Tag Archives: exile

The leaves of the tree are for the healing of the nations

Then the angel showed me the river of the water of life, bright as crystal, flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb through the middle of the street of the city. On either side of the river is the tree of life with its twelve kinds of fruit, producing its fruit each month; and the leaves of the tree are for the healing of the nations. Nothing accursed will be found there any more. But the throne of God and of the Lamb will be in it, and his servants will worship him; they will see his face, and his name will be on their foreheads. And there will be no more night; they need no light of lamp or sun, for the Lord God will be their light, and they will reign for ever and ever. (Rev. 22:1-5)

Bible as Canon

The Bible as canon, according to John Dally of Bexley Seabury, provides a narrative arc offering salvation by helping us understand our place in the universe.

My notes from the first of three sessions of Fr. Dally’s “This Dangerous Book: Strategies for Teaching the Bible” are reproduced below.

The canonical story is organized into four parts: the creation of the world, the creation of Israel, the creation of the Church, and the end of the world.

The story begins in perfection, moves through imperfection, and ends in perfection.

Creation of the World

The creation of the world is characterized by intimacy, purpose, and naming.

The Lord God formed human beings and breathed life into us, invited us to name every other living creature, and walked in the garden with us at the time of the evening breeze (Gen. 3:8).

However, sin enters the story when Adam and Eve eat of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. We were under the illusion of need, the illusion that the garden and the intimacy and the purpose were not enough.

Humankind is “cursed” by having to leave the garden and earn the knowledge that we stole.

Creation of Israel

Following the catastrophe of the Exile into Babylon, the people of Israel looked back over their history and came to understand their origins in the Exodus from Egypt.

During the Exodus, God freed the Hebrews from slavery and made them a chosen people in special relationship with him. God gave them the Law to guide them in that relationship.

Over time, the people of Israel came to desire a kingdom and anointed first Saul, then David, then Solomon as their kings.

The Temple — built eventually by King Solomon — grew in importance as evidence of God’s presence and as the focus of religious practice.

The simple relationship of covenant with God was not enough. Israel labored under the illusion of need and created a Kingdom and a Temple.

Creation of the Church

Jesus came in opposition to both the Temple and the Kingdom, and the catastrophe of the Cross revealed the depth of their violence.

Jesus spoke of living in direct relationship with God, praying in secret (intimacy with God), and giving away the knowledge that the kingdom of God is at hand.

The Temple fails to bring knowledge of God, and its hierarchy exploits the poor. Likewise, the Kingdom of the world (in Jesus’ time, the Roman Empire) rules through military might and exploitative power.

As the Church becomes linked with the Roman Empire under Constantine, Temple and Kingdom become one. The Church continues to obscure the believer’s direct relationship with God and to exploit the poor.

End of the World

The story begins in a garden, but it ends in a city.

The Kingdom and the Temple (which were never God’s idea) are taken up into “the holy city, the new Jerusalem,” but John says that “I saw no temple in the city, for its temple is the Lord God Almighty and the Lamb” (Rev. 21:22).

In the center of the city are the river and the tree of life, just like in the garden … only this time, “the leaves of the tree are for the healing of the nations.”

The perfect creation of the Garden is restored to perfection in the City, and humans are reconciled to God.

“The throne of God and of the Lamb will be in it, and his servants will worship him; they will see his face, and his name will be on their foreheads.”

2013-10-12 16.14.55-2

Searching and fearless

Step Four
Made a searching and fearless moral inventory of ourselves.

“We want to find exactly how, when, and where our natural desires have warped us. We wish to look squarely at the unhappiness this has caused others and ourselves. By discovering what our emotional deformities are, we can move toward their correction … Without a searching and fearless moral inventory, most of us have found that the faith which really works in daily living is still out of reach” (12 Steps and 12 Traditions).

Notes from the first session of John Dally's "This Dangerous Book: Strategies for Teaching the Bible" at Seabury.

Notes from the first session of John Dally’s “This Dangerous Book: Strategies for Teaching the Bible” at Seabury.

Three weeks ago, I wrote about one of the central ideas from the class I am taking at Seabury this fall: that the Bible is organized around two 9/11’s.

The Hebrew Bible, in particular, came into its present shape after the destruction of the Temple and the exile into Babylon. John Dally suggests that Israel’s judgment upon themselves is that “it’s our fault.”

