Posted by: skokiecentralchurch | November 25, 2012

2012.11.25 “Somewhere in Time” – Reign of Christ / Christ the King Sunday

Central United Methodist Church

Somewhere in Time

Reign of Christ/Christ the King

November 25th, 2012

 

“I am the Alpha and the Omega,” says the Lord God, who is and who was and who is to come, the Almighty.

Revelation 4:8, the New Revised Standard Version

There is an old song by the rock group Chicago that came to mind as I thought about today:

“As I was walking down the street one day
A man came up to me and asked me what
The time was that was on my watch, yeah…And I said
Does anybody really know what time it is
Does anybody really care?”  (Chicago, on their debut

                          album, The Chicago Transit Authority, 1969)

What is it about holidays that is so disorienting?  Is it that – for a day at least – we suspend our regularly scheduled programming, and have a day of leisure?  After that, should we be surprised when we wake up the next morning and are not sure what day it is, waking up somewhere in time?

In some ways, our disorientation and disjointedness are made clearer to us by modern electronic calendars.  In times past, most of us had a paper calendar – maybe on our refrigerator door – where we tried to write everything down so we wouldn’t forget anything important. Until just a few years ago, I used a paper calendar; I felt like I had to see things spread out on a page to remember them. (In 38 years of ministry, to the best of my memory I’ve never forgotten anything, never left a bride standing at the altar or a funeral party waiting at the door of the church.) I did once miss a study I was supposed to lead due to a delayed flight, and a District Superintendent did once show up to do a Charge Conference to find an empty church, due to a miscommunication.)  Finally the technology of electronic calendars got there, and in the last few years I moved solely to electronic calendars.

As those of us who use them know, how such calendars work is that you have different “calendars,” which all show up on one integrated calendar, that is, if you can figure it out.  For example, your calendars might be your personal calendar, your family calendar, your work calendar, the school calendar, U. S. holidays, Christian holidays (and in Skokie, Jewish holidays).  Some people use and like Google calendars, although that’s still on my list to figure out, maybe I’ll have to get my children to teach me.

As I said, visualizing this, we understand how our lives can be so confusing. For example, Thursday was Thanksgiving, which is both a family holiday and a national holiday and a religious holiday, but it was also this year for the first time “Black Thursday,” meaning “Black Friday” which now begins on Thursday, Thanksgiving Day. It was also the 49th anniversary of the assassination of President John F. Kennedy, for those who keep track of such things).

And today, what day is this? Sunday, on Thanksgiving weekend, and for the first time in many years, Christ the King Sunday, which falls after Thanksgiving, not before, which would ordinarily make this the 1st Sunday in Advent, but it’s not yet, even though some calendars say it is, including my electronic calendar.  So you see you can’t blame us for sometimes feeling disoriented and confused.

I have gone on at length about this, not only to illustrate the confusion and disorientation of modern life, but also to say that for reasons like this, I am thankful for a day such as Christ the King Sunday. Celebrated in late November as the last Sunday of the Christian year, it provides an occasion for us as Christians, amidst all the activities and allegiances of our lives, to affirm the Lordship of Christ over everything, including our calendars.

Among this morning’s Scriptures affirming God and Christ’s reign, the words I would like to highlight today are these, from the 1st chapter of the last book of the Bible, the book of the Revelation of St. John:

“I am, says the Lord God, the Alpha and the Omega, who is and   who was and who is to come, the Almighty.” (Revelation 4:8)

“Alpha and Omega” is a wonderfully rich symbol, the first and last letters of the Greek alphabet, as we might say from “A to Z” (“A to zed,” for those of you from commonwealth countries). As if to spell it out, some versions even add, “the first and the last, the beginning and the end,” and we might add as well, everything in between.  On this Christ the King Sunday, in all that we Christians affirm about God and Christ, one of the things we say, through such symbolism as this, is that whatever time is, and however we measure it, God is at the beginning and God will be at the end, for us and for the entire cosmos.

This is why I find I find it so useful  – as I hope you do too – to follow the Christian calendar, of which Christ the King Sunday is the end and culmination. Amidst all the layers of our other calendars – personal, family, work, or national – we who desire to live as Christians need the Christian calendar as an exercise in spiritual formation, to make our journey through time into a sacred journey.  To understand this, let’s review it briefly.

We begin the Christian calendar with the season of Advent, which we begin next Sunday. Advent is the season of longing and anticipation for God’s coming, into our lives, into human history, and at the end of human history. Even though the commercial celebration of Christmas would have us rush straight to Christmas for business purposes, Advent correctly realizes that we cannot fully appreciate the advent of God into history, until we have first longed and waited for it, as centuries of seekers did.

“O come, O come, Emmanuel,

and ransom captive Israel,

that mourns in lonely exile here,

until the Son of God appear.”

How often life is like that, marked and made up of waiting.  Waiting to grow up.  Waiting to find the one we love.  Waiting for children to be born. Waiting for them to grow up, someday hopefully to produce grandchildren.  This is why the waiting we do during advent for God to come, can be an instructive and spiritually enriching time.

