28 After that I will pour out my spirit upon everyone;
your sons and your daughters will prophesy,
your old men will dream dreams,
and your young men will see visions.
29 In those days, I will also pour out my
spirit on the male and female slaves.
30 I will give signs in the heavens and on the earth—blood and fire and columns of smoke. 31 The sun will be turned to darkness, and the moon to blood before the great and dreadful day of the Lord comes. 32 But everyone who calls on the Lord’s name will be saved; for on Mount Zion and in Jerusalem there will be security, as the Lord has promised; and in Jerusalem, the Lord will summon those who survive.
Readings from Joel show up on two different occasions during the church year that I can think of: Ash Wednesday and Pentecost. Each represents a fresh start in its own way.
Ash Wednesday, which we’ll mark in a few weeks, represents a turning toward God and a turning away from sin. It’s about recognizing our mortality and embracing the promise of eternal life in Jesus Christ. Pentecost, meanwhile, is about the fresh start that God offered the Church through the gift of the Holy Spirit.
But the fresh start that’s encompassed in the words of the prophet is less about the joy of something new and more about the trauma of something coming to an end. Well, I guess technically it’s both – compare verses 28-29 with 30-32. The dawning of a new age will be accompanied by scary signs marking the end of what was.
There was a pop song in the late 1990s that made this idea clear: “Every new beginning comes from some other beginning’s end.” The band Semisonic may be expressed it in a kind of cheesy way, but it is nonetheless true. Every new beginning forces us to mourn the ending of something else.
On Ash Wednesday, we’re serious about admitting that our life on earth is bound to end, and we mourn that, even though we know Christ offers us eternal life with him. And on Pentecost, the disciples certainly mourned the loss of Jesus walking with them daily after his Ascension, even though they were comforted and encouraged by the ongoing presence of the Spirit.
Likewise: we may be enthusiastic about a move but miss our old house and our old friends. We may be thrilled to start a new job but miss our co-workers, our favorite lunch spots, and the familiarity of the old office.
Every fresh start will require a little bit of space for mourning. It’s that simple. There’s no way to get to what will be without first reckoning with what used to be. And we need to be prepared to invite the presence of God into those spaces, because God is the author of all of it – the old, the new, and the in-between.
by Joe Monahan
For Pondering & Prayer
Have you ever found yourself inexplicably saddened in the midst of what should be a joyful transition? Grief is a real emotion in these situations, and though we try to push it away, it needs to be given space. This is a natural part of any fresh start. If you or someone you know is going through this kind of experience, honesty with yourself and God is important. Remember, God is ready to hear everything you are feeling.
Prayer: God, we know that in life we experience many seasons of transition. Help us to remember that you are with us in the midst of change: in the ending of the old, the start of the new, and all the grief that comes in between. Amen.