Here is the meditation I gave for my Field Ed placement. It was a morning prayer and Communion service and so I took some time to reflect on my summer thus far and to reflect on why we were there:
“And the one who was seated on the throne said, “See, I am making all things new.” Also he said, “Write this, for these words are trustworthy and true.” Then he said to me, “It is done! I am the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end. To the thirsty I will give water as a gift from the spring of the water of life. Those who conquer will inherit these things, and I will be their God and they will be my children.”
(Revelation 21:5–7 NRSV)
This week I have been doing a lot of thinking about the book of Revelation. Now, I am not normally a Revelation person. I am not a fan of the Left Behind series, I am not a believer in the rapture or apt to go out on the street corner with a sign that says: “The end is near!” But this week since I am preaching from that book on Sunday I have been thinking a lot about it.
Since it is the last book in the Bible it seemed appropriate for me during the final few weeks of my internship. In many ways it is remarkably similar. Revelation was written on multiple levels. It really tells two stories. On the first level it tells the story of a fantastic battle of good versus evil and of plagues and destruction overtaking the earth as a punishment for those who are wicked. This is the story that everyone knows. This is the story which so often confuses people. It is a story which is centered on the future. But in reality, Revelation tells a much different story, one which has a deeper resonance, and one which was intended to help the audience with their current struggles, and one which still speaks to our problems today. It is the story of salvation. This story is that of a people who are struggling and oppressed, but who are able to stand strong by looking to the future with hope and excitement for what God is going to do. It tells the story of God’s victory over the forces of evil in the world. It is a dual story: present and future.
And now, as I begin to transition from my time here at Birmingham back into my world as a seminary student, I too am finding myself living two stories. There is so much I want to accomplish in my final few weeks, but there are also issues and plans that I need to start making to get ready for my second year. I am living in the present and the future at the same time. This is a confusing place to be. One feels torn between two times. But it is also an interesting place to be because as I begin to reimagine my return to Durham and reuniting with my friends and family I begin to imagine what I will say to them about my summer. I think about the ways in which this summer has shaped my ministry.
This summer I have been able to experience what it is like to actually do ministry, to work through difficult plans, to come up with creative solutions. I have experienced what it is like to plan and preach multiple services back to back with last minute hospital visits and unexpected surprises thrown in there. I have been able to experience the joy of teaching a class and learning as much from my students as I did from my own research. I have built relationships with so many of you and been able to learn from your experience and be a part of your lives, and for that I have been greatly blessed and am immensely grateful. These lessons have helped to shape who I will be as a pastor and the future of my ministry, and I know that God will use this experience in ways I cannot even imagine, to do amazing work through me in the future.
This is where I am right now. I am living in the past, the present and the future. And that is also where we are right now as a worshipping community. Gathered here this morning before this table, before these gifts of bread and juice we are taking part in a ritual that celebrates God’s presence in the past, presence and future. In the liturgy of this meal, we are called to remember the Holy Mystery: Christ has died, Christ is risen, Christ will come again. This is a simple formula-one many of us have memorized from years of repetition-but it is essential to who we are as Christians.
God calls us to be past, present and future people. We are called to remember God’s past work in our lives-the places where God has shown up for us and brought us through the struggles and uncertainties of life. We remember these moments so that we can know that God is still with us during today’s struggles and uncertainties. And finally, both our past history, and our present choices help to shape the direction we go in the future. That is what our text is saying this morning. God is saying: ‘I am the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end, the past and the future.’ Everything is within God’s time. And through this reality, God is making everything new today. Things are changing and growing and all of this is being done within God’s context. God was before it, God will be after it, and so God is within it.
So, as we come to this time of communion, we come to practice being people who are in the past, present and future. When we break the bread, we remember the last summer. We recall the words Christ said to his disciples and the sacrifice he made on our behalf. When we receive the elements we are reminded that God’s saving work in done in us now. That in consuming this meal, we invite God into us to consume our lives, and to fill us with grace and the presence of the Holy Spirit. And finally, as we participate in this whole ritual we recognize that we are empowered by this meal and the strength God gives to us to work for God’s will in this world, until Christ comes in final victory and we will all feast at his heavenly banquet.