We Were Not Made for Death - Joseph Wood

  Over the last few weeks, I've had Langston Hughes' poem "Let America Be America Again" stuck in my head. In particular, I've been caught by a line from relatively early on in the poem, when Hughes writes achingly about allowing our country to live into its potential: "Let America be the dream the dreamers dreamed." He will go on to recognize that "the dream" so profoundly birthed and held has often been just as profoundly unrealized--at least, beyond a select subset of the population. Many of the hands that have toiled to cultivate the dream have been denied its fruits. It's a painful admission, especially as we prepare to celebrate July 4th and remember when those early dreamers, our founding fathers and mothers, began to share their hope as more than just talk. In naming that juxtaposition, Hughes draws from a wellspring of religious imagery, carrying forward images that have passed from generation to generation through spirituals and other reflections of our shared Biblical traditions. In particular, I hear an echo of the psalm we read together a few weeks ago, but which has come up again in the alternative track that the Revised Common Lectionary offers: "I wait for the Lord; my soul waits for him;/ in his word is my hope./ My soul waits for the Lord,/ more than watchmen for the morning,/ more than watchmen for the morning./ O Israel, wait for the Lord,/ for with the Lord there is mercy" (Psalm 130:4-6).* Just as surely as the life of faith is one of disruption, like I talked about last week, it is also one of longing for something more. It is one of living resurrection, of knowing and naming how surely God will reach down to draw us out of our graves even when we can catch only the barest glimmer of that light.

  In the readings on Sunday, you would normally have heard a slightly different articulation of the same theme in the words of the Wisdom of Solomon (Wisd. of Sol. 1:13-15; 2:23-24):

God did not make death,
And he does not delight in the death of the living.
For he created all things so that they might exist;
the generative forces of the world are wholesome,
and there is no destructive poison in them,
and the dominion of Hades is not on earth.
For righteousness is immortal.

God created us for incorruption,
and made us in the image of his own eternity,
but through the devil’s envy death entered the world,
and those who belong to his company experience it.

Now I'm always a little hesitant about the Deuterocanonical books,** but I'm also not one to argue with the movement of the Spirit when our assigned reading is so utterly, painfully timely. (In fact, we'll use with yet another alternative in our services: Lamentations 3:21-33.) In the wake of yesterday's news from Annapolis about the horrific violence at the Capital Gazette offices, it is more important than ever to affirm that God "does not delight in the death of the living." Whether for our own assurance or that of our larger society, we must remember that God "created all things so that they might exist," and we are made in the likeness and image of the Divine--including our Lord's "own eternity." Only a few hours after the shooting occurred, I saw another priest post something about how the front desk of that building is left largely unmanned, and that this event should force management to rethink that decision in case of another such incident. Have we really lost so much sight of the dawn, of how gloriously we are made, that we talk more about next time than the unconscionability (even ungodliness) of this kind of "destructive poison"? I'm not sure it's even a matter of the righteousness described by the author of the Wisdom of Solomon, as much as it is holy necessity. How can we possibly recognize new life if we allow ourselves to become callous towards suffering and death? How can we share in the fruits of the dream if we cannot quite remember what they look like?

  I apologize if my words seem grim, because I don't mean to chastise or otherwise imply that there is only one kind of action required from members of this community, let alone believers more generally. We are all made for wholeness, and one of the most wonderful facts of the wholeness of creation is just how countlessly it reveals the love of God in all of its eternal reality among us. If that love invites you to protest against gun violence, may Emmanuel Church be a fount of solace and strength for your prophetic deeds. If that love invites you to seek and serve Christ in the refugees along our border, may Emmanuel Church be a fount of solace and strength for your prophetic deeds. If that love invites you to hold your family a little tighter or treasure your friends a little more dearly, may Emmanuel Church be a fount of solace and strength for your prophetic deeds. There are ways beyond any ability I have to name to live into what it means for us to be Christian. So, however you are resurrected in the midst of our struggles to let America be the dream it has always been, know that God is with you. Know that you are loved beyond measure. And know that life is short, that we do not have much time to gladden the hearts of those that travel the way with us--so be swift to love, and make haste to be kind. Don't worry, you were made for this.

 

*It could also be argued, perhaps more convincingly, that Hughes echoes my favorite psalm, Psalm 126.  

**From the Greek meaning "secondary canon," the books are a series of Second Temple writings and supplements to other Biblical texts that passed to us through the Septuagint. While they are not part of the Jewish canon--partially because we do not have access to the presumably Hebrew originals--they were eventually accepted by large portions of the Church. At least, they were until the Protestant Reformation, when Luther and other leaders argued that they were later additions outside of the proper Biblical witness. (The Roman Catholic Church and Orthodox churches still generally include them.) Naturally, the Anglican Church hedges its bets, and the deuterocanonical books are described in the Thirty-Nine Articles as: "the other Books (as Hierome saith) the Church doth read for example of life and instruction of manners; but yet doth it not apply them to establish any doctrine" (BCP, 868).