Words of Comfort

We have done a lot of damage to the words of the Church.  Evangelism now conjures up images of firey preachers with megaphones, yelling about the damnation of all who disagree with them.  Grace is this cloyingly sweet concept that God’s love for creation means we can do whatever we want, with impunity.  Come to think of it, we’ve done similar damage to the first amendment to the United States Constitution, but I digress.  Perhaps the most violence beset upon a churchy word in 21st century America has been inflicted upon the word prophet.  Both sides, if there is such a thing, have used this word to assert their authority over the other.  On the left, there are plenty of self-proclaimed prophets willing to decry everything the Republican Party says and does.  On the right, similarly self-proclaimed prophets are quick to get up in arms about whatever bleeding heart liberals might be fighting for.  Neither, it would seem, quite have it.

A prophet is never, and can never, be self-proclaimed.  God always appoints the prophets because what makes a prophet isn’t opinions or motives or prognostactive ability.  What makes a prophet a prophet is that they serve as the mouth piece of God.  Sometimes, those words can be harsh.  In today’s Daily Office lesson from Amos, we hear God’s word of judgment and subsequent punishment.  Other times, the word a prophet is called to bring is a word of comfort and hope.  This is the case in the Old Testament Lesson for Advent 2B.  After a period of punishment and exile, the time has come for the fortunes of Israel to be restored.  God, speaking to the angelic council, allows the prophet to overhear this word of salvation and restoration.

Comfort, O comfort my people,
says your God.
Speak tenderly to Jerusalem,
and cry to her
that she has served her term,
that her penalty is paid,
that she has received from the Lord‘s hand
double for all her sins.

Maybe it is the forty-three weeks of apocalyptic parables we’ve heard of late, but I feel ready for a word of hope; a message of comfort.  Perhaps I’m projecting, but I feel like we might all be in need of a prophetic word of consolation.

Every three years, when Isaiah 40 comes around on Advent 2, I’m grateful for its words of comfort and for my friend John Talbert, who took these words, paraphrased in Hymn 67 of our Hymnal, and performed them beautifully.  As the week begins, with two funerals headed our way, you’ll find me listening to John’s version of “Comfort, comfort ye my people” on repeat, giving thanks for a prophetic oracle of consolation and hope.

Comfort, Comfort Ye My People from John Talbert on Vimeo.



God in man made manifest

The Season of Epiphany isn’t known for its music.  Of course, we all know and love “We three kings”, but a quick scan of the rest of the Epiphany section of the Hymnal 1982 leaves a lot to be desired, except for hymn number 135 which has a lot going for it.  First, it was harmonized by J.S. Bach.  Second, the first three verses were written by noted bishop, scholar, and poet The Right Reverend Christopher Wordsworth.  Third, the final verse was added by a fellow VTS alum, an architect of not one, but two of the sanctioned hymnals of The Episcopal Church (1940 and 1982), and an advisor to the authors of the 1979 Book of Common Prayer, F. Bland Tucker.  Fourth, since we take hymn titles from their first lines, it gets a killer title, “Songs of thankfulness and praise.”  Last, but not least, is the great phrase that ends all four verses and makes up the title of this post, “God in man made manifest.”  What a great use of alliteration.

What does an Epiphany hymn have to do with the readings for Easter 6A?  I’m glad you asked.  At the very end of this Sunday’s Gospel lesson, Jesus makes a promise to his disciples.  “They who have my commandments and keep them are those who love me; and those who love me will be loved by my Father, and I will love them and reveal myself to them” (John 14.21).  That word, “reveal,” struck me this morning: probably because I’m preparing for a Bible Study on the Ascension next week.  I was thinking about what it looks like to have Jesus reveal himself to me, when I went to Bibleworks and noticed the more traditional translation of “manifest,” which in turn, took me to my hymnal.

It makes sense to read the last phrase in hymn #135 as God becoming manifest in the man [person] of Jesus, but when it gets muddled up with John 14:21, I started to think about how God is made manifest in [hu]man[kind] on an ongoing basis.  Or as another hymn puts it, “Where charity and love dwell, God himself is there” (Hymn 606, The Hymnal 1982).

God is manifest in the good works of his disciples.  God is manifest in the actions of those who love him.  God is manifest in the keeping of his commandment to love.  Even as Jesus is no longer on earth, God continues to be manifest in men and women who do his work in the world, and for every one of them, famous or known to God alone, who has worked to bring the Kingdom to earth, “let anthems be to thee addressed, God in man made manifest.”