The Book of Genesis tells us that, on the last day of creation, God made humanity in the Divine likeness and image, placing the earth and everything upon it under our care. Having done so, “God saw everything that he had made, and indeed, it was very good. And there was evening and there was morning, the sixth day.” (Gen 1:31) As I’ve mentioned before, there’s an important shift in this final verse of the chapter. At the end of each previous day, God had observed creation and recognized its goodness, but it is only this final act that somehow brings everything to fulfillment, that allows it to be “very good” in a way that satisfies God’s purpose. According to Muslim tradition, it is in acknowledgement of our place in creation’s wholeness that believers should gather together for congregational prayer (salat al-Jumu’ah) each Friday. Or, as the Qur’an puts it (62:9-10):
O you who believe! When you are called to the congregational prayer, hasten to the remembrance of God and leave off trade. That is better for you, if you but knew. And when the prayer is completed, disperse throughout the land and seek the Bounty of God, and remember God much, that haply you may prosper.
Similar to Jewish traditions of Sabbath or our understanding of the Lord’s Day, the Muslim community is called to set aside life as usual (“leave off trade”) and participate in communal worship in a way that both is set apart from time and anchors it. Thus, the repetition of “the remembrance of God” and “remember God much” in these two verses as the faithful enter into the practice of Jumu’ah and then return to the ways of the world. To do so is “better,” is very good, and it allows Muslims to share in “the Bounty of God” and “prosper” by participating in the continued enactment of creation. The entire Muslim week is defined by the rhythms of prayer, but it is Jumu’ah that exemplifies the purpose behind those rhythms. After all, we are made in the Divine likeness and image, and that creation is inseparable from our charge to care for all that the Lord has made in perpetual acts of holy recognition.
It is no accident that a gunman entered two masajid, two mosques, in Christchurch, New Zealand, today to perpetuate an unspeakable act of terror, killing at least 49 people and wounding at least 20 more. (That nation’s deadliest attack.) He and his conspirators knew well that they would be disrupting one of the holiest moments of the Muslim week. They knew that the masjid would be that much fuller for it. They knew the profanations they were committing, and they hoped to be all the more successful in their efforts to sow destruction and fear for them. It was utterly anathema to God’s bounty in creation, to our stewardship of the same, and to the very principle of congregational prayer. We are diminished by our Muslim cousins’ loss and pain.
Not that I think any in the Emmanuel community disagree with what I’m writing. But doesn’t that make it worse? We know that we are called to something better, and yet we continue to live in a world defined as much by violence as it should be by prayer. To borrow from this week’s Gospel reading, all manner of prophets continue to be killed in all manner of Jerusalems. We continue to stone those sent to us. It can be so easy to despair.
But we too are called to leave off the ways of the world. We too are called to remember who we are, to remember how very good creation can be, even at such times—perhaps especially at such times. The fundamental act of faith is believing that things might be different, better. So, I join with the Muslim community in Christchurch and around the world in praying, out of their tradition, for those who have died: “Allah! Make their affair light, render easy what they are going to face after this, bless them with Your vision, and make their new abode better for them than the one they have left behind.” At the same time, I pray that God might be gracious with us who have gone astray, with us who are left behind, that we might have the strength and courage to share in making this abode what it ought to be. I pray that we might prosper. Amen.