With the coming of Christmas, we celebrate the birth of Jesus the Christ, not only into the manger at Bethlehem, but into our lives. “What good is it if Mary was full of grace unless I am full of grace?” said the medieval mystic Meister Eckhart.  “And what good is it if Christ was born 2000 years ago, if he is not born in me today?” And so for us he is born, light breaking forth in the darkness.

Once Christmas arrives, for Twelve Days we celebrate Christmas, until the Feast of Epiphany, when the appearing of the glory of God in Christ is acknowledged by the coming of the Magi, those mysterious kings from the East. For the Sundays after Epiphany, we hear and relive how the glory of God is seen in Christ, not only at his birth, but at his baptism, in his first miracle, in his teaching and healing, culminating in the glory seen at his Transfiguration before his disciples on the mountaintop.

Then, we must go back down into the valley, in order to join Jesus on his journey to the Cross, that season of spiritual discipline and reflection known as Lent, which begins on Ash Wednesday.

“Jesus walked this lonesome valley,

he had to walk it by himself.

Oh, nobody else could walk it for him,

he had to walk it by himself.

We must walk this lonesome valley,

we have to walk it by ourselves.

Oh, nobody else, can walk it for us,

we have to walk it by ourselves.”

Then we celebrate Holy Week and Easter, remembering that what happens during that week is not only about Jesus, but also about us, as well, for “There is no crown without the cross.”  We celebrate Easter, the greatest festival of the church, singing Charles Wesley’s great hymn:

“Christ the Lord is Risen Today,

Al – le – lu, Al – le – lu – ia

Our triumphant, holy day,

Al – le – lu, Al – le – lu – ia

During the Great Fifty Days of Easter, we share the disciples’ encounters with the Risen Christ, learning to encounter him along our way.

In late spring, we celebrate Jesus’ Ascension and Exaltation at God’s right hand, and then, the descent of the Spirit upon the Church: “Come, Holy Spirit!” Through the summer months, we explore the teachings of Jesus, which this year we will do through the Gospel of Luke.

What I love about this journey through the year is this: for those of us who faithfully observe it, it is a journey in spiritual formation, a sacred journey. Through the year, God uses this sacred journey to turn us into Christians, to make us more like Christ in our daily lives and actions.

And of course, through all this time as well we live as members of families and citizens of a country, celebrating birthdays and anniversaries and graduations and funerals and the school calendar and practicing and recitals and Memorial Day and the Fourth of July and Labor Day and Thanksgiving, and yes, even Black Friday. But that Black Friday won’t be so compelling, once we have experienced Good Friday, the day Jesus died. Nor will the layers of our lives – our multiple calendars – become so overwhelming, as long as we have our sacred journey to guide us, and keep us grounded, helping us to make sense of all that happens.  We may even begin to realize that it is less about us, than it is about faithfully following this sacred journey Christians have walked through the centuries, as they have followed Jesus.

And thus we come to Christ the King Sunday, to the end of another such year of spiritual formation. During all this, life went on. Some of us had new babies or grandchildren or got married or divorced or lost loved ones to death. Some of us lost jobs or started new jobs. Some moved here, others moved away. We said hello to some and goodbye to others. We encountered heartaches, but also discovered new joys.  Some things were failures, but in other ways we experienced new beginnings.  What have we learned?

Time marches on.  Our kids grow up.  Life is never totally in our control.  It’s easy to get lost along the way.  All of life is grace.

And so it will be, until the day comes when our busyness will cease, all our calendars will be cleared, and for us, the end will come.

The poet W. S. Merwin has written a poem, “For the Anniversary of My Death.”  In the poem, it occurs to him that he has no idea on what day he will die, but each year, traipses past that day unaware.  But the poem is not so much about an unknown anniversary as it is the knowledge that life is transient and we are only travelers through it, enjoying its splendors for a little while. Such knowledge may sadden us, but it may also make more poignant and beautiful the moments we share. And it should fill us with hope. We are travelers, passing through this life toward we know not what, and the moment will come when all that is difficult and confusing and burdensome will pass and we will find ourselves in the presence of the Eternal.  Here’s the poem:

         Every year without knowing it I have passed the day
                  When the last fires will wave to me
                  And the silence will set out
                  Tireless traveler
                  Like the beam of a lightless star

                  Then I will no longer
                  Find myself in life as in a strange garment
                  Surprised at the earth
                  And the love of one woman
                  And the shamelessness of men
                  As today writing after three days of rain
                  Hearing the wren sing and the falling cease
                  And bowing not knowing to what

                          (W. S. Merwin, “For the Anniversary of My Death”                                        from The Second Four Books of Poems                         .)

How wonderful to know that when that day comes, in some mysterious way we cannot understand, we will find ourselves in the timeless presence of the One who is “the Alpha and the Omega, the first and the last, the beginning and the end, the One who is and who was and who is to come, the Almighty.”  Amen.

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