Alpha and Omega

All Saints Sunday – B (Revelation 21:1-6)

If you listen to CBC Radio One, you might have noticed that Jian Ghomeshi concludes most of his daily talk-shows, ‘Q’, by saying: “To be continued.”

He says this despite having completed all the interviews, listened to all the songs, and said everything he was planning to say that day. This is not a case of one of those suspense-filled, climactic endings that leave us hanging at the end of a show. This is not about coming to the end of a TV season finale when we are desperate for some resolution to a crisis, and those annoying words flash on the screen: To be continued …

No, at the end of ‘Q’ there’s no suspense, no feeling of in-completion, no loose-ends to tie up – as if Jian Ghomeshi should say something more. In fact, I often feel satisfied when he signs off. And yet at the end he still says, “To be continued”. Why?

Presuming his statement “to be continued” is something good that will be continued, could that expression be sitting on an underlying hope? That he’ll be around tomorrow to do whatever good thing all over again? Is he expressing a need to state in the present moment, despite having to end his show today, that there’s something worth betting on in the so-called ‘unknown’ future tomorrow? Is he implying that the story of his life and work as a radio-broadcaster is destined somewhere good?

I believe each of us can relate, to some extent. Because beneath all our activity and work, isn’t there a desire to see our lives as meaningful, as worthwhile? So, how do we establish meaning?

We tell stories.

We tell stories about our past, about events growing up when we were younger; we tell stories about the people we’ve met and places to which we travelled; we tell stories about loved ones – our children, our friends and relatives. We tell stories about things we’ve accomplished for which we are proud. We tell stories to make sense – good sense – of it all.

No wonder people are really into tracing their ancestry and genealogy these days – like never before. Web sites like ancestry.ca are getting huge hits for meeting a real human need. These are designed to help us tell our stories of origin – where we’ve come from. We have a beginning, to be sure. It’s worth telling.

I think, though, we have an easier time identifying where we’ve come from. Because we’re less specific, normally, about where we’re going. I was looking through some old history textbooks from high school, and noticed the typical depiction of historical events: an arrow going across the bottom of the page. Along the line are marked significant points in time, certain events worth noting.

But there’s no definite end. The line just points vaguely into the future, suggesting merely that “time marches on”. And I suppose with the hope that the future will resolve itself in subsequent beneficial events in history. Or at least history will move forward in a benign sort of way.

But where, exactly, are we headed? The dominant story of our culture seems to suggest we are headed “everywhere at once, which means of course we are headed no where in particular” (p.234 Feasting on the Word, Year B, Vol 4).

T.S. Eliot wrote, “In my end is my beginning” (East Coker in Four Quartets, New York: Harcourt, Brace & World, 1943, p.32). The answer to both questions – where we are from and where we are headed – is the same: God. Our ultimate origins are in God, and our ultimate destination is in God as well. Our final destination is the same as where we started.

The book of Genesis begins the Bible – it helps us in broad terms to understand our origins. The book of Revelation ends the Bible – it helps us in broad terms to understand our ultimate destination.

We started ‘good’ with God. When God created everything, as recorded in the first chapters of Genesis, the first thing God says is, “It was good”. Then the Fall, then sin, then our brokenness, suffering, division and violence. We know that story intimately – the in-between parts.

But how well do we appreciate the beginning and the end – the bookends of history, so to speak? Do we choose to have hope that our story does not end in the present, sometimes crappy circumstance of our lives? Do we affirm by our attitude and behavior that the story will continue to its ultimate ending? We affirm at funeral services: “Death has not the final Word”. So it must be back to God – back to union in the goodness of ourselves in God. And not only in some netherworld fantasy. But in a real, meaningful, concrete way ….

…. should we live our lives today ‘as if’. What if we lived today from the perspective of both our origin and final destination in Christ? What if we lived in the moment in the sight of God who is the Alpha and Omega, the beginning and end? Who sees us as we were originally purposed, originally created? What if we lived today to regard ourselves and the world as God originally intended and to whom we ultimately will return?

What if we embraced our true identity as the “saints” of God? What if we had the gall, the courage, the faith, to affirm daily – especially in the midst of some suffering, even – “to be continued” – towards a good resolution?

One way we affirm our lives “to be continued” in Christ affects our life together — in family, in church, in business.

Wherever now there is division and conflict, we can make decisions based on viewing our existence from the perspective of eternity. We can choose to be bold and make choices however difficult and risky to forge ahead building relationships and communities that work toward a common good.

And I believe deep down we know this to be true. Last week, I was speaking with a Roman Catholic lay person and she mentioned that our Lutheran services of worship are so similar. Even the words we say in the liturgy were familiar to her. After a pause to let her observation sink in, I added: “We really should get our act together as Christians”.

The creation of a new community in communion with God is not the result of history but the purpose of it. Our beginning is our end and our end is our beginning.

Through it all, God’s home is among mortals. God and humans dwell together. This means that our ability to work with others is a part of creation. We have the capacity to cooperate, enabling us to achieve that which would be impossible to the lone individual, to the lone congregation, to the lone denomination, to the lone branch of Christianity.

The book of Revelation is at heart a book of consolation and a vision of comfort for a people in distress and suffering great loss and conflict. The visions in the book point to a particular and hopeful destination for people of faith. That implication alone is power to order and direct our lives in the here and now – to stay on the path, together.

These days, let’s not just be about claiming our individual ‘personhood’; let’s claim our sainthood in Christ Jesus, Lord of all.

Amen. To be continued ….

About raspberryman

I am a pastor in the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Canada, serving a parish in Ottawa Ontario. I am a husband, father, and admirer of the Ottawa Valley. I enjoy beaches, sunsets and waterways. I like to write, reflect theologically and meditate in the Christian tradition.
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