What Shakes and What Remains and Consumes
You have not come to something that can be touched, a blazing fire, and darkness, and gloom, and a tempest, and the sound of a trumpet, and a voice whose words made the hearers beg that not another word be spoken to them. (For the could not endure the order that was given, “If even an animal touches the mountain, it shall be stoned to death.”) Indeed, so terrifying was the sight that Moses said, “I tremble with fear.”) But you have come to Mount Zion and to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, and to innumerable angels in festal gathering, and to the assembly of the firstborn who are enrolled in heaven, and to God the judge of all, and to the spirits of the righteous made perfect, and to Jesus, the mediator of a new covenant, and to the sprinkled blood that speaks a better word than the blood of Abel. See that you do not refuse the one who is speaking; for if they did not escape when they refused the one who warned them on earth, how much less will we escape if we reject the one who warns from heaven! At that time his voice shook the earth; but now he has promised, “Yet once more I will shake not only the earth but also the heaven.” This phrase, “Yet once more,” indicates the removal of what is shaken–that is, created things–so that what cannot be shaken may remain. Therefore, since we are receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken, let us give thanks, by which we offer God an acceptable worship with reverence and awe; for indeed our God is a consuming fire.
This was a week that shook.
In my immediate circle, the shaking began on Monday with news of a fatal car wreck, a suicide, and the death of a pet. All this amid photos circulating of all those sweet faces on all those dead bodies in Syria. The next day, down the street from my house, a man brought an automatic rifle and almost 500 rounds of ammunition into an elementary school. You might’ve heard. It is true that nobody was hurt. It is true that a brave and compassionate act likely saved many lives. It is also true that everybody was hurt. Children, teachers, parents. It is also true that many lives are, for now at least, wrecked. That kind of intrusion is crippling (and other students, in other nearby schools that were put on lockdown, understandably believed their own schools had been invaded). Antoinette Tuff’s courage should doubtless be cause for praise. It should relieve us that her breathtaking kindness exists in this world. Still, we tremble.
I heard the scripture quoted above at church this morning. It’s filed in the bulletin under “Lesson.” Not for anything could I tell you what the lesson is, but I’m pretty sure this week taught it to me. There’s a lot in those eleven verses. There is a mountain no beast can touch. There is blood that speaks a word that’s better than the word spoken by the blood of a man who was killed by his brother. What does better mean in that context; what is the word spoken by blood. The opening is especially uncanny in its long list of everything that is not, but that, seemingly, was, given that the last item, the voice, had hearers who responded. And then just when it seems all tidied up at the end with the comparatively bland phrase “an acceptable worship with reverence and awe,” we’re suddenly back in the fire.
After a sermon that, predictably, reflected on the shooting (it’s still a shooting even if nobody is shot), the children’s choir sang the Offertory Anthem. Which was so sweet, and by that point pretty necessary. Then communion. That wafer and wine is something I need as often as I can get it, given all that shakes within and without. To not need that often, or to not need it ever, seems… I don’t know, lucky (though of course there are other ways than the one that is culturally and symbolically meaningful to me. I’m speaking of those lucky ones who don’t need any form of whatever communion is for me). Would that the world could fortify me, but it can’t. Maybe my soul is too weak.
Then, as the last of us knelt at the altar and the rest knelt in our pews, there was a hymn, “What wondrous love is this.” It was a powerful, quiet one. I found a nice version of it here:
When I was sinking down, sinking down, sinking down,
When I was sinking down, sinking down,
When I was sinking down beneath God’s righteous frown
I don’t know what that is, either, in any way that I could explain it to you or myself. I don’t know in any kind of literal sense what it means to sink down beneath God’s righteous frown, or why it’s in the past tense when it seems like every week shakes if you let yourself feel it or if proximity forces you to feel it, but like the scripture and like the children’s voices and like communion I don’t think it’s any less true for being unexplainable, and that seems like enough for the day, whether it’s the end of one week or the start of another.