So mortals ate the bread of angels;
he provided for them food enough.

But they did not stop their craving,
though the food was still in their mouths.

Whenever he slew them, they would seek him,
and repent, and diligently search for God.

But they flattered him with their mouths
and lied to him with their tongues.

Their heart was not steadfast toward him,
and they were not faithful to his covenant.

(Psalm 78:25-37 passim)

Perhaps the Hebrew Bible is also, to use the language of the 12 Steps, Israel’s “searching and fearless moral inventory.”

Step Four concludes with this reminder: “Therefore, thoroughness ought to be the watchword when taking inventory. In this connection, it is wise to write out our questions and answers. It will be an aid to clear thinking and honest appraisal. It will be the first tangible evidence of our complete willingness to move forward.”

What the priest Ezra and the people are doing in this morning’s reading from the Book of Nehemiah is repenting of their sins and laying before God and each other their written confession:

You have been just in all that has come upon us, for you have dealt faithfully and we have acted wickedly; our kings, our officials, our priests, and our ancestors have not kept your law or heeded the commandments and the warnings that you gave them …. Because of all this we make a firm agreement in writing, and on that sealed document are inscribed the names of our officials, our Levites, and our priests. (Nehemiah 9:33-34, 38)

In a larger sense, the whole of the Hebrew Bible is the written confession of the people of God regarding their failure and their renewed desire to live as God intends, the “tangible evidence of their complete willingness to move forward.”

It is difficult to commit to a “searching and fearless moral inventory,” but I also draw comfort knowing that I am by no means alone in my struggles, that others have found a way forward into a “faith that really works in daily living.”

How do your prayers and your reading of Scripture both challenge and comfort you today?

Visions of peace

Four Evangelists cross from the Printery House

Four Evangelists cross from the Printery House

Therefore we praise you,
joining our voices with Angels and Archangels
and with all the company of heaven,
who forever sing this hymn
to proclaim the glory of your Name:

Holy, holy, holy Lord; God of power and might,
heaven and earth are full of your glory.
Hosanna in the highest.
Blessed is he who comes in the Name of the Lord.
Hosanna in the highest. (BCP 362)

Today the assigned readings and the canticles appointed for the day line up perfectly to create a single unifying image for Morning Prayer.

In the Book of Ezra, we read about the rebuilding of the Temple following the return of the Israelites from exile in Babylon. They are restoring the site of their worship, and with them we picture their prayers once more ascending to God, with incense surrounding the golden cherubim atop the Ark of the Covenant.

Glory to you, Lord God of our fathers;
you are worthy of praise; glory to you ….
Glory to you, seated between the Cherubim;
we will praise you and highly exalt you for ever.
(Canticle 13, BCP 90)

In the Revelation to John, we similarly see a vision of restoration, of worship to God in the heavenly City, the new Jerusalem. John describes his vision of a throne surrounded by 24 thrones, on which are seated 24 elders, in front of whom are seven torches and a sea of glass, and around whom are the “four living creatures, full of eyes in front and behind.”

Christian tradition has long associated the four living creatures — “at his feet the six-winged seraph; cherubim with sleepless eye” (Hymn 324) — with the four Evangelists: Matthew like a lion, Mark like a man, Luke like an ox, and John like an eagle.

In Canticle 18, we respond to the reading with the same song the angels and elders are singing around the throne:

And so, to him who sits upon the throne,
and to Christ the Lamb,
Be worship and praise, dominion and splendor,
for ever and for evermore.
(BCP 94)

Now, if that were the whole story, that would be enough — a nice symmetry making Morning Prayer extra lovely. Fine.

But there’s even more.

These visions of a restored Temple, of a City with the Lamb at its center, were recorded in order to give comfort to God’s people in hard times. The exiles were struggling to recover their sense of self, and it seemed like the grinding bureaucracy of the Babylonian empire might slow down or stop their building project. The early Christian communities of John’s time were beginning to be thrown out of the synagogues where they had been worshiping and to experience persecution by the Roman empire.

These are not just lovely songs, but visions of peace meant to sustain God’s people in times of trouble.

How will you imagine peace in your life today? What images will help you get through your struggles?

