Sometimes you just have to laugh at life, and life in the Church is no exception. We had one of those moments this past Sunday after the Zephaniah reading. For those of you on Track 1 of the RCL or in case you don’t remember, the lesson from Zephaniah for Proper 28A includes this gem of a line, “I will bring such distress upon people that they shall walk like the blind; because they have sinned against the LORD, their blood shall be poured out like dust, and their flesh like dung.” After eight tough verses of judgement and condemnation, the lector concluded the lesson with the familiar Prayer Book phrase, “The Word of the Lord.” Without hesitation, at all three services on Sunday, the congregation replied, “Thanks be to God.”
Thanks be to God!?!? Really? Were you not paying attention? The reading said that the Lord would pour out people’s flesh like dung for God’s sake. Thanks be to God?!?!
Well, yes actually. You see without judgement, there is no grace. One can not be forgiven if there is no need of forgiveness. So, as is the case so often in the prophets, judgement is pronounced by Zephaniah in as stark a terms as possible. If this didn’t get the people’s attention, nothing would. Knowing that judgement always precedes grace, we are able to, even if it is through gritted teeth say, “thanks be to God.”
And while it is dangerous to jump between books of the Bible, the Lectionary offers a gift for those who are paying attention in the Ezekiel lesson for Christ the King. In his pronouncement of calamity, Zephaniah tells of the day of judgement, “That day will be a day of wrath, a day of distress and anguish, a day of ruin and devastation, a day of darkness and gloom, a day of clouds and thick darkness, a day of trumpet blast and battle cry against the fortified cities and against the lofty battlements.” Ezekiel, in his promise of redemption, uses this word of grace, “I will rescue them from all the places to which they have been scattered on a day of clouds and thick darkness.”
For all those who felt just a wee-bit uncomfortable saying “thanks be to God” last Sunday, your gift this week is the fulfillment of the judgement and grace cycle. Yes, there are consequences to our actions. AND. Yes, God forgives.
Thanks be to God!