You cleft the earth
and streams broke forth….
You went forth to redeem your people,
to rescue your anointed one.
You tore the roof from the house of the wicked
and laid bare their foundation. [Habakuk 3:9,13]
In the middle of the night the Word arose and signs occurred which became the message of unlikely prophets and the testimony of transformed witnesses.
The biblical story is a twice told tale – two testaments that say two principle things – that Christ is Lord and that God raised him from he dead. Every word has been passed on, so that it will be passed on by living witnesses, for the sole purpose that we will in turn bear its testimony through our lives. Many words, many stories, but one message in stereo, turning what we believe into the obedience of our daily lives.
Indeed, every Sunday we proclaim in the Nicene Creed that:
For our sake [Jesus] was crucified under Pontius Pilate;
he suffered death and was buried.
On the third day he rose again
in accordance with the scriptures.
That all these things happened “according to the scriptures” is worth pondering. It has long been noted that Jesus death and resurrection do not take place in response to some straightforward prophecy or simple reading of the Old Testament plot line. It is true that the early Christians noticed many striking verses of scripture that illumined the manner and meaning of Jesus’ death. The passion story is filled with these allusions. But it is also true that these references do not paint by numbers what we see on Easter morning or predict, as in hindsight, what we see.
Our earliest brothers and sisters had made a discovery. They starting telling others what happened and inviting them to come and see. They started to tell the story “one more time with a difference” — and a sense of fulfillment and confirmation overtook them.
Jesus settled the contest between the Exodus and the Exile for possession of Israel’s soul, the perennial plight of Israel’s bondage and struggle for freedom. Where is God? Is God with us?
Every child of Abraham was aware that Israel had failed in fulfilling its destiny. After all this time, after year after year celebrating a Passover liberation – even after returning and rebuilding the temple – they were not free. Are we condemned to ever sing the Lord’s song in a strange land? Jesus rode into Jerusalem and forced the question between his body and God’s house. Where will God make his home? How?
Jesus, himself, would seem to be broken by the twice told tale of attempted liberation, being left for humiliated and crushed. The stubborn mystery this side of the grave? As long as death reigns, so will sin, and everything that divides us one from another. If forgiveness is real, and follows us into eternity, then would we not truly be free?
It would be Jesus who would say that all important third time: Shalom. You are forgiven. Let my people go! The new Israel began to realize that Jesus has not just mindlessly walked in the footsteps of the prophets and sages of old, but that he has understood Israel’s story in a way no one else had. Moreover, he has forgiven them and set them free.
The prophet Habakuk glimpsed a vision of a new Moses. Even more, he looked for someone who would lay bare the foundation. He longed for someone who would write the law on their hearts and truly lead them to the Promised Land.
In the parting of the waters, in the darkest moment at the end of a Holy Week, long after the cruel tale of the victim’s passion has been sung, when the vigil has run its course, after we have gone over the stories one more time — it is precisely here we see what God was aiming at all along.
Not surprisingly, the final Return from final Exile (O Death!) would be the root pattern of the early church’s experience, enshrined in its liturgies — in the ancient baptismal service in particular — that Christ’s death and resurrection is the Golden thread connecting with the elements of how God has always been trying to tell this story.
Christ our Passover is sacrificed for us! Righteousness and Peace kiss. Exodus and Exile meet. Israel lives! We live!
What a discovery indeed. May you and yours hear this twice told tale one more time — with a difference. May you come to a living faith, a wider love, and a greater praise of God’s eternal purposes. May you know real forgiveness and a lasting freedom. May you know that you belong to Jesus’ people and thus to God. And may it be no small thing that you understand that all this is done “in accordance with the scriptures.” That, after all, means that God has made you an everlasting part of that story as well…
Therefore, let us keep the Feast!