RCL Track One, Proper 28: Isaiah 65: 17-25, Luke 21: 5-19
Good morning and, again, grace and peace. This morning of worship after such a beautiful week of mid-autumn sunshine, and here this week in a kind of pause and interval in our congregational life.
That wonderful service last Sunday of All Saints Day, with the Mozart Mass, with our choir and the Baroque Ensemble and the dedication of the new entry—an amazing day. And then next Sunday morning, our annual observance and celebration of our patronal feast, the day of St. Andrew’s the Apostle—which is so often a day almost like our birthday, a homecoming for old friends, a reminder of so many aspects of heritage and tradition—and of course with the wonderful and joyful noise of the Syria Highlanders and their Bagpipe and Drum marching band.
So this a Sunday to catch our breath, perhaps, with all that will follow in the next couple of months as well, as St. Andrew’s Day is followed by Thanksgiving and Advent Sunday and then all the traditions of this season of the year.
In and with all that, the lessons appointed for this Sunday morning in our lectionary are it seems to me very helpful and, let’s say, seasonally appropriate. We’re in something of a “pre-Advent” mode, the old year coming to an end, days shorter, nights longer, and so the themes of our Church Calendar turning our attention to the theme of “the end.” The destination of the journey. The bottom line. The Church Year is a cycle, a circle, and we return to this place year by year. Each of us bringing to the circular return the changes of life and thought and perspective on another year of our lives. Older and wiser—or older, anyway.
But the word that is lifted up for us here is about an understanding of life and of the character of all the created order of the universe and of God’s fundamental identity not as an endlessly repeating circle, a wheel spinning round and round for eternity, but as a reality that has motion and direction and intention and purpose. Beginning, middle, end.
Not that we’re always aware of how that works, in tune with the flow. We can get spun around, so that up seems like down and so that we can’t really tell for sure which way forward really is. Our lives are short. Kids grow up, fly away. The old body begins to slow down. The interval between Christmasses seems to grow briefer and briefer, and we might even wander around the edges of the Stonehenge in England or the great Pyramids of Egypt and say that it’s all just gone past in the blink of an eye. Now you see us, now you don’t.
As the scripture says, all flesh is grass. The difference of all that, our ability to catch at least a glimpse, because of that one fixed point in the fluid universe, which is the cross on that hill outside the walls of old city Jerusalem, and because of the brief glimpse through the door, through an open window, at the empty tomb, and the first hint on the horizon of what is to come.
“For I am about to create new heavens and a new earth; the former things shall not be remembered or come to mind. But be glad and rejoice forever in what I am creating; for I am about to create Jerusalem as a joy, and its people as a delight. I will rejoice in Jerusalem, and delight in my people.”
Healing, forgiveness, reconciliation, restoration, renewal.
“No more shall the sound of weeping be heard in it, or the cry of distress.”
“As for these thing that you see, the days will come when not one stone will be left upon another; all will be thrown down . . . . But not a hair of your head will perish. By your endurance you will gain your souls.”
The gift for us in Christ in this moment of our lives is that we can stand truly with one foot on either side of the stream. Here and now, in all the complexity of this world, its beauty and its brokenness. But also that day by day we are privileged to see and even more to see—to share in—the life of the world to come. The great sacraments, the “means of grace,” our participation here and now, there and now.
Leaning out toward the New Year on the calendar, and a time perhaps to focus our attention and to renew our resolution. A celebration of our citizenship, if that’s the right vocabulary. It is I suppose the foundation of Christian worship, Christian prayer, Christian ethics. Morality. Holiness.
I remember one of the most famous sermons and speeches of our era, when Martin Luther King, Jr., imagined the figure of Moses at the end of the Exodus story, to say, “I’ve been to the mountaintop; I’ve seen the Promised Land.” An image not just for Moses and not just for Dr. King, but for all of us. That we would already be living there, even as we are living here. Here and now, there and now, as we center our lives in the cross of Christ Jesus. In confidence of God’s care, no matter how steep the mountains we may be called upon to climb in this phase of our journey, no matter how difficult the terrain.
Where there is injury, pardon; where there is discord, union; where there is doubt, faith; where there is despair, hope; where there is darkness, light; where there is sadness, joy. Generosity and kindness, blessing and peace. Goodness, justice, mercy. This is what the theologians would call an “interim ethic.” Living in the present, in the future, making the future present. As when we pray, Thy Kingdom come, on earth as in heaven. And not just talking the talk, but walking the walk.
As rain and snow fall from the heavens and return not again, but water the earth, bringing forth life and giving growth, seed for sowing, and bread for eating. So is my word that goes out from my mouth. It shall not return to me empty, but it will accomplish that which I have purposed, and prosper in that for which I sent it.
Blessings again in the meantime, in this in-between time, for today and this week and for all our lives. And see you here next week for bagpipes!
Walk in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself for us, an offering and a sacrifice to God.