“It’s getting warm,” we said to each other. We were walking through the desert with friends. It was the middle of the morning and the temperature was rising into the 90s.
We had a drink of water. We sought the shade down in the relative cool of the arroyo. We made our way toward the food and shelter we knew were waiting for us – and the car.
It was a pleasant morning, out for a hike with friends and family. It was beautiful. It was dry and sunny. And it was getting warm.
Imagine walking through such a desert alone, or with strangers. Imagine walking across a desert, jobless and homeless, hoping for something not seen, for a place on the far side. No car waits, no friends or family, just a chance of finding a new way to live.
It happens every summer, in the Sonoran desert. People cross it, heading north, looking for a job, for food and water and shelter, and perhaps a new life. Carrying with them – not much but hope.
Imagine crossing such a desert with someone who has just been family for a little while: a relative by marriage. The two of you have dozens of miles of wilderness to cross, and you are alone in the world. You have left the known behind; there is a famine there.
You have an international border to negotiate. You hope that when you arrive in the new place – and it lies across that border – you will find a little food and water and shelter and perhaps a new life.
Their husbands were dead, and they heard the famine might be lifting over there to the west.
Naomi had said her farewells to Moab and to one of her widowed daughters-in-law, Orpah – perhaps the more sensible of the two, who stuck with what she knew.
Ruth came with Naomi. They were widows now, both of them – the older woman and the younger. They set out together to the west. Somewhere there might be a place for them – with the family Naomi had left behind years ago.
Ruth came with Naomi, offering her a love and a loyalty and faithfulness beyond what was required by any law: “Where you go I will go and where you lodge I will lodge and your people will be my people and your God will be my God.”
With that passionate pledge Ruth began a spiritual journey into a new identity, as one of the people called to be the people of God.
They reached the other side – they came to the neighborhood of Bethlehem, in Judea. They came to fields of ripe grain, and a threshing floor; it was harvest time. Naomi’s relatives were there – and an ending of their journey. They found, as the story continues, after the harvest, a future and a hope.
This November the calendar of the church year carries us from the feast of All Saints, —when we gather together in the presence of all the faithful remembering those past and anticipating those to come, and welcoming those present with us in the Eucharist, — through Ingathering Sunday to the feast of Christ the King and the Thanksgiving holiday and on to the first Sunday of Advent.
All Saints Day assures us we are among friends, the family of Christ that extends its embrace through time and space. Ingathering Sunday provides an opportunity to give our thanks for what God has given us. We rejoice together in Christ the King, proclaiming that our God reigns indeed, that he alone is sovereign. And we come to that first day of the season of anticipation, quietly but joyfully singing as we prepare the way of the Lord.
This month forms a part of the journey of the Christian year, from the hope of the coming king (past and future, in the first coming and his return in glory) to the blessings of the Nativity of our Lord and the epiphanies that herald his presence among us; from the thoughtful preparations of Candlemas (Candelaria) and Lenten tide to the raucous anticipations of Palm Sunday, the humble moments of Holy Week, the gift of Maundy Thursday and the crushing truth of Good Friday, and the scenes beyond dreams of Easter Day; through the revelations that follow that morning and build beyond the Ascension into the long green season after Pentecost, around again to the last days of autumn and the return of the king.
This is where we are now – and shows where we are going, from a known past and gifts we are thankful for, with family and friends (if we are so blessed) into a future with hope.
We do not always know where we are going, we are not always sure of our way, and as C. S. Lewis somewhere pointed out, the Christian faith does not give us a map but a compass.* We are not provided with a chart of what awaits us, just a directional aid.
Faith orients us toward the blessing of the presence of God. Hope assures us we are moving forward toward a future God has prepared for us. Love gives us the way to be with each other on the journey. And we know, that now in the present Christ is here among us, and in the unknown country, yet to come, he will be there to welcome us.
Let us share the welcome of Christ with each other – and those whom God brings to us, and whom we seek out in the world around us. The future beckons us, a future with hope.
May the true and living God who created all things bless us; the eternal Word of God take root in our hearts and the holy Spirit of God bear fruit in our lives. —Fr. John
*cf. Herbert O’Driscoll, The Word Today, Year B, Vol. 3 (Toronto: Anglican Book Centre, 2001) 130.
For the Gospel Grapevine, parish newsletter of St Alban’s Episcopal Church, Edmonds, Wash., November 2009.