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Get Up Off Your Knees

The word of the Lord to Isaiah: “Many peoples shall come and . . . they shall beat their swords into ploughshares, and their spears into pruning hooks; nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war any more.”

Heaven on earth
We need it now
I’m sick of all this
Hanging around

Sick of sorrow
Sick of pain
Sick of hearing
Again and again
That there’s gonna be
Peace on earth.

A city street, and a man stands on a bus, clutching a ticket in his sweaty hand. Then a searing fireball twisted metal and cold silence.

Heaven on earth
we need it now

A cathedral chapel, towers of black metal rise from a tray of concrete dust, and candles stand sentinel over the names of the dead: John, Allison, David, Shawn, Colleen, Donnie, Sal. ...

Heaven on earth
we need it now

There’s dust on the ground, hard packed like stone, and on it two large toes bound with a dirty white rag, a beaten body receding into nameless death.

Heaven on earth
we need it now







Bridging the Betweens

Raewynne J. Whiteley

A selection from Get Up Off Your Knees: Preaching the U2 Catalog,
edited by Raewynne J. Whiteley and Beth Maynard,
foreword by Eugene Peterson.

This book is a collection of sermons from people around the world who have been moved to spiritual reflection by the art and work of the rock group U2. Below, Episcopal priest Raewynne J. Whiteley reflects on lyrics from the U2 song "Peace on Earth" and traditional Advent readings from the Bible as she takes a candid look at the the bridge between promise and fulfillment, between heaven and earth.

Song reference: “Peace on Earth”
(see text in italics in left column)

Biblical References: Isaiah 2:1-5; Matthew 24:37-44
(see text in left column)

U2’s song seems to capture the place that we are in right now. Standing in a hotel lobby yesterday, I saw Christmas decorations and heard Christmas carols playing: “Silent night, holy night, all is calm, all is bright”; and part of me wanted to shout No! No! Nothing is calm, nothing is bright! I turn on the TV, and twenty-something have been people killed, mostly young adults, in Israel, and in the Palestinian West Bank two children have been shot dead, and the day before a family died in Afghanistan when an aid package fell on their house, and the day before and the day before and the day before. ...

All is calm, all is bright? What are we doing, heading toward Christmas with its talk of peace and its haloed baby in a manger, what are we doing reading Isaiah with its promises of nations coming together and melting their armaments to make farm tools, when war seems to be escalating, and terror increasing, when all around us is fear and broken promises and death?

It is Advent, and I sometimes wonder if we know what we are doing. I guess, if I had my choice, I’d put aside the war and the pain and the difficulty and run with the baby Jesus and peace and joy, because that’s what life is all about, or at least that’s the fairy tale that we want to believe in. We want the world to be a good place, a place where we are safe and loved and happy, where life is good and babies are typical in their innocence instead of extraordinary. That’s the dream, that’s the illusion of Christmas. That’s why, as soon as Thanksgiving is over, we put up the decorations and turn on the carols. And if I had my choice, I’d really rather our gospel reading for today had begun where it should, with the beginning of the story of Jesus in the first few verses of Matthew.

But if we’re honest, we all know that it’s an escape, an illusion, and real life is a whole lot more sordid, and perhaps the people who put our lectionary together knew better than we do that what we need at this time is not an injection of fairy tale but an injection of reality in all its grimy anguish. And so, juxtaposed with Isaiah’s promise of peace is Jesus’ prediction of pain. He returns us to the days of Noah, days not known for their glory but lamented for their depravity. This time between Christ’s earthly life and his return, this time between promise and fulfillment, will be a time like that of Noah. A time when people were caught up in their own lives and their own interests, when they cared more about the wine they would drink tonight than the beggars lying hungry outside their gates, when they fought for their own importance and laughed at crazy old Noah, giving up everything to follow the call of an unseen God.

It’s a lot more like our world than the world of our Christmas cards.

Yes, we dream of peace, yes, we dream of a better time to come, but in the meantime we have to live in the reality of a world torn apart by selfishness and greed and fear. But that reality is not all there is; that reality is not the whole story. For all that we suffer, for all that we struggle, there is also a promise. A promise that one day all this will end. One day God will come, one day Christ will return, one day there will be heaven on earth, or at least earth will be caught up into heaven, and the tables will be turned, good will triumph over evil and right over wrong, and there will be peace, and love, and joy.

But we live in the in-between times. We live knowing the promise but seeing little hope of its fulfillment. We live caught between fear and faith, between history and hope. There is a gap, and the pain and the suffering and the sorrow which are all around us threaten to overwhelm us.

Christmas, at least as the carols and Christmas cards would have us believe, offers us an escape, a refuge from what we see every time we turn on the TV. But an escape can only ever be temporary, and refuge is fine for a time, but eventually we must emerge into the cold light of day, where the reality is that we live in in-between times, times between the promise and the fulfillment, between fear and faith, between history and hope. Advent is about those in-between times, and Advent is where God will meet us.

We have, on the one hand, a world in a mess, and it doesn’t seem like there is a whole lot of hope. And on the other hand we have a vision of something better. That has always been the struggle of Advent. Because we are caught, caught in the in-between. Between a haloed baby in a straw-filled manger and angels announcing “Peace on earth,” and a bloodied man, on a splintery cross, crying out, “Forgive them, Father. For they do not know what they do.” Between a weeping Jesus at the tomb of Lazarus in a small town outside Jerusalem and the heavenly Jerusalem where all tears will be wiped away. Between the fear of a God who comes like a thief in the night and the hope of God who comes not to steal but to save.

And bridging those betweens is the promise of Easter, the promise of a God who proclaims, “I am the resurrection and the life! Whoever believes in me, even though they die, shall live!” The promise of a God who enters a locked room, holes in his hands and side, and breathes peace on his friends. Who gives bread and wine, body and blood as a foretaste of the heavenly banquet.

Bridging those betweens is Christ, haloed baby in a manger, weeping friend by a four-day-old tomb, dying body croaking forgiveness from a cross, resurrected life offering peace, bright image of God awaiting us in glory.

It’s a bridge, this Christ who doesn’t solve the problems or remove the ambiguities or the pain or the struggle, but who says that promise will make way for fulfillment, and perhaps fear can be met with faith, and maybe history and hope do rhyme.

And it’s a bridge, this Christ who is our head and we, the church, his body. So that in our lives, we echo the life of Christ, bridging the betweens. In our bodies the life of Christ resounds, in our spirits, the Spirit of Christ reverberates, ringing out his tears, his forgiveness, his peace, his resurrection, in our world.

Heaven on earth. ...

Episcopal Church of St Michael and St George
St Louis, Missouri
December 2, 2001

Get Up Off Your Knees Excerpted from Get Up Off Your Knees: Preaching the U2 Catalog, edited by Raewynne J. Whiteley and Beth Maynard. Copyright ©2003 by Raewynne J. Whiteley and Beth Maynard. Published by Cowley Publications. Used by permission of Cowley Publications. To purchase a copy of Get Up Off Your Knees: Preaching the U2 Catalog, visit the non-profit bookstore Sacred Path Books & Art. This link is provided as a service to explorefaith.org visitors and registered users.


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