A scholarly attempt at an interpretation of Sunday's liturgical readings.

Years ago,  I recalled a gathering song called  “Will the circle be unbroken?”  The melody was rather catchy.  If I remember correctly, the image of the circle was intended to represent  the hopeful survival of the believing  community.  Presumably, the supposition was that the community of believers would last not just for a short while, but forever.  It gave somewhat the idea of permanence.  Hence, the unbroken circle.

In the book of Acts (1:1-11) , we seem to have  circle of permanence linking together the historical process.  The past, present, and future of Jesus’ life on earth.  What we call the “circle of permanence” is the church’s liturgical year which reminds us of the past, present, and future comings of Jesus.

First of all, the past.  The periods of  Advent and Christmas recall the time when Jesus enters into our world.  It is a “coming down” from heaven.  “Advent,”  from the Latin, means “the coming.”  God becoming human is referred to as the Incarnation, that which “becomes flesh.”  One of the key words for this Advent-Christmas season is Immanuel, which means in Hebrew, “God is with us.”  Knowledge of the divine presence with his people was a crucial factor in Israel’s belief of God’s guidance and protection.

Second, the present.  The periods of Lent and Easter recall the time when Jesus lived  in our world.  Lent is the time when Jesus lived and died so that all could see the example of his message.  Easter is the time when the risen Jesus shows that he has power over life and death.  Advent-Christmas is the “coming down” part of the circle.  Lent-Easter is “straight across”  time line part of the circle.

Third, the future.  The church continues the work of Jesus on earth.  The feasts of the Ascension and Pentecost are very special.  The Ascension is the moment when Jesus returns to heaven (from whence he came) after commissioning  his disciples to carry on his work until the end of the world.  Pentecost means the coming of the Holy Spirit to give  strength and encouragement to those who are prooclaiming the message of Jesus.  The time after Pentecost is the period when the believing community keeps the circle unbroken by constantly proclaiming the message of Jesus, namely, justice, compassion, understanding, and forgiveness.

How can we keep this circle of caring love and concern from being broken?  I would like to make some suggestions.  First, remember that our experience of Jesus is like an unbroken circle, and it is the church’s liturgical year that often reminds us of this.  For example, the Advent-Christmas period is a reminder that Jesus entered into our world (past); the Lent-Easter period is a reminder that Jesus lived, died, and resurrected in our world (present); and that the post-Resurrection period (Ascencion, Pentecost, and the time after Pentecost) is the time the church continues the work of Jesus in the world.

Secondly, we keep this circle of care and concern unbroken through our good example of life and preaching with the support of the Holy Sprit.  Our Baptism makes us aware of this.

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