It is the end of the church year–the omega point, if you will, the culmination of the alphabet from alpha to omega, a to z. “I am the alpha and omega,” Christ says, the beginning and the end. The love of God which we know in Christ Jesus reigns over all creation, so we celebrate this Reign of Christ Sunday, what used to be called “Christ the King Sunday.”
But if the image of a monarch or sovereign reigning over a kingdom doesn’t seem to resonate with anything in our lives here in Bennington, VT in the year 2013, if it all seems too abstract and heady, we might do well to turn to the ever-helpful Dr. Suess. Now, you might be thinking that we’re heading into the time of year where Dr. Suess’ classic “The Grinch Who Stole Christmas” will soon be featured on tv’s and dvd’s, but I’m thinking of another Dr. Suess book, “On Beyond Zebra.”
The narrator in “On Beyond Zebra” takes the reader through the alphabet, which we all know ends with Z, for Zebra. You can stop there if you want, he says to Conrad Cornelius o’Donald o’Dell, but then you’ll miss out on all the other great and useful letters, like Yuzz, which you use to spell Yuzz-z-ma-tuzz. And Wum, as in Wumbus. It’s the perfect Easter book, I think, and I did read it here one Easter. You may think that the crucifixion was the end of Jesus and the Jesus movement. That’s what Herod and the high priests and Pilate assumed. That’s what the world assumes about death. It’s The End. But God’s alphabet is not limited to 26 English letters. God is still speaking, and there are so many different ways for God to speak. God’s vocabulary fills up words and goes beyond them. God’s fullness isn’t even emptied by death.
In that one Word, which became flesh and dwelt among us, the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, the letter to the Colossians says. “So spacious is he, [Peterson suggests] so roomy, that everything of God finds its proper place in him without crowding.” Just like that very first, primordial particle that exploded in the Big Bang, everything in the universe–and maybe in other universes–was contained. “In the beginning,” God and God’s intention for everything. Wow. Mind-blowing.
But still maybe a little heady, a little too abstract. For whether we know on a certain level that endings are not endings for God, whether we get that God’s alphabet goes on beyond zebra, still the experience, the gut feeling, the tearing and sundering of our hearts knows that endings also involve pain. Grief is not to be trifled with. It will take its time to work through our bodies, surprising us sometimes by its power, by its almost cat-and-mouse game–one day you think you’re doing ok, and the next day the littlest thing will unleash a flood of tears. Grief is the gift of endings–is it possible to think of it as a gift?!–as it takes us through the tearing of familiar bonds and attachments and then slowly, eventually constructs new and even stronger threads that allow us to heal and move on to the previously unimaginable ways we remain connected.
[writes poet Mary Oliver]
I thought I could not
go any closer to grief
I went closer,
and I did not die.
had His hands in this,
as well as friends.
Still, I was bent
and my laughter,
as the poet said,
was nowhere to be found.
Then said my friend Daniel
(brave even among lions),
“It’s not the weight you carry
but how you carry it –
books, bricks, grief –
it’s all in the way
you embrace it, balance it, carry it
when you cannot and would not,
put it down.”
(Mary Oliver, in Thirst)
“So spacious is [Christ], so roomy, that everything of God finds its proper place in him without crowding. Not only that, but all the broken and dislocated pieces of the universe–people and things, animals and atoms–get properly fixed and fit together in vibrant harmonies, all because of his death, his blood that poured down from the Cross.”
Why “because of his death”? Because in that act Jesus willingly emptied himself, gave himself over to be the channel through which our lives could freely flow through death into Life and Love itself, so that Death was no longer a barrier between us and God, between us and our loved ones who are now in God. In him–so utterly empty on the Cross–the fullness of God was pleased to dwell.
All is safely gathered in, we sang of the harvest. All are safely gathered in. Our loved ones. The children of Newtown, Connecticut. President John F. Kennedy. All those whose deaths we remember and feel so deeply, especially today, at this time of year. All are safely gathered in, but not just swept up like so many grains of wheat. There is a “heartbreak at the heart of things,” as one poet writes– The heartbreak of the Cross at the heart of things, we might say–but it is heartbreak mixed with joy and hope and meaning and love–
In the quiet before cockcrow
[writes John Hall Wheelock] when the cricket’s
Mandolin falters, when the light of the past
Falling from the high stars yet haunts the earth
And the east quickens, I think of those I love–
Dear men and women no longer with us.
And not in grief or regret merely but rather
With a love that is almost joy I think of them,
Of whom I am part, as they of me, and through whom
I am made more wholly one with the pain and the glory,
The heartbreak at the heart of things.
I have learned it from them at last, who am now grown old
A happy man, that the nature of things is tragic
And meaningful beyond words, that to have lived
Even if once only, once and no more,
Will have been–oh, how truly–worth it…”
(“Dear Men and Women [in memory of Van Wyck Brooks]” (abridged) by John Hall Wheelock, from An Almanac for the Soul, by Marv and Nancy Hiles, p. 222)
“So spacious is he, so roomy, that everything of God finds its proper place in him without crowding. Not only that, but all the broken and dislocated pieces of the universe–people and things, animals and atoms–get properly fixed and fit together in vibrant harmonies, all because of his death, his blood that poured down from the Cross.”
“All are safely gathered in.” Thanks be to God! Amen.
Rev. Mary H. Lee-Clark