Today is a big day for at least two reasons. First, today begins the week of Thanksgiving, a time when, at least in theory, our entire country pauses to reflect on our many blessings. Today is also Christ the King Sunday, the last Sunday of the Christian year, a time when Christians around the world pause to reflect on God’s kingdom, with Christ at its head.
That is two good reasons to celebrate.
But the fact is, we may not feel a lot like celebrating right now. At the urging of our Bishop, our vestry voted this week to keep our building closed through the end of December.
That is the prudent and loving thing to do. But it means giving up a lot of things that I value. No ecumenical Thanksgiving service; no Agawam Christmas Project; no Breakfast with Santa; no Greening the Church. Worst of all, in terms of our parish life, it means no in-person Christmas Eve service and no Christmas carols for us as a group.
The deeper problem, of course, is the pandemic that will not go away, the pandemic that is getting worse and that continues to disrupt our lives and to divide our nation.
So how might we, as Christians, approach Thanksgiving in the midst of pandemic?
I start with a passage from the prophet Habakkuk, which we read as part of Morning Prayer this week.
Habakkuk prophesied at a grim time in Israel’s history, just before Israel’s brutal conquest by Babylon. Habakkuk could see what was happening—that didn’t take a special gift of prophecy. And Habakkuk was understandably distressed by what he saw. And so Habakkuk begins his book with this prayer: “O Lord, how long shall I cry for help, and you will not listen?” (1:2)
I have been feeling a little like that, and I suspect I am not alone. God, things are a little rough right now. We need some help here. Where are you?
God answers Habakkuk. And God puts the responsibility back on Habakkuk himself. “Write the vision,” says God. “Write the vision; make it plain on tablets, so that a runner may read it. For there is still a vision for the appointed time; it speaks of the end, and does not lie. If it seems to tarry, wait for it; it will surely come” (2:2-3).
In that grim time, Hababbuk’s prophetic task was to remind his people of God’s vision, to assure them that God was at work even in the midst of their trials and tribulations, and to promise them that God would ultimately redeem them.
That vision is what we commemorate on this Christ the King Sunday. Today we celebrate Christ’s victory over sin and suffering and death. Today we picture Christ reigning in God’s kingdom and making everything right. That is the vision Habakkuk is talking about.
But when people are suffering, it is easy to lose sight of that vision. In the middle of this pandemic, it is easy to lose sight of that vision. Today more than ever, our people need a prophet to write that vision.
And that is our job. In a hard time, we, who are people of faith, we who look forward to Christ’s victory, are called to hold on to God’s vision. We are called to share God’s vision.
Listen to the Apostle Paul. Paul is talking to the ancient Ephesians. But Paul is also talking to us.
“I pray that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give you a spirit of wisdom and revelation as you come to know him, so that, with the eyes of your heart enlightened, you may know what is the hope to which he has called you, what are the riches of his glorious inheritance among the saints, and what is the immeasurable greatness of his power for us who believe, according to the working of his great power” (1:17-19).
That is a packed sentence! But it is really great news for us right now, so it is worth spending some time with it.
Paul begins by praying that God will give us the kind of wisdom that will open what he calls “the eyes of our hearts.” And with the eyes of our hearts opened, we know hope. We know the inheritance of Christ and all the saints, including us. We know the power of God for us who believe.
In a world that sometimes seems hopeless, among people who are often blind to God’s power at work in us and for us, our calling is to be people of hope and faith and love and, this week especially, of gratitude.
And even in this year, which has been kind of a drag(!), we have a lot to be thankful for.
Here are things I am thankful for this morning. I am thankful for the fact that we can worship together. I am thankful for the internet which allows people to join us in worship even when they can’t be physically present. I am thankful for the office angels who mail out materials every week to people who can’t join us in person or online, but are still part of our worshipping community. I am thankful for all the people who help to lead our worship week after week, up front and behind the scenes.
I am thankful because our worship always reminds me, and I need reminding, of Christ’s triumph over sin and death and evil, a triumph which began two thousand years ago and which continues to unfold until the day when it will finally be complete. That vision is a BIG reason to be thankful.
And so I give thanks to God for you, who help to keep the vision alive, even in the midst of the pandemic. And I pray that God will help us all to be effective advocates of that vision in the world. In Jesus’ name. Amen.
Rev. Dr. Harvey Hill
Third Order Franciscan