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Reflection – November 2023

We are in the last month of the church year. The last month is bookended with All Saints Day on 1 November, and Christ the King on 26 November. Following the lectionary cycle, this is our last month with the gospel of Matthew, for three years. From Advent, which this year is 3 December, the lectionary (fully called the Revised Common Lectionary) will follow Mark through to the end of the church year in November 2024.

Mark is a much shorter gospel. It has 16 chapters, which compares with 21 for John, 24 for Luke and 28 for Matthew. Therefore, during the year of Mark, in the season of Easter, and for 6 weeks in about August, we will hear from John’s gospel. A good Christian discipline could be to read the gospel right through. Mark can be read in about 2 hours in one sitting. That then helps in hearing the themes. Mark is written with a sense of urgency. It rushes along. The movement is probably a response to the imminent threats that were bearing down upon the fledging Christian community in about 66 CE. It is written about the time that both Peter and Paul are martyred, and when the Romans came and partially destroyed Jerusalem.

Given what is happening in the world today, it could be a very good gospel to read at this time. It offers hope in a fearful time. I will be offering a one-night introduction to Mark on Monday night 27 November 2023, 7-8 pm on zoom. All Welcome.

I said above that we are in the last month of the church year. All Saints Day, 1 November, and All Souls Day, 2 November, are usually commemorated on either the last Sunday in October or the first Sunday in November. While both festivals have been commemorated in the church since about the fifth century, they are new to many protestants.

The Apostle Paul referred to believers in many of the early churches as the saints. That idea could be daunting. The communion of saints, both the living and the dead, only makes sense when we remember that Jesus Christ died and was buried with the dead and rose from the dead to be with the Father and those who also are raised to be with the Father. Secondly, it only makes sense when we remember that it is not dependent upon our works or whatever might be good in us, but on the holiness of Jesus Christ at work in us, and the Holy Spirit that “glues” us together as church both on earth and in heaven.

Our three antecedent traditions of Methodism, Presbyterianism and Congregationalism all encouraged their members to grow in holiness through the practice of daily prayers and scripture reading. The prayers include confession of sins to God, and petitions to God asking help to “yield not to temptations” as the old Alexander song said, as well as prayers for other people. Growing in holiness is a growing in our dependence on and guidance from God, and God’s work in us. It was Luther who spoke of the priesthood of all believers, and so encouraged the people to devote time to seeking God’s grace and living lives “worthy of their high calling.”

Some churches continue the All Saints Day theme right through from All Saints Day to Advent. While Matthew does not use that language, it is certainly there in the gospel readings we shall hear in church over the next Sundays. The four gospel readings over these weeks are: Matthew 5:-12, 25:1-46. See also the second readings for these Sundays: 1 John 3:1-3; 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18, 5:1-11; Ephesians 1:15-23.

The last Sunday of the Church year is called Christ the King. Sometimes it is known as the Reign of Christ. That Sunday reminds Christians that at the end of time, Christ will come again, and Christ will reign supreme. That reminder can encourage hope in difficult times. This is about eschatology –the last things. Sam Wells suggested that one way to think about eschatology is that it is the movement from existence to essence, the movement from earth to heaven.

The church believes, and it is expressed well in the Basis of Union (Paragraph 3) of the Uniting Church, that “the church lives between the time of Christ’s death and resurrection and the final consummation of all things which he will bring.” It is in that context that the church is a pilgrim people on the way towards the promised goal. The promised goal is consummation of all things in Christ. Informed by the scriptures and inspired by the Holy Spirit, in many places people write for the importance of disciples of Jesus on the way to attend, keep focused upon, look out for Christ, who feeds the church with the Word and sacraments, and the Holy Spirit. That is look out for Jesus Christ to come to us through the reading of the scriptures and the preaching, and in the sacraments of Baptism and Lord’s Supper. And look out for, be open to, the gift of the Holy Spirit, who can guide and direct the church – all of us – that we may not lose the way.

The reign of Christ or Christ the King Sunday leads us into the season of advent and Christmas. So, each season of the yearly cycle of worship, witness and service leads us seamlessly on the pilgrimage of faith as disciples of Jesus Christ.

Keith Hamilton