This blog provides a meditation on the Episcopal daily readings along with a headline from world news:
Rwandan Heroes who saved lives meet in London(Guardian Story)
1 Samuel 7:2-17
2 From the day that the ark was lodged at Kiriath-jearim, a long time passed, some twenty years, and all the house of Israel lamented after the Lord.
3 Then Samuel said to all the house of Israel, ‘If you are returning to the Lord with all your heart, then put away the foreign gods and the Astartes from among you. Direct your heart to the Lord, and serve him only, and he will deliver you out of the hand of the Philistines.’ 4So Israel put away the Baals and the Astartes, and they served the Lord only.
5 Then Samuel said, ‘Gather all Israel at Mizpah, and I will pray to the Lord for you.’ 6So they gathered at Mizpah, and drew water and poured it out before the Lord. They fasted that day, and said, ‘We have sinned against the Lord.’ And Samuel judged the people of Israel at Mizpah.
7 When the Philistines heard that the people of Israel had gathered at Mizpah, the lords of the Philistines went up against Israel. And when the people of Israel heard of it they were afraid of the Philistines. 8The people of Israel said to Samuel, ‘Do not cease to cry out to the Lord our God for us, and pray that he may save us from the hand of the Philistines.’ 9So Samuel took a sucking lamb and offered it as a whole burnt-offering to the Lord; Samuel cried out to the Lord for Israel, and the Lord , and answered him. 10As Samuel was offering up the burnt-offering, the Philistines drew near to attack Israel; but the Lord thundered with a mighty voice that day against the Philistines and threw them into confusion; and they were routed before Israel. 11And the men of Israel went out of Mizpah and pursued the Philistines, and struck them down as far as beyond Beth-car.
12 Then Samuel took a stone and set it up between Mizpah and Jeshanah, and named it Ebenezer; for he said, ‘Thus far the Lord has helped us.’ 13So the Philistines were subdued and did not again enter the territory of Israel; the hand of the Lord was against the Philistines all the days of Samuel. 14The towns that the Philistines had taken from Israel were restored to Israel, from Ekron to Gath; and Israel recovered their territory from the hand of the Philistines. There was peace also between Israel and the Amorites.
The rigorous wisdom of Samuel is shown in his insistence that his people’s faith should be pure from idolatry and in his leading of their repentance. Stories of Israel’s repentance and the resumption of the Lord’s favour become standardised in the scriptures but this account is early and fresh. Bolstered by their repentance the people retake their conquered territory. Here Samuel’s wisdom is seen again: the boundary stone “Ebenezer” (Stone of help) means two things:
- This is the boundary of Israel beyond which the people should not presume on the Lord’s help.
- This is the sign that the Lord’s help has been evident, from which the people may take confidence for the future.
The security and peace, which the passage notes, derive from observing this wisdom: God gives just security. Illegal Israeli settlers today might benefit from this faith.
I can’t leave this passage without remembering what a place this story had in the life of my grandfather, Rev. Alexander Mair, of the China Inland Mission. From being an inadequate apprentice tailor in Portknockie in Banffshire he became a much loved missionary and Chinese language teacher in China, with his first wife Janet. His children, including my father were all born there. There too, after Janet’s death, he met his second wife, Betty. In the course of his work he faced many dangers and difficulties all of which were met with the word “Ebenezer” and Samuel’s saying –“thus far has the Lord helped us,” a grateful recognition of God’s good gifts. Through his stories I knew this Hebrew word and its meaning long before I was able to study the Bible. It has stayed with me.
14 When the hour came, he took his place at the table, and the apostles with him. 15He said to them, ‘I have eagerly desired to eat this Passover with you before I suffer; 16for I tell you, I will not eat it until it is fulfilled in the kingdom of God.’ 17Then he took a cup, and after giving thanks he said, ‘Take this and divide it among yourselves; 18for I tell you that from now on I will not drink of the fruit of the vine until the kingdom of God comes.’ 19Then he took a loaf of bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it and gave it to them, saying, ‘This is my body, which is given for you. Do this in remembrance of me.’ 20And he did the same with the cup after supper, saying, ‘This cup that is poured out for you is the new covenant in my blood. 21But see, the one who betrays me is with me, and his hand is on the table. 22For the Son of Man is going as it has been determined, but woe to that one by whom he is betrayed!’ 23Then they began to ask one another which one of them it could be who would do this.
Jesus provides for his community as he prepares to depart from them to lead a new exodus from the enslavements of “this present world” into the freedom of the kingdom. It’s not enough recognised that he gives three “signs” rather than two.
- The first cup is shared in recognition that Jesus has vowed abstinence until the kingdom comes. It therefore represents commitment to the kingdom.
- The bread is shared in recognition that they are all part of Jesus’ body because his bodily life is given up for them. It therefore represents the life shared by Jesus with his people.
- The second cup is shared in recognition that the new exodus also offers a new covenant which replaces the Mosaic one. His blood is shed as a guarantee of God’s love.
We know that the gospel writers tailored their narratives to suit their vision, so we can’t be sure that at that last supper the disciples asked, “Is it me?” but we can be sure that at every true observance of the Lord’s Supper, someone, struck by the immensity of the gift and the fragility of his faith, has done so. I know I have.