‘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..