, and in doing so we can begin to divine God’s presence in our lives and the world around us.
This gets to the heart of the historical and theological understanding of two different strands of time – chronos and kairos.
Chronos is the daily flow of time. It is always moving forward, and though it may seem to speed up or slow down when we are looking back, or as we anticipate or dread what is coming, it is quite simply the ongoing steady current of time that frames our lives.
It gives meaning in how we mark it – birthdays, anniversaries, holidays and holy days. It can be heard in the tick of the second hand on a watch or the whooshing swing of a pendulum on a clock. It can be seen in the seamless transition from one number to another on the digital clocks on our phones and in the turning of one day into another, one season into the next, year after year.
Chronos is the water we swim in and the air we breathe, and as I preached a few weeks ago, it is easy to become enslaved to it – letting it not just mark our time, but to delineate it in such as way as to control us. It is therefore something we must always be mindful of.
Kairos can be understood as God’s time. In theological terms it is ‘the appointed time in the purpose of God – or, when time is fulfilled.’ Kairos is different because when we enter it, time doesn’t just seem to change speed, it actually does.
Perhaps an apt visual description of what I mean is ‘bullet time’ as seen in the movie The Matrix. The visual effects of this movie were revolutionary in many ways, not the least of which was how regular speed, slow motion, time-lapse and a constantly changing perspective of a scene serve to slow down, expand and speed up time at crucial times - the iconic image being the ability to see the energy trails of bullets as speed through the fight scenes, the viewer backing in and out of the scene and seeing it from several angles.
In this way, it visually captures kairos – showing us the possibilities of how time can shift and we can enter and leave those shifts.
When we experience kairos, we know it, because whether big or small, what we are doing has a timelessness to it that expands and makes life both slow down and speed up – giving us all the time we need.
I feel this when I get lost in a good book, or enjoy a relaxing meal with friends. I’ve felt it when I’ve been on retreat or even vacation, both of which by their very nature serve to help us step back from our daily chronos routine. I’ve experienced it when I’ve sat and prayed with people who are dying and I’ve known it was real when I listened to someone offer confession in the Rite of Reconciliation. Perhaps you just sensed it in the presentation of Jesus’ Passion.
If you take a few moments to reflect this week I know that you too will begin to see the strands of kairos that weave in and out of your life.
And today, this week, we enter something special. A time that like no other that knits together and merges these two elements. Holy Week. Chronos, in our journey through the Great Three Days, from Maundy Thursday to Good Friday and then The Great Vigil. And yet kairos in perhaps its more pure and undiluted form as God’s purpose and time overflow through these days, signs of God’s unconditional love leading us toward the mystery of Easter.
Our Gospel readings from Mark today pull us into this powerful double flow of time, beginning with chapter 11 and the reading we heard in the courtyard about Jesus’ entry to Jerusalem, and then continued in chapter 14 with Jesus’ anointing, the Last Supper, on into the garden of Gethsemane, then traveling to courtyard of the high priest, before then going before Pilate, followed by the march to Golgotha and the cross, and finally to be laid in the tomb as the women bore witness.
We stride every year through these events; they are marked and lived as chronos for us as surely as they were for Jesus and his friends. But kairos is just as surely at work, because here, in the approach to Jesus’ death, the narrative time slows and shifts, expands and becomes something more – something we will only fully know when we reach Easter.
Because if we were to read the Gospel of Mark out loud together straight through, we could mark the minutes it takes, about ninety. But kairos is there too, because Jesus’ yearlong Galilean ministry (chapters 1-10) would take about an hour to read. But the final week of Jesus’ life (chapters 11-16), would take half an hour.
This shows us why Holy Week is something more. Always more, but not simply marked in minutes and hours, instead also lived in the moments that we encounter the holy and find time slowing and speeding within and around us, making meaning as God’s time becomes ours also.
And so this week I invited you to gather, to watch, to kindle and to sing. To step back from the dailyness of chronos, even as we walk the days of the Triduum. And to savor the feel, the tastes-sights-sounds, of kairos as God’s time saturates the story we hold most sacred, the story that is still going on and that we are a part of over 2000 years later.
~ AMEN ~
 Feasting on the Word, Year B, Volume 2, pg. 179.