October 26, 2014

Lent: A Time for Praying with the Exiles

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O that deliverance for Israel would come from Zion!
When God restores the fortunes of his people,
Jacob will rejoice; Israel will be glad.

- Psalm 53:6

When we read and pray the Psalms, we enter into the prayers of David and the other psalmists, we enter into the prayers of the exiles who composed, edited, and arranged the Old Testament, and we enter into the prayers of Jesus the Christ, the Son of David, the ideal King who brought us salvation.

Tonight in Psalm 53, we hear the voices of those Babylonian exiles most clearly. In this psalm they lament the ungodliness of their captors, they lament their own captive condition, and they pray for God to save them and restore them.

All through the Bible, the theme of “exile” is present. The worst penalty imagined is to be exiled from the good land, separated from home, alienated from God, under enemy rule. So tonight, in Psalm 53, we hear the voices of the exiles.

Tonight we hear the voices of Eve and Adam, cast from the Garden because of their transgression to a life east of Eden.

Tonight we hear the voice of Cain, sentenced to wander the earth after failing to be his brother’s keeper.

Tonight we hear the voice of Joseph, sold by his brothers into slavery and exiled in Egypt. We then hear the voices of Jacob’s entire family as they are forced to resettle in Egypt, where eventually they become slaves to the cruel Pharaoh.

Tonight we hear the voices of the people of Israel, wandering through the wilderness until an entire generation died off, because of their unbelief.

Tonight we hear the cries of women like Naomi, who left the land in time of famine and suffered the loss of her husband and sons.

Tonight we hear the sad prayers and songs of David, God’s chosen king but also the exiled king, as he dwelt among the rocks and the caves while fleeing King Saul – David, who was later forced from his throne by members of his own family, exiled from Jerusalem.

Tonight we sit in silence with Elijah the prophet, who hid in the wilderness from King Ahab and Queen Jezebel, alone by the brook, fed by ravens.

Tonight we watch in horror as the Assyrians conquer and scatter the northern tribes of Israel, demolishing their kingdom and dispersing the people far and wide into foreign lands.

And then we lament as the Babylonians sack Jerusalem, plunder and destroy the Temple, and then take the people captive, transporting them into exile, where they hang their harps by the waters of Babylon, longing for home.

We rejoice when they return to the land by King Cyrus’s edict, but our joy is mixed. For tonight we remember that, generation after generation, other nations came in to rule over Israel. Though they had returned from literal, geographical exile, they remained captives and slaves in their own land under enemy rule.

And so we pray with them. We pray for an end to the exile.

O that deliverance for Israel would come from Zion!
When God restores the fortunes of his people,
Jacob will rejoice; Israel will be glad.

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And then we see a baby born in Bethlehem, the city of David the psalmist and hear that he is destined for David’s throne.

While just an infant, he and his family are forced to flee in exile to Egypt to escape Herod’s wrath.

For years, he lives in obscurity, until a man named John comes.

John goes out into the wilderness, near the Jordan River, the place where Israel first came from their wanderings and crossed into the Promised Land. He announces that the time has arrived. Israel’s exile is about to end. The Promised One is coming! John calls Israel to once more immerse themselves in the Jordan, to cross over once more from the wilderness of exile into the Promised Land of God’s Kingdom, to welcome their King with repentance and faith.

And so Jesus appears in public. He identifies with the people by being baptized and immediately goes into the wilderness himself to be tested as the people were in their exile.

After successfully resisting the devil and winning where Israel failed, Jesus begins going throughout the land, announcing that the Kingdom is at hand, the day of salvation has dawned, and that God has sent him to announce release to the captives. He shows this by delivering people from sin and sickness and the oppression of evil spirits. He speaks the truth. He restores life and health and peace. He overcomes the powers that hold the people captive.

Then one day, the tables turn and Jesus dies and goes himself into the ultimate exile – the exile of death.

On Holy Saturday, it appears that the captors have won and that there was one great power that Jesus could not conquer. On that solemn day, it seems there will be no salvation, no restoration from exile. I can imagine that Jesus’ disciples and friends may have prayed Psalm 53 that day:

O that deliverance for Israel would come from Zion!

This is Lent.

Praying with the exiles.

Recognizing our own captivity, our own exile.

Crying out with them for release and restoration.

Waiting…waiting…until it comes.

Comments

  1. It seems like only one post goes out by email, in this case the one about the new Pope. I have learned to go to the website to check for another post and this one was definitely worth the effort! What a nice way to introduce part 2 of my Bible study (the early prophets).
    Thank you!!!

  2. Headless Unicorn Guy says:

    So it’s actually OK to “Grow Up Martian”, looking at what everyone else accepts as Normal and Natural as an outsider looking in?