Lent 2 / Year C
We had an early-afternoon appointment with our OBGYN a week before the due-date of our second daughter. My wife was experiencing “back labor”, which apparently is uncomfortable. Because Abbey was scheduled to be a C-section delivery, the doctor said, “You have gone long enough. Let me call the hospital and see when they have an OR available.” The word came back… 5:00 PM. We went home, packed a bag, made arrangements for friends to care for our older daughter, fed the dog, and headed to the hospital. One the way we stopped at a camera shop to pick up a couple of rolls of film and video tape to record the momentous occasion. I still recall looking at my watch. It was 3:30. How odd, I thought, in 90 minutes our lives will never be the same; odd not that it was happening, but to be in possession of such knowledge down to the exact minute.
Life’s major transitions don’t always come so neatly scheduled, but some do. Graduation. Moving into a new house. Starting a new job. Your wedding day. Relocating to a state. Your last scheduled day of treatment before being given a clean bill of health. Turning 16, 18, or 21, with all the new opportunities each age confers. Retirement. As I noted in Friday’s e-news, transitions come in many shapes and sizes; expected or unexpected; rapid or drawn out; anticipated or dreaded; embraced or resisted.
In today’s first lesson, we read about a transition which has been a long-time coming. God’s people, once enslaved in Egypt, cross the Jordon River and return to the Promised Land. It has been forty years since the Exodus. No adult whose feet touched the dry bottom of the Red Sea is still alive. This is a new day for God’s new people, who bear the stories, traditions, heritage, and identity of their ancestors. Some of it will translate into their new environment. Much of it will not.
I remember graduating from seminary in Mid-May of 1987. While it was a goal I worked hard to achieve, I had an overwhelming sense a significant part of my life was dying. The community I had joined would never again be together in the same form or fashion. Many of the daily routines and rituals I had come to enjoy would be left behind or drastically altered. I was no longer a student receiving the wisdom of the church’s best and brightest. It was now time for me to produce… something… somehow.
The next few weeks were a feverous whirl of events. Moving back to Ohio. Sleeping on a friend’s couch until I could rent a place of my own. Being ordained a deacon. And then, about fifty days after leaving the hallowed grounds of Virginia Seminary (affectionately known as ‘the Holy Hill’), came Day One of working in a church. I sat in my office, which overlooked an alleyway, stared at the typewriter lounging on my desk, and wondered to myself, “What am I supposed to do now?” Clueless, I took out a calculator, pencil, and paper and counted the number of Sunday’s until the day I retire – 2,444, give or take, and maybe something like 14,600 days.
Our very brief reading from the Book of Joshua belies the significance of the event it describes. As if the transition from wilderness wandering to settled occupation was not enough, this day also represents the fulfillment of the promise Abram received from God centuries earlier when he lived in the region of Ur – “Take up family and possessions and go to a land I will show you. I will be with you there and your descendants will prosper.” This part of the story weaves through three generations in the Book of Genesis, makes its way to Egypt and several more generations in the Book of Exodus, and lumbers on through four decades of aimlessness in the Sinai before concluding with today’s reading.
The concise description of this time rings true to life. Joshua and God’s people must decide what from their past is useful in their present and will translate into their future. They decide to undergo the rite of circumcision (the sign of the covenant) and to celebrate the Passover Meal (reliving the events delivering their parents and grandparents from bondage to freedom). They also decide to bring with them sacred objects accumulated on the way; chief of which is the ark with the Tablets of Law. And finally, we learn some things from the transitional time are no longer appropriate, needed, or available to God’s people; specifically, the manna (or food from heaven) ceases and each person must now live off the fruit of his or her own labor.
I suspect if you contemplate some of the transitions in your own life you will see a emerge a pattern similar to this – the holdovers, the new acquisitions, what is going to be left behind, and what has to be taken on.
After two years, it feels like we are at a transitional point with the pandemic. While there is not a specific date or event marking the moment, the past few weeks have seen a dramatic change, haven’t they. Although most of us reside in the same physical space and many of us hold the same job as before, so much about life has changed. We have lost some folks to the virus. Some relationships have drifted apart. We have aged and become more isolated. Some are bitter at what has been lost. Some bristle at the sacrifices required to see us through. Some are more anxious and uncertain. I don’t know about you, but I start to wretch when I hear a modern-day ‘prophet’ tell me everything about the world has completely changed or there is no going back to the way things used to be.
This transition will be like all that have come before. We will figure out the most important memories and rituals to carry into the future. We will figure out which of our pandemic adaptions will be useful as we move forward. And we will discern what it looks like to pick up and carry on as a new day dawns. God’s unfailing and unflagging promise to us remains the same… to be with us to lead us to a new day and a new place. What was, was… wonderful, missed, mourned at times. But our God is the God of what will be.
Edgar Guest was a Detroit newspaperman and popular people’s poet of the first half and the last century. One of his works titled The New Days pairs well with the crossing of the Jordon:
The old days, the old days,
how oft the poets sing,
The days of hope at dewy morn,
the days of early spring,
The days when every mead was fair,
and every heart was true,
And every maiden wore a smile,
and every sky was blue.
The days when dreams were golden
and every night brought rest,
The old, old days of youth and love,
the days they say were best
But I--I sing the new days,
the days that lie before.
The days of hope and fancy,
the days that I adore.
The new days, the new days,
the selfsame days they are;
The selfsame sunshine heralds them,
the selfsame evening star
Shines out to light them on their way
unto the Bygone Land,
And with the selfsame arch of blue
the world to-day is spanned.
The new days, the new days,
when friends are just as true,
And maidens smile upon us all,
the way they used to do.
Dreams we know are golden dreams,
hope springs in every breast;
It cheers us in the dewy morn
and soothes us when we rest.
The new days, the new days,
of them I want to sing,
The new days with the fancies
and the golden dreams they bring;
The old days had their pleasures,
but likewise have the new
The gardens with their roses
and the meadows bright with dew;
We love to-day the selfsame way
they loved in days of old;
The world is bathed in beauty
and it isn’t growing cold;
There’s joy for us a-plenty,
there are tasks for us to do,
And life is worth the living,
for the friends we know are true.
This morning we gather on a new side of the Jordon and give thanks for the promise and hope of the new days.