“In Our End Is Our Beginning”

Kids, let’s talk about time. Time is a circle—have you noticed? Clocks are circles. Each day is a circle: waking up, living our day, sleeping and waking again. And then the seasons, Spring, Summer, Fall, Winter. We have our own kind if time in the church, which is also a circle, as you can see in the picture.

Did you know next week is new year’s? Advent begins next Sunday, and that is the beginning of a new church year. Advent is blue. Advent is a time of waiting, preparing and hoping—for the birth of a child and the birth of a new world. We light one candle for each week on the Advent wreath.

Then comes Christmas. Our colors switch to white and gold. We light the Christ candle and Jesus is born.

After Christmas is Epiphany. The color of the season of Epiphany is green. Epiphany is the season of light. It begins with the festival of Epiphany, which tells the story of the wise ones who followed the star. After that, we suddenly jump ahead in time. Jesus is baptized. He begins his public ministry and calls his disciples to follow him.

Then Lent begins with Ash Wednesday. We receive the sign of the cross on our forehead or hand. The color of Lent is purple. During Lent, we follow Jesus into the wilderness  where he experienced temptation. We remember our sin, the ways we have become far away from God. We practice repentance, which means turning toward God again. At the end of Lent comes holy week, when Jesus dies on the cross.

On Easter Sunday our colors change again to white and gold—colors of joy and wonder. We celebrate that God raised Jesus from the dead, and God continues to bring life out of death for each of us and for the whole world. Easter is more than just a day—it is a season of 50 days.

On Pentecost, the fiftieth day after Easter, Jesus had departed from the earth, and God sent the Holy Spirit. This moment is the birthday of the church. Fiery red is the color of this festival and of other festive times in the life of the church. The Holy Spirit, described as wind and fire, is a powerful, unpredictable, and liberating force in our lives.

The season after Pentecost is called Ordinary Time. Ordinary Time is the longest season of the church year. It stretches all the way from late May or early June until December, and the beginning of Advent. During Ordinary time, we live out our faith as disciples of Jesus, from one day to the next. The color is green; we could call this our “green and growing time.”

This last Sunday of the church year always gets me thinking about time. Liturgical time is a circle, a circle that tells a story. This cycle is repetitive, yet never monotonous. The outward symbols, traditions, and narratives remain the same. And yet, we become different as, each year, sacred time flows around us and shapes our lives. At the recommendation of Ruth Lemire I’m reading Dwellings by Chickasaw poet and novelist Linda Hogan. Her chapter titled “Creations” reminds me that despite our cyclical church year, Christianity (unlike indigenous traditions) has generally viewed time as linear. Hogan writes that in the Western tradition

Without deep reflection, we have taken on the story of endings, assumed the story of extinction, and have believed that it is the certain outcome of our presence here. From this position, fear, bereavement and denial keep us in the state of estrangement from our natural connection with the land. We need new stories, new terms and conditions that are relevant to the love of land. (pp. 93–94)

Hogan connects our orientation to time to our relationship with the land. A linear view of time results in estrangement. It fosters fear, bereavement, denial. A cyclical understanding of time, a time in which all endings also hold beginnings, cultivates love, rootedness, and belonging. One way our faith tradition became a tool of empire is by adopting a linear view of time that splits us from the land.

The book of Revelation is of course a primary playbook of those who believe the world is destined to end in flames. However, as scholar Barbara Rossing puts it, “Revelation’s message is not that the world is about to end, but that the world is about to turn.”[1] Revelation does not use the popular term “second coming,” but instead depicts Christ’s continual coming through the community of his followers. That’s what the author means when he says Jesus made his disciples a kingdom, made them priests. Jesus is “coming with the clouds; every eye will see him, even those who pierced him.” In other words, Jesus’ reappearance in the community of faith proclaims God’s judgment on empires that torture and crucify. This vindication extends to all the marginalized, not only Jesus. And the judgement applies not only to Rome but to oppressions of all kinds. The fact that, in the vision, Jesus is at home in the sky portrays a shift of authority. Those who exploit creation have no true power next to those who live with intimate connection to the land and the Creator. God speaks, underlining this truth, proclaiming a presence that encompasses all times and places at once: “I am the Alpha and the Omega . . . who is and who was and who is to come.”

What would it mean, in these times, not to “assume the story of extinction?” I’m thinking about this question today, as we remember Gary Burns, and continue to grieve all our losses of those we have deeply loved.I’m thinking about this amid a COVID surge that was utterly preventable. I’m thinking about it as once again a man who murdered two people walks away without consequences because he is white. I’m thinking about it as we citizens of earth sit in this precarious place. Our planet is in crisis; will we act to change our behavior?

In her final chapter on loving ourselves, “Transition,” Valerie Kaur says:

If we take a linear view of history, then we are sliding backward. But if we see the story of America as one long labor, then we have a different view. Progress during birthing labor is cyclical, not linear. It is a series of expansions and contractions, and each turn through the cycle brings us closer to what is being born. I see this pattern through U.S. history. The labor is ongoing, the injustice relentless. But each time people organized, each turn through the cycle opened a little more space for equality and justice. . . . Fresh horrors arrive daily, but our responses are smarter and our solidarity deeper than ever before.[2]

Friends, we are a community formed not by the linear time of empire, but by God’s circling time that again and again gives birth to love and grace, justice and transformation. Therefore, let us labor in love, love for ourselves and love for this earth. Let us labor with Jesus who shows us the way through this transition. Let us labor with hope encircled by God’s time, trusting in the One who is, and was and is to come. Amen.

[1] https://www.workingpreacher.org/commentaries/revised-common-lectionary/christ-the-king-2/commentary-on-revelation-14b-8-5

[2] See No Stranger, pp. 286–288