Mourning. Morning. One letter makes all the difference, weights the wonder of a word, plumbs a depth of being, dances with understanding. Morning. Mourning. Each sculpts the rawness of endings and new beginnings; both invite the interface of the physical and emotional, the personal and communal, the cherished and the yet-to-be-discovered. Each offers imagery, yet both are about transition. And so it is in this Eleventh Sunday of Ordinary Time: imagery and transition. As Catholics, as humans, we live in the shadows of what was and the dawn of what can be.
The Old Testament reading from Ezekiel and the Gospel from Mark linger with that sense of “morning”, vivid stories that paint vibrant images tied deeply to the earth and the richness of natural growth and the gentle, nurturing presence of God. There is an intimacy in the first reading, the prophet’s description:
Thus says the Lord GOD:
I, too, will take from the crest of the cedar,
from its topmost branches tear off a tender shoot,
and plant it on a high and lofty mountain;
on the mountain heights of Israel I will plant it.
It shall put forth branches and bear fruit,
and become a majestic cedar.
Birds of every kind shall dwell beneath it,
every winged thing in the shade of its boughs.
And all the trees of the field shall know
that I, the LORD,
bring low the high tree,
lift high the lowly tree,
wither up the green tree,
and make the withered tree bloom.
As I, the LORD, have spoken, so will I do.
That same sweet tenderness pervades the simplicity of the Gospel, the promise of the mustard seed story and the picture of the kingdom of God. There, in the desert, the gentle generosity of God shelters the most vulnerable with the seeming simplicity of shade.
“To what shall we compare the kingdom of God,
or what parable can we use for it?
It is like a mustard seed that, when it is sown in the ground,
is the smallest of all the seeds on the earth.
But once it is sown, it springs up and becomes the largest of plants
and puts forth large branches,
so that the birds of the sky can dwell in its shade.”
This is morning: the freshness of new beginnings bursting with possibility and subtle supports to mitigate natural fears and anxieties. The image entices and impels a stronger, better, richer reality, something more than we might suspect exists. Each describes a caring, compassionate God alive to the needs of all that lives.
On the other hand, mourning is born of relationships, of concrete connections and tangible truths. Mourning confides absence and swells with the unrealized. Grief and despair, consciousness of loss and separation are inevitable in human life. The reading from Corinthians provides a kind encouragement for that reality. It begins with an emphasis on connections, relationships, a “we” that welcomes each “I” and “me”. When I am weak and forlorn, we can still be strong.
We are always courageous,
although we know that while we are at home in the body
we are away from the Lord,
for we walk by faith, not by sight.
Yet we are courageous,
and we would rather leave the body and go home to the Lord.
In ordinary times, life is layered complexity. But these are not ordinary times; the lurch of reopenings and re-entering into what was once considered “normal” can be demanding and even exacting. Acknowledging that complexity is like grasping the crisp constrast of homophones that reveal something of who we are and what we experience. All of it has a home in what it means to be human. Somehow, the readings for the Eleventh Sunday of Ordinary Time address that.