The Circle of Life
Life is a circle sings Elton John in the movie "Lion King." Life isn't really going anywhere; it just ever repeats itself. All pagan religion teach that life is cyclical. The nature religions, the fertility religions, and all of witchcraft are cyclical faiths. For them the destination does not matter only the journey does. All of paganism sees life as some type of unending circle with no ultimate point. They don't all specifically teach reincarnation, but they all have the thought that we are meant to be born, live, and die, only to be born, live and die all over again.
There is comfort in this, isn't there? The acorn becomes the oak, the old oak dies dropping acorns to start again. The aging, graying, and dying process which Scripture says is a result of sin, doesn't seem all that bad. It's just the natural order of things. What Scripture portrays as the ruining of God's perfect creation, paganism views as a natural order that keeps creation going. To consider death your enemy, as Scripture says it is, is as foolish to paganism as an oak thinking it evil to drop it's acorns.
But friends life is not circular. At a point in time creation was begun by God and at a point in time He will end it. Our liturgical calendar confesses that our's is a linear not a cyclical faith by counting down to this Sunday, the Last Sunday in the Church Year. Each year we are reminded that this life is fleeting. It's moving toward that Last Day when the heavens and the earth will melt away. Although weeks and months repeat, seasons follow seasons and sunrises and sunsets chase each other round the globe, we are moving toward that day when the Sun of Righteous will dawn bringing an end to everything under the sun.
The fact that Christianity is linear gives Christians an intensity that the circle of life believers don't have. The circle of life crowd can sing about having no worries; they can be soft, easy-going and accepting because they lack an ultimate goal or point; the circle goes on and on and on for them.
Christianity, by contrast, is urgent and decisive. It calls people to discipline and dedication, to work while the Sun is shining before the night comes and it's too late. Christianity has an ultimate goal and point of reference. There's only one thing needful. There's only one name under heaven given for salvation. There's one mediator between God and Man. The door of salvation will be shut once and for all. How we make the journey: happy-sad, healthy-sick, wealthy-poor doesn't make any difference. What's important is where the journey ends.
The Biblical view of life is linear not circular. It's a timer ticking down not a clock going round. It's an hourglass, not a sun dial. But if life is linear, how come the Church Year is a circle? Today is the Last Sunday of the Church Year, but next Sunday is the First Sunday in Advent when our year starts over again. Christmas follows Advent, then Epiphany, Lent, and Easter. And after Easter we're back to the Season of Pentecost which will bring us to where we are now. Are we teaching a circular view of life?
No, what we're teaching is Gospel themes for your life. Everyone has recurring themes, repeating patterns, regular rhythms for their life. Watch your neighbors and you'll see their reoccurring themes. Some express them by banners they put out. They have ones with falling leaves, which will give way to turkeys, then Santas, then hearts, then spring flowers, then fireworks, then it's back to falling leaves. Others show their patterns by a series of wreaths they put on their door. Still others show the rhythms of their life in the sports they follow: they go from basketball, to baseball, to football and back. Other neighbor's lives are built around the political cycle. They talk state, local, or national politics depending on the election cycle.
But don't we all do these things? Yes, but our rhythms, patterns, and themes don't come from holidays, sports, seasons, or politics. Ours come from the Church Year. In Advent we focus on the Christ who comes to save us. At Christmas and Epiphany our life is built around the miracle of God in Man made manifest. In Lent our rhythm is the passionate suffering and death of Christ for us sinners. At Easter our theme is that Christ rose victorious over our sin, our death, and the power of the devil. And in Pentecost, we focus on how Christ gives us all we need to grow in grace right up till the world ends. The themes, patterns, and rhythms of our lives flow from and around Christ. He is the One thing needful, the one Mediator, the one Door of salvation, the only saving name.
Christ is the subject matter of the Church Year, and He's the center of our worship. Have you noticed I seldom get sermons from headlines? Terrorism, politics, and social issues can be themes for sermons, but they hardly ever are. That's because our themes, rhythms, and patterns are not from this world but out of this world. We focus on Christ. Although we're not in heaven yet, we have the privilege of doing what they do there.
