Alpha and Omega

Francis of Assisi is known to have said: “Sanctify yourself, and you will sanctify society.” On the Christian map, there are many roads to sanctity. Whatever the road, there is only one major and very necessary guide for this journey. His name is Jesus Christ. Jesus is known by many fascinating titles. One of the most captivating titles is the Alpha and the Omega, which are the first and last letters of the Greek alphabet. The Alpha and Omega are familiar church symbols that we see on altars, candles, vestments and walls. Because Jesus is the incarnation of God, the Alpha and Omega are also used as a monogram for Christ. During Jesus time, the Jewish rabbis commonly used the first and last letters of the Hebrew alphabet to signify the wholeness of anything from beginning to end. Because it was the common language of the Eastern Mediterranean people, the New Testament was first written in a form of Greek, and eventually translated into English.

The words alpha and omega are introduced to us in the New Testament in several places in the Book of Revelations. They symbolize the oneness in the divine nature of God the Father and Jesus his Son. Their divine nature is exactly and entirely identical. Jesus said, “I and the Father are one.” Because of the oneness of their divine nature, what is said about God the Father can also be said about God the Son. Their divinity is limitless and unbounded, transcending every human comprehension or description.

The Alpha and the Omega are a sign that the beginning and end of everything is God. Paul the apostle refers to Jesus as the first born of the new creation and the end or goal of our lives when all creation will be drawn up into him. In other words, God is the all; the first and the last, the beginning and the end of everything, and of everything in between. God is the source and the conclusion of life on earth.

Jesus is God incarnate. Because of his human nature, he is the only human being who can say he is the Alpha and the Omega. Jesus is the person who is, who was, and who always will be. Actually, he always is. Was and will be are descriptions of, and changing characters within, the past and future in time, as we know them to be. God, and his Son, however, are ever existing, and have neither a beginning nor will they ever have an end. Augustine describes God as “an infinite circle whose center is everywhere and whose circumference is nowhere.”

When Jesus came to earth as man, he was born, lived for only thirty three years in Judea, showed us the way to God the Father and died. In the natural realm, we know about him through a time and in a place in history. However, there is so much more to Jesus than what we understand from a historical perspective. In the supernatural realm, he existed before and after his earthly life. Jesus, the infinite, omnipotent, omnipresent God became man for us to redeem us. Jesus is the beginning of all created temporal life and this will remain so until he comes again at the end of time. His second coming will be the beginning of the end of creation as we understand it on earth. Heaven is eternal and Jesus is as eternal as God the Father.

The middle space between alpha and omega indicates that Jesus encompasses all history. He is historically present in the New Testament, and in the movements of grace, throughout all phases of history up to the present day. At the beginning of time, as God, he was the one through whom all the world, the universe and all its complex mysteries came into being. Jesus said that he existed before Abraham was born and identifies himself with other statements from the Old Testament. He is the “I am” of Exodus 3:14. He is the good shepherd of Psalm 23. He is the Lord of the Old Testament and will bring history to a close when he comes again on the last day. The wholeness of the Alpha and the Omega refers to Jesus the Christ as the word of God, and the wholeness of God’s revelation, to all humankind in every era.

On a personal level, Jesus is the beginning and the end of a Christian’s spiritual journey in this life. Jesus is the fullness of truth, beauty, goodness, and wisdom. We need him throughout our faith journey while on earth, and will rejoice with him when we reach our heavenly goal. At the center of our hearts, Jesus is dynamic in the presentation and orchestration of all our good behavior, actions and pursuits. However, we must respond positively to what we believe he wants of us, both as a unique individual, and together with the people of God in his one, holy Catholic and apostolic Church. He is the head of his mystical body, the Church. Jesus is the reason why we live as we do, the master teacher in our Catholic Church, and the end for which we were made. This brings to mind the words of an old hymn by Samuel J. Stone: “The Church’s one foundation is Jesus Christ her Lord. She is his new creation by water and the Word. From heav’n he came and sought her to be his holy bride. With his own blood he bought her and for her life he died.”

The Spectrum

The first and the last are two opposing points. In temporal terms, they can be seen as a spectrum. When experiencing daily feelings this connection is not a straight line, but rather a line that has many peaks and valleys. A phone call can bring grief to a happy day. Laughter can lighten a sad occasion. Ever changing feelings are a normal part of daily life. They can flare up when least expected and can change in an instant. Can we control the severity of our feelings? An old Native American story is told about a grandfather who said to his grandson: “I feel like I have two wolves fighting in my heart. One wolf is mean spirited, angry and attacks everything. The other wolf is forgiving, loving and kind.” “Which wolf will win the fight in your heart?” the grandson asked. “The one I feed,” said the grandfather. Which wolf do we feed?

