November 24, 2019 — Rev. Paula Norbert
The lovely reflection today on Listening to Autumn is part of an earlier reading we shared back in October. It reminds us of the gifts that come to us in this season if we open our hearts and truly listen to the gifts that come to us. The Gospel reading from Luke sets a very different tone and returns us to the end of Jesus’ life as he is dying on the cross. You may wonder, why do we include that reading this week of all weeks, but it is important, for today we observe what has often been called the Feast of the Reign of Christ or what was once called Christ the King Sunday. It is the last Sunday in Ordinary Time as we look ahead next Sunday to the beginning of Advent. It brings us full circle in the stories of the life of Jesus, his birth and early years, his ministry and teaching, and finally, his death by the Roman authorities on the cross. Let us pray, O Weaver of Life, we gather with a spirit of gratitude this day as we are mindful of how much we have in our lives. Help us to be open to your Word, as we listen to this autumn season and share our gifts with others. Remind us always that you walk with us along this journey, providing us with guides along the way. For this we give thanks. Amen.
Last week, as I was driving in the early evening on a long, dark road with the chill of November just outside, I thought about the earliest settlers to this part of the world and how dark this season of autumn into winter can be. I imagine that the native peoples were quite adapted to it and lived their lives according to the seasons and the light and darkness; however, the journey of those Pilgrims to the shores of Massachusetts and that first real winter must have been very difficult indeed…and many lives were lost in the cold and to serious illness. Yet, they chose to take time and give thanks for what they had survived. We know that they were a deeply faithful people, however flawed those Puritans were, and the story is that they invited their Native American neighbors to join them, these folks who had taught them how to farm this rugged land so that they might have enough to eat during the long winter ahead.
Just before the Luke reading begins, we hear Jesus ask God to “forgive them for they know not what they do.” Luke was a good writer and he began the story of Jesus by including Caesar Augustus calling for a census, but by the end, Jesus is the King and he’s on the cross, a teaching King…so very different than this Roman leader. At the end, Jesus is the one being put to death, but still he is witnessing to a different way of being, even at the end of life. Throughout Luke, there are often these twists in the stories, the Samaritan unexpectedly is the only one who comes back to say thank you or the one who stops to help the man robbed at the side of the road. It’s as if Jesus is saying, “Things are not what they seem. You have to go deeper all the time to understand what goes on and it’s very different from what we might expect, the way God sees things.” (Rev. Bill Kenneally)
Some years ago, a church in Chicago built a labyrinth at this time of year in the parking lot and it was made out of the canned goods that had been collected at an Inter-faith Thanksgiving Service to share with those in need. The worshippers brought the canned goods out and created a labyrinth from them, and I’m guessing that most, if not all here, have had the experience of walking a labyrinth? We know there are twists and turns as we try to get to the heart, to the center of it, trying to get ‘home’. It’s a method of meditation, a method of prayer really and it can be a very contemplative experience. And at this church, they also put candles around it so people could see it in the dark, twists and turns, back and forth; it’s not a maze; it’s a way of traveling that leads you around and back to the center.
Of course, this reminds us of life; there are many twists and turns in our lives and we wind our way along the journey, back and forth…through childhood, adolescence, young adulthood, twists and turns, careers, family, setbacks, middle age, retirement, and then getting older and the challenges that presents…perhaps feeling unappreciated, not sure if we did enough with our lives, loneliness, or renewed life, it’s all there, and eventually finding our way ‘home’. Our lives of course lead us to the center of things, coming back home to God, our Creator who gave us life. That’s the journey.
As we look back at the Luke story, we hear one of the criminals crucified with Jesus say to him, “Remember me when you get to your kingdom.” Jesus did speak about the kingdom; it was often called ‘eternal life’ in John’s Gospel, or today, people speak about ‘heaven’ but Jesus uses a different word, he says, “Today you will be with me in paradise…”That word is a Persian word that meant ‘the garden of the palace.” The King’s palace has a garden and of course, we hear that very same word at the beginning of the Bible; the Garden of Eden was called ‘paradise’, it was the King’s garden that Adam and Eve were in. So Luke ties things together here, like a great writer often does, circling back to the beginning of a text to lift up an image or thought. His Gospel comes to an end as the life of Jesus and his time on earth comes to an end, and then he goes back to the story of Genesis and Adam and Eve in the Garden.
Perhaps he is saying that we have come home. We live through many twists and turns but we are moving to home. It seems that‘s what Luke wanted us to understand in the teachings of Jesus…that we all go through many challenges and ups and downs in life, twists and turns, and Jesus certainly spoke to people about the fullness of their lives, their joys and challenges, and yet, even it we feel at times that we have lost our way or gotten sidetracked, we’re always kind of making our way back to God. I do think that it is in the midst of the twists and turns of life, the long and winding road as the Beatles once sang about, that we take time to be grateful. When we come through some rough patches or truly painful experiences, we’re invited to pause and take stock of where we have come from and what we still have and to express deep gratitude that we’ve managed to come through it.
The writer Ram Dass once said, “After all, we’re just walking each other home.” We’re all going to the same place, and we’re all on a path. Sometimes our paths converge. Sometimes they separate, and we can hardly see each other, much less hear each other. But on the good days, we’re walking on the same path, close together, and we’re walking each other home. (Rev. Linda Taylor)
And so, in the Christian tradition, we come to the end of the year, the end of Luke’s Gospel, with Jesus both on the road and on the cross still teaching, and we come home. Many of us come to worship to find understanding or inspiration for that journey of life, through Scripture and also through the writings and music of so many inspired individuals and we weave these into our days and into our lives. It is a journey, the Circle of Life, and today, in a special way, we give Thanks for all that has been and all that is to be.