Birth of the Word in the Soul Part III

Luke weaves the events surrounding Jesus’ birth with the unbreakable thread of the history of the Hebrew people. Their story shaped their identity and it will shape Jesus’ as well. It is the touchstone around which his life takes its meaning. Their story will mark this Jewish man just as it marked the Jewish nation before him. He will come to know it well, to wrest it from misunderstanding, to reclaim and restore the living reality of its meaning for his people.

As Luke’s gospel unfolds, the infant Jesus is seen laying in a cave-like stable, near the outskirts of a town teeming with people arriving for the census, his parents and simple shepherds his first followers. But the shepherds are not the first to herald Jesus’ arrival and rejoice at his advent. Luke’s good news is carried first on the lips of a few old people and one young Jewish girl. They are the faithful anawim, the remnant of Israel, scrupulously observing the rituals and customs of their faith. Their faith will make possible what the world deemed impossible. The faithful habit of their daily ritual the welcoming dawn inviting into the world the possibility of God.

They are Israel now. They carry the prayers and longings of their people in their lives of fidelity and service to Yahweh. From the first, they recognize in these unlikely births the nearness of God. His Spirit will inaugurate a new age, the new age Luke writes about as if in code, like hieroglyphics on a rock face, the words and events of his infancy narrative taken from Israel’s sacred writings, writings his audience would recognize like a star pointing its way to a manger. Throughout is the confluence of what has gone before with what is to come. Luke binds the strong yet subtle thread of the infancy narrative to the history of the Hebrew people, evocative of the spirit hovering over the waters of Genesis, tracing the trajectory of the infancy narrative with the full sweep of biblical touchstones.

©2014 Cathie Horrell. All Rights Reserved.

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Birth of the Word in the Soul Part II

angel to Zechariah  John the Baptist stands at the confluence of the two testaments. The Hebrew Bible ends with the Book of Malachi. In Malachi, Yahweh is speaking. His are the first words of Genesis and his will be the last words in the final chapter of the recorded history of Israel. In Malachi we hear the Lord God’s last lament over his people, an impassioned reminder of what he has done for them, who he is for them and what he expects of them. He tells them he will send an Elijah-like prophet to turn the hearts of the fathers to their children and the hearts of the children to their fathers. These enjoinders echo in the angel’s announcement of John’s birth to Zechariah at the opening of Luke’s gospel.  Through Gabriel, Yahweh voice reverberates in his Temple, across two testaments, charging John even before he is in the world with the task of preparing the path and the people for the next emissary of Israel’s fierce, possessive, loving God.

As the second testament begins, Yahweh sets himself squarely in the midst of Israel again, making himself the architect of these two unlikely births. The Spirit of Yahweh inhabiting Luke’s gospel will overtake John, from the outset setting him apart. John will not follow in his father’s footsteps as a Temple priest. The Temple priests were hand-picked by Yahweh to bring the Ark of the Covenant to Jerusalem after David took the holy city for his people. Rather, John has been chosen to carry the covenant back into the imagination of Israel, to grow in the wilderness, raving like a mad man on the margins of society, a fiery prophet challenging, cajoling the Hebrew people. His words ring out much like Yahweh at the end of Malachi. Between the two testaments comes a yawning silence. But before his voice goes silent, Yahweh Sabbaoth entreats the tribes of Israel, who have strayed from the covenant, to repent and return to him so that he can return to them.

The prophets are gone. A remnant awaits. A child is born. A child who comes into the ordinariness of life, into the midst of a faithful remnant waiting for a messiah to deliver them from their Roman oppressors and reclaim the vision of the covenant, now imaged in the birth of a child. This child, Jesus.

From the moment of his conception, Jesus’ life is marked by many journeys. The first he makes inside his mother, when she goes to visit Elizabeth to share her good tidings. At the end of Mary’s half-day’s walk to Zechariah’s house, it is John in his mother’s womb who first acknowledges by his leap of joy the cousin for whom he will pave the path made of the expectant hopes of the Jewish people. The next journey Jesus makes is to Bethlehem, still safely ensconced within his mother, his father Joseph leading her mount across the rocky wilderness to a census taking and his birth. Throughout his life Jesus journeys toward each new horizon of being before him. But the journey that was his long before he came into the world, is the journey the Hebrew nation made as they crossed the wilderness, on their way to becoming the people of God.

