God being grieved at his heart and Peter’s words as our sense of the ‘real’ (Genesis 6,5;Matthew 16,13-end) /BCP Tuesday after Septuagesima Sunday, Matins/
The state of the human family before the flood ‘grieved God at his heart’. We are part of this flood of sin. We should be deeply moved by God’s words and take responsibility for our actions. God’s redemptive presence is among us: we should feel that God – just as the defects and potentials of our life – is real. In this sense, the story of the flood is an important reflection on our task of ‘recovering the sense of the Real’. Taking responsibility for our history, and within it our personal story, awakens us from empty cyber-dreams (wasting the time of the human heart) into Reality.
Peter’s words can also be read in view of this task. Then, his words are a crucial resource in recovering reality, as the very ground of our faith. We need the sense of living in a real world, in a real time, in the matrix of real responsibilities, with the sense of being real and our neighbours are also being real (fully present) for us.
‘Jesus saith unto them: But whom say ye that I am? And Simeon Peter answered and said, Thou art the Christ, the Son of the living God.’ Actually, Peter’s words were the birth of ‘the real’. Through this confession the fragments of life are pieced together. Reality does not evaporate, but becomes one and undivided by these words. This is the sure foundation, always knowing that God’s redemption is real in Jesus, upon which our life is based. The life of individual Christians and that of the community is rooted in and nourished by this Root. ‘Thou art the Christ! The Son of the living God!’ We need to live from this Presence, the Reality of God.
Jesus’ words which follow upon this passage, speaks of his coming suffering. He reveals further what is at the heart of ‘the real’: God’s grace and compassionate life among us.
One of the major tasks for Christian spirituality is to regain ‘what is real’. Virtual reality is penetrating us. The artificial, the ‘digitalised’ and the ‘mediatized’ is evacuating the reality sensors of our hearts. For Biblical religions retaining the sense of time (history), communal links, and undivided attention when praying to God are vital grounds. Without them, religion breaks down. Without remaining faithful to the real, prayer, the breath-taking of spiritual life, becomes unreal. In Biblical terms, we shall be exiled into the fake or secondary realities of the cyber space.
Sharing Habakkuk’s experience of inner suffering and spiritual distress is an important part of regaining the reality of God. Listening to the pains of the soul which is deprived of God’s Presence, to he reality of our pain, is our awakening. ‘O Lord, revive thy work in the midst of the years…’ Crying to God in the years of our captivity, from behind the impenetrable walls of ‘the unreal’, is that bridge, through which what is evacuated from our life can return to us.
‘Although the fig tree shall not blossom, neither shall fruit be in the vines; the labour of the olive shall fail, and the fields shall yield no meat; the flock shall be cut off from the fold… yet I will rejoice in the Lord, I will joy in the God of my salvation. The Lord God is my strength, and he will make my feet like hinds’ feet, and he will make me to walk upon mine high places.’
This bridge (even though a painful cry) is a miraculous one. Through this thin golden thread, we can be lifted above our age: elevated to the realm of grace where we can regain our strength and orientation. A lot, perhaps everything, depends on if Christian communities (the local churches) undertake this slow and challenging journey - as the process of their being healed into the Real God.
‘Art thou not from everlasting, O Lord my God, mine Holy One? We shall not die. O Lord, thou hat ordained them for judgement; and, O mighty God, thou hast established them for correction. Thou art of purer eyes than to behold evil, and canst not look on iniquity.’
We must cry (pray) to God in times of historical distress. It is His mothering nature that instinctively responds with liberating goodness. Crying to God when in need is the most fundamental language of the universe. The inanimate world, the vegetable world have been constantly crying to God for existence; and they are constantly kept in being. Why we humans don’t ask for God’s help and sustenance…even the whole world is collapsing around us?
‘This is the work of God, that ye believe on him whom he hath sent.’ Promises have a healing effect on us. A promise opens us a possibility, a new beginning. Faith in the promise of God is the greatest offer for us humans. This leap into ‘the Promise’ heals and purifies human history. The belief in Jesus’ Father that the gospel requests of us disentangles us from our past lost ways and failures. Through the act of faith – we can transcend the impasses of history and individual life. Faith and genuine freedom, our liberation, are intimately connected.
The only real Arrival (Isaiah 65,17-end; Matthew 3,1-14,11)
‘For, behold, I create new heavens and a new earth; and the former shall not be remembered, nor come into mind. But be ye glad and rejoice for ever in that which I create: for, behold, I create Jerusalem a rejoicing, and her people a joy.’
Isaiah’s speaks to us Christians with great relevance. We tend to read the story of God’s Covenant with the people of Israel somewhat from the ‘outside’. For whatever reason, we regard it as ‘a kind of past’… ‘which is kind of not ours’. The Covenant is somewhere ‘there’, outside us.
This is here where prophet Isaiah speaks to our heart. He is our prophet! He wants us to understand that God’s forming the historical Covenant is taking place right now. We should feel being part of this Covenant, this first gift! We are part of its creation: from Sinai to Jesus, it is one overarching, all embracing Love. We are part, right now of what happened to Israel, to their emergence as God’s people! This co-temporality, also from God’s perspective, is beautifully expressed in the words: ‘And I will rejoice in Jerusalem, and joy in my people: and the voice of weeping shall be no more heard in her, nor the voice of crying… And they shall build houses and inhabit them.’
Reading the Covenant as our present birth, we Christians, are no longer dispersed in an undefinable, ungraspable drift, our present exile, the world of religious indifference. Instead, we see ourselves at the heart of the Covenant. We are no longer dispersed local communities ebbing away from each other… marked by an unstoppable religious decline. The Covenant is not a remote lifeless story. God’s voice is no longer distant, but is the Lord’s historical coming - through, and from within our story.
Listening to classical music (perhaps true to all music), for me, illustrates this (re)emergence of the Covenant. Listening to the unfolding movements of a piece is about the emergence of order out of the chaos of millions of disordered sounds. Music is always ‘a Covenant of order’. Out of chaos and despair, God summons ‘his people to be’, united in a chorus of singers who rejoice over being part of a genuine unity. Bela Bartok’s Three Hungarian Folk Songs from Csík, and his Fourteen Bagatelles played by Zoltán Kocsis are a musical confirmation of the above vision of the Covenant. We become one with God’s offer in history, right now. Both Jews and Christians: there are no late comers. Again, Isaiah is our prophet.
The scene of the temptation in Matthew’s Gospel helps us focus on saying yes to God’s offer, a Covenant with Him. Satan’s temptation, his offers to Jesus, exemplify the ‘waste’ of those energies which are needed for forging this covenant with God.
Even more, we can read this waste of concentration as a powerful parable of the ‘cyber space’. Sadly, this has become a space of permanent distraction, the space of missed opportunities. Unstable, flickering images take up place of the only real Arrival.
‘I have trodden the winepress alone; and of the people there was none with me.’ The first meaning of this line is that God is abandoned in his work for Salvation. People simply forgot about Him and live indifferently to his causes.
The second meaning can be a call to Christians. They have to reignite ‘the spark of discipleship’ within themselves. This ‘spark’ of being a Christian is a mark in all of those who have been baptised. Being children of a previously Christian culture, this mark, is almost trans-generational.
A further third meaning of these lines is that the ‘focus’ on our service to God, good deeds and prayers must be conscious. We need to focus on what we are doing, we have to be aware of that we are doing this or that for God, as his disciples. Without this intent, God ‘has trodden the winepress alone.’
These are verbal Icons, expressions of how the world is seen from Saint Augustine's..