“And he shall be the one of peace”

File:Bicci di Lorenzo - The Nativity - WGA2160.jpgWatching for the Morning of December 23, 2018

Year C

The Fourth Sunday of Advent

But you, O Bethlehem of Ephrathah, who are one of the little clans of Judah, from you shall come forth for me one who is to rule in Israel, whose origin is from of old, from ancient days. (Micah 5:2)

This word from a prophet of Israel’s God some 2,700 years ago shapes our gathering on Sunday. It is not a prediction; that’s never what prophecy was. It is a message, a sermon, a warning, a promise.

The words are old, very old, spoken in an ancient tongue and an alien culture. And yet it was spoken in this world, to humans very much like us, warring, greedy, loving, bitter, doubtful, hopeful, kind, cruel.

We are not much changed since then; only our technology has changed: bullets kill faster and better than swords. But war’s desolation we know. We see the rubble, even if we don’t have to live in it. We see the broken bodies, the mass graves, the fiery explosions, the children gasping for breath or searching for bread. And we know the hope for peace: peace in our world, peace in our homes, peace in our hearts.

Sunday we will sing the words of the prophet Isaiah about swords beaten into plowshares. We will hear Paul encourage us to set our minds on what is true, honorable and just, knowing that “the God of peace will be with you.” And we will hear the words of the Angel Gabriel to Mary about the child to be born who “will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end.” In that promise we will find the fulfillment of the prophet Micah: a divine and royal presence come to breathe a new governance into the human heart – “and he shall be the one of peace.” (Micah 5:5)

These aren’t the appointed texts for this final Sunday of Advent this year, but they are ones that bear the Advent promise of a world made new, and prepare us to ponder again the child of the manger and the peace he brings.

The Prayer for December 23, 2018

All earth and heaven have their beginning and end in you, O God;
you are our source and goal.
Fill our hearts with your Spirit,
and guide our steps in the way of that day
when Christ shall reign in every heart
and all creation shall dwell in your peace;
through your Son, Jesus Christ our Lord,
who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit,
one God, now and forever.

The Texts for December 23, 2018

(We rearranged the readings in Advent to accommodate our children’s Christmas program. As a result, we read the story of the visitation last week and have added the story of the annunciation to our Advent this year.)

First Reading: Micah 5:2-5a
“But you, O Bethlehem of Ephrathah, who are one of the little clans of Judah, from you shall come forth for me one who is to rule in Israel.”
– Amidst the words of judgment in the 8th century BCE are also words that promise a new future for the nation. This is the famous passage, quoted by Matthew, promising a king from the royal line of David who will “be the one of peace.”

Psalmody: Isaiah 2:2-5
“They shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruning hooks; nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war any more.” – As Assyrian power rises in the 8th century BCE, the prophet reverses the call to arms, and summons the nation to walk in God’s way of peace.

Second Reading: Philippians 4:8-9
“Finally, beloved, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure … think about these things.” – Though Paul is in prison facing the possibility of death, he urges his community to abide in all that is true and honorable.

Gospel: Luke 1:26-33
“In the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent by God to a town in Galilee called Nazareth, to a virgin engaged to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David.” – Following the announcement to Zechariah that Elizabeth would bear a child who would be the forerunner of God’s anointed, the angel Gabriel appears to Mary.

The texts as appointed for 4 Advent C

First Reading: Micah 5:2-5a

Psalmody: Luke 1:46-55, the Song of Mary, the Magnificat (alternate: Psalm 80:1-7)
“My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior.” – In response to her encounter with Elizabeth, Mary sings with joy of God’s coming to set right the world.

Second Reading: Hebrews 10:5-10
“Consequently, when Christ came into the world, he said, ‘Sacrifices and offerings you have not desired, but a body you have prepared for me.’” – In the midst of the author’s gathering of the scriptural witness to the superiority of Christ, he points to this passage and the words “I have come to do your will, O God” to speak of the new work of God in Christ Jesus that replaces the pattern of temple sacrifices.

Gospel: Luke 1:39-45
“As soon as I heard the sound of your greeting, the child in my womb leaped for joy.” –Having heard from the angel Gabriel that her kinswoman, Elizabeth, is also wondrously with child, Mary comes to greet her. Elizabeth is filled with the Spirit, and the child in her womb (John the Baptist) leaps for joy.

