On a crisp cold morning, a few years ago, I stood by a graveside at Fairmont Memorial Park finishing up a sequence of prayers, scriptures, and liturgy for grieving families that’s been passed down by generations of pastors to comfort people as they lay loved ones remains to rest. That little liturgical rite, the committal, has one singular focus, the resurrection! It even culminates in the greeting that we are accustomed to sharing with one another on Easter morning, “He is risen. He is risen indeed. Alleluia, amen.” That day after the little liturgy was complete the family released a set of doves, beautiful white birds which were technically pigeons. They were homing pigeons. It was a unique addition to the end of the liturgy. Most families leave flowers; this one released doves. I talked a bit with the trainer afterwards and asked him where the pigeons would go. He said he lives in Spokane Valley where he raises these birds and they would certainly make it home before he would.
I’ve always had a pretty good internal sense of navigation. I’m not saying I could out whit a homing pigeon, but I can generally figure out which direction I’m heading. Researchers wonder if animals with those kinds of instincts, homing pigeons, migratory birds, schools of sea creatures, and traveling herds will soon have trouble with their own navigation. That’s because magnetic north is on the move. It’s always been on the move. Ever since it was discovered scientists have known that it was not a fixed point. Yet since 1980 it’s started moving at a faster rate than ever before. Between 1900 and 1980 it moved less than 10 kilometers per year, but now it’s moving more than 30 kilometers per year. Some researchers think it’s the beginning of a pole reversal, where magnetic north and magnetic south flip—though they expect that to take 10,000 years so no need to sit and watch your compass.
What seems to be shifting even faster than the magnetic north we navigate travel by are the cultural norms and priorities we navigate life by. For instance, I listened to a podcast the other day in the car where one of the original designers of the i-phone was quoted talking about what they envisioned for it. They expected it to be, and designed it to be, the best combination of phone and music device on the market. They where simply trying to combine phone technology with their music listening i-pod technology. That was in 2007. The result twelve years later is eighty percent of Americans own smart phones and use them to pay bills, face time with relatives, track friends on social media, respond to e-mails, keep their calendars, and to shop online. Sure they can still listen to music and make phone calls, but it’s the apps for everything else that are transforming our lives.
With these tectonic cultural and priority shifts taking place all around us I might suggest we’re in trouble too, of losing our way home. I spoke with another pastor once at a funeral I attended; he was from a non-denominational congregational church. He said he had always been uncomfortable with committal services at the graveside. He’s never really known what to say or what kind of comfort to give the family at that moment. He prayed, read a poem, and a scripture, but I’ll be honest, it wasn't the compass pointing home for which I was hoping.
Jesus did not have trouble with his sense of navigation. He knew his way home. Despite cultural influences of his day, Luke 9:51 says, “When the days drew near for him to be taken up, he set his face to go to Jerusalem.” Jesus knew his route home. To get there he needed to set his face resolutely toward Jerusalem, there he faced suffering and a cross, but his culmination there would be in resurrection.
Resurrection is our true north. That’s where we are headed. That’s home. If we’re going to stay on the right track now we need to keep on the path that leads to resurrection and life eternal with Christ in a new Heavens and new Earth. March starts the season of Lent, that’s what Lent is all about. It’s about reorienting our priorities and norms and setting our faces resolutely on what eternally matters. That’s why Lent culminates in resurrection joy too. Need a little help navigating that? Join us in worship this Lent.