God in a box
On Wednesday, our parish completed its Lenten series. We used a DVD discussion series highlighting presentations by Walter Bruggeman that focused on the prophets of Israel. The core of the series focused on seeing the prophets as "eruptive poets" who sought in their time to remind Israel of its call to life in Covenant with God, over and against a pervasive culture that sought to, if you will, "put God into a box." His talks cast light on an ongoing tension in the narrative of Israel's historical walk with God: if you live faithfully in Covenant, then blessings will follow; if you fail to do so, then curses. As we complete our sojourn through Deuteronomy, that if/then is quite evident in Moses' closing comments to Israel as they prepare to enter the Promised Land.
When we are with God in the desert, there is little to distract us from Covenant life. As well, being dependent upon God for water and manna in order to sustain life, it would seem as conducive to survival as much as maintaining righteousness. Moses is deeply aware that when Israel has land, peace, and security the motivations toward fidelity as found in the desert will fade. When Israel lives safely behind city walls, and when a temple defines (and perhaps confines) God's seat in the midst of the nation, the immediacy of needing a God who asks so much of us not only fades; it will inevitably distort.
Salvation is not found in high walls, or tall steeples. Peace is not found at the expense of justice. Safety is not assured when inequity fosters violence. Moses leaves no doubt that God is with Israel, and that God intends to remain faithful to the Covenant; however, there is as well an acknowledgment by God that Israel will not be able to maintain that same level of fidelity. What a terrifying "catch-22."
What does that mean for us today? As Christians preparing to enter into the pilgrimage of Holy Week, and as we prepare in our Bible Challenge to enter into the Passion narrative of the Gospel according to Luke, we see the increasing conflict between Jesus and the Pharisees stand out to me as a profound illustration of that tension-filled call to fidelity in Covenant with God versus the broken assumptions that our call offer us pride of place without commensurate expressions of mercy, justice and fidelity to same. Without those essential responses on our part, fulfilling God's call to Covenant, no Temple can stand and no nation will be preserved.
And with that call broken by our evanescent humanity's ability to forget struggle when wrapped in covenant, I am seeing the Cross of Christ as the great call to us: "Sleepers, wake!"