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Image: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Bicci_di_Lorenzo_-_The_Nativity_-_WGA2160.jpg Bicci di Lorenzo [Public domain]

For all the boots

File:Boots, Boots, To Go Up and Down in Africa- the Salvage and Repair of Army Boots, Somerset, England, 1943 D13198.jpg

Isaiah 9:2-7

5For all the boots of the tramping warriors
and all the garments rolled in blood
shall be burned as fuel for the fire.

I saw a news item last year about people making jewelry out of the shell casings left behind from the Vietnam war. That’s not exactly beating swords into plowshares, but it is on the same track.

My nephew wants to be a marine. I respect him. I respect him a great deal. I think I understand why such a life appeals to him. He wants to be a guardian of the peace. But I can’t shake the shadows of war. It’s been haunting me since the nightly news showed images and gave body counts each evening from Vietnam. It haunts me since reading All Quiet on the Western Front in high school. It haunts me since reading John Hersey’s Hiroshima. It haunts me since seeing footage of the Nazi concentration camps. It haunts me since my father’s war stories stopped being adventure stories. It was an adventure for him as a young man. It was a long ways from shoveling sugar beets on a Colorado farm. It involved the thrill of flying when you navigated by following roads rather than computer readouts. But I recognize that my father ttold it as an adventure story because that helps hide the reality of the friends he lost and the bombs he dropped.

We spend more than 1.6 billion dollars a day in this country for war and the preparations for war. We call it defense, because that, too, hides some of the horror. We unfurl giant flags in patriotic displays at football games and cheer our soldiers when they come home to greet unsuspecting family because that, too, hides some of the horror. We honor their service, rightly, but old soldiers and authors and moviemakers keep reminding us that the underbelly of such adventure is blood and grief. And so we watch Aleppo and the Russians drooping bombs on hospitals and children covered in dust and blood pulled from the wreckage. A city that was great a thousand years before Abraham left Haran appears now as rubble.

When we read Isaiah on Christmas Eve it is pure promise, sweet and familiar, shadowed not by weeping mothers but Christmas trees and candlelight. But the words were first spoken to weeping mothers.

The music of Haydn rings in our ears as we hear these words. But this is not a noble aspiration for a sane and safe world; it is a promise. A promise that one shall come in whom is perfect peace. Peace will not come by bombing the heck out of our enemies, but by kneeling before the holy infant, by kneeling in allegiance to the one who is not only the child of Bethlehem but the teacher from Nazareth who chose not to call on the heavenly armies, but stretched wide his arms upon the cross.

I don’t know how we get there, given the warring heart of humanity. But that is why the promise stands forth with such power.

5For all the boots of the tramping warriors
and all the garments rolled in blood
shall be burned as fuel for the fire.
6For a child has been born for us,
a son given to us;
authority rests upon his shoulders;
and he is named
Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God,
Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.
7His authority shall grow continually,
and there shall be endless peace
for the throne of David and his kingdom.
He will establish and uphold it
with justice and with righteousness
from this time onward and forevermore

Image: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File%3ABoots%2C_Boots%2C_To_Go_Up_and_Down_in_Africa-_the_Salvage_and_Repair_of_Army_Boots%2C_Somerset%2C_England%2C_1943_D13198.jpg By Ministry of Information Photo Division Photographer [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Bringing us home

Saturday

Isaiah 43:1-7

File:Heading Home, Yemen (9702169604).jpg6“Bring my sons from far away
and my daughters from the end of the earth.”

I can’t hear that voice without thinking about my daughter Anna. She was killed nearly 15 years ago. It is hard to imagine it has been so long. She is still and will ever be the bright, talented, compassionate, deeply spiritual young woman of 19 that she was the day a driver under the influence robbed the world of her life and the life of her friends.

The prophet is thinking about the Israelites scattered by war throughout the region of the Middle East. But I know there are more exiles than those in Babylon. There are more that are far from home than the children of the diaspora.

War is brutal in its impact upon the social fabric. The ties that bind family and community to a place and to one another are shredded. Hopes and beliefs are destroyed along with fields and buildings. Sons and daughters are lost. Fear and sorrow replace joy and trust. That sense of home and belonging perishes.