Heaven isn't focused on politics, medicine, terrorism, or social issues. Picture a circle formed by rows and rows of saints and angels. At the center is Christ. All eyes and hearts are on Him. The troubles that are a regular pattern, theme, and rhythm of this life don't even cause ripples in heaven. A Church Year with Christ at the center, points us away from the troubles of earth that can bring waves of worry and despair into our life. The constant call of the liturgy is to "Lift up your hearts," away from the troubled seas of this world to Christ who majestically and peacefully reigns over all things.
Rather than being in a state of turmoil, worry or despair from the themes chosen by the media every week, we're to be centered on the themes of the life of Christ. The Church in heaven doesn't listen to the fear-mongers, the Chickenlittles, the spreaders of despair on earth. She is centered on Christ, and the Church on earth can be too. This means that although we celebrate holidays, follow sports and elections, and are involved in our community, our life need not go up and down with the joys and troubles of this world.
Our life is focussed on a different circle, on different reoccurring patterns, themes and rhythms than the world. Our circle is the life of Christ, and it acts like a bubble for us. As liturgical Christians we climb into the bubble and float through this life. Do you see the picture? The Church Year is a circle; it repeats itself each year. But the whole circle, the bubble, moves forward each year. Christ is the circle we move in as we move ever forward towards that Last Day. We're born and we die in Christ. Our life starts and finishes in Christ. Each day begins and ends in Christ; Our Church Year begins and ends expecting Christ. All this is happens because He is both First and Last, Alpha and Omega, the Beginning and the End.
So, whether we are talking about beginnings or endings we're talking about Christ. Whether you're beginning something new, beginning to face a challenge, or beginning all over again, you're not outside of Christ. He is at every beginning. You don't have to get started yourself. You don't have to get things going. He is there from the get-go. And He is there at the ending too. We pray each year in the Maundy Thursday liturgy for Christ to "abide with us in the end of the day, in the end of our life, in the end of the world." And He does. There is no ending that you come to in life whether of a life, job, or school, that Christ isn't there already. Whether it be a dead end, The End, or the end of your rope, Christ is there ahead of you.
The same is true whether you're first or last; Christ is there for you as the First and the Last. When you find yourself Number 1, with all the joys that accompany it, you'll find that although you're Number 1 you're not all alone. Christ stands with you. And when you find yourself at the bottom of the pile, so far down that only the ground is beneath you. Look beside you; there is Christ. He stands with the last of the world. He bore every last sin, drained the last drop from the cup of God's wrath against sinners, and cried out "It is finished" with His last breath. Christ stands with and for sinners even when they're in last place or in the last place anyone would ever look.
Christ is First and Last, the Beginning and the End, and He's the Alpha and Omega; Alpha is the first and Omega the last letter in the Greek alphabet. Everything and everyone from A to Z comes from Him, and everything and everyone from A to Z is going toward a confrontation with Him where they will either be saved by Him or judged by Him. The only ones that will survive this great confrontation are those in fellowship with Him now; those who partake of Him now.
Each Sunday of the Church Year we prepare for this meeting with God by having a confrontation with Him now in the liturgy. We start at Creation which began in the Name of the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost. We move on to the Fall where we face judgment as poor miserable sinners. Then we are recreated when we are forgiven for the sake of Christ. This causes us to confess our faith in God and bring our prayers and offerings to Him. And finally we partake of the Divine Nature by means of the Body and Blood of Christ. This altar is our connecting point on earth with the Alpha and the Omega, the First and the Last, the Beginning and the End of all things.
Life is not a circle, but there is a circle in which there is life. It's the circle around the person and work of Christ. Our Church Year is built on that circle and our Sunday liturgy confesses it. We begin by making the sign of he cross; we end with that same sign. And we end with a circle! During the service the pastor turns to his right to face you and to his left to face the altar. He never makes a circle until after the Benediction when he turns to his right and faces the altar for the Amen thus completing a circle that has been centered on Christ. We end by making a circle, and our life goes on in this circle till we join the circle of heaven gathered around Christ. Amen.
Rev. Paul R. Harris
Trinity Lutheran Church, Austin, Texas
Last Sunday of the Church Year (11-21-04); Revelation 22:13