Prophet Elijah is just about to give up all hope in the God of the Covenant. In his region, all deserted to other gods. Only he was left: ‘I only, am left; and they seek my life.’
Then, God gives a demonstration where to find Him. ‘And, behold, the Lord passed by, and a great and strong wind rent the mountains, and brake in pieces the rocks before the Lord; but the Lord was not in the wind.’ Neither was he in the earthquake or in the fire. Instead, God appeared to Elijah in ‘a small voice’.
From this ‘small voice’, which is quieter when the leaves of a tree just start moving in the breeze, Elijah learns to have hope in God again. It turns out that he is not alone at all: ‘Yet I have left me seven thousand in Israel, all the knees which have not bowed unto Baal, and every mouth which hath not kissed him.’
This is an important message for us, Christians of today. When local churches struggle with numbers, and feel their sacred prayers being disconnected from the life of our world - this image of God’s intimate consolation emerges. God’s goodness has never completely withdrawn from people’s life. There is an unbroken potential in our contemporaries not to ‘bend their knees’ in front of the false gods of the age.
The message of the Eucharist by which we live daily is the confirmation of our individual hope. The icon of Loving tenderness, which now stands in Saint Augustine’s (the Romanian Orthodox Church will try to build a missional community, and will use our liturgical space for their Sunday worship) speaks about this positive hope – in ‘small voice’. We see Our Lady and the child-Logos Jesus in a loving intimate embrace. What a powerful statement of that hope, which Elijah does not have at the moment of crisis. Mary clings to the growing divine Life, that of the Child, in his arms. The world might be in disarray…Yet the trusting embrace between Mother and Child connects us with ‘the seven thousand in Israel’, with the ‘seven thousand in the Kingdom of God’. In salvation history, we are never alone, we have never been abandoned by God. Actually, we will start seeing the world around us as Mary and Jesus saw it: in tenderness, full of potential divine life and human flourishing. Seeing the Kingdom where it is not obviously present for the limited human eye – that is the art of God. To this ‘art of hope’ we are called. Let us collect the sparkles of hope and rejoicing, let us magnify them and return these elements of life to God. The kingdom of God, this is the miracle, grows through these ‘minuscule’ fragments.
“In that he saith, A new covenant, he hath made the first old. Now that which decayeth and waxeth old is ready to vanish away.”
The emphasis is not so much on the ‘disappearance’ of the Old Testament but on the importance of renewing our existing covenant with God. This new covenant, radiates a healing peace and a reassurance, that our relationship with God is permanent! (Consequently, our task is keeping it alive through our daily, hourly!, efforts.)
‘I will put my laws into their mind, and write them in their hearts: and I will be to them a God, and they shall be to me a people.’ Let us focus on the precious moments of covenant making… Through these daily (hourly) tasks, we are also working on the unity of the church.
Hebrews 8, when carefully contemplated, reveals the importance of reigniting/creating this desire for unity. Sadly, there is little appetite in practice, for healing the wounds of a fragmented Christianity.
'Come and get killed by Baal!' or Kill your soul!
Wow. Amazing in the present climate. Perhaps the underground should start to glamourise knives as well as guns
A definition of the Eucharistic community (Judges 6,25-end; Hebrews 5,11- 6 end) /Monday after the Sunday After Ascension Day, BCP Lectionary/
There is a fantastic definition of the Eucharistic community. The local Christian community is one ‘which is giving itself up to God’s love’. It is this self-offering that makes us Christians belonging to the new, and not to the old, creation. (Zizioulas, Being as Communion).
Our communal experience of giving ourselves up to God’s love in the Eucharistic worship is a crucial one. Through this surrender to the Source of Life, we are no longer dissolved in the faceless inertia of the culture in which we live. For this is what individuals and communities suffer most: the inertia, the impersonal inertia of ‘this world’. In this ‘telos-less’ sea (where there is no purpose, no ultimate meaning, no ultimate responsibility and accountability), it is impossible to have an identity. The soul and the heart gets ultimately inflated. In the ‘old creation’, the human person ceases to be grounded in love. No wonder that the sense of God, the desire for worship disappears from social consciousness.
Our first reading, Judges reminds us of the effort that one must make in order to have God’s (love’s!) revealed Presence. ‘And the Lord said unto Gedeon, Take thy father’s young bullock, even the second bullock of seven years old, and throw down the altar of Baal that thy father hath, and cut down the grove that is by it; and build an altar unto the Lord thy God upon the top of this rock.’ (Judges 6,25-end)
Our second reading invites us to reignite our trust in God’s promises. This awareness is particularly important in a culture which is defined by ‘zero talk about the Biblical God.’ It is only through the mentioned conscious act of ‘giving ourselves up to God’s love’, that these promises will come alive and support us - on our journey, facing ‘this world’. Becoming a Eucharistic community is not an option. This is the only gateway to survive and not to be dissolved, and melted into the images of ‘the faceless gods’, which is our age.