But it is not only war that separates us from one another, not only marching armies that decimates community. The modern world has made many rootless as they are moved from place to place. Divorce rends the ties of friendship and family. Poverty decimates neighborhoods and cities. Death and disease tear hearts and homes. Even our busyness separates us from one another, providing the illusion of a meaningful life but too often absent its real joys. We form new ties, build new lives, but we are scattered children and exiles. We have lost both village and faith that locates us in the world.

To a world in which it is possible to be homeless literally and spiritually, God speaks:

6I will say to the north, “Give them up,”
and to the south, “Do not withhold;
bring my sons from far away
and my daughters from the end of the earth–
7everyone who is called by my name,
whom I created for my glory,
whom I formed and made.”

God is in the business of reconciliation, of gathering the scattered, of restoring the broken, of uniting the separated. God is in the business of ending our exile and bringing us home.

 

Photograph: By Rod Waddington from Kergunyah, Australia (Heading Home, Yemen) [CC BY-SA 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

It is his promise

File:Tractor Teamwork - geograph.org.uk - 545872.jpgSaturday

Isaiah 2:2-5

2In days to come the mountain of the Lord’s house
shall be established as the highest of the mountains,
and shall be raised above the hills;
all the nations shall stream to it.
3Many peoples shall come and say,
“Come, let us go up to the mountain of the Lord,
to the house of the God of Jacob;
that he may teach us his ways
and that we may walk in his paths.”
For out of Zion shall go forth instruction,
and the word of the Lord from Jerusalem.
4He shall judge between the nations,
and shall arbitrate for many peoples;
they shall beat their swords into plowshares,
and their spears into pruning hooks;
nation shall not lift up sword against nation,
neither shall they learn war any more.
O house of Jacob, come, let us walk in the light of the Lord!

Personally, I think this message in Isaiah is so priceless and profound it deserves to stand without comment; our comments can never be worthy of it. Yet here I am, wanting to be sure we are captured by this promise.

I don’t know if it’s true that Jerusalem is the most contested pieces of land in human history, but it will do as a symbol of our warring. We call it the city of peace, but peace has been difficult to find.

On the spot where the holy temple once stood now stands a holy mosque, and those who pray in the mosque are divided from those who pray at the base of the foundation stones. Nearby are holy churches – churches that also pray separately.

We will come here, says the prophet, to this holy embattled ground, to learn God’s way of peace. We will come here, to the place where the holy body of Jesus lay slain, to learn to beat swords into plowshares.

That nations will come, says the prophet, to this land where armies have marched for thousands of years – Assyria, Babylon, Medea, Persia, Egypt, Rome, the Umayyads, Abbasids, Seljuks, Fatimids, Crusaders, Mamluks, Ottomans, Germans, Great Britain. And how shall we describe the bloodletting since?

Tiglath-Pileser, Nebuchadnezzar, Alexander, Pompey, Titus, Saladin – many have marched here. They shall come, says the prophet, not for conquest, but to learn the way of peace.

It is important to let the text say what it says – we will learn God’s ways. This will not be the triumph of one religious people over every other religious people; it will not be the triumph of one tradition over every other tradition or one law over every other law; it will be the “triumph” of God over our fallen humanity: our selfish humanity, our warring humanity, our “us against them” humanity, our divided-into-holy-camps humanity, our bent and broken image-of-God humanity.

We who were made in the image of the creative, life-giving presence at the heart of all existence have become creators of the tools of violence and death: club, knife, sword, catapult, bow, rifle, cannon, bomb, bigger bomb, nuclear bomb, hydrogen bomb, missile, RPG, drone. Ever more clever. Ever more deadly. And when big is not available to us, then suicide vests and swords for beheading and kids turning pressure cookers into death and maiming.

“Come, let us go up to the mountain of the Lord…
that he may teach us his ways
and that we may walk in his paths.”

Christians say that the nature of this God who will teach us his ways is revealed most profoundly in Jesus of Nazareth who did not take up the sword to protect himself. When one of Jesus’ followers drew his sword to protect Jesus (John says it was Peter), Jesus rebuked him saying, All who take the sword will perish by the sword.” When Peter offered to forgive seven times, Jesus made it seventy-seven times and, when he hung upon the cross, prayed for God to forgive his torturers.

