Be glad, O people of Zion, rejoice in the Lord your God, for He has given you the autumn rains in righteousness. He sends you abundant showers, as before, both autumn and spring rains. The threshing floor will be filled with grain; the vats will overflow with new wine and oil.
- Joel 2:23-24
According to my outdoor thermometer, it dropped down to 47 degrees last night, and my tomatoes were not happy. When I let the dogs out at 7 AM, I could see my breath. I expect this to happen in September sometime, just not as early as it happened this year. My walnut tree is already turning yellow and losing leaves and for the first time since April, I had to grab a jacket when I left the house. This can mean only one thing; Fall has fallen upon us.
It’s definitely a time for the changing of the seasons, even if Covid-19 is still present and active and the official start of Fall (autumnal equinox) is still a week away on Sept. 22. Monday night Football has begun (as have Sunday and Thursday games - go Patriots!). Baseball is winding down and getting into playoff mode, even though the season was delayed due to Covid. School has started again, though in hybrid, online, and / or in person modes. Beach-going is over for the year and summer vacations are done. While we may miss summer and all its activities and joys, we rejoice in the coming of the autumn season.
Back in Joel’s day there was a rejoicing at the coming of autumn as well. After a long and dry summer, the rainy season would begin. Crops would swell and the grapes ripen for pressing into wine. Last year’s spring calves and lambs would now be at “market weight” and provide fats and proteins for the coming long dark and cold of winter. It was a time when wheat sown in the spring would be harvested and ground into flour to give us our daily bread. There is an abundance to autumn that just doesn’t happen in any other season of the year. In our time and place, we may look forward to “pumpkin spice” ____ (well, everything seems to be pumpkin spice now) as well as apple picking, pumpkin picking, fall mums and other late blooming flowers, hayrides, bonfires, and the distinctively fall smell to the air.
It is a change of season for the Church as well. We entered Pentecost just before the start of summer and will remain in the season until November 29 when a new Church year begins. So while we may not change the altar paraments to a new color, the texts and themes of our weekly readings have undergone a change of focus. For the next several weeks, we have a prelude of the coming end times as many of the parables and miracle accounts speak of “…so it will be when the Son of Man comes in His glory….” As we enter into October the theme shifts to one of harvests and reaping a harvest of souls for Christ or bearing fruit of the Kingdom of heaven. In November, as we count down the last few weeks of the Church year, we get to the specifics of Christ’s second coming in glory to judge both the quick and the dead. Liturgically it’s still Pentecost, but there is a definite change of seasons as well.
It is a time of transition in our organizational life as well. Until Reformation Day (Oct. 25) and probably for some time after that, we will be sharing our pastor with Our Savior, Stanhope. Soon it will be time to look to 2021 and start setting our ministry goals and what resources we’ll need to meet those goals (aka budget). After many seasons of warnings about declining worship attendance, participation in the “nuts & bolts” of running the church as an institution (officers, programs, etc), reduced giving, and other reductions, it is certain that we cannot enter 2021 with the same mindset and organization we did for 2018. What 2021 will look like, we don’t know yet. It will certainly be different than 2011 as we are no longer the congregation we were ten years ago. Fall is when this transition begins to take place
But even though much may change, there are some things that will remain the same or at least very similar. The sun may rise later and set earlier each day throughout autumn, but it still rises in the east and sets in the west each day. The days may be mild (instead of brutally hot) and the nights get chilly - but this happens every autumn and is not unexpected. Our service time may have changed from 10:00 to 10:45 to allow pastor to preach at Stanhope at 9:00, but we still hear God’s Word in its fullness, truth, and purity each week and get to receive the Sacrament administered according to Christ's institution each week. Add to this all the Covid-19 protocols and we see many things changing, yet remaining familiar.
C. S. Lewis calls this “the Law of Undulation”. In both Mere Christianity and The Screwtape Letters, he highlights this fundamental law of how God works with us. Every season is different, yet always the same. Fall may or may not start on the equinox, but it always has certain things that typify Fall. In November we’ll have new (maybe) political leaders, but we’ll still have our three branches of government. Worship changes every week - different hymns, readings, sermons, prayers - but it is always the same - Invocation, God’s Word, our response, the Lord’s Supper, blessing. This Law of Undulation is universal throughout our world, sacred and secular. Thus one may say, “The more things change, the more they stay the same.” We’ll look more at this Law of Undulation in our weekly Table Talk on September 23 on Zoom - I hope you’ll join us for it.
In the meantime, pull out your sweaters and pack away your shorts, rake leaves, go for a drive through the beautiful Fall scenery as the leaves show God’s creative wonders. Some things may change, but God’s love for us endures forever. Amen.
Pastor Brian Handrich graduated from Concordia Seminary, St. Louis in 1997. He first served a dual parish in northeast Nebraska before coming to Flemington, New Jersey in 2002.