The genuine feeling of the beginning of things.
When I was a little boy, I sometimes wanted to believe that I was a sorcerer’s apprentice, like Mickey Mouse in the movie Fantasia. I would wake up early in the morning, look out the window and steal the sorcerer’s magic wand (which was really a stick from my Lincoln logs). I’d raise it up above my little head, and say a few commanding words to encourage the sun to emerge from its hiding place below the horizon. And sure enough the black sky would grow brighter and brighter, and suddenly the orange fireball would show itself. With a few upward swipes from my wand the sun would rise up up up into the sky, revealing hills and valleys, houses and streets, a lady walking her dog, an empty car being warmed up in the cold autumn frost.
And everyone would come awake everywhere, including my sister buried under her multiple covers, my mother to the shower and my father to make the coffee. It was all under my power to make the day begin, but of course like the sorcerer’s apprentice I discovered I didn’t really have control of the whole process.
In one of my favorite movies, "A Thousand Clowns", the main character Murray likes to go down to the docks and wave to the cruise passengers as the boat is about to sail. He explains, "It’s a great thing to do when you are about to start something new; it gives you the genuine feeling of the beginning of things."
The beginning of a new day is almost always wonderful. You get a re-start, a chance to make it great again. Adventures await you. The world is full of wild possibilities.
The newsfeed on your phone alerts you that your candidate had defied all odds and has won the election. You turn on your computer and someone you haven’t seen in 10 years asks for you to friend them on Facebook. You stop at Dunkin Donuts and they have their pumpkin spice latte available again for the season. A little kid will smile at you in Costco from his perch in the shopping cart, and you’ll feel as though you have connected with God in that instant. You click on Thursdays picks on Spotify and get excited to hear a new music sound that stirs your very soul. You come around the corner, and this tree of magnificence stands in front of you, dressed in astonishing autumn colors of yellow, red and fiery orange. A chance encounter with a stranger while you are stuck on line somewhere offers the promise of a newfound friendship. You’ll see something that is the funniest thing and you won’t be able to stop laughing, tears wetting your cheeks.
When you are the sorcerer’s apprentice and have the power to make the sun to shine for another day, the world is full of wild possibilities.
The genuine feeling of the beginnings of things.
But morning’s light turns strong, sometimes brutally hot, and then as it arches across the sky, even the sorcerer himself can’t prevent it from falling back down to the other side, fading light turning into darkness of night. The ending of things, the day itself. Sometimes you forget its inevitability, and it can fall very fast, sneaking up like a thief. You look in the mirror and you get scared because you think that maybe you’re not that young anymore. You get a text message that tells you in so many words, this relationship is over. The house you once thought was a castle has become your prison, carpets worn, paint fading and a roof that won’t last, and the marriage and the family that was once so perfect is served with cold legal documents that signify its death. You are told that your services are no longer required, the plant is closing, the position has been automated. Your favorite restaurant goes out of business, the perfect lemon chicken soup never again to be your Saturday treat. The old gang never meets anymore on Friday nights, the children have their own lives to lead, lifetime partnerships are no longer relevant. The property filled with noble trees behind your house that was your private park is bulldozed for a new McMansion. You get word that your favorite teacher has passed on from this life. Your heart is broken by the loss of an election on which you had placed all your hope.
The endings of things comes too, and it is the endings that are sometimes hardest to endure. The end of a day, or the end of a life, or the end of a world.
Jesus talks about the end of the world, the end of our lives and the end of all life as we know it, and it scares the heck out of his friends. Just like it scares the heck out of us too. At some point, everyone considers that the end is near when unimaginable things happen---natural disasters, all-out warfare, political upheavals.
How many voices raised that biblical prospect on Wednesday morning, the day after the election: “Nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom.” Or in this case family, friends and neighbors will rise against one another in competing visions of the future of our nation. One friend was distraught. “It’s already happening,” he told me, “with more to come. Just wait, you’ll see.”
I think he’s right. It is already happening. The end of the world as we know it, at hand: it’s curtains for us all. The moment is upon us, today.
