Thursday, April 13, 2006

Yahweh, Exodus, Amos; Maundy Thursday 2006

Lining out Yahweh's universalism in chapter 7 - "Exodus in the Plural" - of Texts That Linger, Words That Explode, Walter Brueggemann cites Amos 9:7.
"Are you not like the people of Ethiopia to Me,
O children of Israel?" says the LORD.
"Did I not bring up Israel from the land of Egypt,
The Philistines from Caphtor,
And the Syrians from Kir?" [NKJV]

9:7 "Are ye not as children of the Ethiopians unto me, O children of Israel? saith the LORD. Have not I brought up Israel out of the land of Egypt? and the Philistines from Caphtor, and the Syrians from Kir?" [KJV]

9:7 Are ye not as the children of the Ethiopians unto Me, O children of Israel? saith HaShem. Have not I brought up Israel out of the land of Egypt, and the Philistines from Caphtor, and Aram from Kir? [JPS Tanakh]
Universalism, as contrasted with possible (possible? More like frequent!) particularism in the situations of both Israel and the Church. Exegeting 9:7 and Amos' entire enterprise, rather than a unique God (Yahweh) of a unique people (Israel), Brueggemann suggests the God Self-revealed as Yahweh to the people who became Israel had, has and will have parallel histories with other, foreign(!) peoples. Amos specifically mentions African and Middle-Eastern people, who can serve as symbols for other non-synagogue, non-church populations. After all, because this ever-living God without physical or any other particular genealogy creates humanity in his own image, necessarily he will relate to and liberate not just a single ethnically distinct group, but many diverse others, too. Because Yahweh-Elohim longingly, passionately reaches out (to run with another dimension of the familiar spatial imagery: down!?) to encounter individuals into personhood and community, why would Yahweh not self-reveal with a name meaningful to and expressible by non-Semitic speakers?

God's initiative... remember, Moses' people had no knowledge of the Genesis narratives about Abraham, Isaac, Jacob and their God, so they could not help but be clueless about Yahwism; in addition, raised as a Prince of Egypt, Moses had no knowledge of and therefore no way of proclaiming any other small-g god or gods to his charges. In plain language (English, this time), Yahweh is the God who answers prayer no matter what, not solely particular kinds of prayers of particular persons.

As the ultimate first responder, God always Self-reveals first; despite the people of his creation imagining they could ascend to heaven, God always descends to bring them up to heaven. In response to any cry of enslavement, addiction, desperation and pain, God declares any oppressed person, individual or people "My people!" In simple (economic again!) terms, God possesses, owns, owes, "oughts" obligates Godself to broken creation, actually to all creation, shattered or whole... God places Godself in a position of indebtedness and then more than repays those debts, (financial!) obligations.

A thread of the literally vital necessity of forgiveness (debt repayment) runs through many biblical texts, as we learn about our obligation to forgive each other and about God's all-merciful forgiving nature and attitude toward us. The Tanakh lays out the complex sacrificial requirements for appeasing heaven to gain forgiveness—or, in biblical terms, not for us to gain forgiveness but for heaven to grant it! Throughout the bible's witness, debt and sin essentially are synonymous.

Yahweh's name is Liberator; this Yahweh's activity is liberation. In the New Covenant scriptures we meet Jesus/Joshua named Savior. I love quoting WB—"this baby name Save!" Jesus of Nazareth, who excludes no one from his Welcome Table. After all, the feast could not be truly eschatological without all creation present, could it?! Leading to...

Maundy Thursday, April 13, 2006

This week every day at noon, some of us have been gathering around Word and Sacrament. The journey to the cross has felt real—starting Monday, with the palms from last Sunday's triumphal entry beginning to rot and stink, through each day's increasingly solemn music and preaching. Then finally, this evening we celebrated what for me is the year's liturgical highlight. Back in inner-city Boston, we'd sometimes sing:

I'm gonna sit at the welcome table
I'm gonna sit at the welcome table, one of these days
I'm gonna eat at the welcome table, one of these days!
I'm gonna eat at the welcome table,
I'm gonna feast on milk and honey,
I'm gonna feast on milk and honey, one of these days!

I'm going to eat at the welcome table
Oh, yes, we did! And we will again!

Graham Kendrick, Knowing You:
"To be found my Lord, in a death like yours—so to live with you and never die..."
From the Magi's story in the Birth trilogy of The Magnificent Defeat by Frederick Buechner:
"And now, friends, I will ask you a terrible question, and, God knows, I ask it of myself as well.

"Is the truth beyond all truths—beyond the stars—just this: That to live without Him is the real death; that to die with Him is the only Life?"

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