Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Falls

Wednesday, March 19 -- Wednesday in Holy Week

Today's Readings for the Daily Office (Book of Common Prayer, page 957)
Psalms 55 (morning) 74 (evening)
Lamentations 2:1-9
2 Corinthians 1:23 - 2:11
Mark 12:1-11

Sometime in the wake of the establishment of David's monarchy and the golden days of his son Solomon's reign, with the building of the first Jerusalem Temple, it became a part of orthodox or conventional religious belief that God's covenant with David and the Temple was permanent: the scepter would never pass from David's line; the Temple, God's footstool, would stand forever. God had fulfilled the promises and hopes of the Exodus from Egypt by establishing Israel in the Promised Land so wonderfully, that it became impossible to imagine the opposite scenario.

Part of what makes the Lamentations so tragic and sad is the utter incredulity of the situation. God "has humiliated daughter Zion!" destroying without mercy, the poet exclaims. The poet imagines God using the right hand, the hand that carries the weapon in warfare, to loose deadly arrows upon God's people like they were God's enemy. The poet speaks the unimaginable: it is God who has destroyed city, Temple, people, priests, prophets and king. The poet laments.

How amazing is this writer's trust. Faced with the destruction of his civilization, he doesn't blame an enemy. He blames his own people and their failure even as he credits God with the destructive acts. He cries out to God in profound grief.

The early church has a similar interpretation. Mark's Gospel is written sometime during or after the Jewish rebellion against Rome, a rebellion that was put down violently with the destruction of the second Temple and much of Jerusalem. Again, God did not bring triumph to God's people, but rather ruin. The parable of the vineyard, whatever its original version, became a metaphor for the church's interpretation of that tragedy. Echoing the earlier interpretations of the fall of the first Temple, the parable credits God with destroying the vineyard and giving it to others. The cause of this catastrophe, the tenants killed the beloved son. It closes with one of the early church's favorite quotes from the Psalms: "The stone that the builders rejected has become the cornerstone." The vineyard, the parable claims, has been given to new owners, the followers of the beloved Son.

Living in these days when the United States is the pre-eminent Empire in the world, when there is no military or economic power that compares with us, it is easy to adopt triumphalist attitudes. We are God's chosen. We are the blessed nation. God made us this great. God will continue to sustain us. Who dares challenge us? We will smash them, in God's name.

Might we be as blind as Solomon's generation or as the "tenants" of Jesus' generation. How might we be angering God? How might we be participating in our own downfall? How might we be rejecting the stone that should be a cornerstone?

Usually it is the prophets who speak to us of our failure and unfaithfulness. The prophets generally rail against corruption, greed and immorality, especially among the powerful. They afflict the comfortable and comfort the afflicted. They warn leaders who put their trust in military might rather than in God. They demand justice, especially for the weak, poor, widowed, orphan and alien. They announce when the earth itself rebels because of injustice, and the dependability of the agricultural cycle becomes disrupted. Religiosity without just action will do no good. They declare the expectations of God: "to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God." And they demand that "justice roll-down like water and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream."

The prophets speak in God's name, "Thus says the Lord," if you do not change your ways, God will bring judgment and catastrophe upon you. The experiences of the sixth century BCE and first century CE should be sobering and humbling. Pride goeth before the fall.

Lowell
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About Morning Reflections
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

An online resource for praying the Daily Office is found at www.missionstclare.com
Another form of the office from Phyllis Tickle's "Divine Hours" is available on our partner web site www.ExploreFaith.org at this location -- http://explorefaith.org/prayer/fixed/index.html


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

Visit our web site at www.stpaulsfay.org

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

Lowell Grisham, Rector
St. Paul's Episcopal Church
Fayetteville, Arkansas

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