Thursday, March 24, 2005

Dead Sea Scrolls Exhibit

Sauntering through a few ideas again!

Currently there's a traveling exhibit of the actual physical Dead Sea Scrolls. From Mobile, Alabama, Barbara emailed me:
I was so overwhelmed ... I'm a very emotional person. . . I went through the DSS exhibit with the tears flowing. I have never felt closer to God than I did while viewing his Word. I'm struggling for words here to try to convey to you how I felt. I risked the wrath of the security guards when I reached out and touched the frame surrounding Psalms. I felt like I touched the hand of God.
Touching "the hand of God!" In 2 Corinthians 4:7 Paul explains, "We have this treasure in earthen vessels…" During the Coronation ceremony the British monarch receives a Bible, given with the words: "to keep your Majesty ever mindful of the law and the Gospel of God as the rule for the whole of life and government of Christian Princes, we present you with this Book, the most valuable thing this world affords. Here is wisdom; this is the royal law; these are the lively oracles of God." Touching the pages of scripture with our own hands, actually feeling the pages of God's grace-filled rule for covenantal living, together with the Gospeled Good News, in a hint of the way God’s incarnation in Jesus of Nazareth's birth, life, death, resurrection and ascension fully realized the Old Covenant scriptures; we can look at Divine history, wiseness, prophecies and apocalyptic visions in the same way we'd read a current book or magazine, in the manner we might surf and search the internet, and in a way concretely related to our actual everyday world.

On the San Diego Ecumenical Council's Faith, Order and Witness committee, our current discussion document is A Treasure in Earthen Vessels: An Instrument for an Ecumenical Reflection on Hermeneutics (Faith and Order Paper, No. 182).

Here's a free paraphrase of ideas I found on a site I sometimes visit:
The Church is in fragments; the contemporary situation of the church reminds me of our faithful predecessors in biblical times who carried their earthly treasures of essentials for daily life – water, wine, grain – in earthen vessels, clay jars. Sometimes one of those vessels would break, rendering it no longer useful for containing anything. Under similar circumstances, we would throw away the shards, but they found a use for them: with paper not yet invented, and papyrus expensive, they used the fragments as writing material! We call those fragments ostraca, and they still exist until this very day. We might say: "The jar is broken, long live the pieces!"
God chooses the Earthen Vessels of Church, Scripture and Sacraments to proclaim His presence in our midst, and within the physical pages of a book we find a living witness of God's past activity at the same time we discover hope for our future together: a Word of resurrection from death, a Word of Life! In the Reformation tradition an objective sign, the means of grace – Word and Sacrament — is enough for the presence of the Church, and the Holy Spirit acts on us – as in the relationship between Potter and clay – by our living in communities formed by Word and Sacrament.

In seminary I took a semester-long course on the Dead Sea Scrolls; our main texts were The Dead Sea Scrolls in English and The Dead Sea Scrolls: Qumran in Perspective [Fortress Press], which is out of print, but replaced by An Introduction to the Complete Dead Sea Scrolls.

Paul truly understood the Bible's proclamation: during the historical eras to which the Bible witnesses, a lot of people – just like many of us – had the basic and fundamentally incorrect belief being God-pleasingly religious meant doing esoteric rituals and chastising their bodies in extremely pain-filled ways, or they imagined religion and God were about spectacular demonstrations of the paranormal and out-of-the-everyday; they were more into the denial of life and the sensational than about the sacramental celebration of life. In the Bible's witness and in our own lives God performs many miraculous feats, but more than anything, our God, the God who in Christ Jesus continues fully giving Himself to us, is a God of constant, unmediated and unsummoned presence. Dietrich Bonhoeffer speaks of "God's unfathomable condescension!"

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