So much has changed over the past 10 years. When I think back to how things were at Zion in late 2001, to how things are in early 2012 – indeed a lot has changed!
Amid the continually changing realities of life, I have found comfort and hope in a prayer – popular among Lutherans – from Evening Prayer in the old, green book (yes, 10 years ago we had those LBWs in our pews!) – it goes like this:
Lord God, you have called your servants to ventures of which we cannot see the ending, by paths yet untrodden, through perils unknown. Give us faith to go out with good courage, not knowing where we go, but only that your hand is leading us and your love supporting us, through Christ our Lord. Amen.
It is a beloved prayer. Christ indeed goes with us.
But do we go “by paths as yet untrodden”? Yes, in the sense that each of us experiences the journey uniquely; and yes, we can’t know exactly how we will experience that journey with sadness or with joy, or any and all of the emotions in-between.
Does our reaction to change, I wonder, come from a false belief about the nature of the journey itself? Do we not assume that in moving forward we go, as Captain Kirk said at the beginning of each Star Trek TV episode decades ago – “to go where no man [or woman] has gone before”?
Admittedly, the journey of life and faith for us carries a “frontier” mentality. We live and work in North America, after all. We are pioneers – this is our history! – clearing bush for the first time, forging paths never before trodden through the wilderness. And more often than not we are blazing this new path on our own. It’s up to us.
No wonder we are afraid. No wonder we shrink in our seats and cower from any prospect of change. Because if it means we must go it alone into paths as yet untrodden like stepping into a void, into oblivion …..
Where does faith come into it? The wisdom writer said it poetically and truthfully:
“For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven … God has made everything suitable for its time; moreover, he has put a sense of past and future into their minds” (Eccl 3:1,11).
How can we cope with this dual reality of both/and – both the past AND future, both being present AND embracing change? Is this even possible?
It is, I believe, when we REconsider our image for the journey. Not so much a “blazing a new path by ourselves”; not so much a “pioneering / frontier” mentality where WE create the path…
…. But rather, going where a path has already been travelled; we are on a caravan journey.
What does the caravan journey look like? It is a pathway through the wilderness, to be sure. As one plods along its winding route, we follow the tracks of the carts and wagons etched into the roadway; therefore we know others have come this way before us. We know others will follow sometime soon behind us. It is a road dotted by intermittent markers along the way, directing its travellers. Finally, it is folly to travel alone, by oneself; one always journeys the caravan route together with others for mutual support, consolation and protection along the way.
We do not create the path. We are travellers along God’s caravan route through time and place. Someone besides us has forged the path through the desert. It is therefore a route already trodden by the saints before us. Wherever it leads we can be assured that Jesus Christ has travelled the route and beckons us forward to follow.
Today, both past and future converge in the present. On the caravan every moment of the journey is both an ending and a beginning. Every moment that begins something new also means something is ending. When something comes to an end, something new begins.
In my installation service in the Fall of 2001, you presented me, ritually, with the lectern Bible, water for baptism, elements for the Sacrament of the Altar – all symbols that define the unique role of a pastor. This ritual of giving me the “supplies” for the journey enabled me to perform my duties as Co-Pastor.
Today is a marker on that journey. Today marks an ending. We have to bring a relationship to a close. We have to say goodbye. The kind of relationship I have enjoyed with you changes from this point forward.
We mark this time of ending, too, with ritual. Today I read the Gospel; Today I make the sign of the cross using baptismal water; Today I hold the blessed Sacrament.
Yet God is helping us in this moment of ending. God is helping us envision the new beginning. I find great comfort in this image of “caravan” describing the movement forward in life and faith. Even as a pastor now taking leaving of Zion congregation after ten years of service:
- We are assured that the Gospel will continue to be read and received in this place
- We are assured that the Holy Communion will continue to be celebrated at this altar
- We are assured that the waters will continue to be stirred in the font of baptism right here, in this place – of this I am certain and grateful.
- You will still sing the hymns, pray together and enjoy one another’s company
Remember, the path ahead has already been forged. We go not alone, but together, on a path already trodden by Christ Jesus and all the saints in light.
But does God care for us on this caravan route God knows all too well? Now that Jesus is alive and sitting at the right hand of the Father in heaven? You might think that the resurrection Jesus would not really care about earthly, human need anymore; you’d think the resurrected Jesus would ‘get outa Dodge’ for the trouble he endured while on earth and especially during his Passion and death.
The last chapter in the Gospel of Luke helps us, I believe, to understand at least a couple of “rules of the road” in believing the truth about our journey of life and faith:
- Jesus appears to his disciples after the resurrection and asks for something to eat. The Gospel writer is specific in mentioning it is broiled fish that Jesus eats in their presence (v.41-43). Why is that? Jesus DOES care for our journey, eats with us, is concerned about our blistered, dusty feet, our tears, sweat, joys and sorrows. He cares so much for every detail of our humanity that he STILL comes back in resurrected form and engages our human, physical, metabolic state to eat and digest real food. To this day, Jesus is willing to go there, to those places on the caravan route that reflect our own human need. He’s knows this route intimately. He’s not some removed, disembodied, disconnected, disinterested deity up there somewhere. He’s right here with us, today – in the Sacrament, in our fellowship of love.
- Jesus sends his disciples out on the journey to all nations (v.47). It is not a caravan that goes in circles around Jerusalem; rather, the route winds itself around the whole world! The Greek word for church is “ekklesia”; literally it translates – “a people called out”. Yes, the momentum of Christianity is centrifugal – the journey is an ever-expanding mission towards the places where Jesus will be. The Story is greater than you or me; it calls us beyond ourselves to go where Jesus beckons.
When asked about his success, Wayne Gretzky once said, “I skate to where the puck is going, not to where it has been.” He explains why – and you have to imagine the fast-paced ebb-and-flow of the hockey game: Gretzky says, “Skating toward where the puck IS will always guarantee your arrival at a place where the puck HAS BEEN” – and that’s no good! By following the caravan route, it is possible to discover where the risen Jesus is going in our world and not just keep going back to the empty tomb. To be able to arrive with a caravan of Christ followers at a place where he has promised to meet us is the joy of Christian discipleship. As a popular American preacher wrote, “Vision is not about looking in tombs for a risen Jesus. It is about listening to where he says he is going to meet us and striking out for it.”
Our ways part today. But no matter where on that route we find ourselves, we are all still on the way. As we strike out in the Caravan, let us be blessed for the journey.
As a child I remember at the start of a long road trip my parents led us in brief prayer in the car. So, translated from the German blessing I gave a few weeks ago at the conclusion of the Good Friday German language service here at Zion, here is a blessing for us as we continue beyond today on our separate ways:
The Lord go before you, to show you the way.
The Lord go beside you, to hold you and protect you.
The Lord go behind you, to keep you safe from all harm.
The Lord go beneath you, to catch you when you fall,
and show you the way up.
The Lord be within you, to comfort you when you’re sad.
The Lord be around you to guard you from attack.
The Lord be above you
To give you grace.
Such is the blessing of our God.
“Lord Jesus, You Shall Be My Song” EvLW#808