Today’s collect states: “O Lord, make us have perpetual love and reverence for your holy name, for you never fail to help and govern those whom you have set upon the sure foundation of your lovingkindness.” Lovingkindness is something both tender and firm; it is, to translate more literally the Latin collect from which it is drawn, the “solidity of your love” (soliditate tuae dilectionis). God’s love for us is a trustworthy and reliable foundation.
The story of love is also the story of anguish and death. We know this from lived experience, and we read about it in sacred Scripture. The apostles suffered, the prophets suffered, Jesus languished and died upon a tree, and amid this pain, love was and is bringing forth a New Being. When suffering, however, is in full force, love may seem a million miles away.
When Sarah saw her son Isaac playing with Ishmael, the son of Hagar, she worried that Ishmael would share the inheritance promised to Isaac. At Sarah’s request, and with divine sanction, Abraham, though deeply troubled, consented to banish Hagar and her son to the wilderness of Beer-sheba. In many ways, this is similar to the more famous story about the sacrifice of Isaac. Abraham makes provision for what seems a death sentence. “So Abraham rose early in the morning, and took bread and a skin of water, and gave it to Hagar, putting it on her shoulder, along with the child, and sent her away. And she departed and wandered about in the wilderness of Beersheba. When the water in the skin was gone, she cast the child under one of the bushes. Then she went and sat down opposite him a good way off … and said, ‘Do not let me look on the death of the child’”(Gen. 21:14-15). To Hagar, it seemed that death was inevitable, and, of course, it is. All we go down to the dust.
God heard the cry of Hagar and the cry of Ishmael and saved them, not from an inconvenience or irritation, but from death. Out of death came life. “God was with the boy, and he grew up; he lived in the wilderness, and became an expert with the bow. He lived in the wilderness of Paran, and his mother got a wife for him from the land of Egypt” (Gen. 21:20). It’s a good ending, but not merely a happy ending. The memory of desperation and near-death would follow them all the days of their lives. Again and again, there are cries in scripture to be saved from a time of trouble, the mire, those who hate me, the deep waters, the torrent that washes over, the deep that swallows up, the Pit (Ps. 69:16-17). We plead for the lovingkindness of God because we are desperate. “O God, make speed to save us. O Lord, make haste to help us” (Ps. 70:1; Evening Prayer).
We will lose our lives in the end, and all our effort to deny this only makes us more anxious and fearful. Trying to save ourselves, we lose any sense of who we most deeply are, having only the company of a miserable, anxious, and narrow persona. Who will deliver us from this body of death?
We fall, it is true, like the sparrow, and God perceives our death, but God saves from death. “We have been buried with him by baptism into death, so that just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, so we too might walk in newness of life” (Rom. 6:4).
We have died with Christ. We rise with him and walk with him. He is our life.
Look It Up: Read Romans 6:5-11.
Think About It: Whoever has died is freed from sin.