Posts Tagged 'promise'

For Dec. 1, 2013: 1 Advent, Year A

With the turning of the liturgical year, here’s a change for St Alban’s Lections: adding prefaces on the response and the gospel, accompanied by a shift to a shorter contemplation under the name of “Ponderables”.

The Reading            Isaiah 2:1-5

The season of Advent is a path of repentance and promise, and these themes resound in the prophecies of Isaiah that we will read each week. For this first Sunday, Isaiah foretells the path and the promise for Judah and Jerusalem—and, if we too will turn from the ways of war and destruction to the ways of the Lord, for us.

The Response            Psalm 122

“I was glad when they said to me, ‘Let us go to the house of the Lord.’” When Jerusalem truly functions as the Place of Wholeness that its name suggests, then the vision that Isaiah has depicted comes to life.

The Epistle            Romans 13:11-14

Isaiah, in our first reading, foretold the path and the promise of Advent. The apostle Paul writes to Christians in Rome—a city like London, Paris, and Las Vegas all rolled into one—to tell them what it takes to be ready for the coming of Christ. He reminds them, and us, that the time to wake and walk with God is always right now.

The Gospel            Matthew 24:36-44

In Luke 21:5-19, which we read two weeks ago, the disciples asked Jesus when the end times will be, and he gave an indefinite answer. He replies again in today’s reading from Matthew, and with a much more definite indefinite: no one knows except the Father, and therefore it is up to us as followers to be ready.

 

Ponderables

The readings for the first Sunday in Advent fall indisputably into the category of apocalypse. The word literally means ‘uncovering’ or ‘revelation’, but over time it has come to mean ‘the end of times’. We associate it with bad news partly because of the horrors predicted in the Book of Revelation but mostly, I suspect, because, being human, we associate the end of everyday life—the “eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage” of Matthew 24:38—with bad news. The gospel provides some warrant for this in comparing Jesus’ return with the flood of Noah, which was indeed bad news for anyone not on the ark: one will be taken, Jesus tells us, and one left, though it’s not clear from the passage which of those is the one who is saved at that point, nor is it even clear what will happen to the other. One assumes that Jesus’ vagueness is intentional.

Isaiah and the writer of Romans, characteristically, are much less vague. Isaiah tells us how things will be when the Lord rules, or to be precise when all of us accede to the Lord’s rule: weapons of war and wounding will become tools of tillage and tending. The verses that precede the epistle reading famously sum up our mutual duty as loving one another—looking out for each other—before admonishing us to hop to it. But behold: what Isaiah holds out as the outcome of God’s reign is pretty much what the epistle counsels as the means to it.

What if this is precisely the point of Advent? The one taken away in the gospel might be headed for Paradise—but what if the one is left to keep being God’s hands and feet and love in the world?

Advertisements

For March 4, 2012: Second Sunday in Lent, Year B

The Reading    Genesis 17:1-7, 15-16
On the first Sunday of Lent, last Sunday, we heard God’s first covenant with humanity, symbolized by the rainbow. Today’s reading recounts the second covenant: God promising that childless Abram and Sarai, despite their age, will have a son, and giving them new names—Abraham and Sarah—in token of the promise.

The Epistle    Romans 4:13-25
The letter to the Romans is written to a church community of Jews and Gentiles; some of the Romans might not have known about God’s covenant with Abraham, and others who knew about it might have misunderstood how it works. It is explained here for both as a matter not of what we do but of God’s unfathomable and unstoppable grace.

Further thoughts
Following on from week 1, the week 2 Lenten readings call us to continue considering the covenants that God makes with us: we contemplate what we deserve, what we get, and what we do next.
In Genesis, Abram and Sarai are an elderly couple, “as good as dead”, as Paul puts it in the Epistle, their hopes for a son dashed on the rocks of time. They have made alternative arrangements for the future: Abram has named his kinsman Eliezer of Damascus his heir, and Sarai has arranged for Abram to sire an heir by her slave Hagar; this was widely accepted practice for the time, though in this case it has produced a good deal of domestic strain.
Then God makes a new covenant: the heir for which Abram and Sarai have yearned, the child on whose birth they have given up, will be born to them, as God makes of them Abraham and Sarah, parents of millions.
Verse 17, which has been omitted from the lectionary, records Abram’s immediate response: he falls over laughing. Chapter 18 of Genesis, left out of this season’s lections, also gives us Sarai laughing in incredulity as she wonders how, after all the years and all the tears, this promise could possibly come true.
Yet, as Paul tells us, the two of them do believe, sooner rather than later—and it is their faith in God’s promise, not their own virtue, that makes them righteous before God. It is their faith in God’s faithfulness that somehow makes it possible for God’s promise to take hold in their own flesh.
What a staggering thought. What did it take for Abraham and Sarah to forget all the reasons it was crazy to hope long enough to believe God, really, deep down?
And what will it take for us?