When Jesus eats at the house of Zacchaeus, when he eats at the house of Simon the Pharisee, when he eats with his followers on the night he is snatched in the dark, when he welcomes women as disciples, when he forgives the lame man or heals the leper or defends the woman caught in adultery, when he speaks to the woman at the well as if she were a member of his own household or welcomes Matthew the tax collector – all these are part and parcel of the way of God who is teaching us the way of peace.

Most of us go to church to feel better. But God’s purpose there is to summon us to be better. Again and again we hear the stories. Again and again God speaks forgiveness. Again and again God gathers us to one table. By word and example God teaches, though we learn poorly.

God wants us to be better – not better, as in trying harder, but better as the doctor wants us to be better. God wants to recover in us our true humanity. God wants to straighten what is bent and heal what is wounded. God wants to cast out what is harmful and give birth to what is good. God wants us to live and breathe the way of peace, the way of mercy, the way of compassion, the way of truth, the way of life. God wants us to live and breathe his Spirit. God wants us to live and breathe his love.

And all this is not just God’s desire; it is his promise.

 

Image:Pauline Eccles [CC BY-SA 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

He shall be the one of peace

File:Gdansk Jesus and apostles.jpg

Jesus and the Apostles. (Note that the weapons they carry are the instruments by which they were martyred.)

Wednesday

Micah 5:2-5a

4And he shall stand and feed his flock in the strength of the LORD,
in the majesty of the name of the LORD his God.
And they shall live secure, for now he shall be great
to the ends of the earth;
5and he shall be the one of peace.

The cries for war seem to persist through every generation. We are like children squabbling over toys. Kings, queens, rulers, ruling councils, governing bodies, senates, parliaments, economic powers, or whomever stands to gain by plundering the possessions of another cries “Foul!” and raises the rabble to march to slaughter. Our faith in the use of force is very deep. Our trust in our righteousness quite blind. Fear and hate so easily sown.

Tribes raid tribes. The poor pilfer from the rich. The rich plunder the poor. Graft is the order of things through most of human history. We ask only one question, “What’s in it for me.”

And then we wake up after years of warring and grieving and wonder how to escape our madness.

He shall stand and feed his flock in the strength of the LORD.

Peace seems beyond us. Beyond our nature. Beyond our will. Beyond our reason.

But there is one who comes. One whose rule is just. One whose reign is faithful. One who feeds the flock rather than fleeces them.

There is one who comes. One who comes in the name of the LORD. One who comes in the majesty of the LORD. One who brings true security to the ends of the earth. One who is our peace.

We don’t follow him very well. We use his name as an instrument of war, as a justification for violence, as an addendum to hate – though he revealed that we are all members of a single human family and commanded us to treat one another so.

We don’t follow him very well. We claim him as a partisan in our causes. We pick and choose his words to support what we want to believe and do. We even murdered him in the name of God.

But he lives.

And beyond all imagining he bears no grudge. He loves. And he continues to bid us to follow.

He is the one of peace.

 

Image: St. Mary’s, Gdansk.  credit: By PawełS (Own work) [GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html) or CC BY-SA 4.0-3.0-2.5-2.0-1.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0-3.0-2.5-2.0-1.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

Lift up your heads

File:Filippino Lippi, Carafa Chapel, Annunciation 03.jpg

Watching for the Morning of November 29, 2015

Year C

The First Sunday of Advent

So much of our imagery of the end of the world seems to describe “the end of the world.” We get stuck on the four horsemen of the apocalypse and forget that the whole narrative of Revelation drives towards the vision of the New Jerusalem – the making new of the world. Maybe that’s because “the end of the world” is so common in our experience. The loss of parents, the loss of a spouse, the loss of a marriage, the loss of a job – they all contain elements of a life that will never be the same, life that seems irrecoverable, life that seems at an end.

I remember how often I tried to remind my girls that some catastrophe at school or at home – a broken relationship, a broken toy or spilled milk on a report – was not “the end of the world.” But even there, “the end of the world” is equated with disaster – just a bigger one than whatever misfortune has just occurred.

