I could relate to Gabriella’s role as big sister, ‘cause I had one too. She confided to me, which name, of all the nicknames her parents call her, that she liked best – Bean- which was fine with me. She taught me how to say Agua, water, in Spanish, and that was really cool. I told her, how happy I was that her younger brother Michael was getting baptized, and that it was a really special gift for the whole congregation, that he would get a baptismal candle, and a cross marked on his forehead with olive oil, and get water poured on him in the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. And all that seemed to be going really well. But when I tried to explain that, the Baptism, wouldn’t be for two more days yet, on Sunday, she gave me a blank stare, like, who are you?! Adults say the weirdest things!
Time, in days, has no meaning for a 2 year old, apparently. So, we didn’t really bond over that! Gabriella was in the moment, enjoying the pizza, Agua, and was curious about me, the visitor, right now. There was no yesterday – and no tomorrow. Today was everything, for Bean, I discovered. And, as I ate my delicious pizza, I began to think about the cyclical nature of time – time was like a wheel, or, like that pizza pie – at least, before we devoured and finished it up!
There’s a Chicago Food Truck called Pi, P-I, for pizza pies, of course, but also for the never ending formula, 3.141, something, something, something, defining the circumference of a circle which most pizzas are shaped like, not to mention the wheels of the Pi Pizza truck!
Today we reach a mid-point on the circular Church Calendar, between the festival half of the church year, which ended with the Day of Pentecost, the 50th Day of Easter, last Sunday, and now, beginning the long green and growing Season of Pentecost. The Church Year is often portrayed as a wheel, too, reminding us that each year we travel, one time, all the way around, from Advent-Christmas-Epiphany and Lent, through Easter and Pentecost, centered always by the cross and resurrection of Jesus, in the Great Three Days. And then repeat, with many and various beginnings and endings, all the time.
There are definite beginnings and endings in the theme of our readings today too: Genesis 1:1, is the quintessential beginning, when God created the heavens and the earth. And the obvious ending, is our Gospel reading. Not only is it the final five verses in Matthew, but here, Jesus is saying goodbye to his Disciples, and giving them his final instructions. Jesus closes the circle, reminding them of his mission, that “all authority in heaven and on earth has been given to him.” Just as God was incarnate in him from his birth, now, the departing Jesus, gives some of that authority away to them, that their lights can shine, encouraging them to share the transformative good news, Go and make disciples amongst all the Gentiles… gifting them with a new beginning in baptism, in the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit.
All this happened on a mountain, a holy place, where there is no yesterday, no tomorrow, but only a kind of eternal now, with God, a place where we find Jesus in Matthew’s gospel at a number of important occasions, when he is closest to God, the lofty heights, where there was only a thin veil in that upper atmosphere between heaven and earth, between God and God’s creation. And the last thing Jesus tells the Disciples there, is, “remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”
So this ending, makes for a new beginning. And Jesus leaves us in-between two worlds! The world of heaven, to which the Father belongs, which has been revealed by Jesus, and is symbolized in the Mt Top, and, the world of empire here, the realm of debt, slavery and death, which is being exposed by the cross, and confronted for its injustice through God’s people, and so is passing away. And Jesus promises to be with us, always, in this in-between place! We do not live as people of the world with no hope. We do not live as people without a future or a past. In the faith, we are gaining, a yesterday, and a tomorrow.
But sometimes it’s difficult to live in the in-between world. There are still fractures and brokenness here. We see it even in the gospel story’s picture of only 11 Disciples – “Now the eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain to which Jesus had directed them,” our reading begins. Knowing that there were 12 Disciples before, we feel the tension, because it reminds us that Judas has died in terrible regret and fear, a mistake of betrayal, that all the disciples, to some degree, participated in. Their wounded-ness is a reality, of the in-between time we live in, that longs for healing and wholeness.
We all live in the in-between time. And as we grow old enough to tell time, days, years, and ages, we come to know responsibility and duty, as well as, gift and Sabbath. Parents, are born into a new life filled with new concerns, suddenly living in-between their earlier care-free days, and the empty nest to come, living with chaos, amidst the need to create order, like the Creator in Genesis, overwhelmed with diapers to college degrees, trusting mightily in the promise of Jesus, to be with their children, always.
But living in-between two worlds is also a gift of revelation – an insight into the mind of the creator, and God’s will for us, and all the earth. In this in-between time, we always have Jesus, the only person who has lived in both worlds, and still does, for us! “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me,” said Jesus, before commissioning the Disciples, and taking his leave. In the ending of Jesus’ story, we see a new beginning, the vision of the world to come, when earth and heaven will be restored and healed and made whole again. The creation story and the Garden of Eden are iconic stories, that have inspired us with their glimpse of what God can begin to do through our hands. And yet, we are not going back to Eden, we are going forward into a new heaven and earth, reunited!
So the Church Year Wheel is not just a continuous circle, but perhaps more like a spiral, so that, as it turns, it also moves forward, and is steering toward God’s purpose, the end of the age, as Jesus called it. Or maybe it’s like ordering a new pizza pie/(pi) every so often: we get all we can out of each one – uhmm! – but there is always a new one we anticipate with equal or greater expectations, learning something new we didn’t know before – pineapple and Canadian bacon, or grilled chicken, can make for a really delicious pizza, too. And in what Jesus has revealed, we learn something new that changes us, death does not have the final say, for us, on this side of the resurrection. We are bathed in the font of new life, that gives us hope and courage, every day!
Why else could those 800 college kids from Ohio, 50 years ago this month, be trained in non-violent resistance for the Freedom Summer of 1964, knowing, as they did, they would be mocked, and beaten, and even would risk their lives, to bring about racial justice at the polls for African Americans in Mississippi?
The example of Jesus, has changed us, and the world, for the better. We believe in the power of the Holy Spirit to transform us, because of Jesus the Son, sent to us by God the creator, because our sad endings – by our own mistakes and bad choices, or by the ripples of evil, from empire, and its misuse of power – can, and have been, turned into new beginnings.
Today we see a new beginning, and new life, as Michael Julian is brought to the waters of this font of blessing! There is new life for his big sister and parents, and the rest of Fernandez-Possen-Meer family. There is new life for Michael. And there is new life for us, Unity Lutheran Church. The wheel of God’s Church Year rolls forward one more time, teaching us new tricks – better, even, than a pizza pie delivery man’s! Living in this in-between time, can be hard, but it is also full of hope and promise, because Jesus is always with us – and so we pledge to be supporters of one another, and of all that bends toward the healing of the universe, the coming together of all creation, as God intends, when both heaven and earth are made one.