Archive for the 'Daniel' Category

For Nov. 3, 2013: All Saints’ Day, Year C

The Reading            Daniel 7:1-3,15-18

The book of Daniel is set in the sixth century before Christ, after the Temple has been destroyed and the people taken into exile in Babylon. Here the prophet recounts a terrifying vision—the omitted verses describe four huge and powerful monsters with bad intentions toward Israel—but the explanation he gets builds hope.

The Response            Psalm 149

“For the Lord takes pleasure in his people and adorns the poor with victory.”

The Epistle            Ephesians 1:11-23

The church at Ephesus was one of the first and most successful of the churches believed to have been founded by the apostle Paul. Today’s reading explains what is in store for the saints—that is, for all of us who believe—and how the power of God working among us gives us hope.

The Gospel            Luke 6:20-31

“‘Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you.’”

 

Further thoughts

The readings for All Saints’ Day vary from year to year in the Revised Common Lectionary, and in consequence the themes vary too. In last year’s readings, Isaiah and the writer of Revelation sang of the wondrous banquet that awaits in heaven, the psalmist offered praise, and John told of the miraculous raising of Lazarus.

For Year C, the tone is more mixed. Psalm 149 rejoices, to be sure (though the fate awaiting other nations’ rulers is told with eyebrow-raisingly cheer), and the epistle sounds the celebratory note that one expects, that is consistent with the opening and closing of Ralph Vaughan Williams’s beloved hymn “Sine Nomine” and with the rousing “When the Saints Go Marching In”.

But the other texts for All Saints’ Day this year are somber, even threatening. The prophet Daniel reports a vision of four horrifying monsters wreaking destruction on everything. The gospel tells us that an easy life now is not necessarily a mark of God’s favor for the world to come while laying out a blueprint for Christian behavior in the face of assault or disregard that is decidedly difficult to follow. What gives?

These are verses of, by, and for outsiders. Daniel prophesies during the time of exile, when the Israelites were unwilling foreign nationals of low status and could count on being scorned, misunderstood, and mistreated accordingly. The gospel famously plays on the Beatitudes—beatus in Latin is a strong way to say ‘happy’—and part of the point is to tell us in what esteem to hold those on whom the world spits… for they are we and we are they. Jesus is raised to unprecedented honor and glory, yes—but first he had to be born to an unwed mother, be a refugee, be a truth-teller whom nobody understood, be spat on and mocked (and who knows how else bored soldiers might have humiliated him?) and then be paraded through the streets en route to dying the nastiest death Rome saw fit to inflict. In short, Jesus the outsider knows the very worst that can befall us and the very worst we can be, and that by no stretch of the imagination do we belong in heaven.

By no stretch of the imagination, that is, except his.

For it is Jesus’ love alone that makes God’s saint of me, and you, and every other outsider that ever drew breath or ever will. And it is by living Jesus’ love of those on whom the world spits that we soften the hearts that can’t listen yet—including, more often than not, our own.

For Nov. 25, 2012: Christ the King/The Reign of Christ, Year B

The Reading            Daniel 7:9-10, 13-14

In 165 BC, the very existence of Judaism was threatened. The Book of Daniel, written in response, contains an early example of apocalypse, or writing about the end times. Today’s reading tells a vision of a judgment scene presided over by a dazzling Ancient One—the Ancient of Days, in older translations. The court gives a grant of everlasting kingship and glory to someone like a human being. Listen for echoes of this in the second reading.

The Response            Psalm 93

The Epistle            Revelation 1:4b-8

The reading from Daniel related a vision of awesome judgment and the commissioning of one like a human being as eternal king. The book of Revelation, written at the end of the first century AD, is both a letter and another apocalypse. Today’s reading is from the beginning of the book; it sounds a theme like that in Daniel, but now the “one like a human being” is named—as Jesus Christ who loves us.

The Gospel            John 18:33-37

 

Further thoughts

On Christ the King Sunday, we celebrate both the end of the Pentecost season and the dominion of Jesus Christ over (as the book of Daniel puts it) “all peoples, nations, and languages”: this formulaic phrase is clearly intended to include absolutely everybody, whether by association, birth, or culture.  The book of Daniel foresees one like a human being to whom this dominion—this power—is given; we Christians naturally assume that Jesus the Son of Man is intended. The reading from Revelation names the one who comes in the clouds as Jesus but otherwise paints a similar picture: Jesus is coming in glory and judgment and, crucially, power. Revelation specifies that on his account all the tribes will wail, and that makes sense given what we think we know of the way power works.

In the gospel, however, the picture is different. Jesus who was and is and is to come stands before the local representative of the great Roman Empire. Pilate, like the rest of us, knows what powerlessness looks like and he knows what power looks like—but Jesus looks like… well, Jesus: if an ordinary man under accusation, then remarkably unshaken before the Roman who can quite easily order him crucified; if a king, then disturbingly unconcerned with the familiar trappings and prerogatives of power.

So just what kind of king is this, anyway?

The kind of king who attends to the despised and broken-hearted. The kind of king who performs astonishing healings and forbids the word to spread. The kind of king who declines to be stampeded by society into condemning obviously guilty women. The kind of king who washes his inferiors’ feet. The kind of king who undertakes to die to save the very people who are out to kill him and yet whom not even death can vanquish.

And if Jesus so breaks the mold when it comes to kingship, what must it mean for our place in his kingdom that he calls us not subjects but brothers and sisters and partners in bringing God’s love to the world?


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