Within sadness and joy, Henri Nouwen wrote:

Our life is a short time in expectation, a time in which sadness and joy kiss each other at every moment. There is a quality of sadness that pervades all the moments of our life. It seems that there is no such thing as a perfectly unadulterated joy. Even in the happiest moments of our existence can be tinged with sadness. In every satisfaction, there is an awareness of limitations. In every success, there is the fear of failure. Behind every smile, there is a tear. In every embrace, there is loneliness. In every friendship, distance. And in all forms of light, there is the knowledge of surrounding darkness. . . . But this intimate experience in which every bit of life is touched by a bit of death can point us beyond the limits of our earthly existence. It can do so by making us look forward in expectation to the day when our hearts will be filled with perfect joy, a joy that no one shall take away from us.

And this perfect joy is only possible by being with Jesus. Therese of Lisieux understood this well: “Life is passing, Eternity draws nigh, soon shall we live the very life of God. After having drunk deep at the fount of bitterness, our thirst will be quenched at the very source of all sweetness.”

The Dove and the Serpent

Jesus asks us to be as wise as serpents and as simple as doves. If we go below the surface meaning of these words, they are more of a blending than a balancing act. The serpent and the dove can indicate when to stay put and when to fly away. We discern to stay or fly when we are able to judge our abilities and strength with the situation at hand. The wisdom of the serpent sustains us in seeing potential danger in people, events and situations that could weaken our friendship with God. The simplicity of the dove maintains a gentle but firm spiritual orientation that is evident in our goodness and kindness to all we meet. We aim to combine the shrewdness of the serpent with the sensitivity of the dove by cultivating a steadfast mind and a tender heart.

It is said that serpents are wise, have keen eyesight, and are quick to learn. Their tongue protects them from nearby predators, and is useful in following trails, identifying prey, and locating shelter. Serpents are crafty in their use of resources or skills. To be wise as a serpent means to have sound, basic knowledge of what areas we should and should not be. This helps us guard the most precious part of being, our soul. Serpents are quick to get out of the way of trouble. If someone or something evil lunges at us, we step aside. Like serpents, we must always be watchful for snares, traps and deceptions that can subtly take us away from God’s love. There are dark sides of people, and society, that can be inconspicuously present to us, and can take us off our course, or enslave us in dark areas, if we are not vigilant.

Doves are meek, innocent, gentle, harmless and are universal symbols of peace. Jesus said he was meek and humble of heart. Meekness draws from humility, the truth that reminds us from where we came, who we are, and where we are going. As doves, we avoid duplicity and keep our conscience clean. We maintain sound Catholic priorities in private and in public. We assume risks as vulnerable, non combative persons. We forgive easily. Difficulties are managed with patience and gentleness. If we are as simple as doves, our demeanor is soothing and has an approachable softness. We discover the splendor of God’s truth, beauty, and wisdom in humankind and all his creation. As doves, we gently bring the peace of Christ to others and therefore infuse it into society. How are we signs of peace to those with whom we associate?

Because Jesus is our beginning and our end, he sustains us amid the ups and downs, gains and losses, clarity and confusion, comforts and hardships and, above all, the mysteries in life. He is our “lift” that transcends what is disturbing during dark times, and enhances the beneficence we find during times of light. A Christian way of life can be envisioned as a scale that keeps all things in balance with Jesus’s love and mercy. We let go of things that distance us from Christ and embrace the habits and experiences that bring us into union with Christ.

Jesus, Alpha and Omega,
God before the world began,
First and last,
beginning, ending,
Mighty Word and Son of Man,
Great Creator,
Liberator! Author of salvation’s plan!

You have loved us! You have freed us!
Made of us a chosen race, royal priesthood,
holy nation, your own people, born of grace!
Ever living King forgiving,
soon we’ll see you face to face!

With the clouds return in glory;
you have sworn it!
Come and stay!
God who was and is and will be,
Strengthen us to watch and pray!
Find us steady, faithful, ready!
Hasten, Jesus! Speed that Day!

Keith Landis

Carolyn Humphreys, OCDS About Carolyn Humphreys, OCDS

Carolyn Humphreys, OCDS, OTR, is a discalced Carmelite, secular, and a registered occupational therapist. She is the author of the books: From Ash to Fire: A Contemporary Journey through the Interior Castle of Teresa of Avila, Carmel Land of the Soul: Living Contemplatively in Today’s World, Mystics in the Making: Lay Women in Today's Church, and Living Through Cancer, A Practical Guide to Cancer Related Concerns. Her latest book is Everyday Holiness: A Guide to Living Here and Getting to Eternity. You can find her reflections online at contemplativechristianityorg.wordpress.com.

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