Let us ‘feel’ the healing power of God’s promises. ‘For God is not unrighteous to forget your work and labour of love, which ye have shewed toward his name…’
(Personally, as far as I understand things when trying to make sense of my experiences, this rediscovering what the Eucharist means, and it compels us to do, is the only option for the ‘renewal initiatives’ of the Church of England. The new forms of mission, ‘fresh expressions’, will lose impetus and life, if they don’t intend to become Eucharistic communities; and defined by the Eucharist. The point I am making is that the Eucharist will reveal a hole ‘programme’ to learn about and internalize. Attempts of renewal remain groundless, if we are not facing the ‘Catholick DNA’ of the Church. There is a lot to reflect on what this ‘Catholick DNA’ is…)
‘…And there arose another generation after them, which knew not the Lord, nor yet the works which he had done for Israel…And the children of Israel did evil in the sight of the Lord, and served Baalim: and the forsook the Lord God of their fathers.’And all this happened after the faithful generation under the leadership of Joshua, after they had entered the promised land.
Forgetting the ‘Sacred meaning of life’ happens so easily to us. This is a symbolic verse: when a generation of religious observance disappears how the next generation is in steep decline. Spirituality, sacred wisdom, ‘unity’ disintegrates.
They ‘followed other gods, of the gods of the people that were round about them, and bowed themselves unto them, and provoked the Lord.’
This also points to that the nature of the human being is to ‘mirror’ its social and cultural milieu. That is why it is important to mirror the otherness (one-ness!) of our God. We, Christians need to live with a sense that ‘God is our environment’. We should teach our children that the imitation of God is fragile. May the joy of faithfulness lead us and bring upon us a renewal of our faith!
Growing through the roots (Joshua 4,1-5,1)
‘Take you thence out of the midst of Jordan, out of the place where the priests’ feet stood firm, twelve stones, and ye shall carry them over with you, and leave them in the lodging place…that this may be a sign among you, that when your children ask their fathers in time to come, saying What mean ye by these stones? Thee ye shall answer them, That the waters of Jordan were out off before the ark of the covenant of the Lord; when it passed over Jordan, the waters of Jordan were cut off: and those atones shall be for a memorial unto the children of Israel for ever.’
The ten stones point to the importance of ‘priestly memory’. Their task is, on behalf of the community, to remember the story of Revelation. For the community (the local church) they highlight the importance of being faithful to Tradition. The stones symbolise how Christian life is rooted in salvation history. Daily prayer, as daily departure through the challenges of life, is our daily ‘Exodus’. The flame of regular prayer for God’s world must be kept burning as our common priestly task. The water of Jordan reminds Christians that through their baptism everyone is ordained to this task of ‘sacred remembrance’.
‘Utterly destroy all the places’ (Deuteronomy, 12,1-14; Acts 11,19-end) (Thursday after second Sunday of Easter, Matins)
‘Ye shall utterly destroy all the places, wherein the nations which ye shall possess served their gods, upon the high mountains, and upon the hills, and under every green tree.…ye shall hew down the graven images of their gods, and destroy the names of them out of that place.’
We need to ‘undo our old practices’. Even the memories of our unfaithfulness, that is the consequences of our sins, ‘should be utterly destroyed’. We can read this otherwise very difficult passage as the ‘ecological footprint’ of the soul. Sins, our worship of idols, have their consequences: they erode personal relationships, our and sense of the common good. These harmful consequences need to be healed.
The commandment continues. ‘Ye shall eat before the Lord your God, and ye shall rejoice in all that ye put your hand unto.’ To rejoice where we are, over what we have, is a divine imperative. This is the heartbeat of having a healthy ‘spiritual and moral footprint’ in the world. Thus we will perceive and appreciate God’s goodness and healing greatness that surrounds us.
Christians, from Acts, can learn something important from their ‘ecological footprint’ on the path of history. We read that ‘the disciples were called Christians first in Antioch.’ They rejoiced when they ‘saw the grace of God’ and ‘cleaved unto the Lord.’ It is worth observing that the name ‘Christian’, from the very onset, was associated with compassionate help. ‘Then the disciples, every man according to his ability, determined to send relief unto the [afflicted] brethren which dwelt in Judea.’ This is our way of undoing the harms that our previous ‘idol worship’ caused to society.