Though Christianity recognizes how deep and stubborn is the rebellion in the human heart, how prolonged the labor pains might be in the birthing of God’s new world, it is about God’s world made new – restored, freed, healed, redeemed, saved. Those are all the words at the center of Christian faith, not the dark woes of apocalypticism.

There is a stunning realism in this religion accused of being “pie in the sky” – a realism about the darkness that lurks in human societies, and the wastes and wraths of our sorrows. Kings go to war, bombing villages and destroying ancient communities, disrupting food and water supplies, leading to disease and death long after the sword has passed through. Leading to the suffering of children and innocents. Leading to the birthing of hate and revenge. Leading to the birthing of despair. There is realism in Christianity.  The central story we tell is about a brutal torture and execution of an innocent man.

But the end is not the grave. The world belongs to God and not to suffering and death. We were created for joy not sorrow, for meaningful work not slave labor, for union not divorce, for a life with God in the garden not hiding in the bushes. We were created for life not death. And though we yield so easily and completely to the powers of death (revenge, hate, neglect, cruelty, greed, bitterness, and the darkest nihilism) we are creatures born of the breath of God in whom we can also see all that is glorious about our made-in-the-image-of-God humanity: love, tenderness, laughter, play, kindness, care of strangers, sharing of bread, coming to the aid of those in need.

So on the first Sunday of the year our eyes are on the horizon – not because the world ends in whimpering and silence, but because it ends in joy. And the God who comes on the horizon of history is the one who has already met us lying in a manger, and at a breakfast barbecue on the shore of Galilee.

The prayer for November 29, 2015

All earth and heaven have their beginning and end in you, O God;
you are our source and goal.
Make us ever mindful that our lives move towards your Grace,
that we might be faithful children of hope;
through your Son, Jesus Christ our Lord,
who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit,
one God, now and forever.

The texts for November 29, 2015

First Reading: Jeremiah 33:14-16
“In those days and at that time I will cause a righteous Branch to spring up for David; and he shall execute justice and righteousness in the land.”
– In the aftermath of the national catastrophe when Babylon’s armies came and crushed the nation, destroying Jerusalem and the temple of its God, the prophet rises, daring to declare that the LORD’s promise to Israel is not voided. That God will yet fulfill his promise under the banner of a true and faithful king.

Psalmody: Isaiah 51:4-11 (appointed: Psalm 25:1-10)
“The ransomed of the Lord will return. They will enter Zion with singing; everlasting joy will crown their heads, sorrow and sighing will flee away.” – In place of the appointed psalm, our parish sings the song of salvation from Isaiah 51 where the prophet declares that the faithfulness of God is more enduring than earth and sea and heralds the return from exile in “everlasting joy.”

Second Reading: Philippians 1:3-11 (appointed: 1 Thessalonians 3:9-13)
“This is my prayer, that your love may overflow more and more… so that in the day of Christ you may be pure and blameless.” – Though Paul writes from prison, his eyes are on the fulfillment of God’s promise to establish his reign of grace and life and writes his beloved congregation, rejoicing in their faith and urging them to faithfulness.

Gospel: Luke 21:25-36
“There will be signs in the sun, the moon, and the stars, and on the earth distress among nations confused by the roaring of the sea and the waves.” – Reading now in Luke at the beginning of a new church year, we start with eyes turned toward the horizon of human history and the promise of the ultimate dawning of God’s reign over all creation.

 

Image: Filippino Lippi, Archangel Gabriel in the fresco of the Annunciation, Carafa chapel.  [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons.

Every beastly empire

File:Louvre saint michel rf1427.jpg

Saint Michael, the Archangel, slaying the dragon

Thursday

Daniel 7:9-10, 13-14

As I watched,
thrones were set in place,
and an Ancient One took his throne,
his clothing was white as snow,
and the hair of his head like pure wool;
his throne was fiery flames,
and its wheels were burning fire.
10A stream of fire issued
and flowed out from his presence.
A thousand thousands served him,
and ten thousand times ten thousand stood attending him.
The court sat in judgment,
and the books were opened.

