Lectionary reading for 11/28/2021: Jeremiah 33:14-16; Psalm 25:1-10; 1 Thessalonians 3:9-13; Luke 21:25-36
Selected passage for reflection: Luke 21:25-36 (NRSV)
Luke 21:25-36 (NRSV)
The Coming of the Son of Man
25 “There will be signs in the sun, the moon, and the stars, and on the earth distress among nations confused by the roaring of the sea and the waves. 26 People will faint from fear and foreboding of what is coming upon the world, for the powers of the heavens will be shaken. 27 Then they will see ‘the Son of Man coming in a cloud’ with power and great glory. 28 Now when these things begin to take place, stand up and raise your heads, because your redemption is drawing near.”
The Lesson of the Fig Tree
29 Then he told them a parable: “Look at the fig tree and all the trees; 30 as soon as they sprout leaves you can see for yourselves and know that summer is already near. 31 So also, when you see these things taking place, you know that the kingdom of God is near. 32 Truly I tell you, this generation will not pass away until all things have taken place. 33 Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away.
Exhortation to Watch
34 “Be on guard so that your hearts are not weighed down with dissipation and drunkenness and the worries of this life, and that day does not catch you unexpectedly, 35 like a trap. For it will come upon all who live on the face of the whole earth. 36 Be alert at all times, praying that you may have the strength to escape all these things that will take place, and to stand before the Son of Man.”
Over the years, we learned that when Advent season arrives, we prepare and get ready for Jesus's coming. We grow up hearing we need to re-create practices that center our minds, hearts, and bodies toward Jesus. We got the sense that we should be excited about the prospect of Jesus coming again just like the people of his time did. However, when reading the text, you do not get the sense there is any excitement. There seems to be a lot of anxiety, hyper-vigilance, and restlessness. But why? What was going on in Jesus's time to prompt such intense feelings captured in a language such as: "the earth distress," "people faint from fear," "heavens shaken," or "be on guard"?
This use of apocalyptic language feels urgent, like an impending doom or an expectation of an end. Dr. Barbara Reid, in her book Parables for Preachers: The Gospel of Luke, Year C, shares that the Lukean community is trying to make sense of Jesus's message in light of this delay of Christ's return. She also mentions that some modern Christians take this apocalyptic language literally to mean God is coming now, and they wait at the edge of their seat. According to Dr. Reid, Luke's community uses the images of the fig tree budding as a symbol of summer, growth, birth, newness, and nearness of the "Human One," and there is an immediacy there. The fig tree symbol also demonstrates to us that even as we see death in the leafless state of the fig in the winter, it blossoms once summer reappears.
During this slow end or "delay" to this pandemic, this weird liminal space, this "in between times," we wait, in eager expectation for new life. During this time, it is easy to become frozen in fear or apathetic. But we sense this apocalyptic symbol Luke uses is an opportunity to create a deeper awareness and presence of hope of new life, birth, and a renewed joy that can grow even in the smallest of ways. It is tempting to become passive or hopeless during this time of suffering, but we can look forward to Christ overcoming death, even the smallest of ways.
How do you connect with this feeling of being "on guard" or feeling like the "earth is in distress?" In what ways can you connect with this feeling of impatience about this delay in "normalcy," especially in light of the pandemic?
What will you do during this "liminal space" or "in between times" that brings you more hope or peace? Name one thing that has made your day or week a little more hopeful or joyful. How will these noticings help ground and center you during this Advent season of preparation, expectation, and reflection?
As we continue to cultivate deeper awareness, presence, and calm during this uncertain time, take a moment to find a comfortable chair, make sure your feet are planted to the ground, and close your eyes. Take a couple of deep breaths at your own natural pace. Notice how you are feeling at this moment. Is it sadness, excitement, anxiety, etc? Where in your body do you feel this sensation? In your chest, stomach, throat? Accept they exist and hold that sensation and feeling with kindness and compassion as you would for a friend. Then visualize yourself in a place that makes you feel most safe, relaxed, or joyful. It could be sitting by the fire with a cup of coffee, or lying on the beach, etc. Continue to breathe deeply at your own pace and stay present to that image of safety. Notice your feelings and sensations again. Have they changed or stayed the same? Why? To end this practice, take the last breath and offer yourself this blessing: "God of Love, may I experience your peace, calm, and care. May I lay in your safety and rest. Amen.
About the Author
For Leanette Sunsum, Chicago certainly conjures the scent of home, where she has stayed most of her life. Leanette is a Director of Worship for the Inclusive Collective, a radically LGBTQ+ inclusive campus ministry committed to fueling young adults through Jesus-rooted soul work. She is passionate about curating communal, healing safe-spaces through deep intersectional Enneagram work. She is a writer, teacher, coach, and musician who is pursuing her Masters of Divinity and Arts in Clinical Mental Health Counseling. She hopes to continue to bridge spirituality, mental health, and the Enneagram within communities of color. To learn more, check her out at www.enneastories.com.