Just a few hours ago, I used my sorcerer’s wand and commanded the sun to rise, as per usual. It is rising still, but I can trace its arc across the sky already. There, watch there, in the west. That’s where the darkness will fall. And as the end approaches, John is sitting there in the fourth pew, bored to tears and a million miles away, cursing the leaves that need to be raked in the back yard. Angela is praying her heart out in the back of the church, asking God that her mother’s cancer will disappear. Tony is home, fast asleep, after watching 8 episodes of The Walking Dead before he turned in for bed. Big John has started his day taking another drink and telling himself that he is not an alcoholic. Amanda stands before a pair of gold earrings in Kay Jewelers in the mall, trying to imagine how she would look in them. Bobby is exhausted from playing Grand Theft Auto 5 on his X-Box One for 6 hours straight. Suzie is eating a ham sandwich in Subway, thinking about how to pay for her children’s school uniforms. Ed is talking with his boss, hoping that his work is recognized for all the effort, and that the bank will not foreclose on his house. Anthony is chasing the dragon in South Beach with a $10 bag of Mexican heroin. Sally is falling asleep during the homily and is nearly falling out of the pew.
The end of the world as we know it is at hand, indeed. It will be a moment just like this moment, the moment when it will all be over, the world as we know it, curtains for all. But it’s our choice how we handle it. Carpe Diem, as they say. Seize this day to make it end well. Not with a wand, but with our hands and our hearts.
The end of a day and a world in which we fear one another, hurt one another, abandon one another. The end of a world where people suffer alone, search for love in the all the wrong places, fight for things that really don’t matter at all. The end of a world that mistakes alcohol, drugs, sex, and material things as the answer to our deep hunger. The end of a world where responsibility is dodged and selfishness embraced. The end of a world that celebrates power and riches over humility and simplicity and gratitude. The end of a world of injustice, where children starve, babies are aborted, husbands are abusive; end of an unjust world where employers and realtors discriminate, resources are squandered, children are ungrateful, women are degraded. The end of a world where people distrust and demonize one another because of their race, their religious beliefs, their sexual orientation, their politics. The end of a world where walls are chosen over bridges, where ignorance and anger trumps wisdom and reconciliation, where crudeness, viciousness and meanness prevail over grace, kindness and mercy.
Get ready. Get set.
Open your hand, and receive the beginning of a new world. It is at hand, and within our grasp, the end of what we know, and the promise for which we all hope.
The body of Christ, Amen.
John comes out of his reverie in pew four and follows the long line up to the front. Mary watches Liz on her way up too, noticing her new hairdo and the pretty blouse she has on. Little Sal holds his hands together like his CCD teacher taught him to do and smiles when he sees his classmate Joe in line next to him. Carol concentrates on singing as she walks, trying to get on line where the priest is giving out communion. All of them, all of us, approaching the moment that is the end but which is the beginning of everything—possibilities, pregnancies, prospects—in a little while, they—we—will be in line for that moment, a moment that Jesus promises us is more marvelous than we can ever imagine.
And when we leave this place, the moment in our hand and then our mouth and then our stomachs and then our hearts… why, the beginning of a new world is at hand, our hand.
A new world where the elderly are respected, marriages are repaired, family disputes are settled, material goods are put in perspective, children are never abused, the poor are not forgotten, where the good creation is protected, where no one is disrespected and EVERYONE is accepted, where life is always chosen over convenience or expense, where we love even the unlovable, a new world where love is the first choice in every single one of our actions. A world where we acknowledge, praise and reverence the Source of everything and everyone.
The body of Christ. We are, we are the body of Christ, and the face of His love.
Don’t you see? There is nothing to fear at the end, because we bring--in our very bodies from this table--the beginning to everyone, we bring the promise and the reality of a new beginning, because we bring Jesus who has been given in hand to us. That is real power, power that makes political leaders look puny in comparison. And you know what else? It is the only real way to unity for all of us. This food, the body of Christ, is meant to bring us all together, forever and ever.
In a few short moments, we could end the world as we know it, and start the world anew. As someone has famously said, to make it great again. But all of it, the whole world, every one of us. “There will arise the sun of justice with its healing rays.” This is not sorcery. This is Christ. We can make the sun to rise and the love to shine. Shall we do it together, shall we do it today? We must, we must, we must.