8Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever.
I never cared very much for this line from scripture until the day my daughter was killed. Those who quoted the text seemed to use it to close the doors of the church to change. It seemed to end debate rather than infuse it with a sense of the ever-abiding presence of Christ in the world. It silenced questions. It halted efforts to speak the gospel in fresh ways for a changing world.
But early in the morning of March 17, 2001, in the days before ubiquitous cell phones, while I was with a group of young people on retreat, my pager buzzed. My youngest daughter sent a code, 911, that meant I needed to call her immediately. I trudged over the hill through new fallen snow to where our cars were parked – where one had a car phone – and called Megan. She was in tears and couldn’t speak. A second later I heard a man’s voice identifying himself as a police officer, apologizing for telling me this on the phone, but my eldest had been killed in a collision.
She was 19.
There is no way to describe the disorientation that followed. I was without emotion – or rather, so flooded with emotion that my whole emotional system had crashed. I walked back over the hill to meet the youth group at breakfast in the camp’s dining hall and tell them I would be leaving. I was terribly blunt. I had no feelings with which to handle it more pastorally.
As I entered that dining hall I saw on the far wall a large painting of the laughing Jesus with the words: “Jesus Christ, the same yesterday, today and forever.” I remember looking at the words and thinking they were important. But I had no emotions with which to process them. I couldn’t feel what they meant. For that matter, I couldn’t think what they might mean. But I remembered them. And I remembered they mattered.
In the days that followed I came to understand their message: The God I had known in the past, the God who had met me and called me and walked with me, who had shown himself a God of grace and compassion, hope and life, was the same God on this terrible day and would be the same in the days to come. This crushing tragedy doesn’t invalidate the past; the past undergirds the present and upholds the future. Jesus will still be Jesus tomorrow.
This is not a text that speaks of unchanging ideas and institutions. Through it we hear the voice of God, embodied in Christ Jesus, promise his imperishable love: yesterday, today and forever.
For this precious word we keep coming Sunday after Sunday.