One of my favorite prayers in my Church’s tradition discusses the eternal changelessness of God. The prayer reads:
Be present, O merciful God, and protect us through the hours
of this night, so that we who are wearied by the changes and
chances of this life may rest in your eternal changelessness;
through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
The fact that God is changless is a hard concept to fathom. We cannot begin to grasp who God is, or what God is like. Our language and thought capacity fail us, though we try. I believe that the closest we may get to understand God is in Jesus Christ, God’s perfect revelation of God’s self to the world. In Christ’s life, passion, death, and rising again, we are made one with God. Thanks be to God!
Sunset to sunrise changes now,
for God doth make his world anew;
on the Redeemer’s thorn-crowned brow
the wonders of that dawn we view.
E’en though the sun withholds its light,
lo! a more heavenly lamp shines here,
and from the cross on Calvary’s height
gleams of eternity appear.
Here in o’er-whelming final strife
the Lord of life hath victory,
and sin is slain, and death brings life,
and earth inherits heaven’s key.
Words: Clement of Alexandria (170?-220?); para. Howard Chandler Robbins (1876-1952)
The final words of this hymn: “Love so amazing, so divine, demands my soul, my life, my all” send shivers down my spine every time I sing them. I think that this phrase perfectly sums up the duty of each Christian of committing one’s life to God in service, prayer, love, and humility. God’s love for us is unfathomable. It is a love that transcends all descriptions. We can only imagine what that love is like, which was made known to us in the life and death of Jesus Christ on the cross.
When I survey the wondrous cross
on which the Prince of Glory died,
my richest gain I count but loss,
and pour contempt on all my pride.
Forbid it, Lord, that I should boast,
save in the cross of Christ, my God:
all the vain things that charm me most,
I sacrifice them to his blood.
See, from his head, his hands, his feet,
sorrow and love flow mingled down!
Did e’er such love and sorrow meet,
or thorns compose so rich a crown?
Were the whole realm of nature mine,
that were an offering far too small;
love so amazing, so divine,
demands my soul, my life, my all.
–Words: Isaac Watts (1674-1748), 1707
–Music: Gilbert Martin
Then he said to me, “Mortal, these bones are the whole house of Israel. They say, `Our bones are dried up, and our hope is lost; we are cut off completely.’ Therefore prophesy, and say to them, Thus says the Lord GOD: I am going to open your graves, and bring you up from your graves, O my people; and I will bring you back to the land of Israel. And you shall know that I am the Lord, when I open your graves, and bring you up from your graves, O my people. I will put my spirit within you, and you shall live, and I will place you on your own soil; then you shall know that I, the Lord, have spoken and will act,” says the Lord. —Ezekiel 37:11-14
This hast to be one of the most fantastical readings in the book of Ezekiel, a book of prophesy and lament written when the Jews were in exile in Babylon. This reading conjures images of resurrection, foretelling the message that is to come in Jesus Christ. These words of Ezekiel still speak to us today, much like the words of the other prophets. They turn our hearts and minds towards the One who came, the One who will rise from the dead in everlasting glory, the One in whom ultimate hope and salvation is found.
Over the last few days, I have been attending an Episcopal conference called “Reclaiming the Gospel of Peace” in Oklahoma City. To get to Oklahoma City, we drove from Kentucky through Indiana, Illinois, Missouri, Kansas, and into Oklahoma. The drive was mostly beautiful. However, upon entering Kansas, we began to see signs for zones that had been burned…though not sure why. I believe it is called “range burning.” This was heavily prevalent in an area called Flint Hills. We drove through miles and miles here and there of grassland that had been burned. This continued through most of Kansas south of Wichita on I-35. And then, upon entering Oklahoma, we began to see lots of drilling machines…I’m assuming drilling for oil? I started to think about the fracking that I have heard has been going on in this region, and about the rise in earthquakes that have been attributed to this fact.
And I couldn’t help but think about the words of Isaiah:
The earth dries up and withers,
the world languishes and withers;
the heavens languish together with the earth.
