Blessing in a Time of Violence

Ninth Sunday After Pentecost
2 Samuel 7:1-14a
Ephesians 2:11-22
Mark 6:30-34, 53-56

Which is to say
this blessing
is always.

Which is to say
there is no place
this blessing
does not long
to cry out
in lament,
to weep its words
in sorrow,
to scream its lines
in sacred rage.

Which is to say
there is no day
this blessing ceases
to whisper
into the ear
of the dying,
the despairing,
the terrified.

Which is to say
there is no moment
this blessing refuses
to sing itself
into the heart
of the hated
and the hateful,
the victim
and the victimizer,
with every last
ounce of hope
it has.

Which is to say
there is none that can stop it,
none that can
halt its course,
none that will
still its cadence,
none that will
delay its rising,
none that can keep it
from springing forth
from the mouths of us
who hope,
from the hands of us
who act,
from the hearts of us
who love,
from the feet of us
who will not cease
our stubborn, aching
marching, marching.

until this blessing
has spoken
its final word
until this blessing
has breathed its benediction
in every place
in every tongue:

Peace.
Peace.
Peace.

-from The Cure for Sorrow, by Jan Richardson

As I look around the world, it becomes easy to imagine that we might actually be unwitting characters in a scary, dystopian, end-times novel–one where everyone gets to define their version of truth, and the world feels close to spinning out of its orbit around the sun and into oblivion. Scary, anxious, chaotic, divisive, unjust, hostile, absurd. These are the words that litter my own recent social media posts, as well those of friends and family. The “othering” and finger pointing towards whatever group of people we don’t agree with makes the divided world of the Ephesian Christians in this week’s epistle lesson and their mudslinging accusations of “atheos” towards the Gentiles — that is “without God” or, to better understand the insult of the word, “uncivilized” — seem tame by comparison. I’m not sure when the “best of times” were, and these may well not be “the worst of times”; but these are certainly difficult times to be alive and to know what a posture of faithful discipleship looks like.

Pastors who have to mount a pulpit on weeks like these are likely to be met with some measure of scorn when they read aloud this week’s epistle lesson from Ephesians, with all of its perfect tense verbs. The dividing wall of hostility between groups has been torn down? Two formerly hostile groups have been made one? It sure doesn’t look like that to me, preacher. When we look at the world all we see is a bloody mess. The temptation to despair is real.

The English mystic Julian of Norwich also saw a bloody mess when she looked out from her little anchorite’s nest at the world. There was a literal plague raging. But also, in her Showings from God she saw blood, and that blood became a source of her hope. It was the blood of the world’s tragedies mingling with the blood from Christ’s open wounds and there finding healing. It was this messy vision of blood that gave her assurance that “All will be well and all manner of things will be well.” In Christ’s broken body peace was made for the world. In the middle of the mess, not outside of it.

Which means, for those of us who risk mounting pulpits and proclaiming “Peace”, that we need not be afraid to invite our listeners to engage the bloody mess that is the world. It’s what we see Jesus doing in today’s gospel lesson as he compassionately attends to to the unrelenting needs of those “sheep without a shepherd” who come in search of a morsel of hope and healing from his hands. On a week when the gospel lesson seems to shortchange the “real” story, perhaps we’re meant to see in these two snippets from Jesus’ ministry examples of what Paul calls the Ephesian church to in today’s Epistle lesson: to be a dwelling place for God in this world. In imitating with our own bodies what Christ has done with and in his own body–healing, feeding, teaching, sacrificing, embracing the ones on the margins–the world just might catch a glimpse of the peace it so desperately seeks. In these small acts of compassion, we remain faithful to our witness to the One who is true peace, the One who refuses any sort of false peace that claims unity without ever addressing our hostilities.

Until that day when the gap between the already and the not-yet of God’s kingdom is closed for good, it is we, the Body of Christ, who stand in it as a faithful witness to him who is our peace. We go towards the messiness, where the walls are built the highest and the blood flows deepest, and there we stand with compassion in the name of the one who is Peace. Peace. Peace.

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