Around and Between the Gaps

Around and Between the Gaps

Homily for the Twenty-third Sunday after Pentecost

November 13, 2022

Around and Between the Gaps

Homily for Sunday, November 13, 2022
The Twenty-Third Sunday after Pentecost
Luke 21:5–19

“When some were speaking about the temple, how it was adorned with beautiful stones and gifts dedicated to God, Jesus said, ‘As for these things that you see, the days will come when not one stone will be left upon another; all will be thrown down.’"

The Gospel we just heard is Luke’s account of the “end of the age.”  And I want to return to Luke and to the “end of the age” and to the destruction of the Temple that Luke describes, but first, hawks.

To suppose from the title of Helen Macdonald’s book, H is for Hawk, that it is about hawks is to be only partially correct.  H is for Hawk is Macdonald’s intertwined account of learning to train a hawk and the unfolding of her grief after the death of her father.  Macdonald explains,

The hawk was a fire that burned my hurts away. There could be no regret or mourning in her.  No past or future. She lived in the present only…. and filled the house with wildness as a bowl of lilies fills a house with scent… And that was my refuge.

Given Macdonald’s grief, we can imagine how difficult it was for her to untether the hawk’s jesses—the thin leather straps that tie the hawk’s ankles to the falconer’s glove—and to let the hawk fly away.  About those moments of having just released the hawk and waiting, hoping, for the hawk’s return (which is never guaranteed) Macdonald writes,

There is a time in life when you expect the world to be always full of new things. And then comes a day when you realize that is not how it will be at all. You see that life will become a thing made of holes.  Absences.  Losses.  Things that were there and are no longer. And you realize, too, that you have to grow around and between the gaps…

As of her writing, Macdonald’s hawk always came back—and, “There was nothing,” she writes, “that was such a salve to my grieving heart as the hawk returning.” But each time letting the hawk go risked that the hawk would not return and risked rekindling in Macdonald that sense of “holes.  Absences.  Losses.  Things that were there and are no longer.”

Back to the Gospels and to the destruction of the Jerusalem Temple…. The Gospels, in particular the Synoptics, came to be written at least in part because of “holes. Absences.  Losses.  Things that were there and are no longer”—the Gospels came to be written at least in part because of the destruction of the Jerusalem Temple. The Temple’s destruction was a loss, a hole, of the greatest magnitude for the Synoptic evangelists and their communities.  Mark’s response—and Mark wrote shortly after the Temple’s destruction, near to 70 AD—to the hole, the absence and loss of the Temple was to make sense of it through Jesus’ suffering and death, which in Mark Jesus predicts not once but three times (8:31; 9:31; 10:33–34).  And the fear, even terror, in Mark’s community on account of the Temple’s loss is evident in Mark’s resurrection account in which the women flee the tomb in fear: “for terror and amazement had seized them,” Mark writes, “and they said nothing to anyone, for they were afraid” (16:8).  Matthew’s response—who wrote maybe 15 years after Mark—was not so much to take up the cross but to “take my yoke upon you,” Matthew’s Jesus says, “and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls” (11:29).  Matthew looks to Jesus as a teacher, as another Moses, to fill the hole, the absence and the loss of the Temple.

But Luke’s response is different.  Luke lets the “hawk” fly away; he moves past the holes, absences and losses of the Temple… and writes a sequel.  In Luke’s Acts of the Apostles, the Holy Spirit moves the apostles away from Jerusalem to boldly proclaim the Gospel in the world.  Luke’s resurrection account, for example, includes the story of the Emmaus road on which the disciples are moving outward from Jerusalem.  The main character for much of the Acts is Paul, whom Jesus converted while he was walking on the Damascus road away from Jerusalem (Acts 9).  God’s mission for Paul, writes Luke, was to be “far away to the Gentiles” (22:21).  For Luke, the Gospel of Jesus Christ is not defined by the destruction of the Temple, but looks to the Spirit’s move outward from Jerusalem.  Luke wants us to know that the Spirit is poured out on “all flesh” (Acts 2:17); Luke wants us to see that Jesus is not merely “the glory of your people Israel,” but is also “a light for revelation to the Gentiles” (Luke 2:32). Luke was in a different place than were Matthew or Mark in regards to the destruction of the Temple.  For whatever the reason, Luke could see that the loss of the Temple, though it left holes and absences to be sure, also opened doors.  Luke had come to realize—as Macdonald eventually did—that, in the face of loss, as we experience these holes in our lives, yet when we are ready, we will learn to “grow around and between the gaps.”

As we look back near the close of another Church year—the First Sunday of Advent and the Church’s new year is only two weeks away—perhaps we see loss.  Perhaps as we consider the past year we see those things whose jesses we have had to untie, as it were, and that we may have had to release from our hand: someone we love lost to death, a friendship that grew distant, a relationship or a marriage that we could not work out, a child who left home, the loss of a physical ability due to age, or the loss of health due a life-changing diagnosis.  Holes, absences and losses are inevitable, part of the normal rhythm of being alive.  Often in life as in falconry, our hands are left outstretched to where things were but do not return.  Luke reminds us that grief is a process, that—even though now we may feel bereft or confused or angry or sad—yet—as with the disciples on the Emmaus Rd, who in the end would say to each other, “Were not our hearts burning within us…?”—when we are ready, we, too, will come to place where we can see Jesus, that Jesus has been with us all along.  And we can know that, when we are ready, Jesus will give us grace to let go and to let the “hawk” fly away.  Which in turn releases ourselves to walk new roads, to go through new doors, to “grow around and between the gaps,” where—as did Macdonald’s hawk to her house—Jesus might fill our lives with “wildness as a bowl of lilies fills a house with scent.”

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