No profound thoughts or gnashing of teeth this morning. There’s simply relief that this is all over at last, and that we can get back to living and worshiping as we shiver in the shadow of tyrants. Our faith was forged in the shadow of tyrants: a shadow that fell upon the ground in the shape of a cross. We think these things matter because we’re surrounded by a culture that tells us so at every turn, but really only God and family and neighbor matter. The rest can make our lives miserable, ruin our economy, lie to us, destroy the institutions we hold dear, and even take our lives or liberty, but they can’t touch our souls.
We should, indeed, rejoice that the period of suffering and persecution is upon us, as the early Christians did. The Office of Readings this week featured telling sections from 1 Maccabees, in which the Seleucids order the Jews to violate their consciences and break the Torah. Some go along with it, and they are the shame of the Jewish people. But some resist, and from their resistance comes a restoration of the Torah to the people.
Then the king issued a proclamation to his whole kingdom that all were to become a single people, each renouncing his particular customs. All the pagans conformed to the king’s decree, and many Israelites chose to accept his religion, sacrificing to idols and profaning the sabbath. The king also sent instructions by messenger to Jerusalem and the towns of Judah directing them to adopt customs foreign to the country, banning holocausts, sacrifices and libations from the sanctuary, profaning sabbaths and feasts, defiling the sanctuary and the sacred ministers, building altars, precincts and shrines for idols, sacrificing pigs and unclean beasts, leaving their sons uncircumcised, and prostituting themselves to all kinds of impurity and abomination, so that they should forget the Law and revoke all observance of it. … Yet there were many in Israel who stood firm and found the courage to refuse unclean food. They chose death rather than contamination by such fare or profanation of the holy covenant, and they were executed. It was a dreadful wrath that visited Israel.
I have to admit that our subjugation would have been easier to take if it had been forced on us by a foreign power and not by the vote of people in the next pew.
As always, I return to the Psalms, which is where we will find our comfort and our path. Psalm 37 (36) was written for today:
Are you impatient, friend, when the wicked thrive; do you envy the lot of evil-doers? They will soon fade like the grass, like the green leaf wither away. Be content to trust in the Lord and do good; live on your land, and take your ease, all your longing fixed in the Lord; so he will give you what your heart desires. Commit your life to the Lord, and trust in him; he will prosper you, making your honesty clear as the day, the justice of your cause bright as the sun at noon.
Dumb and patient, look to the Lord’s mercy, never fretting over the man that has his own way, and thrives by villainy. End your complaints, forgo displeasure, do not fret yourself into an evil mood; the evil-minded will be dispossessed, and patient souls, that wait for the Lord, succeed them. Forbear yet a little, and the sinner will be seen no more; you will search in vain to find him, while patient souls are the land’s heirs, enjoying great peace…
Innocence, ill endowed, has the better of the wicked in their abundance; soon fails the strength of their arms, and still the Lord has the just in his keeping. Jealously the Lord watches over the lives of the guiltless, they will hold their lands for ever, undismayed by adversity, in time of famine well content….
Man’s feet stand firm, if the Lord is with him to prosper his journey; he may stumble but never fall, with the Lord’s hand in his. Now youth is past, and I have grown old; yet never did I see the good man forsaken or his children begging their bread; still he lends without stint, and men call down his blessings on posterity. Offend no more, rather do good, and be at rest continually; the Lord is ever just, and will not abandon his faithful servants.
Trust the Lord, and follow the path he has chosen; so he will set you up in possession of your land, and you will live to see the wicked come to ruin.
Yesterday, I saw the evil-doer throned high as the branching cedars; then, when I passed by, he was there no longer, and I looked in vain to find him. Virtuous and innocent men mark well; he that lives peaceably will leave a race behind him, while sinners are rooted out every one, and their graceless names forgotten. When affliction comes, the Lord is the refuge and defence of the innocent; the Lord will aid and deliver them, rescue and preserve them from the power of wickedness, because they put their trust in him. (Adapted from the Knox Bible.)
All will pass. All flesh is grass. Only the soul endures, and that only in faith, hope, and love.
UPDATE: We’re following up Hellstorm 2012 with Heckstorm 2012, so I may be knocked offline again. In the fallout from the election, I’m reminded that what matters is not rich powerful men in suits in faroff places, but the people in my family and neighborhood who had each other’s backs when Sandy smacked us down. We’ll do it again. No election will change that.