Posts Tagged 'Jerusalem in ruins'

For Oct. 6, 2013: Proper 22, Year C

The Reading            Lamentations 1:1-6

The book of Lamentations paints a vivid picture of the disaster foretold by Jeremiah: Jerusalem is conquered, the Temple is in ruins, and most of her people are in forced exile. Each detail reinforces the image of Jerusalem as an abandoned woman suffering grievously but justifiably: because she persistently broke the covenants, God has revoked God’s protection and promises.

The Response            Lamentations 3:19-26

“The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases, his mercies never come to an end.”

The Epistle            2 Timothy 1:1-14

Textual evidence suggests that the letters to Timothy were written in the apostle Paul’s name but some time after his death. The writer commends his addressee for carrying forward the faith of his grandmother and mother, at the same time exhorting him to hold fast to it and not to be ashamed either of the testimony to that faith or of suffering for it.

The Gospel            Luke 17:5-10

“‘Do you thank the slave for doing what he was commanded?’”

Further thoughts

This Sunday’s readings speak of loss, hope, and steadfastness.

The reading from Lamentations depicts Jerusalem friendless and deserted. Through the patriarchs and prophets God had promised Israel self-rule as a leader of nations, protection from her enemies, numberless sons and daughters who would never face exile, and a descendant of David always on the throne—if Jerusalem kept the covenants. She did not do her part. As a result she is now a client state at the whim of the Babylonian empire, her former allies have gone over to the other side, those few of her children who have not been marched away at gunpoint are in hiding, and the throne of David stands empty. Worse, the temple is desecrated and ruined, so there is no longer any place to perform the sacrifices and make the prayers that the Law commands.

Yet the response, also from Lamentations, sings of hope: all these calamities have come to pass—but pass, they will: what endures is God’s love, for God honors God’s covenant even when we do not.

The epistle was written in times as trying in their way. Most authorities place the time of writing toward the end of the first century AD: Jerusalem is in the control of the Romans, the temple is once again destroyed, and Christianity is still illegal. Timothy faces hardship, humiliation, and even death in the service of Christ Jesus. But Jesus has abolished death—not that any of us will stop dying physically or cease to have reason to grieve, but the Holy Spirit in us will guard us and keep us in the way of love.

The gospel counsels steadfastness. The disciples demand more faith, and are doubtless disappointed in Jesus’ response. First, he tells them that the abundance it takes to command a big tree to pull up roots and place itself where no tree belongs—a showy act, but far from practical—isn’t one of faith. Then he gives them a less spectacular but more durable vision: the slave who sees to the master’s needs first, not to garner glory but simply because that is how the everyday things that most need doing (and most give blessing) get done.

For Dec. 30, 2012: 1 Christmas, Year C

The Reading            Isaiah 61:10-62:3

The late chapters of the book of Isaiah were written probably around the middle of the fifth century BC for people returned to Israel from exile in Babylon to a Jerusalem still in ruins. Despite the difficulties, Isaiah rejoices that God’s vindication and salvation are already and at the same time are yet to come. Isaiah’s message is for each generation—including ours: let us not rest until salvation comes, but let us also exult, for Christ is born!

The Response            Psalm 147:13-21

The Epistle            Galatians 3:23-25; 4:4-7

Within the Christian community that Paul planted at Galatia, in modern Turkey, were some who insisted that non-Jews were obliged to convert to Judaism and observe Mosaic law before they could convert to Christianity.  Paul, though himself perhaps the best Jew ever, has no use for that position: Christ having redeemed us, all of us are no longer slaves under the old law but children of God the Father.

The Gospel            John 1:1-18

 

Further thoughts

The month of January is named for Janus, the Roman god of doors and gates and of beginnings and transitions. Janus had two faces, for doors look both in and out, and beginnings and transitions are also endings in their way. The Christian in this world is in something of the position of Janus.

We look in one direction at the world that is, the world that came into being through the true Light but that does not recognize its creator and king in Jesus. We see a world in which justice miscarries, a world in which light seems lacking, a world in which the vindication and glory of Isaiah’s prophecy seems very far off indeed, a world in which, as the psalmist claims, the real God is only for Israel and the circumcision that marks God’s covenant is reserved only for men, a world in which the name “Christian” is smirched, to our shame, by association with historical and present abuses that we would love to disown but cannot honestly deny. We see our lives moving inexorably toward the end; as the gates close on our hopes and dreams, it can be hard not to despair.

At the same time, however, we look forward: forward to the vindication and righteousness that, Isaiah promises, Jerusalem will represent to all people—and already does, in God’s time and in God’s eyes. We look forward with Paul to God redeeming and adopting us—as God already has, in God’s time and in God’s eyes, for how else should we dare even to want to call God “Daddy!” We look forward to the Light of the World, Jesus, from whose unfathomable and eternal goodness we will receive grace upon grace—and already have. For, as John says, the light is already in the world—and, deep though the darkness may be, it is still the light that prevails.

O come, let us adore him!

 


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