Today, in God’s Lavish Mercy, we pray with Psalm 87, a Song of Zion which imagines the future Jerusalem as the world’s center of worship.
The foundation upon the holy mountains the LORD loves: The gates of Zion, more than any dwelling of Jacob. Glorious things are said of you, O city of God!
Psalm 87: 1-3
For centuries, the Jews had been scattered through many alien countries. Some had lost their ties to their inherited faith. The psalm calls all people “home” to the worship of the one, true God.
Jerusalem is a profoundly unifying symbol for Jews. That is why it is so important for Jesus to “go up to Jerusalem” in order to accomplish our redemption. As our Gospel tells us:
Praying with these passages may seem difficult for Christians if we have no emotional ties to the city of Jerusalem. But for us, Jerusalem serves as a symbol of that stable and committed faith which allows us to live our lives in the pattern of Jesus.
We journey too, as Jesus did toward the fullness of life in God. Our journey takes singular steadfastness, just as his did, a commitment rooted in faith and grace.
Together in faith, we form a New Jerusalem, glorious in each one of us through our Baptism into Christ.
Poetry: A Sonnet – Malcolm Guite
Now to the gate of my Jerusalem, The seething holy city of my heart, The saviour comes. But will I welcome him? Oh crowds of easy feelings make a start; They raise their hands, get caught up in the singing, And think the battle won. Too soon they’ll find The challenge, the reversal he is bringing Changes their tune. I know what lies behind The surface flourish that so quickly fades; Self-interest, and fearful guardedness, The hardness of the heart, its barricades, And at the core, the dreadful emptiness Of a perverted temple. Jesus come Break my resistance and make me your home.
Today, in God’s Lavish Mercy, we pray with Psalm 87, allowing it to focus us on Mary, the Mother of Christ and thus of the Church.
With her “Yes”, Mary engaged the Spirit of God and, like the ancient Holy City, became a dwelling place of Grace.
Glorious things are said of you, O city of God! And of Zion they shall say: “One and all were born in her; And the One who has established her is the Most High LORD.”
In her book “Truly Our Sister”, theologian Elizabeth Johnson helps us to understand Mary as a companion, guide, and inspiration:
One fruitful approach to the theology of Mary, historically the mother of Jesus, called in faith the Theotokos or God-bearer, is to envision her as a concrete woman of our history who walked with the Spirit.
As I pray with Mary today, I picture her sitting with the young disciples after the mind-blowing experience of Pentecost. The whiff of Divine Electricity still pervades the room, still jars their senses to an indescribable timbre!
Mary is stilled with a silent understanding. From the abundance of her wisdom, gained in her daily presence with Jesus, Mary gently focuses, calms and directs these new evangelists for the task before them.
Mary is someone who has had her own “visitation by the Spirit”, many years before. Pentecost, for Mary, is a kind of “second Annunciation “. She knows what the willing reception of the Spirit will mean for one’s life.
Indeed, this moment – and their response, like hers so long ago – will bear God’s life into their world.
We call on Mary today, as Church and as individuals, to be with us as we are re-fired in the Holy Spirit. As we reflect on her and the way she opened her life to God, may we grow in faith and desire to open our own lives to the Spirit’s transformative power.
Elizabeth Johnson encourages us:
“to relate to Miriam of Nazareth as a partner in hope in the company of all the graced women and men who have gone before us; to be encouraged by her mothering of God to bring God to birth in our own world; to reclaim the power of her dangerous memory for the flourishing of suffering people; and to draw on the energy of her memory for a deeper relationship with the living God and stronger care for the world.”
Poetry: Annunciation – Denise Levertov
We know the scene: the room, variously furnished, almost always a lectern, a book; always the tall lily. Arrived on solemn grandeur of great wings, the angelic ambassador, standing or hovering, whom she acknowledges, a guest.
But we are told of meek obedience. No one mentions courage.
The engendering Spirit did not enter her without consent. God waited.
She was free to accept or to refuse, choice integral to humanness.
Aren’t there annunciations of one sort or another in most lives? Some unwillingly undertake great destinies, enact them in sullen pride, uncomprehending. More often those moments when roads of light and storm open from darkness in a man or woman, are turned away from
in dread, in a wave of weakness, in despair and with relief. Ordinary lives continue. God does not smite them.
But the gates close, the pathway vanishes.
She had been a child who played, ate, slept like any other child–but unlike others, wept only for pity, laughed in joy not triumph. Compassion and intelligence fused in her, indivisible.
Called to a destiny more momentous than any in all of Time, she did not quail, only asked a simple, ‘How can this be?’ and gravely, courteously, took to heart the angel’s reply, the astounding ministry she was offered:
to bear in her womb Infinite weight and lightness; to carry in hidden, finite inwardness, nine months of Eternity; to contain in slender vase of being, the sum of power– in narrow flesh, the sum of light.
