Wednesday, 9 December 2009

Luke 21 and the theme of resistance

Tonight we sang Holden Evening Prayer for the last time before Christmas. Quite apart from the wonderful music and times of silence and breathing that this simple order of evening prayer offers, the thing that strikes me time and again is how powerfully the Bible texts speak when they are not going to be commented on but simply meditated in silence.
This evening we heard from Isaiah 25.1-5 and then a long reading from Luke 21 beginning with the widow's mite and ending "You will be hated by all because of my name. But not a hair of your head will perish."
Listening to this text this evening - wonderfully and powerfully read by my colleague Theodore Gill - I was struck once more by how enriching it is to listen to longer passages from the gospels than are often read at public worship. I was also thinking about difficult issues in my own life, broken relationships, things that have gone wrong, times when I have felt if not persecuted then certainly harrassed ... this passage gave me great succour thinking about all of that. I realised too that any who in turn felt harrassed by me would also gain succour from this text.
So in the silence while feeling upheld by God I also felt deeply challenged by the text. All of us can be victims - life is like that. Victims of illness, of accidents, of war, of ideological conflict, of depression, of doubt, of violence. With the Advent candles glowing and prayers still waiting to be sung I pondered the ambiguity of life, my own potential to be an oppressor as well as a resister. Sometimes it's too easy to think of oneself as a victim. This evening listening to the the very strong words towards the end of the passage I thought about how much we all so want to believe that God is on our side, that we are right. Stig Dagerman would say that our need for consolation is insatiable, yet the image of God that comes across is that in both extreme and more minor suffering we will be endlessly and continually upheld. A God who believes in resistance and knows all about endurance. In the silence I found this not only consoling but comforting and reassuring.
I gave thanks also for a beautiful and reassuring day.

Here's the text that led to these rambling candlelit thoughts:

He looked up and saw rich people putting their gifts into the treasury; 2he also saw a poor widow put in two small copper coins. 3He said, ‘Truly I tell you, this poor widow has put in more than all of them; 4for all of them have contributed out of their abundance, but she out of her poverty has put in all she had to live on.'

When some were speaking about the temple, how it was adorned with beautiful stones and gifts dedicated to God, he said, 6‘As for these things that you see, the days will come when not one stone will be left upon another; all will be thrown down.’
7 They asked him, ‘Teacher, when will this be, and what will be the sign that this is about to take place?’ 8And he said, ‘Beware that you are not led astray; for many will come in my name and say, “I am he!” and, “The time is near!” Do not go after them.
9 ‘When you hear of wars and insurrections, do not be terrified; for these things must take place first, but the end will not follow immediately.’ 10Then he said to them, ‘Nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom; 11there will be great earthquakes, and in various places famines and plagues; and there will be dreadful portents and great signs from heaven.
‘But before all this occurs, they will arrest you and persecute you; they will hand you over to synagogues and prisons, and you will be brought before kings and governors because of my name. 13This will give you an opportunity to testify. 14So make up your minds not to prepare your defence in advance; 15for I will give you words and a wisdom that none of your opponents will be able to withstand or contradict. 16You will be betrayed even by parents and brothers, by relatives and friends; and they will put some of you to death. 17You will be hated by all because of my name. 18But not a hair of your head will perish. 19By your endurance you will gain your souls.