YOUR REDEMPTION IS DRAWING NEAR
A sermon by Rev. Richard Miller, Minister of Trinity United Church, Montreal, QC. November 30, 2003. Luke 21:25-36.
"Now when these things begin to take place, stand up and raise your heads, because our redemption is drawing near."
- Luke 21:28
Since the sacrament of Holy Communion had its beginnings at the Last Supper of Jesus with his disciples, we naturally tend to associate it with Lent and Holy Week. This being so, it can be a bit of a stretch for us to relate it to other times of the church year, such as today – which is the first Sunday in Advent. If you are like me, you are wondering how it got to be Advent already, but that is another story. But yes, today is Advent Communion Sunday, and it reminds us that while the historical event that occurred shortly before Jesus’ death was the “Last” Supper, the sacrament that we celebrate is the “Lord’s” Supper. And as the Lord’s Supper or Holy Communion, it incorporates the entire gospel of Jesus Christ, and not just the events at the time of his death. So while Holy Communion will always be anchored in the Last Supper, this sacrament will never be limited to only being a replay of that meal with the disciples. Rather it incorporates the whole drama of salvation from the pre-existence of Christ with God before his birth all the way to what we call the Second Coming when God is all in all.
So in our communion today, we associate what we do at the Lord’s Table with the first Sunday in Advent, which is a time of looking not only to the coming of the Messiah, but also to the final coming of God’s anointed one in power and glory at the end of time. In today’s reading from Luke’s Gospel, we heard Jesus speaking of signs in the sun, moon, and starts, of roaring waters, of the powers of the heavens being shaken, and of the Son of Man coming in a cloud with power and great glory. What strange language this is – it is what we call “apocalyptic.” Maybe some of us remember Hal Lindsay’s book, Apocalypse Now. But in this symbolic language Jesus gets our attention, and then he says, “Now when these things begin to take place, stand up and raise your heads, because your redemption is drawing near.”
You and I may find it easier to just ignore Bible passages like this – you know, treating the Bible like a buffet line where we take what we like and leave the rest for other people. I mean, how many of us talk like this in our everyday speech? But when I turned again to my late mentor and friend, Dr. Bogard Dunn, to see what he had to say about these lines, he said that "this strange language embodies the hope which sustains the community of faith in every hour of need." Let me repeat that: "this strange language embodies the hope which sustains the community of faith in every hour of need." You see, what this scripture does is to take this manner of speaking that may be strange to us, and use it to express the reality of God's final triumph.
What Bogie Dunn has said is that this symbol of the coming of the Son of Man is an essential element of our faith; and that if we lose the hope that is conveyed by that image, then we lose our endurance, we lose our vision of the perfection of creation, and even the meaning of Jesus' suffering service becomes blurred and obscured. The image of the Son of Man coming with power and great glory expresses very concretely that it is God's intent to perfect his creation – to bring it to fulfillment; and when we lose sight of that hope, life can become very difficult. The articles in this morning’s Gazette about AIDS and HIV are a very clear case in point.
So then, if I as a modern person do not get stumped by this ancient langauge, but focus on the reality which it expresses, then I am face to face with what I need for my life of faith and the obstacles which I encounter. The vision of the coming Son of Man tells you and me in the midst of our struggles and uncertainties and heartaches that God is at both the beginning and the end of the world. That no matter what happens in our experience, God is working his purposes through it, and will bring all things to completion and fulfillment in God's time – in God’s time. Does this mean that we stop working for a better world? Not at all. But it does mean that even when we seem to labor without results, struggle without satisfaction, and suffer without relief, we may rely on the God of Jesus Christ to be our companion and friend who is at work accomplishing good through all things - even those which we do not consider to be at all good at the time. And I do not believe it is God’s will for anyone to have AIDS, or any of many other things from which people suffer. Rather God is the one who walks with us in our sufferings, and even carries us at times when we cannot go on ourselves.
Advent then is the time of preparing and waiting for the coming of God's son in the Bethlehem stable. And it is also the time of anticipating the final coming of God - not in humility, but in great glory. And Advent Communion is a sacrament which expresses both of these – the waiting for Christ’s birth, and the anticipation of God’s final coming in great glory. This bread and this cup is a foretaste of the heavenly banquet where God is all in all, and all God’s children are gathered in peace and harmony. Let us then receive this bread and cup and embrace their meaning to our heart and souls this day. And then, as Jesus said, let us to stand up and raise our heads, for our redemption is drawing near. Amen.