Frederick Buechner, an ordained Presbyterian minister, is the author of more than 30 works of fiction and nonfiction, including Beyond Words and Telling Secrets. We have treasured his 1974 volume The Faces of Jesus which contains 154 color photographs by Lee Bolton of the works of art that express various interpretations of the appearance of the man from Nazareth. In this reworking of the same text without any photographs, the author probes the annunciation, nativity, ministry, last supper, crucifixion, and resurrection. Buechner begins with the words:
"Whoever he was or was not, whoever he thought he was, whoever he thought he was, whoever he has become in the memories since and will go on becoming for as long as men remember him — exalted, sentimentalized, debunked, made and remade to the measure of each generation's desire, dread, indifference — he was a man once, whatever else he may have been. And he had a man's face, a human face."
The author's lyrical language creates an inspirational examination of Jesus' life story. While reading the text again, we were struck by the many comments on time. This one is especially poignant:
"Everything that ever happens in a life goes on being a part of that life, not just the thing that happens last. The man on the cross is also the babe in the manger, the child on his journeys, the boy in the temple. No man is such a prisoner of chronology but that his past and his future too are not a living part of his present, accessible to him in his dreams if nowhere else and accessible to us in our dreams about him. 'Before Abraham was, I am,' Jesus said. Before my time on earth ran out, I am on earth and this time is my time. Before darkness covered the whole land and the veil of the temple was rent, all is calm, all is bright. Before I was a man, I am a child, a God.
"Not first the birth, and then the life, and then the death, but all three of them together, all three of them always impinging upon us at once. Let the last word about the child be a child's word. He has all of his life ahead of him and behind him too. If eternity is not endless time but the essence of all times combined, past, present and future, then it is in eternity that he stands, like the bird of dawning that singeth all night long."
Faith exists to be refreshed, and Buechner is always up to the challenge.