The tradition of directing violent images of judgment against oneself or one’s own community or nation is a standard prophetic corrective against the arrogant presumption that the enemy is always without. Even so, Malachi’s image of the enemy “burning like an oven,” “the evil doer like stubble,” while those who revere the sun of righteousness rise with healing health, is simply too close, too sensitive, too near religion’s most common and horrifying abuse. The preacher may and must speak of judgment, but these images are too disturbing. Leave them in the attic and move on.
Instead, “Sing to the Lord with the harp, with the harp and with the voice of song. With trumpets and the sound of the horn shout with joy before the King, the Lord” (Ps. 98:5-6). The seas make noise, the lands laugh, the rivers clap their hands. The judgment is this — for this is judgment too: “you shall draw water with rejoicing from the springs of salvation.” Go ahead, ring out your joy (Canticle 9, BCP, p. 86). “O bells ring for the ringing!” William Carlos Williams writes. “The beginning and the end of the ringing! Ring ring ring ring ring ring ring! Catholic bells!”
The prophet Isaiah, speaking the word of the Lord, says: “Be glad and rejoice forever in what I am creating; for I am about to create Jerusalem as a joy, and its people as a delight. I will rejoice in Jerusalem, and delight in my people; no more shall the sound of weeping be heard in it, or the cry of distress” (Isa. 65:18-19). It is precisely with this hope animating God’s people, which we now know as the presence of the risen Lord, which makes it possible to go on from day to day, to earn one’s bread, to embrace toil and labor as the necessary condition of a mortal and brief life (2 Thess. 3:6-13). And we do not grow weary in doing right because we know that God reigns in the victory of his Son.
A meditation: “The kingdom of God is within us. The Word is very near us, in our mouths and in our hearts. Obviously, the one who prays for the kingdom that is already within is praying that it bear fruit and be perfected. … After Christ has subjected all enemies to himself, he will hand the kingdom to his God and Father, and so God may be all and all. … [A]s if in a spiritual paradise, God alone would overshadow and rules in us with his Christ, who sits in us at the right hand of his spiritual power, which we have requested: and may he sit there until all his enemies, which are in us, become the footstool of his feet, and every power and principality and force in us is emptied. One final enemy must fall. O death, where is your sting. O hell, where is your victory?” (Ex Libello Originis Presbyteri De oratione, Cap. 25; my translation with some liberal though not strained adaptation). Here it is perfectly clear that the judgment is within, for the Christ who comes to bring the kingdom comes to every door, window, and crevice of the heart.
Living our days in toil and labor, we will witness again and again the tragedy of wars and insurrections. But we are not terrified, for this is the business of the fallen sons and daughters of our ancient parents. We take nothing for the journey and remain unprepared because, in the hour of testing, God will tell us what to say and show us what to do. Still, joys will come.
Look It Up
Read Luke 21:19. Endurance.
Think About It
Mary’s pierced heart is the home of Christ and the cost of being his home.