It’s the last Sunday of the old year, looking into the chaos of a new year. I don’t know about you, but it looks like it’s going to be a chaotic, bloody 2020, with the political climate already disorienting and unnerving. Who knows what the next new year will bring?
The last day of the old year, peering into the possibility of a new year. The beginning and the end. The Alpha and Omega.
If you would, take a look at the two stained glass windows on either side of the Sanctuary. The windows are designed to start down at the bottom on the organ side of the church with the big letter A, Alpha, which is the first letter of the Greek alpha-bet. Alpha means ‘First.’
That is paralleled by the bottom window on the choir side, where there’s a big letter that looks sort of like an O- that’s Omega, the last letter of the Greek alphabet. Omega means ‘Last.’
Alpha to Omega- it’s the same as saying “from A to Z”- the beginning and the end. And everything in between is the life of faith and the work of God.
Now, who is the First and the Last, our Beginning and our End, and the substance of our Faith? (Spoiler alert! It’s Jesus!) Why is Jesus called the First One? And why the Last One?
In the first words of the Gospel of John, John writes, “In the very beginning was the One who is called ‘the Word.’ The Word was with God, and was truly God. From the very beginning, this One who was called the Word was with God. And through this One called “the Word,” God created all things. Nothing was made without this Word, and through this Word everything- all things!- came into being. And Life itself was in this One called the Word, and that life was humanity’s light- A Light that shines in the darkness; A Light that the darkness never has… nor ever will… extinguish.”
Jesus Christ is our Beginning and our End, our Alpha and our Omega… I don’t know about you, but I don’t remember my beginning. I can’t remember much of anything before I was 4 years old, and even that is pretty sketchy. I certainly don’t remember anything from before I was born!
But I sometimes wonder if we come into this world from somewhere. I mean, I know we come from the heart of God: But at the moment of our birth, do we have any consciousness of our existence before? Do we have any insight into this great unknown that is facing us? Or is it all just one sensation tumbling in upon another:
Torn from our dark and comforting womb, bloody, disoriented, frightened… And we burst into a blinding, cold light and it’s all chaos and sensation and experience- No way of making sense of it all because our lives have no context. We’ve never done this before.
And then our mothers and fathers scoop us into their arms, and we enter the complex web of relationships
which will mold and define us for the rest of our lives. And it’s only over the course of months and years that this random chaos gradually sorts itself out into things we can recognize and give words to: beauty, and love, and delight…
Who could have known? Who could have ever imagined from the dark warmth of the womb that life would be like this?
If this is what our beginning looks like- bloody, disoriented, just one sensation after another without any way of making sense of it- what will our end be like? How can we know, any more than a child emerging from the womb… How can we know what that fearful darkness holds?
Some of us fear our ends- especially those of us who like to be in control of things; who like to make our hotel arrangements beforehand, and plan the anniversary seating arrangements. Who do not like to face any Unknown unprepared.
But we have no control over either our beginning or our end. Control is not within our power. The only thing we can do is trust.
Dorothy White was an old friend from Seattle who has long since died.
We were having a lovely conversation on death… and life… and life after death.
“I remember when I had an appendectomy when I was 20,” she said. (It was just seven weeks before Conrad and I were married- a wonderful time because I was on student health and it only cost $5!)
‘Have you ever been put under?’ Dorothy asked. ‘I remember when I was told to breathe deeply, and my first reaction was to resist, out of fear, I guess. Then I decided to have faith in the process and took a few deep breaths. When I opened my eyes, (after what seemed to me to be no time at all) it was all over with, except that the pain was gone.
“So it seems to me that may be a bit what dying is like. We give ourselves over to death (but with faith in the process) and when we are resurrected it will seem that no time has passed, but all pain will be gone.”
“Death will be no more; mourning and crying and pain will be no more, for the first things have passed away.” (Revelation 21:4)
Henry van Dyke (1852-1933) wrote a beautiful piece called, “The Ship That Sailed Away.
“I am standing upon the shore,” he wrote, I am standing upon the shore, A ship at my side spreads her white sails to the morning breeze and starts for the blue ocean.
“She is an object of beauty and strength, and I stand and watch her until she hangs like a speck of white cloud out where the sea and sky meet and mingle with each other. Then someone at my side says, ‘There. She is gone.’ Gone where? Gone from my sight, that is all.
“Her diminished size is in me, not in her. She is just as true in mast and hull and spar as she was when she left my side, and just as able to bear her load of living freight to her destination.
“And at that same moment when someone at my side says, ‘There. She is gone.’ — other eyes are watching her coming, and other voices take up the glad shout, ‘Here she comes!’ And this is dying
…and other voices take up the glad shout, ‘Here she comes!’ What if it’s like that? What if death is like coming to another shore, and falling into the arms of Someone who has been eagerly awaiting your coming, aching to hold you, to love you?
“Do not go softly into that dark night!”, “I will not die!”…resistance… fear…What we dread is the unknown, just as at our birth. But what if we know the One who awaits us?
Paul Jackson had called Sam and asked him to come over. Sam was Paul’s doctor- but Sam was more than just a doctor. He was an old friend. They’d known each other since they were kids. But now Paul had brain cancer, and was scared stiff. Fear crept into his sleep, into his waking, into his every breath.
So Sam came over to Paul’s home. He’d been out walking his dog when Paul called him on his cell phone, so he just left his dog on the back porch when he walked into Paul’s kitchen.
The two friends sat down at the kitchen table with a pot of coffee between them, and Paul started pouring out his fears- Suffering. Pain. Death. “Sam,” he said, “I’m afraid to die. Tell me what lies on the other side.”
Sam sat there a long time looking at his friend. “I don’t know, Paul.” Just then Sam’s dog started whimpering and scratching at the kitchen door. Sam got up to let her in, and she sprang in and leapt up on him, her massive paws on his chest, her tongue all over his face.
“Look at my dog, Paul. She’s never been in this kitchen before. She didn’t know what was inside. The only thing she knew was that I was here, and when I opened the door she sprang without fear.
I don’t know what’s on the other side of death, Paul, but I do know one thing. I know God is there; I know Jesus is there, and that’s enough.”
Alpha to Omega- it’s the same as saying “from A to Z”- the beginning and the end. And everything in between is the life of faith, and the work of God. We don’t know what is on the other side, any more than we know what the new year will bring, but our faith has taught us who is on the other side.
The 21st chapter of Revelation reads,
“See, the home of God is among mortals. God will dwell among us as our God, and we will be God’s people, and we will know the depth and truth and love of God for ourselves. And God will wipe every tear from our eyes. And Death will be no more; mourning and crying and pain will be no more, for the first things have passed away.” (Rev. 21:1-6)
And as at our birth, so at our death, we will go through that dark and unknown door, and be scooped up in the bright and blinding light by hands which have been waiting for us, yearning for us, aching to hold us. And who have never once let us go.
In the Name of the One who is our Alpha and Omega, our beginning and our end; Even Jesus the Christ. Amen.
SCRIPTURE READINGS FOR DECEMBER 29, 2019
Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth;
or the first heaven and the first earth had passed away,
and the sea was no more.
And I saw the holy city, the new Jerusalem,
coming down out of heaven from God,
prepared as a bride adorned for her husband.
And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying,
“Behold! The home of God is among mortals!
God will dwell with them as their God,
and they will be God’s people,
and we will know the depth, and truth, and love of God for ourselves.
God will wipe every tear from their eyes.
Death will be no more;
mourning and crying and pain will be no more,
for the first things have passed away.”
And the One who was seated on the throne said,
“Behold, I am making all things new… 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.”
This vision comes from the very heart of God.