All Saints/End Time

Ezekiel 47:1-12; Psalm 90; Revelation 22:1-7; Luke 12:15-32

Lord, you have been our dwelling place in all generations. Before the mountains were brought forth, or ever you had formed the earth and the world, from everlasting to everlasting you are God. So the psalmist extols God's eternity before thinking about our mortality: we return to dust, we're here and gone like quickly fading grass, our years come to an end like a sigh. In light of that, we're to know that our days are numbered and apply our hearts to wisdom; to be satisfied with God's steadfast love and to know joy and gladness all our days.

The Christian year draws to a close with a thanksgiving celebration of those who've gone before us. We don't linger in mourning but give thanks that they've been gathered to Christ in eternity. One of the symbols long associated with All Saints is a sheaf of wheat rising up from a crown, with the Greek letters Alpha and Omega on each side since the end and the beginning meet in Christ. In a way, that symbol demonstrates what Paul wrote in that great resurrection chapter of 1 Corinthians: What is son is perishable; what is raised is imperishable. It is sown in dishonor; it is raised in glory. It is sown in weakness; it is raised in power. It is sown a natural body; it is raised a spiritual body (15:42-44). Those planted in Christ's good soil of grace and watered by the Spirit in Baptism are raised from death to the harvest of ongoing life. 

Contrast that with Jesus' picture of the wealthy man who wanted only glory and ease. He was sure that he could build larger barns and stockpile his plentiful harvest so that he'd be set for many years to come. Rather than using his abundance as an opportunity to share, he made it the vehicle for self-congratulatory indulgence. If only he had known that he had hours instead of years; if only he had known that fullness of life doesn't consist of the things possessed but in knowing the richness of God's grace. It's no surprise that Jesus followed up that parable by warning against the anxiety-ridden preoccupation with food and clothing: Learn from the ravens. Learn from the lilies. It is your Father's good pleasure to give you the kingdom. We can't just sit around thinking we've got it made for years while wasting time and God's gifts on ourselves. The sage who knew that there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven, also knew that the Lord has put eternity into people's hearts ... [and] that there is nothing better for them than to be joyful and to do good as long as they live (Ecclesiastes 3:1, 11-12). We're to live fully in the present with a view toward what's to come, for a thousand years in God's sight are but as yesterday.  

There's a good example of this in a harvest we don't think about anymore: ice. Thoreau gave a beautiful picture of it in this passage from Walden

While yet it is cold January, and snow and ice are thick and solid, the prudent landlord comes from the village to get ice to cool his summer drink; impressively, even pathetically, wise, to foresee the heat and thirst of July now in January, wearing a thick coat and mittens! when so many things are not provided for. It may be that he lays up no treasures in this world which will cool his summer drink in the next. He cuts and saws the solid pond, unroofs the house of fishes, and carts off their very element and air, held fast by chains and stakes like corded wood, through the favoring winter air, to wintry cellars, to underlie the summer there. It looks like solidified azure, as, far off, it is drawn through the streets (141-2).*

eds. Gary Schmidt and Susan M. Felch "Winter: A Spiritual Biography of the Season"

That takes us directly to our other verses which bridge this world to the next. In his vision, Ezekiel saw water flowing eastward from below the threshold of the temple. God led him outside, measured the water then led him through the ankle-deep, knee-deep, and waist-deep water until it was deep enough to swim in but too difficult to cross. Then the Lord led him back to the riverbank, where there were many trees on both sides, and said: when the water flows into the sea, the water will become fresh. And wherever the river goes, every living creature that swarms will live, and there will be very many fish. But its swamps and marshes will not become fresh; they are to be left for salt. And on the banks will grow all kinds of trees for food . fresh fruit for every month, because the water for them flows from the sanctuary. Their fruit will be for food, and their leaves for healing. Where does that show up again? In the last chapter of the Bible; John beheld the new heaven and the new earth and saw the river of the water of life, the tree of life, fresh fruit every month, and leaves for the healing of all nations. What else is that but a return to the garden, the entry of the eternal paradise?

 

Many think of late autumn and approaching winter as a time when all is bare and hopeless. Many see the latter years of life that way too, holding little of promise or beauty since the glory of life is supposedly all past. But that is not the case. Brown riverbanks and barren branches, empty creek-beds and frozen water point ahead to the glory yet to be revealed in the coming seasons and beyond to the glory of the new Creation! May we live in the land of the here and now with thanksgiving that Christ came down from heaven to earth! May we live with enduring trust in the Lord who gives us the fruits of Christ's righteousness and forgiveness through the tree of the cross! May we see the life that flows to us through the baptismal font and through the altar of Christ's healing feast! May we set ourselves joyfully to the tasks of his will, living as the saints in time who have a view to eternity! In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, Amen.

 

 

*Winter: A Spiritual Biography of the Season, eds. Gary Schmidt and Susan M. Felch (Woodstock, VT: SkyLight Paths, 2003).

Going Further: Consider reading and discussing Wendell Berry's novel Jayber Crow, or watch the documentary about Andy Goldsworthy's ephemeral and enduring work called Rivers and Tides: Working with Time. What observations about the book or film are helpful in understanding time and change, the end of the natural year and the Church Year, the end of life and eternity?