Several years ago I had the privilege of leading a mid-week retreat on Star Island. The island is about 10 miles off the coast of Rye, New Hampshire and it is a beautiful place, rich in history and tradition. It is owned by the Unitarian Universalist Association and is the perfect place for a retreat. I was there twice to lead retreats and the island has a permanent place in my heart.
Overall, the place is pretty rustic. There is running water and electricity, but nothing is fancy. The island is home to more seagulls than can be counted and muskrats that are heard more than they are seen. It’s possible to walk out to the far edge of the island and sit on the granite cliffs and believe that you are the only person in existence. The waves crash, the winds dance, the gulls cry, and heaven is made manifest on earth. There is no place like it.
One of the traditions of the island is the viewing of sunrise. I’m not a morning person and the idea of getting out of a warm bed just to watch a sunrise always seems ludicrous to me. But one morning I made the effort. I pulled on warm clothes, grabbed my flashlight and headed to the east side of the island. Muskrats scurried off the path, making rather loud splashes into the nearby pools of water. One startled me by running right over my feet, ensuring that I was awake enough to experience the sunrise.
I stood on the granite shore with other sunwatchers. And I waited. All of a sudden there was a scarlet line of light separating ocean from sky. The red brightened into orange and reached further up into the night sky. Seals poked their heads out of the water as if to pay homage to the spectacular rising of the sun. It was worth getting out of bed for. I’ve never seen another sunrise quite like that one that began with bright red searing across the horizon. Such a sense of wonder and power and peace flowed through me in that early morning. I came away feeling like all things would come right for me, for those around me.
As we come to the edge of the liturgical year, I can’t help but remember that Star Island sunrise. Standing on a granite edge, waiting for morning light to clear away the darkness. Advent is so close, with its watching and waiting and preparing for the coming of the Light. We anticipate the first hint of light, yearning to feel the hope it will bring. Yet, we know there is so much hidden in the night, so much that threatens to overpower the tiny flickering flame of hope. Perhaps you are with me in wondering if this night will ever end.
Matthew’s gospel is written for us who wait in the deepest hours of the night. The parables Jesus tells in this gospel are more prophecy than descriptive. When the “Son of Man comes…” is a pretty strong cue that what follows has yet to take place. In this case, a king will separate out those who care for the vulnerable and those who do not. I’m not so sure it’s the king doing the separating as it is we ourselves pulling away from the flock simply by maintaining an inward focus. Jesus was pretty clear about what his followers needed to do then, and now. The writer of Matthew’s gospel made it abundantly clear. You cannot claim faith and then keep it hidden or live in such a way as to not see Christ in “the other,” particularly the very vulnerable other. Claiming the name of Christ and not bringing love and compassion into the world will lead to a place where it is impossible to see and the most dominant sounds are weeping and gnashing of teeth.
This is quite the prophecy. We tend to busy ourselves with counting up our good deeds or claiming the role of the one needing visiting when we encounter these verses from Matthew. We seldom hear it as a call to action, a call to create a future where Christ returns as we embody Love for those who live in despair, isolation, oppression, captivity, sickness, and other places inhabited by vulnerability and need. A call to action that will mean shifting the world from what it is into the possibilities God creates.
We are on the edge of the season where we remember, celebrate, and honor the coming of Christ, the Light of the world. We can choose to hang out and watch for the displays of holiness that may or may not be visible from where we are. Or, we can choose to be the displays of holiness that the world desperately needs. That streak of scarlet across the night sky was something to witness. What if we each become that streak of scarlet in the life of someone else, that herald of a new day when all things are possible and hope returns to the world?
RCL – Year A – Christ the King/Reign of Christ Sunday – November 26, 2017
Ezekiel 34:11-16, 20-24 with Psalm 100 or
Ezekiel 34:11-16, 20-24 with Psalm 95:1-7a