It’s been said that the Bible quotes our prayer book nicely. Truth be told, the Bible was written way before the Book of Common Prayer but the two do complement each other well. Someone has figured out that 80% of the prayer book consists of direct quotes from Scripture. In fact, our Eucharistic prayer this Sunday at 10 a.m. will use this phrase, “In the fullness of time, put all things in subjection under your Christ and bring us to that heavenly country…” This prayer alludes to Galatians 4:4, “When the fullness of time had come, God sent his Son, born of a woman.” And, the prayer is also from Ephesians, “As a plan for the fullness of time to gather up all things in him.” (1:10) It appears there are two times of fulfillment – the first is when Jesus was born; the second is when Christ gathers all things to himself. Our Eucharistic prayer encapsulates both times-fullness.
When Jesus was born, there was a convergence of events, technologies, and social and political realities that made it to be a times-fullness. Pax Romana was the law of the land in the 1st century so that Jesus and his followers could travel throughout the empire with relative ease. The mail delivery system was intricate and dependable. Alexander the Great made Greek known throughout the contemporary world. There were more people of the Jewish faith living outside of Israel (Palestine) than in it. The empire was polytheistic and tolerated many diverse forms of worship. Rome made an incredible system of roads and seafaring throughout the Mediterranean was unparalleled as far as ease, frequency and reliability. During the earthly days of Jesus, taxation was squeezing farmers off their land who were then forced to seek employment in the cities. And, polytheism was being questioned in the hearts and minds of many citizens. They were seeking a different divine relationship – not just of goods, services, protection and wealth. They were seeking peace and health which fell on deaf ears no matter what idol they turned to. It was in this fullness of time that Jesus was born of Mary to redeem those who were born under the law of Moses and to receive everyone else through adoption of God’s grace to make them heirs to God’s Kingdom. (Gal 4:4-7)
Shortly afterwards, Rome fell and with it came the destruction of free travel, mail delivery, free trade, common language, metropolitan infrastructure, and polytheistic tolerance. It wasn’t until the 18th century that roads, sea lanes, mail and cities came near their pinnacle in the 1st century. It appears that God arrived right on time.
The second “fullness of time” is when Christ will gather all things to himself, when all things will respond to God’s call through Christ. That time has not yet been fulfilled. But, take heart, it is coming. Once again, we are in a time when people are leaving the farm and cramming into cities throughout the world. English has become the main communication form of international business. There are more Christians living outside of Israel (and Europe and America too). We are in a time of unprecedented electronic communication. And, perhaps most importantly, the wealth of the nations has created an impoverished soul. We have gained luxuries and can enjoy Dragon Fruit from Vietnam, lamb from Australia, wine from France, beer from Germany, chocolate from anywhere, yet we have never been more hungry. We have created the most powerful weapons ever conceived, we can see at night, listen underwater, and fly planes with satellites yet peace has never seemed so far away. Could it be that we are now living in the fullness of time when Christ gathers all things to himself. My God, I sure hope so. One thing I do know is that God will arrive on time.