+ As you have heard me confess many times from this pulpit; I am a church nerd. But, I think I need to be more specific with the self-description. I am really, in all actuality, a liturgy nerd. Now, saying that I can say that I am no liturgical scholar. For me, I am more experiential in my love of liturgy.
No one has to guess what I believe, because I believe what I pray. You want to know what I believe? Look at the Book of Common prayer. Look at the Eucharist in it, look at the Daily Office in it—and there’s what I believe. Liturgy is the basis for my personal theology, my spiritual life and my outlook on life. So, I take it seriously, but maybe not intellectually so. I am more interested in doing liturgy than studying liturgy at times (though I do like studying liturgy at times as well).
One of the most exciting liturgical experiences I ever had happened a few years ago. I was in Los Angeles attending a meeting. One of my dear friends and seminary classmates invited me to his church in Orange County for Sunday morning mass. My friend is a Deacon in the Anglican Catholic Church, which is a church that is actual separate from the Anglican Communion, for various reasons. The Mass at the church he served was fascinating to me. The liturgy was based on the 1928 Book of Common Prayer and , I believe, the Anglican Missal, which was essentially an Anglican version of the pre-Vatican II Roman Catholic Mass. I was certainly impressed because I had never experienced that particular Mass before.
And it was lovely. I was blown away by the beauty of this mass. But the thing I loved it best about it was something called the Last Gospel. Some of you who were Roman Catholic might remember this. At the very end of the Mass, the priest read a portion of the Gospel we just heard. That essentially marked the end of the Mass.
When you think about it, it’s liturgically brilliant really. In a sense, a reading about the beginning—the very beginning—is read at the end of the Mass.
In our beginning is our end, in our end if our beginning.
I love the concept of the Last Gospel. Because I love this reading from the first chapter of John. In fact, if I had a favorite scripture, this one would be it. It’s theologically compact. It’s a perfect summary of Christian faith and theology. And there are just layers and layers of thought and sentiment in this passage from John.
The beginning we experience today in our Gospel reading is a bit different than the beginning we read about in Genesis.
The beginning we encounter today even harkens back further than the creation of Adam and Eve. It goes back to before those creation stories to who and what God was initially.
“In the beginning…” we hear at the beginning of St. John’s Gospel.
And they are certainly the most appropriate words if ever there were any. Especially at this time of the year. As this year runs down and the new year begins, our thoughts turn to beginnings.
We think about that New Year and how important a new year is our lives. It heralds for us a sense of joy—and fear—of the future. All of a sudden we are faced with the future. It lies there before us—a mystery. Will this coming year bring us joy or will it bring us sadness? Will it be a good year or a bad year? And we step forward into the New Year without knowing what that year will hold for us. But, the fact is, at the very beginning moment, we can’t do much more than just be here, right now. We need to just experience this beginning. And we can’t let that anxiety of the future take hold. We just need to be here, right now, and take part fully in this new beginning.
That’s what beginnings are all about, I guess. That one moment when we can say:
“Right now! This is it! We are alive and we are here! Now!”
And we all know that just as soon as we do, it’ll be past.
In our reading from John this morning, it’s also one of those moments. In that moment, we get a glimpse of one of those “right now” moments.
It seems as though, for that moment, it’s all clear. At least for John anyway.
We encounter, the “Word.” The Word, as John intends, is, of course, Jesus. Jesus as the knowledge and mind of God. Jesus as the essence of God. This is an appropriate way to begin the Gospel of John and to begin our new year as well. And, in those early Masses before the 1960s, it was an appropriate way to end Mass.
It is a great beginning. It sets the tone for us as followers of Jesus. He was there in the beginning. And he is here, now, with us in our beginning. And in him, we experience a beginning that doesn’t seem to end. In Jesus, God comes forward and becomes present among us in a way we could never possibly imagine.
God appears to us here not as God in the Old Testament, cloaked behind pillars of fire or thunderstorms or wind. Instead, in Jesus, God appears before us, as one of us in a whole new beginning. God’s word, God’s wisdom, God’s essence became flesh.
The Word spoken to us in this beginning moment, is a word of Love. The commandment this Word tells us of is a commandment to love. Love God and love one another as you love yourselves.
I enjoy this beginning because this is the true message of Jesus as the Word. Maybe the true message of Jesus is that, in God’s Kingdom, that beginning keeps on and on, without end.
In God’s Kingdom there is constant renewal. In God’s Kingdom it is always like New Year’s Day—always fresh, always full of hope for a future that does not end or disappoint.
As we prepare to celebrate 2015, this is a great way to live this beginning moment. In this beginning moment, let us think about beginnings and how important they are for us personally and for our spiritual lives. And let us do what we can to be the bringers of new beginnings not only in our own lives, but in the lives of others.
With this encounter with the Word, we, like John, are also saying in this moment, this moment is holy. This moment is special. This moment is unique and beautiful, because God is reaching out to us. Unlike how we might feel at the New Year—full of both hope and apprehension—in this instance, in our grasping of it, it doesn’t wiggle away from it. It doesn’t fall through our fingers like sand. Or snow. It stays with us. Always new. Always fresh. Always being renewed.
We’re here. Right now. We’re alive! The future is happening right now. The Word, the Essence, of God has come to us as one of us. It’s incredible, really. This moment is a glorious and holy one.
So, let us, in this holy moment, be joyful. Let us in this holy moment rejoice. And let us, in this holy moment, in this holy beginning, look forward to what awaits us with courage and confidence. Amen.