Pentecost 22A, Sunday before Christ the King
Each year on the Sunday before Christ the King I preach on the church year. As a child, I never realized the ever returning story that the church year tells us. Perhaps it is because Presbyterians (which I was as a child) do not put emphasis on such things. I do not know.
Over and over, if we are listening, the lectionary and the liturgical seasons tell us the story of God. Not just the texts themselves but the very structure; the bones of worship. Even if we didn’t hear the scripture read, even if we didn’t listen to the words preached, the life of Christ and the story of God’s continual returning for us, gracious mercy and salvation repeated over and over are visible in the liturgy, colors on the altar and worship space, in the vestments and, in truth, the whole world around us.
This sort-of-poem is a piece I have used several times and I keep tweeking it each year. Unfortunately, it keeps growing! Portions of it will be in this week’s sermon.
Leaves turning colors.
Crows cawing at me in the parking lot.
Perhaps they look for Elijah.
All is not lost. All is not lost.
Where are you getting pecans for holiday baking?
Frost on the ground in the mornings outlining dying leaves
With a crisp, white line.
Mountains have changed out of their lush green robes
And into yellows, reds, oranges and stately browns.
Clearly marked is the turning of the year.
Halloween candy is nearly gone.
Thanksgiving is chasing quick on our heels.
Small rings of smoke crown houses on my street.
Smell of the ancient earth and dampness from raking leaves.
In Advent we anticipate.
We await the coming of our Lord.
Coming as tiny helpless baby born to Mary.
Coming again to complete the renewing of all the earth.
We light candles to watch for the messiah.
Wrapped snugly in manger and riding high upon clouds.
Blues and purples fill days of mystery and wonder.
Light one purple candle, now two, now three.
Light four candles to watch for Messiah.
We dive deeper into darkness of fall and winter.
God shines his light of hope even brighter.
Christmas follows—the Festival of the Incarnation!
Immanuel—God with us!
Joy! The priceless gift of the Son of God!
Angels from the realms of glory
Sound their trumpets in celebration!
White and gold cover the altar
To honor this great returning of God.
Chrismon tree glitters with golden ornaments
Rich in symbols of names and titles of the One.
Wise Men seek the child, bringing gifts.
Incense that surely filled the room with fragrance.
Exotic, thick, mysterious, prophetic.
Gold fit for a king of kings.
We are made hopeful: this child is for us, too.
This child is for all of us.
For the leaves and the wind and the rain.
For the dark earth, the bright sky.
For the flesh, the blood, the breath.
For the whole earth spinning round.
The Epiphany: ah ha of God-for-us shines.
Brilliant stars in the ever lengthening night sky.
Rising sun making diamond dust out of snow.
Beneath the other gifts for the Child is the myrrh.
Bitter death perfume for the tomb.
What a gift for a child! A foreshadowing.
The wheel of the year turns.
Days begin almost imperceptibly to grow longer.
The earth, as if knowing what lies ahead, cannot wait to share it.
It is Ash Wednesday and light in the world gently, slowly increases.
Lent begins our descent into penance and richer, fuller meanings.
Or is it ascent?
This baby, now grown man.
Journey of 40 days in the wilderness.
Our road, deep purple, begins with cross-shaped ashes.
Baptismal cross of Christ marked on faces.
Visible to all the world.
Remember o mortal, you are dust and unto dust you shall return.
Cruce Signati: you are a cross bearer.
Light spring air smelling like fresh grass and melted snow.
Warming earth all around.
We stand outside, palm branches waving.
Hymns of triumph—but a triumph as yet unfulfilled.
This is as much preview of royalty as spring is hint of summer’s thriving glory.
There is more in this story before real triumph is here.
It is Maundy Thursday and the worship area is cruelly stripped.
All adornment, gone. All celebration, gone.
Seemingly all hope, gone. The altar is bare.
The sanctuary is vulnerable and empty.
The bride of Christ waits naked in fear.
Good Friday arrives. Black on the cross.
Stark contrasts with Palm Sunday are palpable.
The tomb closes round.
Earth swallows. Darkness. Myrrh.
Suddenly, it is Easter!
White and Gold drape the altar as rivers of light and hope.
Halleluiahs and lilies fill the air.
Jesus Christ is Risen Today! Halleluiah!
And the Halleluiahs echo on for a very long time.
The wheel of the year turns again.
Through heat of Summer when the whole world seems
Buzzing, humming, blasting life.
Pentecost explodes like wind and fire!
Spirit blows through the church: filling, calling, gathering.
Brilliant red on the altar turns to green.
Color of growing things. Of life and hope.
Season of the Church, as it is called.
Season of the church, growing lush green.
Innumerable shades of green growing throughout the ancient mountains
Rising all around us.
Even as those mountains begin to dress in first gold and red, then brown,
A color-slide down the hills,
Even as the winds get just a little cooler once more,
Butternut squash and corn and pumpkins are ready,
Even as the great round Harvest and Hunter’s moons declare again
The turning of the year,
Even so, the church remains green.
Evergreen, like our God.
Ever growing, roots deep in dark, rich earth.
Nights lengthen and light is more and more precious, golden, fleeting.
Trick or treaters and tons of candy and costumes.
It’s All Saints’ again.
Lighted candles warm the sanctuary and our hearts.
Aroma of burnt tapers, extinguished.
Salty tears on cheeks, awaiting the hand of the Lord to wipe them all away.
To make all things new.
Wait for the Lord, whose day is near.
Wait for the Lord, keep watch take heart.
It is the church’s New Year’s Eve again.
The wheel of the year turns.
Winds grow colder, nights longer, but hope stronger.
Light one candle to watch for Messiah.
Pray: O come O come Emanuel! Ransom us!
With anticipation and excitement, mark off the days because He is coming!
Coming as tiny baby in the manger and coming in clouds descending.
Coming again in dark, cold night.
In star filled sky.
In gold and incense of wise men.
In greening up the mountain.
In ash marking foreheads and the purple Lenten journey.
Coming again out of the myrrh scented tomb
To walk in lilies and brilliant summer riot of color.
In wind and fire and ever-green growing church.
Coming again to wipe away all tears.
Coming again to make all things new.