A Collect for Peace

O God, the author of peace and lover of concord, to know you is eternal life and to serve you is perfect freedom: Defend us, your humble servants, in all assaults of our enemies; that we, surely trusting in your defense, may not fear the power of any adversaries; through the might of Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen. (BCP 99)

Daily build the home I seek

building-second-temple-events

Today’s reading from the Book of Ezra features the laying of the cornerstone for the Second Temple.

The people’s joy and shouting is tempered by weeping as some of the older exiles remember the beauty of the First Temple. Those days are gone now, even though there is promise for the future.

That feeling reminds me of a poem I wrote on retreat many years ago about building a spiritual home.

Matthew 7:7 (Commentary)

Asking is not enough,
            says Bede
            the venerable
We must diligently seek

 Read the blueprint
           heart’s desire
Lay the first stone

 On stone and stone
           the house
           reveals itself
Plan becomes a home

I must lay my heart
           (rejected stone)
           firmly in place
Daily build the home I seek

Mepkin Abbey + July 1998

What animated Ezra and the returning exiles was a vision of restoration — a new Temple rising in the place of the old. Similarly, our Christian hope looks toward a new Jerusalem, the City of God which needs no Temple.

Getting there — arriving at home — will involve loss and rebuilding, weeping and joy, celebration and hard work.

A Collect for Fridays

Almighty God, whose most dear Son went not up to joy but first he suffered pain, and entered not into glory before he was crucified: Mercifully grant that we, walking in the way of the cross, may find it none other than the way of life and peace; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

The roads to Zion mourn

Twin Towers 9-11 by William Wray -- http://williamwray.blogspot.com

Twin Towers 9-11 by William Wray — http://williamwray.blogspot.com

How lonely sits the city that once was full of people! How like a widow she has become, she that was great among the nations! She that was a princess among the provinces has become a vassal. She weeps bitterly in the night, with tears on her cheeks; among all her lovers she has no one to comfort her; all her friends have dealt treacherously with her, they have become her enemies. Judah has gone into exile with suffering and hard servitude; she lives now among the nations, and finds no resting place; her pursuers have all overtaken her in the midst of her distress. The roads to Zion mourn, for no one comes to the festivals; all her gates are desolate, her priests groan; her young girls grieve, and her lot is bitter. Her foes have become the masters, her enemies prosper, because the LORD has made her suffer for the multitude of her transgressions; her children have gone away, captives before the foe. (Lamentations 1:1-5)

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In his course this fall at Seabury titled “This Dangerous Book: Strategies for Teaching the Bible,” John Dally suggests that the Bible is organized around two 9-11’s.

The Hebrew Bible, or the Old Testament, was compiled into its final form after the destruction of the First Temple in 586 BCE and the exile of the Jews into Babylon.

The New Testament is the record of the Church’s attempt to understand the disaster of Jesus’ crucifixion.

Notes from the first session of John Dally's "This Dangerous Book: Strategies for Teaching the Bible" at Seabury.

Notes from the first session of John Dally’s “This Dangerous Book: Strategies for Teaching the Bible.”

The passage this morning from the Book of Lamentations captures the despair of the people of Judah over the destruction of the Temple. In the juxtaposition of this lesson and the canticle appointed for today (Canticle 13), we can see the seeds of Israel’s judgment on itself — “God is worthy of praise; this disaster must be our fault.” An empire has crushed the hope of God’s people.

The story that becomes clear throughout the Hebrew scriptures is the story of God seeking the people of Israel and their turning away from him again and again. In the New Testament, we see the same story written in small letters, but on a cosmic scale.

The New Testament story concerns Jesus of Nazareth — “we had hoped that he was the one to redeem Israel” (Luke 24:21).

Not only did God come into the world he had created, but once again we turned away from him. Even when some came to accept him and place their hope in him, they had their hopes terribly dashed when he was killed by the Romans. Yet again, an empire crushed the hopes of God’s people.

In both cases, however, as John Dally observes, the people of God had their belief shattered and kept on believing.

Paul sums up the Christian understanding beautifully: “Just as we have borne the image of the man of dust, so will we bear the image of the man of heaven” (1 Cor. 15:49).

Though the Bible is organized around two disasters, they are not the point of the story. The point of the Biblical story is the unswerving love of God for the people he made. Just as the Jews in exile came to understand that God was with them in Torah rather than Temple, the early Church came to realize that not even death could separate them from the love of God or stop the plan of salvation that Jesus had set into motion.