Reflecting on the Journey
Between the beginning and the end, there’s always the middle.
Well, this is the third sermon I’ve written, this week! The third for this particular Sunday! I, mostly, finished the other two, but for some reason, they just didn’t seem right. You see, about a year-and-a-half ago, I set aside the third Sunday of each month as a time to reflect on, to think about, the journey we’ve been on, together. Selling the building. Starting over. Going where no one has – where few have – gone before! This is our rebirth! Our resurrection as a congregation! And this Sunday is a chance to mull it all over. Or at least, a small piece of it. Nothing scripted. Nothing choreographed. Whatever happens to come to mind. And that’s what those other two sermons didn’t do.
Then, Thursday morning, while livestreaming the sunrise, I guess you could say, it dawned on me. If you’ve never seen, every Tuesday and Thursday, for the past six-or-so months, I’ve broadcast the sunrise while, at the same time, reading “Morning Blessing” from the Small Catechism. Beginning with a greeting. Then, the Creed. The Lord’s Prayer. The good doctor’s morning prayer. I read the lyrics from one of the songs in our hymnal. And then, we’re on our way, “going to our work joyfully,” as Luther puts it.
But it was while I was reading through the Creed, one more time, that something I’d read hundreds, thousands of times before caught my attention and piqued my imagination. It was a mouthful of words smack dab in the middle of the second article. “He descended to the dead.” He descended to the dead. Usually, when I hear that phrase, I picture it as nothing more than a dot on a roadmap. Just a piece of geography on the road from Calvary to heaven! But this time … it sounded different. More like an intermission. An interlude joining the acts of a drama.
There’s night; there’s day. And there’s the dawn in between. “He descended to the dead.” There’s yesterday; there’s tomorrow. And there’s today, in between. “He descended to the dead.” It’s not just a place along the way. It’s a time – the time – in the middle! Good Friday doesn’t merge immediately into Easter. There’s Holy Saturday, as well. “He descended to the dead.” You see, there’s always a Holy Saturday. There’s always a descending to the dead. Right in between, right in the middle, of everything.
In faith, it’s never either/or. It’s always – for a moment – a both/and. Never just black or just white. But for a time, all grays. Never, simply, saint or sinner. But always saint and …. Always a bridge. Always a transition. A continuity holding the two together. Not a light switch with an on and an off. But a dimmer, with an on, an off, and everything in between. “He descended to the dead.”
Take, for instance, the “Thanksgiving for Baptism” with which we began, this morning. Creation wasn’t a gone-one-moment-here-the-next kind of thing. It was a process. It took time. And Noah? The Flood? It, too, took time. Forty days and forty nights to submerge creation. Then another one hundred fifty years for the waters to recede. There’s always an in between. Always a progression. Always a development. Always a growth. “He descended to the dead.” It looks like nothing’s happening. But the time in the wilderness … the time in the valley among the shadows … is necessary! Essential! Conceived by the Spirit; born of Mary. With nine months in between! Forty weeks! Two hundred eighty days! “He descended to the dead.” It’s all a pregnant pause! When creation catches its breath! When the world regains its footing! There was Egypt; there was Canaan; and there were the forty years, in between. And they were there for a reason! “He descended to the dead … and on the third day!” And on the third day!
Which brings us to our transformation, our metamorphosis. As a congregation. As a people of god. It’s no different from the rest. It, too, takes time. Forty days? Forty weeks? Forty years? We don’t know. All we can say is that it will take as much time as it takes. We’re not a one hit wonder. We’re not an overnight success. We’re a work-in-progress. Like Luther wrote … “This life therefore is not righteousness, but growth in righteousness, not health, but healing, not being but becoming … We are not yet what we shall be, but we are growing toward it, the process is not yet finished, but it is going on, this is not the end, but it is the road …” “He descended to the dead!”
Our story’s told not in months and in years, but in centuries and in generations. We are that time in the wilderness! We are creation in process! We are that Holy Saturday most denominations overlook, that Holy Saturday most denominations ignore! And that time in between, that time in the middle, isn’t a mistake. And it’s not a failure. It’s, simply, the way it is! Change, you see, takes time! For god! For god’s people! And it can’t be rushed! And if we’re honest, our journey didn’t start, a little over eighteen months ago. It didn’t start when we sold the building, sold the grounds, to Midland Chin Immanuel Church. It began long before then. It began before we attended that first transformational ministries conference. Before we began weekly communion. Before that big bust in the mid-Eighties.
This is who we’ve been. This is who we are. And this is where we’ve been headed. Right from the start. From the very beginning. This is our wilderness. This is our Holy Saturday. Lie so many before us, we, too, are descending to the dead! This is our preface, our prelude, to our Easter morning. To our rising. To our new life. And the journey we’re on? It’s not for our benefit. You and I, like all those before us … you and I will, in all likelihood, never set foot in the Promised Land. You and I may, never, get a glimpse of it! But our children will! Our children and our grandchildren and their children after them! And funny thing … they, probably, will never know what we’ve done! And that’s okay. That’s enough.
It takes time. To sprout and to grow. To flower. To bear fruit. It’s enough, more than enough, that they’ll know the grace and mercy, that they’ll know the compassion and the love. Don’t misunderstand. I’m not saying that time heals all. It’s not the time in and of itself. It’s the love, it’s the charity, it’s the grace, that makes use of that time. Faith doesn’t come in the wink of an eye. It doesn’t appear when the trumpet blasts. It descends to the dead! It descends to the dead! From the beginning, it stakes itself on the love! Start to finish … beginning to end … every minute … every mile … it believes in the love! It believes in the love!