Wednesday, October 31, 2007

The Temple and the Lamb

Wednesday, October 31, 2007 -- Week of Proper 25
Eve of All Saints (All Hallows-Eve)

"Morning Reflections" is a brief thought about the scripture readings from the Daily Office of Morning and Evening Prayer according to the practice found in the Book of Common Prayer of the Episcopal Church.

Morning Prayer begins on p. 80 of the Book of Common Prayer.
Evening Prayer begins on p. 117
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Today's readings for the Daily Office (Prayer Book)

Readings for Wednesday of Proper 25 (p. 990)
Psalms 119:49-72 (morning) 49, [53] (evening)
Ezra 6:1-22
Revelation 5:1-10
Matthew 13:10-17

Evening Prayer readings for the Eve of All Saints (Hallows' Eve) (p. 1000)
Psalm 34
Wisdom 3:1-9
Revelation 19:1, 4-10

We have such sweeping, evocative narratives in the first two readings today.

Ezra narrates the completion of the Temple in Jerusalem. The work had been challenged by the local governor and authorities, who sent messengers back to Persia to ask if the rebuilding had the support of King Darius. In the royal records, they find the earlier decree of King Cyrus authorizing the project. It was the practice of Persian kings to encourage local tribes to practice their religion and maintain their regional customs as a form of maintaining control. He supported the Jewish rebuilding of the Temple and expected their loyalty in return. Furthermore, he expected them to carefully regulate their traditional property, using their cultural laws to maintain order, especially the peaceful transfer of lands from generation to generation and the security of important boundaries for agricultural production. Persian kings delegated these orderly duties to the traditional occupants, and supported their rites and customs.

Today we read of the successful completion of the Temple in 515 BCE, approximately 70 years after its destruction. Its size seems modest to my imagination: just under 90 feet long and high, a bit shorter in length than St. Paul's if my mind's eye is correct. The priesthood is reestablished as well as the Temple sacrifices. Now that the priests and Levites could properly purify themselves, the nation is able to celebrate Passover. As the account speaks of the keeping of Passover, the original language shifts from the Aramaic which it has been using since chapter 3 into Hebrew. The nation is reborn.

There is a phrase that sticks out to me like a complicated minor chord in the middle of a triumphant piece of music. It is said that the passover is eaten by the returned exiles and by those already living in the land "who had joined them and separated themselves from the pollutions of the nations of the land to worship the Lord." Part of what is happening in this narrative is a process of ethnic purification. The reforms of Ezra and Nehemiah will be opposed by many. The book of Ruth speaks for this opposition.

In the reading from Revelation, we have another kind of Temple drama. At the right hand of the power of God is a scroll. Oddly, it is written on both sides, maybe because there is too much on it, or maybe because it is a will. Contracts and wills often had a summary written on the outside. The seal would then only be broken open when the document would be put to use. It is an exciting possibility that this is the "will" of God.

We remember the scene from yesterday -- the heavenly liturgy with God upon the throne, the seven spirits, twenty-four elders, four creatures and the perfection of worship. Now a problem is presented. Into the idyllic scene comes the presence of human failure. Only now does the Lamb appear. The Lamb has been slaughtered. It has the seven spirits, the wholeness of the spirit, upon it. Only the Lamb is worthy to take the scroll from the right hand of God and to open the seven seals. All of the heavenly chorus sing a new song, "You are worthy to take the scroll and to open the seals, for you were slaughtered and by your blood you ransomed for God saints from every tribe and language and people and nation." This ransomed throng will have both political and religious authority, for the Lamb has made them "to be a kingdom and priests serving our God, and they will reign on earth." All the heavenly chorus sings loudly, "Worthy is the Lamb that was slaughtered."

Then the whole universe, "every creature in heaven and earth and under the earth and in the sea" join in the song: 'To the one seated on the throne and to the Lamb be blessing and honor and glory and might forever and ever!'" The four living creatures, representing all the created order sound the "Amen!" And the elders fall down in worship, as in a contemplative centered universal silence.

It is important to note that every order in heaven and earth, every person and creature gives appropriate praise to God and to the Lamb. Before anything else happens in the Revelation of John, there is universal redemption.

This picture of total victory has become more and more important to me. As I have experienced the glory and wonder of God and of the Lamb, Jesus Christ, that sense of total triumph has become compelling. It has become hard for me to imagine that God will lose anyone or anything that God has created. God created all, and said that it is good. God loves all. Ultimately, God will redeem and restore all. This scene in John's Revelation is one of those visions of universal salvation.



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The Rev. Lowell Grisham
Paul's Episcopal Church
Fayetteville, AR

The Mission of St. Paul's Episcopal Church is to explore and celebrate
God's infinite grace, acceptance, and love.

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Our Rule of Life:
We aspire to...
worship weekly
pray daily
learn constantly
serve joyfully
live generously.


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