Reformation and All Saints Days

I know what the Lectionary says. The church year begins in Advent. The season of preparation is a great way to begin the new church year. But for the past few years, I’ve experienced the beginning of a new year on the night in between Reformation Day and All Saints Day.

For me, these two days represent the very best in new beginnings. For all of October, I watch the living creation wind down, preparing for its winter hibernation. The world seems to slow down and catch its breath after the exhilaration of summer. I feel like I do my best introspection and self-reflection during this time. And all the while, we crawl towards All-Hallows Eve.

Even as a kid, Halloween fascinated me. We all need a little legend in our lives. Halloween was even more poignant for me because it was the night before All Saints Day, which meant that we no longer had to be afraid of the dead. It was a day of celebration for the lives of our ancestors and the communion we share with them and all the saints. I have spent many All Saints Days remembering those who have died and finding solace and peace in those thoughts as I look forward to the fulfillment of the Kingdom of God.

My friend Pilgrim over at this top of speculation gave a good argument for why he does not celebrate Reformation Day. I agree with him when he says that the celebration of the Reformation too often becomes about how we are different from the Roman Catholic Church and how we finally “got it right.” What’s ironic about these sentiments is that the Augsburg Confession, the most important identifier of a Lutheran church, was written to show how the Evangelicals were in line with, not opposite, the Roman church.

Secondly, Lutherans have prided themselves on being a reforming tradition. How quickly, then, we have fallen into the typical, pridefully human stance that what we have is the “right” way. The Lutheran church has not always remembered that it is a church devoted to constant introspection, renewal, and revitalization. It is a part of our tradition we need to reclaim.

That is why I always celebrate Reformation Day and All Saints Day together, as a pair, as the beginning of a new year. The month of October, with its natural invitation to reflection and meditation, brings me into a state of mind open to the deeper meanings behind the Reformation. I wind down to Reformation Day, not up to it. I examine who I am, what my life has been, and seek the renewal that comes from dying every night to Christ and rising again in the morning a baptized child of God–I seek to reform into a new person, not to reassert the old.

And then, on November 1, I celebrate with the church those who have come before us, those who have once and for all been renewed and reformed. The whole of October winds down to this solemn, but not sad, day. Having reflected on where I’ve been and celebrated where I am going, I can step out into a new life and a new year. Happy Reformation Day, everyone–and a solemn All Saints.

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Prayers Needed

I received word yesterday that the throat surgery my grandmother went through this past week revealed the presence of cancer. However, the doctors believe that, because of the nature of the tumor, they have been able to remove the cancer and that it did not spread. Still, she will be starting radiation therapy soon to eradicate any possible remaining cancer. Please keep her and our family in your prayers.

Reflection: Youth in Mission–Serving Christ in the World 2003

Eight years ago, in between my junior and senior years in high school, I applied for a summer program at the Lutheran School of Theology in Chicago. The name of it was Youth in Mission–Serving Christ in the World. At the time, I didn’t really know what the program was. My pastor suggested that I apply. It was a three week program–one week at LSTC, one week in Mexico, and a final week at LSTC. Because it was funded by a grant through the Lily Foundation, the cost to me was minimal. And I had never been out of the country before. I packed my bags and headed up to LSTC.

It’s hard to remember everything that I experienced over those three weeks. I found my old journal that we were given at the start of the program and read through the few entries I made. Aside from clearly demonstrating that I am a true geek at heart, there’s not much there. A few poems unfit for sharing, some ramblings about dreams, reflections on small group time question, and song lyrics are all that I recorded in writing. I do remember the talk that tuned me into the injustice of NAFTA and agreements like it and spending a few days at a daycare–those were important

But while I may not remember what I experienced, I remember who I experienced it with. The strangest thing happened over those three weeks. A group of 20+ high school students who spent such a short time together bonded. And boy, did we bond.

Maybe it was the close quarters in the LSTC apartments.
Maybe it was the games of volleyball and ultimate frisbee we played in the courtyard of the “big black box” in our free time.
Maybe it was the way we rallied around each other in Mexico when we grew homesick (or in one case, physically sick from dehydration).
Maybe it was the shared torture of leaving behind children whom we grew to love as we worked with them–one cried because she didn’t want her new “mamacita” to leave her (and her new mamacita cried, too).
Maybe it was the laughter we shared as one of our fellow students convinced another that she did indeed raise elephants on a ranch in Iowa.
Maybe it was the experience of climbing pyramids one day and taking communion in the friendliest, most welcoming Roman Catholic church we have ever been to the next.

Whatever it was, something changed in us that summer. Our eyes had been opened to a world outside our own and stirred in us passions to go out and change it–to work with the poor and oppressed, immigrants, children. A few of us even ended up going to seminary after all. And a couple are currently working on doctorates in various fields. Two even got married a few years later!

Community and love built those relationships–relationships that endure. How do I know? Because a few nights ago, I had a dream about the YIM group. When I woke up, I sent a quick Facebook message to those YIM members I was Friends with (which, admittedly, was a large majority of the group). Much to my surprise, replies poured in, and those members whom I had accidentally left out were added into the conversation. We shared what we had been up to these past 8 years and how YIM changed our lives–it was as if we had never lost contact. We even decided then and there to set up a 10-year reunion.

Isn’t it amazing what community can do to people?