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The Beginning of the End

The Beginning of the End

Monday, November 18, 2013 — Week of Proper 28, Year One

[Go to Mission St Clare for an online version of the Daily Office including today’s scripture readings.]

Today’s Readings for the Daily Office:

Psalms 89:1-18 (morning) // 89:19-52 (evening)

Maccabees 3:1-24

Revelation 20:7-17

Matthew 17:1-13

Our youth group at Grace Episcopal Church has been reading a book called “Marked,” by Steve Ross. It’s a graphic novel (like a high-quality comic book) based on Mark’s gospel. Yesterday, we happened to read through the book’s version of the Transfiguration, which is also our reading from Matthew’s gospel for today.

According to Ross’s illuminating imagination, the Transfiguration story goes like this: Jesus climbs a very sheer mountain along with some determined caterpillars. A few disciples follow him, and one of them watches Jesus step off of the mountaintop. The disciple expects to see Jesus plummet to his death . . . but then the caterpillars all transform into butterflies and somehow hold Jesus, Moses, and Elijah in mid-air. Then Jesus begins to glow.

Peter tries to take a picture of the amazing sight, but his camera suddenly falls to pieces. Jesus tells him, “My friend, there are some things you just can’t freeze in time. Nothing lasts forever. Everything changes. Everything dies. The question is simply whether you want that to be the end of the story.” Then, to drive home the point, a dove eats one of the butterflies.

What is our attitude toward the endings that we see coming in our lives? In these last few days of the church year, both our Sunday readings and our Daily Office readings contain little clues that an end is just beginning. For example, the disciples in today’s passage pick up on a hint from Jesus that the story of their lives is heading toward some sort of conclusion. The disciples know that the scribes expected the prophet Elijah to return before the Messiah would arrive. Jesus tells the disciples, “Elijah has already come.” Then, the disciples put two and two together: John the Baptist must be the returned Elijah! The end of a major chapter in the story of God’s people was just about to begin.

For many people, this time of year contains similar clues that some end is just beginning. At least in the Northern hemisphere, seasonal signs of endings are all around us. We are also approaching the holidays and the new calendar year, when some people begin to evaluate their lives.

How generous of Jesus and of our church calendar to give us some advance notice about where the Biblical story is heading. It helps to decide in advance that, wherever our lives are going, we don’t want death to be the end of the story. Whether we are facing the approaching death of a relationship, of a career path, of a personal identity, or of some other context, we can prepare in advance not to let that death be the end of our story. The signs, hints, inklings, and suspicions that we are at the beginning of the end are actually messages of mercy. Get ready . . . and don’t let any death be the end of God’s story.

Lora Walsh blogs about taking risks and seeking grace at A Daily Scandal. She serves as curate of Grace Episcopal Church in Siloam Springs and as director of the Ark Fellows, an Episcopal Service Corps program sponsored by St. Paul’s in Fayetteville, Arkansas.

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