Then bring to birth, push out into air, a Man-child needing, like any other, milk and love–
but who was God.
This was the moment no one speaks of, when she could still refuse.
A breath unbreathed, Spirit, suspended, waiting. ____________________
She did not cry, ‘I cannot. I am not worthy,’ Nor, ‘I have not the strength.’ She did not submit with gritted teeth, raging, coerced. Bravest of all humans, consent illumined her.
The room filled with its light, the lily glowed in it, and the iridescent wings. Consent, courage unparalleled, opened her utterly.
Music: Vespro Della Beata Vergine – Claudio Monteverdi
From the baroque period, Monteverdi praises Mary in his masterpiece, Vespro Della Beata Vergine commonly referred to as Vespers of 1610. The work is monumental in scale and difficult to perform, requiring two large choirs who are skillful enough to cover up to 10 voice parts accompanied by an orchestral ensemble. Here is just an excerpt.
Lauda, Jerusalem, Dominum: lauda Deum tuum, Sion. Quoniam confortavit seras portarum tuarum: benedixit filiis tuis in te. Qui posuit fines tuos pacem: et adipe frumenti satiat te. Qui emittit eloquium suum terræ: velociter currit sermo ejus. Qui dat nivem sicut lanam: nebulam sicut cinerem spargit. Mittit crystallum suam sicut buccellas: ante faciem frigoris ejus quis sustinebit? Emittet verbum suum, et liquefaciet ea: flabit spiritus ejus, et fluent aquæ. Qui annunciate verbum suum Jacob: justitias et judicia sua Isræl. Non fecit taliter omni nationi: et judicia sua non manifestavit eis. Gloria Patri et Filio et Spiritui Sancto. Sicut erat in principio, et nunc, et semper, et in sæcula sæculorum. Amen
Praise the Lord, O Jerusalem; praise thy God, O Zion. For he hath strengthened the bars of thy gates; he hath blessed thy children within thee. He maketh peace in thy borders, and filleth thee with the finest wheat. He sendeth his commandment to the earth; his word runneth swiftly. He giveth snow like wool; he scattereth hoar frost like ashes. He casteth forth his ice like morsels; before his cold who can stand? He sendeth out his word, and melteth them; his spirit blows, and the waters flow. He sheweth his word unto Jacob, his statutes and judgements to Isræl. He hath not dealt so with any nation; and his judgments he hath not made manifest. Glory be to the Father and to the Son and to the Holy Spirit. As it was in the beginning, is now, and ever shall be, without end. Amen.
Today, in God’s Lavish Mercy, we pray with Psalm 87 which is both a celebration of and a longing for God’s Presence as symbolized for the psalmist in Jerusalem, Zion, the Temple.
His foundation upon the holy mountains the LORD loves: The gates of Zion, more than any dwelling of Jacob. Glorious things are said of you, O city of God!
Psalm 87: 1-3
For the psalmist, who is in exile, Zion was the visible expression of God’s exclusive relationship with Israel – the longed-for Kingdom.
In our reading from Acts, the concept of God’s Kingdom takes a larger shape. Jewish Christians, scattered in persecution, began to share the Good News with Gentiles. Barnabas blesses this sharing. He and Paul spend a year in Antioch teaching these new Christians who will not have the same devotion to “Zion”.
So where is “the Kingdom” now?
Our Gospel shows us Jesus, walking in the Temple portico one winter morning. He stands amidst the very symbols extolled in Psalm 87. He points his listeners, who are still resistant, toward the only true “kingdom”, one he has described before:
Now when He was asked by the Pharisees when the kingdom of God would come, He answered them and said, “The kingdom of God does not come with observation; nor will they say, ‘See here!’ or ‘See there!’ For indeed, the kingdom of God is within you.”
Luke 17: 20-21
We know from the Beatitudes that the “kingdom of God” belongs to the poor and the persecuted:
Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the Kingdom of Heaven….. ……Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness, for theirs is the Kingdom of Heaven.
Perhaps there is a touch of biblical irony in the fact that our poor and persecuted psalmist, exiled from beautiful Zion, already possessed the “kingdom” within! But, without the benefit of Jesus’s teaching, it seems he didn’t realize it.
Do we realize it?
Prose: from Hans Küng
(For my spiritual reading recently , I returned to an old favorite Hans Küng, a revered Catholic priest and Vatican II theologian who died earlier this month. Word of his death took me back to my 1960s heady theology days.🙏😇)
Here are two relevant quotes to our thoughts on “the Kingdom” today:
The meaning of the church does not reside in what it is but in what it is moving towards. It is the reign of God which the church hopes for, bears witness to and proclaims.
Hans Küng: The Church
The kingdom of God is creation healed.
Hans Küng: On Being a Christian
Music: The Holy City, Jerusalem sung by Jessye Norman