Seeing beyond the present surface of history (Deuteronomy 8; Acts 8,26-end)
‘Therefore thou shalt keep the commandments of the Lord thy God, to walk in his ways, and to fear him. For the Lord thy God bringeth thee into a good land, a land of brooks of water, of fountains and depths that spring out of valleys and hills; a land of wheat, and barley, and vines, and fig trees, and pomegranates… And it shall be, if thou do at all forget the Lord thy God, and walk after other gods, and serve them, and worship them, I testify against you this day that ye shall surely perish.’
Under the surface of our prosperity and well being (individually and as a community), at its roots, there is our liberation by God. Our Exodus from Egypt is always there as the very ground of our present life. The ‘material surface’ should lead our attention to these past gifts.
In the Acts, we learn how Philip baptised the Ethiopian official, who was reading prophet Isaiah but could not understand it. It is a symbolic reminder, how important it is to keep the Bible as part of public discourse. The Sacred texts, if part of public consciousness, can become events of personal revelations. ‘Keeping the Bible alive’ also has a communal meaning. Keeping the Bible as a live book stands for the ability to see beneath the surface of our present history. There is no other window which would help in preserving the meaning of life (‘the Sacred’).
The source of our obedience (Deuteronomy 4,25-40; Acts 4,32-5,11)
God expects obedience of the newly formed people of Israel. They must remember his Law and their liberation by God. To the extent that God speaks clearly: if they worship alien idols, they will lose the life which stems from the Covenant.
The real or second focus, however, is not our obedience but the source of our obedience. It is indeed true that God expects obedience. Yet, we should realise that actually when we do so we are only imitating God’s obedience to us! When we recall his gifts and miracles, we can clearly see how He first committed himself to the cause of our salvation. He obediently followed his plan to save us. Here, actually, God ‘imitates’ his own nature, Love. ‘For ask now of the days of past, which were before thee, since the day that God created man upon the earth, and ask from the one side of heaven unto the other, whether there hath been any such things as this great thing is, or hath been heard like it? Did ever people hear the voice of God speaking out of the midst of the fire, as thou hast heard, and live? Or hath God assayed to go and take him a nation from the midst of another nation, by temptations, by signs, and by wonders…?’ So the focus is pure love; pure redeeming Love.
Acts is a remarkable account of the forming ethos of the Christian Church. Our church was grounded in absolute obedience to God’s Redeeming Love. People, and the first communities, became fully transparent to contemplate what God has done for us in the Risen Christ. This forming ethos has been passed over to all the historical churches. Still our call is to cherish, cultivate, and re-ignite this first obedience. ‘And the multitude of them that believed were of one heart and of one soul: neither said any of them that ought of the things which he possessed was his own: but they had all things in common. And with great power gave the apostles witness of the resurrection of the Lord Jesus: and great grace was upon them all.’
What is the significance of reigniting this first obedience to God? The very fact, that if we remember God’s commandments and laws with full commitment − Jesus is with us! We, just like the members of the apostolic church, perceived Jesus among them. And this is the normal state of faith: when there is no or hardly any border between the Resurrected Jesus and us. Easter unites us, and this is its secret. There is no distance between our person and the Person of Jesus. He is sharing every moment of our life together in the local church.
From humanity’s fragmentation to its wholeness (Deuteronomy 3,18-end; Acts 3,1-4,4)
The book of Deuteronomy informs us the struggles, often fights of the Jews, when they occupied the promised land. ‘Thine eyes have seen all that the Lord your God hath done unto these two kings: so shall the Lord do unto all the kingdoms wither thou passest. Ye shall not fear them: for the Lord your God he shall fight for you.’
This is a very important passage (and pair with the New Testament reading from Acts) to read in Easter. The taking possession of Canan raises the question of ‘identity’. Sadly, humankind exists in fractions. The very fact that Israel had to fight in order to occupy the land shows this. The greatest challenge (looking at our world) is that there is no unified identity. Peoples are in struggles for their habitats (economical, political, geographical). Biblical Jewry was thriving for their national identity.
When we read these passages through the eye of Easter, we can see that God’s plain points beyond their emerging identity as a nation. We should pray for being able to see how limited a community’s identity, when it is in a constant fight for ‘survival’. Our notion of being ‘a chosen people’ or religion by God, in the long run, necessarily defers from that of God.
In Acts, apostle Peter points to a new, universal identity emerged in and through Christ. ‘The God of Abraham, and of Isaac, and of Jacob, the God of our fathers, hath glorified his Son Jesus.’ He and the disciples heal in Jesus’ power. The miracles of unconditional healing tell us that in Jesus humankind became (can become) a unified family. The Resurrection as God’s final blessing − through the chosen people of Israel − can unite us: all fractions. There is no other story telling which is capable of achieving this universality. And outside this resurrection, the nations are exiled into permanent rivalry and bloody wars for their claimed resources.
These are verbal Icons, expressions of how the world is seen from Saint Augustine's..