What we call the beginning is often the endT. S. Eliot, “Little Gidding,” from Four Quartets, 1942.
And to make an end is to make a beginning.
The end is where we start from.
The season of Advent encompasses both beginnings and endings. As we begin the cycle of the church year, we paradoxically look backward with anticipation, reliving and retelling the prologue to Jesus’ earthly ministry, awaiting the appearance of the babe in the manger that we know has already happened two millennia ago. At the same time, we look forward to Jesus’ return and the establishment of God’s Kingdom on earth, remembering how the Church has been looking forward to this consummation for the same two long millennia.
The church year begins, at least in the northern hemisphere, as the natural world appears to be greying, ending, dying. We trust that the cycle will return again, that fresh green life will return to the withered branches, as we trust that we will be resurrected with Christ even as we die with him. In his end is our beginning.
At the same time, as Christians we recognize that time is not truly cyclical: that this world has a beginning and an end, and that every day we move closer to the day when God will set all things right. While God is outside time and space, God chose to participate in history: to be born into flesh, and thus to be born into time. Christ has hallowed both time and history.
So it is not surprising that, as Christ’s body in the world, the Church commemorates the cycles and recurrences of the calendar, and that we also mark the watershed events of our lives: birth, maturity, marriage and death. Beats in larger rhythms that function as historic passages in our own lives.
In the life of our church community, people come and go, ministries begin and end. Any of us who have been part of a parish for any length of time have seen pastors enter and exit the stage (for better and for worse), but the life of the Body continues in its seemingly-endless cycles and its inexorable progression toward the Kingdom.
Over the last nearly eight years, we have lived together through good times and bad, through the cycles and the turning points. Now we are approaching a new milestone, when I will leave and you will stay. You will learn to love a new pastor, and I will learn to love a new community. We will grieve the parting and rejoice in new relationships. Things will not be quite the same afterwards, and the life of the life of the church will continue, in cycle and in change.
We shall not cease from explorationIbid.
And the end of all our exploring
Will be to arrive where we started
And know the place for the first time.