“Hear, O Israel: The Lord is our God, the Lord alone” (Deut. 6:4). “Hear what our Lord Jesus Christ saith” (BCP, p. 324). “Hear, O Son, the precepts of the teacher” (Opening words of “The Rule of St. Benedict”). Religion is attentive listening and repetition, the same story told again and again so that its teachings and virtues and victories are revisited as if new each day. The bread of the moment is the body on Calvary; the church-wine is shed blood for the sins of the world. Told well, the story of faith is moving, profound, and disturbing. A new reality comes into view: “as touching efficacy, force, and virtue,” antiquity is a present truth. (Richard Hooker).
A danger lurks. If a religious story rehearses losses, sorrows, and destruction at the hand of enemies, an ancient hurt may rise up in the present and pour blame on innocent victims. No serious reading of the Fathers, for instance, and even a close reading of the New Testament at various points, can avoid the shameful impression of a deep-seated fear of Jews after the death of Jesus. If our Christian religion is to be life-giving, it must carry within itself a strong corrective, a critical assessment of its celebrated past.
Here it is. “For I am about to create a new heaven and a new earth; the former things shall not be remembered or come to mind” (Isa. 65:17). The bitter story about victors and enemies, the good and evildoers, will be cast aside, burnt in a raging oven (Mal. 4:1). Divine judgement will be the judgment of the whole world. “Not one stone will be left upon another; all will be thrown down” (Luke 21:6). A religion of harm and hurt, division and bitterness — which, to some extent, is every religion written on the pages of real history — will be no more.
The ancient storehouse of faith declares Jerusalem “a joy, and its people a delight” (Isa. 65:18). Properly understood, Jerusalem is every city where God may be, and there is not where God is not. “The earth is the Lord’s and all that is in it” (Ps. 24:1). The sound of weeping is not heard, cries of distress are no more, infants live, the elderly prosper, homes are safe, vineyards full, fruit plentiful. “They shall not hurt or destroy on all my holy mountain, says the Lord” (Isa. 65:25). “With joy you will draw water from the wells of salvation” (Isa. 12:3). Here is a vision of life forevermore. In a world such as the one we know from day to day, it is a monumental act of faith to work toward this peaceable kingdom.
The earth shakes, nations are at war, famine and plagues destroy, families are divided, hatred is a common language. In all this, Jesus gives “words and wisdom,” and the ability to go on in hope, the command to work for good and do what is right (Luke 21:15,19; 2 Thess. 3:12-13). As if commissioning the Church as a life-giving protest movement, Jesus says (or thinks, as he is always thinking the Old Testament): Make a joyful noise to the Lord; break forth into joyous song; get the lyre and trumpet and horn; let the sea and her creatures roar; and the hills ring out (Ps. 98:4-9). Love peace and pursue it with your heart, mind, soul, and strength.
Look It Up: Read Mal. 4:1. Throw your arrogance and evil into the flame.
Think About It: Christ for the life of the world.