Last Sunday of the Church Year (Year C - LCMS Readings)
Saturday, November 24, and Sunday, November 25, 2001
[prayer during hymn, drop bandana as walk to center of chancel]
It was all because I dropped my bandana. I dropped my bandana, [mimic action] took 10, maybe 15 steps back into the woods, found my bandana, came back, and they were gone. Chris, Matt, Todd, and our leader, Chris, were gone. My group had left me alone in the woods. I heard them yell, “Wait there.” I yelled back, “Why? Where are you going? Are you coming back?” But there was no response. I was really alone in the depths of the woods. Alone because of a stupid bandana.
You see, it was day eight of a ten day wilderness canoe trip from YMCA Camp Menogyn. The camp is the Boundary Waters of Minnesota, but we were across the border in Canada, Ontario, the Crown Land, provincial land that has few roads and few people. Our trip depended upon us finding a portage, a trail, from Joe Lake to Arrow Lake, except there wasn’t a trail. We had heard of rumors of an old trail; it seemed there must have been a trail once because otherwise Joe Lake is a terrible dead end. But when we arrived, we found that there was no marked portage, no old trail, just woods. Miles and miles of woods. Stands of alder, short trees that reach out to grab you and hold you back. The only option is to shove the canoe through and shove your body through.
We had taken one canoe and a daypack with some lunch and water, and we had set out to blaze a trail—marking it with little pieces of blaze tape. But see, we had run out of blaze tape, so I had given up one of my bandanas, ripping it into small pieces to tie to tree branches to mark our way. That’s why I went back for my other bandana; we might need it. That’s why I went back, and now because I did, I was alone. My group had left me.
I stood around for awhile, thinking they’d quickly come back. Hoping they were just scouting ahead. [mimic action] I stood around, got bored, sat on the canoe for awhile, slid down onto the ground and put my back against the canoe. They were taking a long time.
There I was two miles deep into the woods with a canoe. That canoe didn’t belong there. A canoe belongs in the water not in the middle of the woods. That canoe being there so deep in the forest was like Adam and Eve being in the woods hiding from God after they ate from the tree. They didn’t belong back in the woods; they belonged out in the garden, walking around with God. Adam and Eve were supposed to be with God and that canoe was supposed to be in water and I was supposed to be with my group, my team, my fellow travelers.
I started pacing. Where were they? Had they really said, “Wait there?” What if they said, “Come here?” What if there was something wrong and they needed me? What if somebody had gotten hurt and they had gone to find help? What if they didn’t come back for me, if I had to stay here alone overnight? I mean, I’d have to stay overnight. I couldn’t go back to our camp on Joe Lake, because then we might lose the canoe here in the woods. I had to stay with our canoe. But I was alone in the depths of the woods in the middle of Canada in the middle of the wilderness, alone, and I was only 14.
That’s when panic set in. I think I was prone to panic. I had already been filling up my trip journal with apocalyptic visions. This trip through Canada had given me some very tough challenges, and I had started to think of Canada as an old man watching from the storm clouds in the sky. Old Man Canada, laughing as we struggled through rain and mud and miles of paddling. Old Man Canada, up there his laugh sounding like cracking branches, up there ready to squeeze us with his bony fingers. And just the night before, I had written, “Our crash portage from Joe Lake to Arrow Lake looms up in the night forest, a shadow grabbing me. I feel rushed; it’s coming too soon.” So I had this apocalyptic vision of Old Man Canada and I was alone in the woods—I panicked.
“Where are you?” I yelled, and nobody responded. I shouldn’t have gone back for that bandana—but we needed it. What if I have to stay here overnight? I’ve only got the canoe; they’ve got the food and water. What if I have to stay here? And it must have been then panic that set in, because instead just coming up with a survival plan, I went ahead with the plan as if it was getting cold and it was night. I crawled under the canoe and tried to get myself warm. And under that canoe, I started crying uncontrollably, my sobs echoing under the aluminum canoe. I was crying. “I shouldn’t be alone. I don’t belong here. I don’t belong in the middle of the woods.”
I started praying, “God, help me. I’m scared. I’m alone. Bring my group back. Help me to know what to do. Don’t leave me alone out in the depths of the woods. Don’t leave me here.”
My crying turned to cursing. I cursed my group for leaving me alone. I cursed God for leaving me alone and not helping me. I cursed my friends for leaving and just saying, “Wait there.” I mean, that’s like Jesus saying, “Wait there,” as He goes up to heaven, and we’ve got to stay here in this difficult, troubled life, and deal with all of this pain, the depths of life. “Wait there!?!” I cursed my friends for saying such a thing. I cursed God for not doing something about it.
Eventually, my crying subsided, and I calmed down long enough to realize that it wasn’t night, it wasn’t cold. I didn’t need to be laying under the canoe—yet. [mimic action] So I got up and paced some more. I was still crying, yelling every once in awhile, “Where are you, guys?” yelling, “Why?” [at the sky]. I was still crying when I thought I heard someone yell back.
I paused. Nothing. Probably just my imagination. I started to pace again when yes, someone had yelled. “Ben!” “I’m over here!” “Ben!” “I’m over here!” They were coming back to me. Chris, Matt, Todd, and our leader, Chris, they were coming back. “I’m over here!” “I’m over here!” “I’m over here.” I kept yelling hoping they’d find me; I kept yelling until they were in the clearing right next to me.
I quickly wiped away my tears, embarrassed by my fear and panic. I wiped away my tears, but I couldn’t hide my emotions when I asked, “Where were you?” And my friend, Todd, hugged me and said, “We didn’t forget about you, Ben. We were coming back for you. We were just scouting ahead, looking for the way. We wouldn’t leave you behind. We were coming back.”
And they had, they had come back. They were faithful. They had said, “Wait there,” and they had meant, “Wait there; we’re coming back.” Just like Jesus who said, “Wait there,” and He meant, “Wait there; I’m coming back for you.”
My group was faithful to me. They came back to me. They came back to take me out of the depths of the woods, out of the depths of life. Took me like a canoe stuck in the woods, took me to the water. Took me like Adam hiding from God, hiding in the woods; my group was like Jesus taking me back to the garden, back to God. They were faithful. Chris, Matt, Todd, and our leader, Chris, were faithful to me.
The day was getting short. Their scouting search had not found much, and so we followed our blaze tape and bandana pieces back to Joe Lake. The next day we packed everything up, and eventually got all of the canoes and packs through the woods and to Arrow Lake.
I’ve never heard a sound as good as the sound that day of the canoe hitting the water again. It sounded so good as the canoe rolled off someone’s shoulders and gently slapped the water of Arrow Lake. The canoe was back where it belonged, out of the depths and into the water.
[first step of chancel] I’ve never heard a sound as good as the sound of the Lord’s promise that He’ll be faithful to us, He’ll come back for us. It sounds so good as my burdens roll off my shoulders, [one step into nave] roll off to lay at the feet of Jesus. [begin moving towards baptismal font] Jesus brings me back to where I belong, out of the depths and into the water, out of the depths and [point to font] into the water. Out of the depths of life and into His promise of eternal life.
[pick up Bible from behind font]
Out of the depths I cry to you, O LORD;
O Lord, hear my voice.
Let your ears be attentive to my cry for mercy.
If you, O LORD, kept a record of sins,
O Lord, who could stand?
But with you there is forgiveness;
therefore you are feared.
I wait for the LORD, my soul waits,
and in His word I put my hope.
My soul waits for the Lord
more than watchmen wait for the morning,
more than watchmen wait for the morning.
O Israel, put your hope in the LORD,
for with the LORD is unfailing love. . . .