The artists of the medieval church gave us graphic and frightening images of the last judgment. Christ and his apostles sit over a scene where demons drag the condemned down into the fiery pits below, while angels escort the righteous up into the heavenly city. It is an image repeated often. On the town clock in Prague a skeleton turned an hourglass at the tolling of the hour to remind us all we were one hour closer to death and judgment. The ministrations of the church were required to save you from the pits of hell and, even then, we were not ready for bliss without the millions of years required to purge us of our sinfulness.

It is a vivid image, now mostly forgotten. We live in a society where there is either no afterlife, or the afterlife is a blissful reunion with loved ones open to all. The notion we are all destined for peace is not shaken by texts such as this from Daniel – for the scripture has lost its authority. We know better. Or, at least, we prefer our own sentiments to those of the ancient world recorded in the holy books.

We think we are so much wiser than the ancients, though we still do not know how to build a pyramid. Humility is called for. And some care and caution – for most of humanity has believed for most of human history that there is accountability in the life to come for the way we have lived this life.

But careful reading of the scripture is also called for – for here, in this vivid imagery from Daniel, it is not the individual life that is called to account; it is the beastly kingdoms of the world.

The author of Daniel had very specific kingdoms in mind, writing as he did while Antiochus Epiphanes IV was seeking to “modernize” Israel’s ancient faith. In typical imperial form, he imposed his will on the people, slaying those who refused to eat pork or secretly circumcised their children. When rebellion broke out, he cleverly attacked on the Sabbath, slaughtering the mass of Judeans who refused to break the law by lifting the sword on the Sabbath.

The human imperial impulse manifests itself again and again in death. There are no end to wars, no end to the slaughter of innocents, no end to the stirring of hate and shutting of hearts and doors to those in need. And empire follows empire. The author of Daniel looks back upon Babylon, Medea, Persia and Alexander and his generals. Since then we have had Rome and Caliphates and the Imperial powers of Europe who have left such a devastating inheritance to Africa and the Middle East. We have had Hitler and Stalin and Pol Pot and the American corporate empire. And, in the small spaces in between the great empires, many small terrors of every political stripe. The Arminian Genocide. Rwanda. Idi Amin. South Africa. The Congo. Isis.

Daniel’s vision is not a threat that our lives will be judged; it is a promise that kingdoms will be judged. Every tyranny shall be thrown down, every beastly empire. And, in the end, shall come an empire like “a son of man,” like a human being. An empire from God (thus the clouds) not out of the remnants of the primordial chaos (the sea). A reign of justice, faithfulness and peace. A reign of grace and life.

Daniel saw this promise embodied in a vision. We have seen this promise enfleshed in Jesus. For he brought a reign of healing and life. And he has given us his Spirit. And the day shall come when the beasts are judged and the crucified and merciful one alone shall govern. Every land. Every heart. A world made new.

 

Image: By Bourgogne, second quart du XIIe siècle (Neuceu) [GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html), CC-BY-SA-3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/) or CC BY-SA 2.5-2.0-1.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.5-2.0-1.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

He will swallow death

Thursday

Isaiah 25:6-9

File:A destroyed iraqi main battle tank on the Highway of Death.JPEG6On this mountain
the Lord of hosts will make for all peoples
a feast of rich food,
a feast of well-aged wines,
of rich food filled with marrow,
of well-aged wines strained clear.
7And he will destroy on this mountain
the shroud that is cast over all peoples,
the sheet that is spread over all nations;
he will swallow up death forever.

The choice of that word ‘swallow’, “he will swallow up death forever,” is haunting when laid alongside the promise of a banquet where all people shall come to eat in peace. We will drink well-aged wines. We will eat choice meats. God will eat death. God will devour the devourer.

It has been a very long time in this country since war stole food from the mouths of the innocent. Sherman’s march to the sea is infamous for its intentional policy of destroying food stocks. It was not the Confederate soldiers who would go hungry when Union soldiers burned the fields and stole the livestock. War has always been hard on civilians. There is a reason that social chaos (a blood red horse), famine (a black horse) and pestilence (a pale, jaundiced horse) ride behind the white horse of imperial conquest at the opening of the first of the seven seals in Revelation 6. Refugees, hunger, disease, the suffering of women and children, the aged and infirm, follow in the train of war.

To the people desolated by war and destruction, God speaks a promise: God will prepare a feast – and God will ingest the death.

