the great one in the midst of you …

Every week, we are presented with a collection of Scripture, sometimes a semi-continuous progression of readings from the Old Testament, the Psalter, the letters and the Gospel; and each week we try to discern what they have to say to us in our present context.

Generally these readings follow the pattern of the current season, such as this season after Pentecost, with an eye toward what is coming next, as in the season of Advent.

With time, this progression of the Lectionary over the seasons becomes quite familiar – perhaps even comfortable; but sometimes it finds itself superimposed upon current events – events that are historical – events that beg the question, “What are we to make of our faith in these circumstances?”

Today, we stand in the five-day shadow of our most recent presidential election. I suspect, regardless of how we feel about the outcome of this election, we all have questions – and perhaps expectations – about what will happen next.

Of course we are familiar with the progression of next steps leading up to the Inauguration in January; however, what is less clear is how our expectations will play out after the 115th Congress is seated and the 45th President is sworn in.

While we are blessed in Sedan not to be experiencing the quite public vocal discord and demonstrations that some cities are experiencing in the face of this transition, we may be experiencing our own quiet – and perhaps personally disturbing – questions.

And all this late in the season after Pentecost as our Lectionary turns end-of-time-ish, perhaps even apocalyptic.

Today, to those for whom the outcome of the election is cause to celebrate, Isaiah[1] will resonate differently than for others. As for those for whom there is no cause to celebrate, the Gospel[2] may sound ominous.

Between these two readings, one of a new creation and another of destruction and persecution, there is a gulf – maybe even a chasm – of emotion. It is this chasm dividing the two sentiments where the Gospel invites us to direct our attention.

Jesus has just finished a grueling day of campaigning – if you will – a day of preaching, of confrontation, of teaching, of debating, and of story telling among his opponents and his disciples in the Temple.

As he and the disciples are preparing to leave for the day, someone – likely a disciple on whom the events of the day are lost – points out how beautiful the Temple is.

The Temple is beautiful, but Jesus uses the disciple’s non sequitur to remind us of the impermanence and vulnerability of our human institutions, “… the days will come when not one stone will be left upon another; all will be thrown down.”

This simple statement startles the disciples into asking when this will be, which is a natural enough response; but Jesus evades the question by describing the unreliability of signs.

He cautions that fixating upon signs will only terrify us and preoccupy us. Instead Jesus tells us to see the hardships and persecutions as opportunities to testify – not with our own words but with the words and wisdom that he will provide through the Holy Spirit.

What a frightening prospect! This is not something many of us feel equipped to do; yet there it is. Jesus tells us not to be afraid for “not a hair of your head will perish. By your endurance you will gain your souls.”

But again, my mind turns to the question of when, and then it dawns upon me that the reason Jesus is vague as to when is because the answer is now. The time is now and the current place is in the midst of the present chasm of emotion that separates those who feel victorious and those who feel vanquished.

We could dwell at length on our fear of the prospect, but in the interest of time and brevity I direct your attention to our Canticle for today, “Surely it is God who saves me; I will trust in him and not be afraid.” [3]

This beautiful song of rejoicing, of thanksgiving, of praise, and of joy is where – I believe – Jesus would have us place our trust so that we as witnesses of his love can reclaim the chasm that separates.

We, of our own ability, lack the skill to reclaim the chasm; yet trusting Jesus we know he will equip us with the words and wisdom so that none can oppose us. Therefore, we can reclaim the present chasm as that holy place of Zion. “Cry aloud, inhabitants of Zion, ring out your joy, for [even in the midst of your fear] the great one in the midst of you is the Holy One of Israel.”

[1] Isaiah 65:17-25.

[2] Luke 21:5-9.

[3] Canticle 9, The First Song of Isaiah, Ecce, Deus, v. 1.