There is much food for reflection as we honor Easter weekend in 2016. For most of us, I think there is little need to expand on that. The civilization flying apart around us is obvious enough. We know what there is to think about.
So I want to keep commentary to a minimum here, and just present a couple of passages to ponder. One is the poem written by W.B. Yeats in 1919, The Second Coming. He wrote it at the end of World War I, from the mind and soul of a shell-shocked people that could hardly imagine seeing anything worse than the apocalypse it had just endured.
The Second Coming
Turning and turning in the widening gyre
The falcon cannot hear the falconer;
Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,
The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere
The ceremony of innocence is drowned;
The best lack all conviction, while the worst
Are full of passionate intensity.
Surely some revelation is at hand;
Surely the Second Coming is at hand.
The Second Coming! Hardly are those words out
When a vast image out of Spiritus Mundi
Troubles my sight: somewhere in sands of the desert
A shape with lion body and the head of a man,
A gaze blank and pitiless as the sun,
Is moving its slow thighs, while all about it
Reel shadows of the indignant desert birds.
The darkness drops again; but now I know
That twenty centuries of stony sleep
Were vexed to nightmare by a rocking cradle,
And what rough beast, its hour come round at last,
Slouches towards Bethlehem to be born?
That was nearly 100 years ago, yet it resonates with us today as if it had been written last Friday.
The other passage is the 54th chapter of Isaiah. This chapter comes when Isaiah the prophet has been writing, since chapter 43, about the forthcoming “Age of the Servant.” Without further attempt at contextualization or explication, I commend it to your perusal. (The translation is the New International Version.)
“Sing, barren woman,
you who never bore a child;
burst into song, shout for joy,
you who were never in labor;
because more are the children of the desolate woman
than of her who has a husband,”
says the Lord.
2 “Enlarge the place of your tent,
stretch your tent curtains wide,
do not hold back;
lengthen your cords,
strengthen your stakes.
3 For you will spread out to the right and to the left;
your descendants will dispossess nations
and settle in their desolate cities.
4 “Do not be afraid; you will not be put to shame.
Do not fear disgrace; you will not be humiliated.
You will forget the shame of your youth
and remember no more the reproach of your widowhood.
5 For your Maker is your husband—
the Lord Almighty is his name—
the Holy One of Israel is your Redeemer;
he is called the God of all the earth.
6 The Lord will call you back
as if you were a wife deserted and distressed in spirit—
a wife who married young,
only to be rejected,” says your God.
7 “For a brief moment I abandoned you,
but with deep compassion I will bring you back.
8 In a surge of anger
I hid my face from you for a moment,
but with everlasting kindness
I will have compassion on you,”
says the Lord your Redeemer.
9 “To me this is like the days of Noah,
when I swore that the waters of Noah would never again cover the earth.
So now I have sworn not to be angry with you,
never to rebuke you again.
10 Though the mountains be shaken
and the hills be removed,
yet my unfailing love for you will not be shaken
nor my covenant of peace be removed,”
says the Lord, who has compassion on you.
11 “Afflicted city, lashed by storms and not comforted,
I will rebuild you with stones of turquoise,
your foundations with lapis lazuli.
12 I will make your battlements of rubies,
your gates of sparkling jewels,
and all your walls of precious stones.
13 All your children will be taught by the Lord,
and great will be their peace.
14 In righteousness you will be established:
Tyranny will be far from you;
you will have nothing to fear.
Terror will be far removed;
it will not come near you.
15 If anyone does attack you, it will not be my doing;
whoever attacks you will surrender to you.
16 “See, it is I who created the blacksmith
who fans the coals into flame
and forges a weapon fit for its work.
And it is I who have created the destroyer to wreak havoc;
17 no weapon forged against you will prevail,
and you will refute every tongue that accuses you.
This is the heritage of the servants of the Lord,
and this is their vindication from me,”
declares the Lord.
(Sorry that the quality of the video for “Awake Thou Wintry Earth” is poor. It’s hard to find videos of this one, especially with children singing. Happy Easter to ma Mère!)
Two brief comments about Isaiah 54. First, look at verse 13:
All your children will be taught by the Lord, and great will be their peace.
I recommend thinking about that for a moment. Taught by the Lord. I have thought for some time now that what we are seeing around us, and what many of us are experiencing within, is being taught by the Lord. It’s like nothing we have experience of in our lifetimes. I don’t think we have a living generation today that can remember it.
We have been taught by human teachers and a written word for a very, very long time now. Christians would reckon it at 2,000 years. And these have been good and blessed arrangements; I believe we’ll continue to need them.
But the tectonic undoing of the Western, Westphalian firmament is a tremendous moment for eye-opening instruction. And I know a remarkable number of Christians who see similar patterns, on a smaller scale, in their own lives. (It doesn’t necessarily feel small, of course!)
They’re being challenged to expand their faith and their understanding of God beyond anything they would have imagined 20 years ago. They know we stand on a precipice, but they can’t see over it. They can’t see the way ahead. But they know God is leading them from one lesson to the next.
Now consider the end-state for the children who are taught by the Lord:
…and great will be their peace.
Just think about that.
Yeats’s poem strikes a powerful chord. The sentiment it evokes is very real and present. Yet there is an end-state to the tempest-tossed process of being taught by the Lord – and it is peace.
This is paramount: I think Isaiah 54 tells us not to think too small about what that peace entails. Christians know what victory we believe makes this whole, mighty reconciliation possible. We celebrate it on Sunday morning. Did it buy us small possibilities? Or did it buy us big ones?
Easter morning is about “mercy triumphing over judgment” (James 2:13). You and I know how much we deserve judgment. But judgment is not our fate. Will we let God teach us – or will we tell Him, out of our centuries of complacent certainty, whom He must judge, and how much mercy He can show?
Welcome, happy morning, age to age shall say. A Happy and Blessed Easter to all in LU Nation.
(Note for those wondering: Passover is offset from Easter by a month this year, due to the “leap month” in the Jewish lunar calendar. Passover will begin on 22 April. We’ll hold the Passover greetings to our Jewish friends until then.)