In the Name of the Father and of the +Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
People like fall because of the leaves. It is pretty. I find it slightly discouraging. I know they are only going dormant for the winter, but it looks like the trees are dying. It is pretty, to be sure, but for such a brief moment. It is pretty like fire. It is the color of destruction. For me, autumn means the loss of freedom. I´ll have to bundle up before going outside. I´ll have to get up earlier to clean off the driveway and let the car warm up. I´ll have to mop the foyer floor again and again and spend the early mornings ever searching for lost mittens and boots. There is one thing, however, that I like about the fall. One thing, I find enchanting: the sounds of the playground.
It is a scientific fact that the autumn air carries the laughter of children further than the summer, winter, or spring.* It must be something in their backpacks. If I lose freedom in the fall, how much more the children! And yet the playground is raucous. The dreariness of arithmetic while the skies outside are still blue and the sun is shining enhances the laughter. It is like the last meal of a condemned man. There are few joys on this earth like recess in the first weeks of school.
Our day to day life is a bit like arithmetic in the fall. There is work to be done. We don´t understand it. Nor do we really understand why we must do it, what its purpose is, or what good it does, though we get glimpses on occasion. But there it is. We´re stuck indoors. The playground is empty. We have to work. Sometimes there are tragedies and heartbreak in the lunch room and hallways. Some kids do not return. They disappear over the summer without a word. There is danger in the locker room, embarrassment and awkwardness in the classroom. Every child knows there are pitfalls, hazards, and obstacles at school. There is also some good stuff. For every now and then, a pretty girl is appointed to be our partner or we get to write a report on Star Wars or we solve for x all on our own. But mostly it is just work. Often as not, it is boring. It is arithmetic, grammar and rules, no fun at all. We waste a lot of time doodling and daydreaming while we hang on for recess.
I don´t know what recess is for you. Maybe it is a vacation in the Caribbean or a 12 year old bottle of scotch. I´d take either of those without question. But those are more of winter and spring recesses. For the pure, unbridled, exuberant joy of a recess in the fall there is nothing like Divine revelation. It is bit unexpected, a bit like being roped into square dancing or karaoke against your will and then having a blast, like a spontaneous party. It is not the thing that pops into your mind under “fun.’ But there is nothing else like it and all pleasures of this earth fade away in comparison.
God reveals Himself through His Word. He speaks and you hear. Your heart burns within you. It starts like arithmetic. God is counting and it is not good. He says, “I should punish you! I should pulverize you, destroy you, burn you to cinders. I should reject you, ignore you, leave you alone, let the devil have his way with you. For you have betrayed Me and your sins are many.’ Then comes the surprise. God says, “But I don´t. I love you. I´ve reversed the decision. I´ve paid the price. I couldn´t go on without you. I wanted you so badly that I sent My Son to exchange His life for yours. I love you because I love Him. I have written your name in the book of Life. I have spoken you righteous. You are Mine. You are without sin, malice, stain or blemish. I make you perfect in every way. You are as unique as a snowflake, as pure as Jesus Christ. You are washed in His Blood, born in His death, raised by His Life. You are Mine! I seek now only to calm your troubled heart. For soon this workaday world will end. I will bring you to Myself in heaven. In the meantime, I come to you. I give you recess. I make the sun shine. I make the ball land on the line. I give you chocolate, Calvin and Hobbes, pretty girls, and thousands upon thousands of good things. But mostly, and mainly, I give you Myself.’
But what a shame when we´d rather sneak around the corner, smoke cigarettes and use vulgar words for cheap laughs than run and play in the sun. What a shame our self-absorption has made recess boring! What a disaster when the playground becomes a place of vengeance and violence, of cliques and prejudice, a place for exclusion and judgment. What a shame when the girls sell themselves for attention and the boys use them like equipment for barter. What a shame when we spend recess looking for the best deal and the greatest return; when we ruin it or squander it all by ourselves. And what of when the bullies get the best of us; when they drag us into their games; when we desire their approval and will suffer and degradation they imagine simply to “fit in’? There are dangers on every hand, some self-afflicted, some brought on by others, still others utterly beyond our control. Even recess can be scary.
But the worst perversion of all is when recess becomes arithmetic; when the gym teacher watches over the playground and recess is just like school: one more measured, evaluated performance; one more grade for effort; one more place for failure and disappointment.
Thus comes Our Lord. He drives off the bullies and the gym teachers. He grabs us by the collar and brings us into the sun. He stamps out the cigarettes. He sticks His fingers into our ears. It hurts. It is weird. It is embarrassing. We want it to stop. He spits and wipes away the smudge of ash upon our foreheads. He traces a cross. He touches our tongues. It is gross, yet healing. His Body, crucified and risen, enters into us by way of the mouth. Our hearts are clean. Our joy returns. The Spirit does not depart. He makes us His Temple. Past transgressions are forgotten. New life begins. We hear again what He has been saying all along, “It is okay. I love you. I forgive you. You are redeemed. You are free. Have fun.’ And we can sing and we can laugh again. No longer tongue-tied, no longer afraid, we are astonished beyond measure. We confess: “He has done all things well. He makes both the deaf to hear and the mute to speak.’
That is recess in the fall.
In +Jesus´ Name. Amen.
Rev’d David H. Petersen
Redeemer Lutheran Church
Fort Wayne, Indiana