God will take the sword. God will take the bullet. God will take the crown of thorns and the nails. God will take the spittle and the lance. God will take the grave – and God will devour the devourer.

The bread and wine of Holy Communion is a reminder of this promised banquet. It proclaims to us that God will gather all creation to dine at his table: a world at peace, a world made new, a world rescued, redeemed, healed. Our hearts rescued, redeemed, healed. But that small bit of bread and taste of wine also remind us what Jesus ate.

It is complicated that Eucharistic meal. It is the bread of heaven and the bread of tears. It is joy and fearful sorrow. It is gift and oh so terrible a price. It is our promised future brought to us today – but also that past alive again. We are at the table where feet were washed. We are at the table where promises of fidelity were made only to be broken. And we are at the shore where Jesus has breakfast waiting and reconciles us to himself.

It is complicated, this Eucharistic meal. And it is complicated, this feast of All Saints. There is joy and sorrow. There is the song of heaven and the sound of tears from wounds still raw. There is the vision of the New Jerusalem even as we remember those who died this last year. There is the promise of the resurrection even as the ashes of loved ones sit on the mantel or in little niches at the cemetery. There is a vision of a redeemed human community while we witness the death of refugees abandoned at sea in leaky boats. There is life even as we know death.

But death has been swallowed up. The stone rolled away. The veil lifted. And so we sing. Sometimes through our tears, but still we sing. For we are held in the promise: Death has been swallowed up in victory.

 

Photo: A destroyed iraqi main battle tank on the Highway of Death.  By Master Sgt. Kit Thompson (DF-ST-92-08142) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

“Be still”

Thursday

Psalm 46

English: Christus Pantocrator in the apsis of ...

English: Christus Pantocrator in the apsis of the cathedral of Cefalù. Edited from Image:Cefalu Christus Pantokrator.jpg Italiano: Cristo Pantocratore sull’abside della cattedrale di Cefalù. Ingrandimento di Image:Cefalu Christus Pantokrator.jpg (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

9He makes wars cease
to the end of the earth;
he breaks the bow, and shatters the spear;
he burns the shields with fire.

I don’t think I could make a list of all the wars of my lifetime.  I know the wars in which the United States was involved – I grew up with the body counts on the news each evening meant to tell us that we were winning in Vietnam – but even still, some of our violent excursions are pretty fuzzy in my memory.  When exactly was it that we were blasting terrible music at General Noriega?  And where was that invasion of some small Caribbean nation?

The Cambodia killing fields.  The Sandanistas.  The multiple wars in Afghanistan.  Chechnya.  The Sudan.  The UK’s brave naval battle for the Falklands.  Napalm.  Bunker-busters.  Bombs zeroing in with video for us to watch as if it were a computer game.  Names again on the evening news.  It’s been a constant din.  Wasn’t there a war that was supposed to end all wars?  And always the haunting threat of nuclear weapons.

And to this we get to add the culture wars, the war on poverty, the war on drugs, the cold war, and lots of made up things like the war on Christianity.  Hardly a war.  But it seems like we love the battle cry.  We love the black and whiteness of war: we are right, they are wrong, rah rah!

“Be still, and know that I am God.”  I know we are not supposed to say “shut up,” but that’s basically what God is saying.  This is not an invitation to quiet meditation.  It is the voice of God shouting to warring children.  “Stop it!”

“I am God!”  That’s the punch line.  “I am God, not you!”  “I create life, not you.  It is mine to take, not yours.  You rampage across the world as if you were God.  You covet gold and silver and diamonds and drugs and oil.  You lust for wealth and power (we dare not look weak in the world, no matter how much worse we make things trying not to appear weak).”  We love the power that comes with a gun.

Yes, in a fallen world, evil is real and sometimes force is necessary.  But no war starts without someone thinking they have a right to kill and take for themselves.  And we will have to give account to God for all those bodies buried beneath rubble and blown to bits.

Perhaps if we were all still for a minute, we could hear the voice of God, and silence our constant warring – our gossiping, blaming, angry, grasping, greedy, selfish, self-righteous, king-of-the-hill struggle against one another.  Perhaps we could see what it did to Jesus, and admit that the command to love one another is in fact the word of Life.