Each day as I drive from my home to the church, I am amazed to see the leaves turning to brilliant colors of red, gold, orange and yellow. Even as I look out my office window, I see the leaves moving from green to orange to maroon as they welcome the arrival of autumn. Though I have been in this part of the state for over six years, I still find my breath taken away by the jaw–dropping beauty surrounding us as we travel in the company of nearby mountains.
While I find blessing in the gracious beauty of creation, I find greater blessing in a message to which these autumn leaves witness. It is a message I find in scripture, especially in the writing we know as the Revelation to John.
Throughout the witness of Revelation, John presents powerful scenes of worship. “Hallelujah!” is proclaimed countless times; “the Lamb who was slain” is the one who is worthy of worship; “Hallelujah!” is sung because “the Lord our God the Almighty reigns.”
All of which leads us to a concluding vision in the 22nd chapter of Revelation. It is this vision in which John witnesses to God’s victory over all that would oppose him; a victory all creation shall see: “Then he showed me the river of the water of life, bright as crystal, flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb through the middle of the street of the city; also, on either side of the river, the tree of life, with its twelve kinds of fruit, yielding its fruit each month; and the leaves of the tree were for the healing of the nations.”
“… The leaves of the tree were for the healing of the nations.” This is the message I welcome as I see the brilliantly colored leaves at this time of year. It is a message I especially welcome now. We are those in great need of healing.
We shake our heads in grief as we remember those killed and wounded in a synagogue in Pittsburgh, those who gathered simply to worship. We struggle to understand how someone could mail a multitude of explosive devices to elected and public officials over the course of several days. While we celebrate our freedom to vote, we also see that political elections seem not to bring out the best in those running for office. Two years after a contentious national election, we appear to be a nation still divided; a nation thoughtless and reactive, subject to unhealthy and unhelpful political discourse at every level of government. Sadly, even the church, a body not to be divided but united for the sake of the good news of Jesus, is no stranger to division.
Again, I see these leaves on autumn trees, and am grateful for their witness to healing. It is a witness reminding us the God who heals is a God not distant from our hurt, but a God as near and as real as these leaves. It is a witness assuring us the pain and division we know is not desired by God. It is a witness promising this pain and division is not forever. And it is witness declaring God is a God who brings about healing even now; assuring us the holy and sacred ultimately triumphs over the evil and demonic.
The man who killed worshippers at the Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh, upon being wounded by police officers responding to his massacre – police officers whom he also shot - received medical care from Jewish doctors and nurses who were fully aware of who he was and what he had done.
In this election season, there are two opposing candidates vying for a seat in the Vermont House. After a recent debate between these two candidates, they concluded their evening by joining together in a musical duet.
This Sunday, those with whom I worship, along with others around the world, celebrate the Lord’s Supper as we remember the faithful who have gone before us.
Do we see? Through all of this – acting on behalf of those who wish us harm; overcoming differences for a greater good; tasting God’s forgiveness of us and his presence with us as he sets a place for us at his table – we experience God at work so as to heal all that is broken. We experience this because the truth is God is not a God of brokenness, but a God who binds up the wounds of the hurting and heals that which is broken. And there is nothing that can prevent God from being God; the God to whom there is witness in the leaves given for the healing of all God has made.
Keith Ritchie serves as pastor of First United Methodist Church in Martinsville. The church is located at 145 E. Main St.