Alpha and Omega and the Spaces in Between

Easter 5 C

Our vision for St. Alban’s is to be a thriving Episcopal faith community where people feel loved, energized,  equipped, and empowered to serve and make disciples.

If you’ve ever been in a new leadership role one piece of advice mentors and veteran leaders will often give is, “Spend the first several months just listening and observing. Don’t go in trying to change everything.”

There is a lot of wisdom in this. 

This was the advice I received from a fellow rector a few weeks after I arrived here at St. Alban’s in January of 2019. 

“Just listen, watch (and the hardest part)…wait.”

Heeding this advice, and also wanting to get to know St. Alban’s better, I decided to make the theme of the Lenten series that year “Our Story.”

Each week in Lent centered around a different part of our individual, church and family stories.

“Tell a story about a family member’s, or your own, baptism”

“Tell a story about your earliest memory of this church.”

“Where have you seen God at work in our church?”

“What is your favorite memory of St. Alban’s”

These dinner conversations were both interesting and inspiring. Participants were encouraged to map their own and collective stories onto a large timeline – an activity we repeated at the beginning of our Centennial year. (I encourage you to visit this timeline in the hallway) 

We love talking about the past and the ways that God’s Spirit was present and active in our church family. 

“Do you remember when we used to play in the bell choir?”

“When I was young we had so many children in our church that we had to Sunday school in shifts!”

“We used to have confirmation classes of dozens of confirmands.”

“Our women’s group was enormous!”

Sharing these stories was both inspiring and moving. This church has been a place where thousands of people have found Christ and formed a life of faith.

The final week of this Lenten series was a bit of a challenge.

“Imagine you traveled into the future. What story would you like to come back and share about the “St. Alban’s-yet-to-be.” The purpose of this last week’s assignment was help us dream and envision something beyond what we currently experience.

I’ll be honest. We got stuck. 

The desire to send the time machine back ten, or even 30 years, was too irresistable. 

“I would love it if we once again had hundreds of people in worship.”

“Families! We need families! Too bad they are all out playing x sport on Sunday mornings.”

“The one ministry I’d love to see returned is the rummage sale.”

Perhaps the one that bothered me the most.

“I would love it if our pledging was like it used to be. We just don’t have the big donors anymore.”

I want to be clear here. It is not wrong to look back on times when churches were flourishing and bursting at the seams with people. It’s not wrong to desire packed pews like they once were. 

It’s also important to be realistic in our nostalgia. One of the problems with looking back on these days gone by is we tend to remember them more fondly than they were – for example no one mentioned that girls could not serve as acolytes. We fail to remember that our last rector and I would not have been able to serve as the priest of this parish two generations ago as women were not first ordained until 1974 and LGBTQ persons were not until 1977. 

However, looking back on our story is beneficial because it reminds us that even with imperfections God has, and will always manage to show up in the traditions of the church – traditions meaning both the days-gone-by and our rituals – despite the imperfections and wrong biases of the humans that make up the Church. 

God was certainly present here. 

It’s also important to note that when we only look back we become unknowingly inhospitable to members and guests who arrived later.

Perhaps I was also a bit incorrect and too forward thinking in posing the question “Where do we see ourselves in ten years?” At the time who would have guessed that in a little over a year I’d be zooming worship from what I jokingly called “The chapel of my Spare bedroom.” Who’d have thought we’d be in quarantine using limbs off our own trees for virtual palm Sunday processions. 

Unbeknownst to us at the time, God was certainly present in the pandemic days that we did not quite anticipate, but more than likely none of those foreward thinking answers provided in Lent of 2019 would have guessed that we’d emerge to an entirely different  world.

We cannot get too far ahead of ourselves in planning for the future either – even with a fancy new strategic plan that we are about to unveil on St. Alban’s Day and a new vision statement. 

Our vision for St. Alban’s is to be a thriving Episcopal faith community where people feel loved, energized,  equipped, and empowered to serve and make disciples.

Yet Jesus said it himself.

“I am the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end.”

Aren’t we supposed to look towards tomorrow and strategically plan for it?

You’re going to hate this answer. 

No! …and Yes. 

If you think our best days are behind us or you think our golden years are yet to come, you’re both wrong. 

I myself tend to fall into this latter category. I want to see St. Alban’s bursting at the seams with people who come here desiring to know and love God. I want to see our hospitality increase to welcome people who have been lifelong members of this parish and also guests who have never set foot in any church. It’s often from this futuring mindset that I approach my ministry.

Alpha and Omega?

Let’s get to that Omega and then everything will be amazing.

That is not how God works. So in the midst of the “this or that” “future or past” there must be a third way. (How appropriate for Anglicans to discuss a middle way)

Before we get specific, let’s go a bit more cosmic and theologically nerdy for a moment. (I mean that endearingly)

One of my all time favorite theologians is a French Jesuit Catholic Priest and paleontologist, Teilhard de Chardin developed the theological idea of the Omega point. Essentially what the Omega point describes is this: Everything in the created universe hurdles itself from the “Alpha point,” also known as the beginning, towards a final point of unification known as the Omega point. The Omega point is Christ. In fact we express this routinely in worship,

“We become one body with Christ.”

“Put all things under subjection of your Christ.”

“We die to self and are born into Christ”

Essentially heaven is not so much a place as it is “Just God” and all things come from and end in God.

So what does that mean for us now?

First it means that God is both in our past (the Alpha) This means that is ok, even beneficial to discern how God formed and shaped us through our lifetime and history. We just can’t get stuck there. It also means that God will be in our tomorrows, but we can’t always be striving towards something that is unknown and not guaranteed. (Omega)

The spaces in between the letters are all we get. The now. 

The Resurrected Christ is also the beta, gamma, delta, epsilon and so on if for no other reason than the Resurrected Christ is the very Word that brough those moments into existence. (God makes it farther than the COVID variants and as we’ve seen showed up in those COVID Greek lettered variants)

What does it mean to be in Christ now?

It means we are free.

We are free to make choices that open us up to what God is doing right now. 

We are free to let go of ideas and ideals that no longer serve us as the world has changed. It’s ok to recognize that ministries, ideas, relationships, and yes even people have seasons and times change.

It means that we do not have to fret and worry about tomorrow because God desires us to be in congruency and relationship with God in the immediate. 

Christian living is about living in participation not anticipation.

Particularly in worship we are participate with God who comes to dwell with us and is revealed in the ways we treat one another…yes the people sitting right next to you in the pew. God is revealed when we welcome guests as if they have been here for 50 years even if it’s only been five minutes. God is revealed when we participate – in singing, in serving, in ushering, in reading, in listening, in praying, in offering communion and in receiving it. 

Our vision for St. Alban’s is to be a thriving Episcopal faith community where people feel loved, energized,  equipped, and empowered to serve and make disciples.

A thriving church is the Church that loves, is energized, equipped, and empowered to serve and make disciples. 

It’s a matter of choosing to see and accept it. 

For the Resurrected Lord said. “I am the Alpha and the Omega” 

But we are blessed to be in all those middle letters.