We are at a liminal point in time right now. The pandemic, while definitely not over, is on the downside (hopefully that trend is continuing) and our gradual return to a more normal level of activity will keep going. So, we are at an in-between state—which is a fairly unique place to be. Something is ending and we are at the edge of something new. It is a time that is ripe for reflection of the past and thoughtful prayer about what the future might be. Our lives rarely have these liminal times so it is important that we don’t rush through them.
I ask you to join me in some reflection of the past and perhaps during the time visiting after church you may want to talk about your favorite memories of church.
While I enjoy all the liturgical year services, at the top of my personal list is the Easter Vigil. One of my favorite parts of that liturgy is the blessing of the Pascal Candle. For those of you who may be newer to the Episcopal Church, for most of the year that candle is located in the back of the church next to the Baptismal font. During the Easter season and for any baptism or funeral it stands next to the pulpit.
(Symbolic for me, the 2020 Candle arrived in its well-packed box with a large crack in it. That crack continued to grow as the year progressed!) But I digress…
Pre-pandemic the blessing of that candle happened in the Vigil after lighting the new fire and before processing the new light through the darkened church. In 2020 the Candle was blessed with just the clergy in attendance. In 2021 it was done with a slightly larger number of people prior to the Saturday evening Easter service. I look forward to 2022.
Regardless of how it happens the blessing itself is what has sustained me throughout this troubling time. Mother Beth slowly said these words as her hand traced the cross on the candle. Christ yesterday and today. The beginning and the End. Alpha. And Omega; All times are His, and all ages; To Him be glory and dominion, Throughout all the ages of eternity. Amen.
No one has gone through this last 18 months unaffected. Some have experienced more loss than others but all of us have been touched during this time. For me these words of the Pascal Candle blessing have sustained me through the most difficult parts. My summary of the blessing which is easier for me to remember is: “Christ yesterday, Christ today and Christ tomorrow. That is an eternal, unchanging truth. Christ was and is and is to be.
That is true for this liminal time also. While change is often challenging, sometimes frightening and sometimes exhilarating, this truth of Christ is throughout all of life. It is the rock on which life is grounded. Christ yesterday, Christ today and Christ tomorrow.
This morning we heard the beginning of Paul’s letter to the Ephesians. The theme of this letter is God’s eternal purpose in establishing and completing the church—sometimes known as the body of Christ or God’s temple or the bride of Christ. In the first half of the letter Paul gives the theology of the universal church and then in the second half he offers more practical suggestions about how to be the church. In total the letter indicates the importance and the glorious blessing it is to be the church.
The passage read today is the introduction to the entire letter. Thank you (reader’s name), for your thoughtful reading of this; I know it is very dense and not an easy read. In the Greek these verses are one long sentence with a lot of different clauses. At least the English translators tried to help us understand it a bit more!
I am going to suggest, as have some commentators, that we look at the passage as poetry, rather than what might be called a straight forward paragraph with one sentence logically leading to another. When we consider it as poetic images, certain words and phrases stand out.
For example the word “blessed or blessing” catches our attention. We who have received God’s blessing return that blessing to God. We, together as the church, bless God, as he has blessed us. A similar word used often in the passage is “praise” or “praise of his glory”. Our response to God’s loving care of us is to praise his glory. Another related word that comes through is “Grace” and Paul explains what that freely given love has encompassed. Blessing, praise, and grace are words that tell of God’s gifts to us and also our gifts to God. They point to our relationship as a collective body, the church, with God.
In this same vein Paul uses the names of the Trinity, God the Father, the son Jesus Christ and the Holy Spirit throughout the passage. Christ is mentioned six times in these few verses! And mixed in with the Trinity, Paul speaks of us human beings as children of God and God’s own people. The relationship between the church and God, what wondrous things God has done for us and how the church responds to the love of God is what these phrases are about.
Eugene Peterson in his eBook on Ephesians, titled Practice Resurrection says this,
“Ephesians roots the church in the gospel of grace, our redemption in Christ and our calling to be the vibrant, living, Holy Spirit empowered, presence of Christ in the world”
We are called to be the vibrant, living, Holy Spirit empowered presence of Christ in the world. Christians are to embody God, Jesus Christ and the Holy Spirit in all we do. Our daily lives must be Christ like. This is a powerful charge to us now as it has been throughout the generations since Christ’s resurrection. The church building itself is to be a sacred place where we are formed and strengthened to do this work. We as people then are to be the living presence of Christ.
Now if you are not thinking, me, you? How can we do that? This is an overwhelming task! Well, my friends, we do not do it on our own, independently by ourselves, for sure. Rather we do it collectively, together with one another and together with God.
Peterson actually goes on to say that the church offers hope to the world not because of what individual human beings do on their own strength, but because of what God is doing through the body of Christ, the church.
This is a powerful charge to us but also an empowering one. We as the church are important and necessary to the work of God.
While I am fairly sure that the church in the time of Paul and in Ephesus did not look or even sound the same as the church in our day and time the basic truths are the same. We human beings are called into relationship with God to be His body on earth, to participate in His work in this particular moment. In this liminal time and as we seek to discern what changes we may make in the future, this awesome truth about the church remains the same! Our rock, Jesus Christ, is there always, present with us in all our circumstances and in all times. This is unchangeable.
Christ yesterday and today. The beginning and the End. Alpha. And Omega; All times are His, and all ages; To Him be glory and dominion, Throughout all the ages of eternity. Amen.