Sunday, November 1, 2009

Like a blanket…

The other morning, I woke up to a sheet of snow covering the ground. Unexpectedly, I got real excited. It was the first snow of the year, and it wasn’t much. Just a dusting, which by the day’s end had become ground water. But its abrupt appearance made me smile. Not because I love coldness; the snow brought to mind wonderful memories of snowy seasons past (especially on ski slopes!).

All Saints Day is this month, and the Holiday season begins. So ‘memories’ will be a reoccurring theme- in our personal and religious lives together. I wish these memories were all as good as those that recently bounced through my mind. At least in Hollywood’s version of life, Holidays should bring only joy and peace, not heartache and longing. I like that version. But we know that too many Thanksgiving tables will be one person less full this year. Too many parents will see Christmas shopping ads that remind them of a job lost. And the whole idea of All Saints Day is to ‘celebrate’ beloved champions of the faith who’ve gone to their final rest. It’s a joyous service, for many churches, filled with memories of profound legacies left behind. But it’s never just that simple. Sometimes happiness and pain are two sides of the same emotion.

Do you remember the Greek myth of Persephone? The story goes that Persephone was a beautiful young woman, who attracted even the attention of Hades, the reclusive God of the Underworld. Hades, known for neither charm nor gentlemanly behavior, found Persephone wandering in a flower patch alone. So he stole her away to be Queen of the Underworld. But Persephone was, shall we say, well connected. Her mother was Demeter, Goddess of the Harvest, and Demeter wasn’t pleased with Hades’ actions. She persuaded Zeus, King of the Gods, to secure Persephone’s release, but Hades’ tricks weren’t finished. He gave Persephone Pomegranate seeds, which, when ingested, linked her to the Underworld forever. She had no choice now but to return to Hades’ side four moths every year, during which time, in protest of her daughter’s fate, Demeter would refuse to let anything grow. Thus, we have winter, and annually Earth enters a cycle of death and rebirth, ‘enacting’ Persephone’s journey into the Underworld and back again.

So please don’t give me pomegranate juice for Christmas. And perhaps take some time, as winter approaches, to ponder the cycles of this life that God still sustains. As leaves fall and snow builds up, it’s obvious how, yearly, Nature moves back around on itself. The church also uses winter’s onset to conclude and reinitiate our yearly cycle, of remembrance and praise. Officially, the Church Calendar ends around Thanksgiving, and our ‘New Year’ begins the last Sunday of November, with the advent of Advent. During this yearly cycle, the same stories are retold, memories of ages past are re-membered.

But here’s the key- Even as we participate in this yearly circle of life and story, it’s NOT the same ritual being enacted year after year. For each year, we proclaim, is one year closer to that glorious time when God’s Reign on Earth will be whole and complete, when all family tables and coffers will be full enough, when “Life” and “Love” replace “Self” as primary values of human society. So while we commemorate stories of God’s faithfulness through time, these stories aren’t told solely to give hope for Spring. Unlike Persephone’s tale, we contend that they way things are are NOT the way things will always be. God remains faithful as the seasons. And that faithfulness helps Christians understand that God won’t be satisfied until all life is valued, redeemed and covered with joy. Christ was born for this.

So as one church year ends, and another begins, recall the stories of saints who’ve come and gone, and of God’s faithful presence through the ages. May that empower us, then, to step forward into the New Year recommitted to God’s Reign and God’s work, so that next year will look a bit more like God’s heaven in our midst.

And don’t forget a coat. In all things,

Grace and Peace,