Sunday, December 9, 2018

Fading glory. . .eternal glory

Faded photographs, 
covered now with lines and creases
Tickets torn in half, 
memories in bits and pieces 
     Dennis Yost and the Classic IV 

Oh, we won't give in
Let's go living in the past
Oh no, no we won't give in
Let's go living in the past
      Jethro Tull

“My days of old have vanished in tone and tint.” 
     Last words of General Douglas McArthur

If you are old enough, you recall photos that faded from their crisp black and white to a shadow of an image, colors that turned orange and dark, paper that became brittle and fragile.  The photos of old were not a lasting impression of the moment they preserved in time but a temporary glimpse, preserved longer than some of the memories but not much longer.

In contrast to this, we live in the digital era in which the photos on our computers, cameras, and phones appear eternal.  They do not fade in color and their focus does not blur with time.  Yet they are not as permanent as we might think.  Ask anyone who has lost them to an errant finger on the delete button or to a program malfunction or a hard drive crash or a cloud anomaly.

We try too hard sometimes to live in our memories, those preserved within us and those refreshed by the photos of our past.  Bands head out on reunion tours to rekindle a past now long gone and they are met by fans who themselves bear but a passing resemblance to the youth who once crowded in to watch and listen.  Couples head to the spot where they first met, where the proposal was first offered and accepted, where a honeymoon was spent in the early moments of a youthful love but they are not the same people (thank God in most cases).  Old TV shows long gone are revived and old movies remade in an attempt to reignite the glory of that day. Retro products seek to prod our faded memories and nostalgia tries to imagine our past into the present. 

Sometimes when people come to Church and experience the liturgy of their youth, they are prone to equate it with the retro, nostalgic, comfortable past that often seems too distant to us.  But the unchanging pulse of the church year moving time toward its appointed end in Christ and the predictable plodding rhythm of the liturgy is not some attempt to hold on to a vanishing past.  The liturgy may be familiar and its melodies well known but it is a drum beat from God's mighty acts of deliverance to His mightiest in Christ through to the completion of His new creation.  We do not come to Church to find comfort in our memories and try to refresh them like we would repair faded photographs.  It is not the past that lives there but the future -- the future that is begun with the promise given once in time, fulfilled in time, and not yet finished until time itself ends.

Sometime soon we will use the familiar Divine Service 3 -- in part to rejoice over our heritage as we observe the 60th anniversary of our congregation's founding.  Some folks will smile as if they are putting on a old coat that had gotten lost in the back of a closet.  They grew up to page 5 and 15 and DS 3 is about as close as you can get to that past now two hymnals away.  Others will wonder where we got this service -- they were born after the previous hymnal was introduced and they look in wonderment at the folks who still talk about the new liturgy.  It is not new to them.  But both will find a familiar form and pattern, a familiar rhythm and pulse.  It is not a retro liturgy of a memory but the living faith of those who went before, whose voices now swell with the voices of those who have come after, to join in the once and eternal song of praise and thanksgiving for God's gift of His Christ to a people lost in sin and death and without hope.

The Church has no faded photographs, no brittle paper, no antique sepia tones, or yesterdays to rekindle or to repristinate.  We have Christ now, in the fullness of His saving glory, who is among us where He has promised in Word and Sacrament.  We have the saving power of the once for all cross of suffering and sacrifice still delivering its fruits of forgiveness, life, and salvation.  We have the Spirit of the crucified and living Christ still bestowing upon His Church faith to recognize the Good Shepherd, the light of Christ to shine in darkness, and the voices in Christ to speak in witness to those not yet of the Kingdom, and to anticipate the future already prepared but awaiting us as are those who have gone before.  A hymnal may be a symbolic reminder of a past or it may be an antique from a time before us but embedded within its page is the Word calling us to our future, gathering us around His font and table, enlightening with sight beyond sight, and sanctifying us to be a people for God's own.  We remember the past and God's mighty acts.  How could we forget?  On the night when He was betrayed. . . in the Passover with His disciples. . . He took bread and the cup. . .  But this is about the future, the marriage supper of the Lamb in His kingdom without end, a foretaste of the feast to come, a glimpse and an anticipation -- dare I say rehearsal -- for the future Christ is delivering to us in delivering us to the Father forevermore.

Rejoice in Christ who was, who is, and who is to come. . . and we with Him in the glorious company of the saints in light.  Soon one more Christmas closer to the day that dawns with such eternal glory!!

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