O Adonai and Ruler of the House of Israel, you appeared to Moses in the fire of the burning bush and on Mount Sinai gave him your law. Come, and with outstretched arm redeem us.
Yesterday afternoon I had the blessing of attending the Memorial service of a dear friend, someone I have known for twenty years. My feelings as I write this are of love and hope, but also of sorrow, disbelief. As the Little Prince in Antoine de Saint-Exupéry’s famous novella said, “The land of tears is such a mysterious place.” As I think of my friend, I remember him as a seeker, someone who had become a man of compassion and indiscriminate love, though he sometimes claimed not to believe in God. He will inspire my meditation today on this Antiphon.
First, the burning bush: My friend was very much the brilliant empiricist. He would’ve gone straight up to that burning bush, like Moses did. He would have wanted to know, “what is this thing I see, that the bush is burning but not consumed?” (Exodus 3:3) This curiosity, this wanting to know, is what allowed Moses to see the Lord face to face, to hear his name called by God himself: “Moses, Moses…!” And Moses’ yearning to know the truth of things also enabled him to have the courage to accept God’s invitation to lead the people of Israel out of bondage.
The desire to know is one of the most beautiful things about human beings, what makes us children of God, beings in God’s image because we have the capacity to know and to love. Don’t we all want to know? Not just by someone else telling us, but through first hand experience, in our bones, that God is good and real and present to us on this earth? This antiphon inspires be to be bold, live life with all my strength, to seek to find—and that is what my friend’s life also inspires in me.
The final phrase is “Come, and with outstretched are redeem us.” After celebrating the life of my friend and also feeling the loss, I feel comforted that the most powerful aspect of God’s character is mercy. Were it not so, God would never have reached out to the people of Israel to give them the promises, the law and the covenant to become his own people. Out of mercy, the Lord, Adonai, came down, descended into our reality to become flesh, to dwell with us on this earth, to work and live as one of us and to one day face death himself. If mercy can bring God to earth, then mercy can bring earth to God; can bring my friend into the presence of God and new life in God.
I have come to believe that many people long for God and seek God throughout their lives, although they may not know it. By living in a way that invites the Spirit of God into their hearts, they will hear those words of Christ, “Come beloved of my Father, for I was hungry and you gave me to eat; I was thirsty and you gave me drink; I was homeless and you gave me shelter, in prison and you came to see me, sick and you visited me. And they will be surprised and ask, “When, when did we do this for you?” And the Lord, Adonai, will answer, “As long as you did this for one of these the least of my brothers or sisters, you did it for me.”
Many will be surprised to hear those words addressed to them, and it is my hope that this dear friend, who so loved to play jokes on everyone, will have this last joke played on him, to hear those words of welcome from the Lord, to his everlasting joy.
Copyright 2010 Julie Paavola