Today is Stir-up Sunday, the Sunday next before Advent in the Christian calendar. It is called this because of the opening prayer that a collects us together:
STIR up, we beseech thee, O Lord, the wills of thy faithful people; that they, plenteously bringing forth the fruit of good works, may by thee be plenteously rewarded; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen. (1928 BCP, 225)
We call the Holy Spirit to come upon us and give us the will to do right according to His commandments, to bear good fruit. And there is no better time to call upon this Third Person of the Holy Trinity. There is no better time to stir up God’s people, our nation under God.
We often need stirring up, for we are a joyful people and prone to complacency in our joy. We have answered some of the great mysteries of life, the whys and wherefores, the whats and whos, the whens. We know we are fallen, but we know the remedy. We have a deadly virus, but be not afraid, for we have the antidote. We are under sentence of death in the cosmology of Heaven’s justice, but we know how to commute that sentence through repentance, through the death and resurrection of Christ, the Second Person of the Holy Trinity, through touching the hem of His garment and carrying His cross. We are at peace, for we have immense meaning in our lives. More than that, our lives embody meaning, every breathing moment adding to the total of that meaning, for nothing is lost and everything gained. Nothing is wasted.
Bishop Morse of blessed memory used to cheer me up with the words, “Nothing is lost.” I’ve often recalled those words, when I hammer away at a keyboard or receive another rejection, or a project has fallen through, or a plan come to naught. Nothing is lost. Everything counts in the economy of God.
It is this wholeness of life, this holiness of life, that the Christian owns, that the Christian can claim for his or her own. It is a vast fortune, and we claim it to be ours. It is an inheritance my hermit Abram speaks of as he preaches and baptizes from a rocky ledge to the pilgrims in the grassy meadow below. It is a theme of my recently released novel, Angel Mountain, this joy, this grace given.
So out of sheer complacency, having been given so much grace, we often need a little stirring up. And so this Sunday Collect prepares us for the Advent season as a kind of bugle cry to get our attention: wake up! It’s time! The last trumpet will soon sound! Christ is born in Bethlehem! Christ is returning, filling the sky! Can you see Him?
The world needs stirring up as it awaits the Second Advent of Christ, the Second Coming.
This last week I needed stirring up and I needed the reassurance that nothing was lost. While I knew the media had years ago declared war on a sitting President, and while I knew that if an honest and free press gives way to tyranny that democracy dies, I was surprised once again that a major news conference shedding evidential light into the deep shadows of our recent election was not covered, but dismissed and scorned. It was as though the last hope of a free press was gone.
The Gospel today was St. John’s account of the feeding of the five thousand, with only a lad’s five barley loaves and two small fishes (John 6:5+). Andrew asks, “What are they among so many?”
And we ask, what are we among so many?
How can truth be broadcast when major media is corrupt? And yet our voices continue to be heard. For nothing is lost.
And so in St. John’s account we see the economy of Heaven: the vast and the microscopic, the immortal and the mortal. The Lord of the Universe sits on a hillside and receives a basket of loaves and fishes from a little boy. We are given concrete details: the people are to sit; there is grass to sit upon; Jesus gives thanks and distributes the loaves and fishes, feeding them all. It was a miracle of creation repeated, multiplied, a down-from-Heaven-to-Earth miracle, an intersection of eternity into time.
Finally, Jesus instructs his disciples to “gather up the fragments that remain, that nothing be lost.” Nothing be lost. I am a fragment: gather me. I don’t want to be lost. John writes that there were twelve baskets of fragments gathered. He is a good witness to reality, to truth. He gives us details in his account.
And so we must be good witnesses to all the fragments.
One of the ways that totalitarian governments take and retain power is to repeat lies until they (seem to) become truth. Just so, it seems we the voters are expected to see and not to see, to witness and not to testify. We begin to doubt our senses. We begin to believe the lies. It’s so much easier to go along.
But many are praying that true truth is told by those who do the telling. As evidence is amassed in numerous court cases litigating recent election practices, we pray that light lights up the dark, forces the lies to emerge from the shadows so that we can truly see.
We must be stirred up enough to remain awake to reality, to truth, to the truth of the Advent of Christ, to the truth of the light shining in the darkness, to the truth of who we are in spite of our brokenness. We gather our words like loaves and fishes, hoping they will multiply and feed the hungry. The fragments are gathered too, so that nothing is lost.
Every breath counts. Every prayer counts. Every true vote for freedom counts. We need not be afraid. Nothing is lost.