The earth lies polluted
under its inhabitants;
for they have transgressed laws,
violated the statutes,
broken the everlasting covenant.
Therefore a curse devours the earth,
and its inhabitants suffer for their guilt;
therefore the inhabitants of the earth dwindled,
and few people are left.
The wine dries up,
the vine languishes,
all the merry-hearted sigh.
The mirth of the timbrels is stilled,
the noise of the jubilant has ceased,
the mirth of the lyre is stilled.
No longer do they drink wine with singing;
strong drink is bitter to those who drink it.
The city of chaos is broken down,
every house is shut up so that no one can enter.
There is an outcry in the streets for lack of wine;
all joy has reached its eventide;
the gladness of the earth is banished.
Desolation is left in the city,
the gates are battered into ruins.
For thus it shall be on the earth
and among the nations,
as when an olive tree is beaten,
as at the gleaning when the grape harvest is ended.
It is my prayer that in following Christ our eyes our opened to the damage we inflict on our land. As I have spent these last few days visiting these regions once inhabited by throngs of Native Americans, whose culture embraced the protection and stewardship of the land, I can’t help but wonder how our current society might learn to do the same. How can we learn to be faithful stewards of God’s sacred creation? How can we make our world a more beautiful place for our children? May God be with us as we encounter more numerous challenges that result from our abuse of this wondrous planet.
A week ago, there was a lot of rain over several days in Kentucky. On Friday evening, the rain clouds began to dissipate, and there was a momentary glimpse of the sun just as it began its descent back to the horizon toward dusk. I caught this image of the sun peeking through the clouds. It reminds me of our approach to Holy Week…the sun setting on the Lenten story as we approach the darkness of the Triduum (the three days before Easter). But even though we know darkness is around the corner, we know that in the end, the Everlasting Light prevails and death is no more. We know that the Sun of Righteousness will rise, and never set for eternity. As we wait, we watch and pray, and listen…
The Gospel story of Jesus raising Lazarus from the dead (John 11:1-45) is a strange one, for many reasons. What I find most strange, but also most interesting, is that Jesus is told that “the one whom you love is ill.” Upon hearing this, Jesus doesn’t immediately go to Bethany to see his friend…he stays two days longer with his disciples. Upon his arrival in Bethany, he consoles his friends Martha and Mary. He goes to the tomb of Lazarus with Mary and Martha, and he, too, begins to weep. Several times, the Gospel says “he was greatly disturbed.”
This Gospel reading gives us a rare glimpse of Jesus…a one in which we see Jesus’s humanity expressed in several ways: his love for his friend, his being “greatly disturbed”, and in his consoling of his friends, showing compassion for his friends grief.
I think in this story, we are shown that it is OK to mourn the loss of friends and family whom we have lost in death. But, we are also called to hope and joy for the day when we will be reunited with them in eternal life. We are called with Jesus to mourn when we lose a loved one to death, but also we are called with Jesus to be joyful in anticipation of the day when we will all be raised from the grave, like Lazarus, and reunited with our loved ones for eternity.
Peccantem me quotidie, et non me paenitentem, timor mortis conturbat me: Quia in inferno nulla est redemptio, miserere mei, Deus, et salva me. –Choral piece by Cristóbal Morales (c. 1500–1553), video below
While I am sinning every day, and yet do not repent, the fear of death overwhelms me. For in hell there is no redemption. Have mercy on me, God, and save me.
It’s a crazy thing to think about…all of the opportunities we have in this lifetime. All of the beauty for us to experience in God’s creation. Some people live their lives without a second thought of life after death, or about how the decisions they make in this life might affect them, or their neighbor, or the next life. Others live their lives in constant fear, hesitant to go outside of their comfort zones or even to leave their immediate communities. Yet others live with a balance between both of those realities. It is an eery thing to think about all of the opportunities we have in this lifetime…to think that when we die, those opportunities will be gone. What influences how you make your decisions? Do you think about how your decisions affect others, or how things might be in the afterlife?