25 October 2020
Sermon preached by The Rev. Tammy Hobbs Miracky
Below is a DRAFT text of the homily. It may vary considerably from the recorded version. Please excuse typos and grammatical errors, and do not cite without permission.
Year A, Proper 25: Deuteronomy 34, Psalm 90
All Saints Parish, Brookline, MA (via Livestream)
October 25, 2020
Halloween is my favorite holiday of the year. This hasn’t always been the case. As a kid, of course, nothing could beat the sparkling magic of gifts under the tree on Christmas morning. As an adult, though, I have come to revel in Halloween. Unlike Christmas, when there is often travel to organize, gifts to coordinate, food to prepare….with Halloween there is just pure celebration. Thanksgiving comes in a close second, but with Halloween, the sense of obligation to deliver a holiday recedes, and in its place arises a joy-filled, kid-shrieking, door-bell-ringing, sugar-coma-inducing street carnival. For those brief few hours just after dusk, children and adults alike are caught up in something larger than ourselves.
These past few weeks, Halloween has been much on my mind as I have been led by a group of middle school students to plan a celebration of All Hallow’s Eve, here, next Saturday. The middle schoolers, now joined by some high school students, are well on their way! (I’ll offer a shameless plug: you’ll hear more about the All Hallow’s Eve celebration during announcements time from an awesome video the middle schoolers wrote, directed, and produced all by themselves. Stay tuned.) So, Halloween. It’s in the air.
Beyond the sheer joy, another part of what draws me to Halloween, I think, is the season. This time of year holds a richness, a depth. I notice time. I notice passings. We’re cutting back the perennials, removing the shrubs and plants that didn’t survive the summer drought, pruning dead material from the trees in advance of winter storms. No sooner is the ground cleared of leaves than it is covered again, the trees above withdrawing into themselves to brace for the cold months ahead. As I sat outside yesterday preparing this sermon, I watched the sugar maple trees in my neighbor’s yard – the bright yellow-orange leaves, vivid in contrast with the darkness of the branches and trunk – I watched showers of leaves float down. I watched time pass. Every time we step outdoors these days, we are surrounded by the physical expression of time.
This same sense of the passing of time is woven into our liturgical calendar and our rituals, as well. Next weekend, we celebrate the fall Triduum of All Hallow’s Eve, All Saints Day, and Commemoration of The Faithful Departed – the joy of children who will carry us into the future coupled with the remembrance of those who have gone before. We are invited into an exploration of time. We are invited to notice that we are part of something bigger than our daily comings and goings.
When I sat down with this week’s readings, then, perhaps it should come as no surprise that my attention was captured by what seems to me an emphasis on time. The passing of the way things are to make way for the things that are to come.
After forty years leading God’s people in the wilderness, Moses won’t make it to the Promised Land. Joshua will carry forward God’s work in the world, picking up where Moses leaves off. He has been anointed with the knowledge and the spirit of wisdom necessary to lead God’s people and he carries that torch forward.
In today’s Psalm, words for time figure prominently: morning, evening; daybreak, watch of the night; days, years, all the days of our life; grass, green and flourishing in the morning, drying up by the evening; humans returning to dust. “For a thousand years in your sight,” the psalmist sings, “are like yesterday when it is past” (v. 4). “You have been a refuge from one generation to another” (v. 1) since the mountains were formed.
Through the life and death of Moses, through the meditation of the psalmist, we are being invited into a contemplation of God’s time. We are drawn into something bigger than ourselves.
Yet outside, particularly in the coming days, the world rages on. That can be the nature of things. God’s rhythm can seem unfathomable to us. When we experience the early death of a young person, perhaps, or the loss of a livelihood, or prolonged loneliness and isolation. When we stare into the face of the seemingly never-ending injustices that afflict our world, it can be hard to welcome the rhythm of God’s time, to wait for wrongs to be righted. Especially in recent months, we have lived with loss, and grief, and anger. So, if we put this meditation on the rhythms of God’s creation in the context of our world, what are we supposed to do with that?
I don’t really have an answer – an intellectual, theological answer, that is. Instead, as I sit with this question, music comes to me: the canticle appointed for Morning Prayer on Fridays. It’s drawn from the book of Isaiah:
…For my thoughts are not your thoughts,
Nor your ways my ways, says the Lord.
For as the heavens are higher than the earth,
So are my ways higher than your ways,
And my thoughts than your thoughts.
For as rain and snow fall from the heavens
And return not again, but water the earth,
Bringing forth life and giving growth,
Seed for sowing and bread for eating,
So is my word that goes forth from my mouth;
It will not return to me empty;
But it will accomplish that which I have purposed,
And prosper in that for which I sent it (BCP, pp. 86-7).
God’s ways may very well be unfathomable to us, but there is a rhythm. It comes to us in song. It comes to us in community. It comes to us through scripture. We may catch a glimpse of it this afternoon as families are hiking in Kennard Park in Newton. This rhythm lies deeper than the bustle of our days. It is built into the very fabric of creation.
Today’s readings invite us to experience this turning of the natural world as a season of fullness and depth. They invite us to breathe deeply, to notice that we are enfolded in God’s rhythm, to sense God as our refuge, the ground in which we have our being. It feels like this time of year, both in the natural world and the liturgical calendar, offers an easier opening to sense this truth.
So next Saturday, though this year will be different than others, I will join in the festival that is Halloween. I will revel in the joy of children here at the “Spooky Saints Spectacular.” And, from time to time, perhaps I will pause to notice that we are all, together, part of something that is bigger. Something that is fit, and right, and that, with a gentle guiding hand ushers us through this passage of time.