© 2014 Cathie Horrell. All Rights Reserved.

Passover and Maundy Thursday

 Passover began this past Monday evening. During Passover, our Jewish brothers and sisters invite friends and family into their homes for a Seder supper, to celebrate Passover together. The Seder supper recalls  the Exodus of the Hebrew people from Pharaoh’s house of slavery. In preparation for their being led out, Yahweh gave instructions to the people as to how to prepare themselves for their flight from Egypt. It is also called the feast of Unleavened Bread because the people had no time for the bread they would take with them to rise. The name for Passover comes from the their sprinkling the blood of a lamb over their two doorposts and lintel so that the angel of death, one of the plagues set upon  Egypt to persuade Pharaoh to let the people go, would pass over the houses of the Hebrew people.

Jesus’ last supper was the Passover meal. Tonight Christians go to their respective churches to celebrate the Last Supper. It is called Maundy Thursday as it recalls Jesus’ washing the feet of his disciples before  the Passover meal they shared together.  The meal together becomes a sign of his self-giving, his sense of service to his followers. The Last Supper recalls the Exodus and the Passover meal Jesus shared with his friends the night before he died. The words of the Eucharist celebration are the words St. Paul puts down in 1 Corinthians 11:23-27 that he received from the Lord, and in turn passed on to you. They are the words that turned Jesus’s last supper, his final Passover feast, into the Eucharist, the Mass, as the Christian remembrance of Jesus’ Passover from death to life.

There is much speculation outside the gospels accounts of the Jesus’ last meal with his friends, as to what actually occurred there. The gospels tell us that Jesus knew one of his own would betray him. It would not have taken super powers for Jesus to know that there were those who were out to put an end to him and his teachings. He was surely aware that John, whose work he most likely took up after his cousin’s death, had been killed because he challenged the status quo both religiously and politically.

As a devout and faithful Hebrew, one very familiar with the sacred writings of Israel, he would have read, along with singing the Psalms, the story of the Exodus.  At the close of the reading he would have held the scroll up and said ‘this is the word of the Lord.’ Soon enough he would be raised up to the world as the living Word, the Word of G-d become flesh.

Part of the readings that night would recall Yahweh’s command to Israel in the Book of Exodus to perform Passover as a yearly ritual in remembrance of the day Yahweh brought us out of Egypt with a mighty hand. You will observe this ordinance each year at the appointed time. For St. Paul these words that Jesus’ disciples heard at the Passover meal with him would also be remembered as Jesus’ own instructions to remember what they did together that night on the final Passover he most likely knew would be his last to celebrate with them.

In the Passover meal Yeshua of Nazareth stands as the center point, at the heart, of the ongoing faith journey of G-d’s sacred people. The people chosen and meant, called to be his own. Part of the promise given to Israel was that she would bring the rest of the world to faith in the one G-d, the Lord of Life, the I Am Who Am.

Yeshua of Nazareth came to his own people. He came to a scattered and oppressed Israel.   His mission as he understood it was to the Hebrew people. We understand from St. Paul too, that being saved, saved from oppression, being set aside as a sacred people for G-d, would come to the Jews first and through them to the rest of the world.

Israel gave us Jesus. We believe Yeshua (which means Yahweh saves) of Nazareth to be the Christ. Our faith in Christ is also faith in the G-d of Israel.

As we all join this week in spirit if not in place to celebrate the Passover of the Lord let us remember together with gratitude the bitter tears and the suffering of our shared faith journey that transformed forever who we are, a people all, meant and sacred.  Let us remember as charged the G-d of Israel and of Jesus, who brought us from slavery to freedom, from death to life, giving us a way of being his, a way to  him.