Last Sunday was Reformation Sunday. It gets lost in all the Halloween folderol, because let’s face it, which is more exciting, donning costumes to laugh, entertain, receive free candy, and chase away the possibility of evil spirits or remember a guy in 1517 who took a hammer and nailed 95 theses on a church door in Wittenburg? The answer to that probably depends on how much of a church nerd one is – I might be one of those. While I do appreciate a good Spiderman and Wonder Woman which we had in the office Sunday morning, Martin Luther and those 95 theses started Protestantism, and as imperfect as we are, we are the 500+ years down the line of that heritage. 500 years is not a bad run.
Religious author Phyllis Tickle wrote in her book, The Great Emergence: How Christianity is Changing and Why in 2008, that in reflecting on the history of religious systems, one can see a pattern of what she calls “rummage sales” every 500 years +/- 100 years. She then illustrates her hypothesis of what we’re going through right now, back 500 years to the Reformation in 1517; 500 years before that the schism between Eastern Orthodoxy and the Roman Catholicism; and 500 years before that the fall of the Roman Empire; and 500 years before that . . . Jesus.
We don’t quite know yet what this “rummage sale” we’re going through in our religious system presently now will end up looking like, the consequences thereof, or what it will be named. Perhaps it’s enough to know that we’re going through something that fits into a historical cycle. The good news is that in none of the iterations of the 500 year rummage sales has Christianity ever been destroyed and in fact, new forms with a newer sense of freedom have expanded the realm and reach in ways never before imagined. The hard part is living through these “hinge-periods” without knowing what the end will be. These kind of major historical shifts are never without pain and grief, AND never without promise and hope! We do well to remember both.
Speaking of which – All Saints Day, Nov. 1, the balance of pain and grief, promise and hope! We’ll formally celebrate next Sunday when we’ll name, light candles, and ring a bell for those who have moved into God’s eternal realm from Grace in this last year. Every year I think the list is too long and the grief of families so hard to bear, and every year I remember in the remembering that God’s grace is true and the gift of life we share moves beyond our understanding from this life to the next. That provides comfort, and yet is never a substitute for the journey of sorrow. All sacred and all in God’s time.
I think that’s why living in the Midwest is an unexpected gift. Damp cold is not my favorite, and at the same time the marking of the rhythm of the seasons with the changes of weather and color and cast of light and shadow lend itself to Reformation, remembering the Saints, moving into a season of gratitude and then a journey toward God piercing the veil between heaven and earth. It all simply fits in sacred understanding.
So of course I brought my winter clothes up from the basement and took my summer clothes down and today, when I donned a fleece vest I haven’t worn since cold weather season a lifetime or less than a year ago, and put my hand in the pocket . . . $20 – not even kidding! Guess I must not have gone out for breakfast, lunch, and/or dinner like I must’ve thought I would the last time I wore it. One of those make you grin when you least expect it moments – almost like a snow day! Fie, fie you say, we are not quite ready for the s-n-o-w word, even if it means sledding on a school day . . . all in good time, all in good time.
For now, it’s a look back at where we’ve been, as inheritors of those who have lived through life-transforming anxiety-producing major transitions before, and as those who consciously or not, are opening the gates to a future yet unwritten of new ways and spaces of being Jesus followers. Just as we have built on perfectly imperfect decisions of past foundations, so will those coming after us do the same.
As I switched clothes from basement to closet and closet to basement, I did some sorting, some tossing, and some collecting for donation – one might say, preparing for a possible rummage sale in my own life. Paring down what no longer works, hanging up and putting into drawers that which is needed for the present, and knowing that in the spaces of what I let go, new things may need to be worked for and acquired. O.k. Phyllis Tickle, I think I get it, and thanks Martin Luther, I’m pretty big on the freedom to protest civil and religious authorities out of which came Protest-antism as a way of following Jesus. So happy Reformation Day, Blessed be All the Saints, and Peace for life during this every 500 year at times anxiety producing religious rummage sale!