Tag Archives: Joshua

Being ambushed

Strap your sword upon your thigh, O mighty warrior,
in your pride and in your majesty.
Ride out and conquer in the cause of truth
and for the sake of justice. (Psalm 45:3-4)

In this morning’s reading from the book of Joshua, we have the story of the ambush of the city of Ai by the people of Israel. Joshua gives a sign, and the plan goes into action.

When Joshua and all Israel saw that the ambush had taken the city and that the smoke of the city was rising, then they turned back and struck down the men of Ai. And the others came out from the city against them; so they were surrounded by Israelites, some on one side, and some on the other; and Israel struck them down until no one was left who survived or escaped. (Joshua 8:21-22)

It’s a pretty straightforward description of the Israelites’ false retreat successfully drawing out the people from the city, then surprising them with a rearguard cutting the people of Ai off so they could not return to safety.

The only thing that keeps the ambush of Ai from being plain history is that the Israelites attribute their winning to the Lord’s leading.

In the Gospel passage appointed for today, we have the story of a different ambush.

While Jesus was still speaking, Judas, one of the twelve, arrived; with him was a large crowd with swords and clubs, from the chief priests and the elders of the people. Now the betrayer had given them a sign, saying, “The one I will kiss is the man; arrest him.” (Matt. 26:47-48)

Again, at the agreed signal, the victim is drawn out and encircled, and the ambush succeeds. But in a plot twist no one expects, Jesus doesn’t resist. “Put your sword back into its place,” he says, “for all who take the sword will die by the sword” (Matt. 26:52). He is taken from the garden by the religious authorities, and he is put to death as a criminal.

The only thing that keeps the arrest in the Garden of Gethsemane from being plain history is that generations of Christians have attributed their living to the Lord’s dying.

The mystery that Jesus reveals is that God does not lead us in ambushing others. God invites us, rather, to follow Jesus, the “Lamb that was slain,” in being ambushed, not “trusting in our own righteousness, but in [God’s] manifold and great mercies” (BCP 337).

A Song to the Lamb (Dignus es)
Revelation 4:11; 5:9-10, 13

Splendor and honor and kingly power *
are yours by right, O Lord our God,
For you created everything that is, *
and by your will they were created and have their being;

And yours by right, O Lamb that was slain, *
for with your blood you have redeemed for God,
From every family, language, people, and nation, *
a kingdom of priests to serve our God.

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.

Crossing over and abiding

Icon of Joshua by St. Isaac of Syria Skete

Icon of Joshua by St. Isaac of Syria Skete

Be strong and courageous; for you shall put this people in possession of the land that I swore to your ancestors to give them …. I hereby command you: Be strong and courageous; do not be frightened or dismayed, for the Lord your God is with you wherever you go. (Joshua 1:6,9)

In this morning’s Old Testament lesson, Joshua is preparing to lead the people of Israel across the River Jordan into the Promised Land. God tells Joshua to “be strong and courageous” and reassures him that he will be with him.

Similarly, in the Gospel reading appointed for today, Jesus is speaking to the disciples at the Last Supper as he prepares to “cross over” through his death on the cross.

“As the Father has loved me, so I have loved you,” Jesus says; “abide in my love” (John 15:9). Jesus reassures the disciples in much the same way as God had reassured Joshua.

We, too, can receive God’s reassurance and a sense of his abiding presence in our lives — by doing just what Joshua and the disciples did.

God says to Joshua: “This book of the law shall not depart out of your mouth; you shall meditate on it day and night, so that you may be careful to act in accordance with all that is written in it” (Joshua 1:8).

“This is my commandment,” says Jesus to the disciples, “that you love one another as I have loved you … I do not call you servants any longer, because the servant does not know what the master is doing; but I have called you friends, because I have made known to you everything that I have heard from my Father” (John 15:12,15). We read in the book of Acts that the disciples did just what Jesus told them to.

Their abiding love, their joy at having “crossed over” with Jesus into new life, was visible to the Roman society in which the church began to grow. Tertullian (c. 200 AD) wrote about Roman society and how they saw the early Christians: “‘Look,’ they say, ‘how they love one another’ (for they themselves hate one another); ‘and how they are ready to die for each other’ (for they themselves are readier to kill each other)” (Apology 39.7).

Cross over (with God’s help) into the new life Christ has pioneered, and abide in friendship with him.