Imagine, the Lectionary yields up today, what Luke offers as Jesus’ inaugural address. The Lectionary offers it up on the day our new ministry together begins.
I come to the Sackville Pastoral Charge
and I am met by these words offered up by the Lectionary, these words of Jesus coming to Nazareth placed by Luke at the beginning of Jesus’ Galilean ministry.
I am met at my beginning here by this great proclamation
of justice and healing
and the anointing of the Spirit
and I am called to offer a word
on these great words.
And what comes to me,
what I have not been able to escape this week
are not clarion words enjoining us specifically
to ever greater works of peace-making and justice;
rather what comes to me as we begin together
are thoughts of layers,
our lives overlaid with Christ’s, Christ’s life overlaid with ours.
one piece of life showing through another.
I’ve been seeing them everywhere since I read this text.
I see layers in the way the sun rises,
its light seeping softly through the sky,
its quiet entrance out of the night,
its diffusion influenced by clouds,
and encouraged by the dark.
I see it spreading and spreading in gentle strata
and startling contrasts
til the concentrated ball of brightness is no longer visible
but light has completely infused the once dark sky.
I saw layers yesterday in the mystery novel I’m reading.
There Veyrenc a sturdy detective from the Pyrenees
speaks from time to time in alexandrines,
that 12 syllable verse form found in the works of Racine.
while doing surveillance from a broom closet,
holding the phone to a superior’s ear while he drives,
feeling the possibility of love,
Veyrenc’s speech falls into alexandrines.
Why? Because his war orphaned grandmother,
rescued from the convent orphanage an almost complete set of Racine’s works.
She read nothing except this playwright.
Over and over she read Racine.
She recited his speeches constantly.
As long as Veyrenc could remember he had been woken from sleep and returned to sleep,had eaten his lunch and left to play with the words and rhythm of the alexandrine in this ears.
His life was covered with them,
they were layered into his days.
Those words shaped his words
and he in turn shaped other words into their likeness.
Jan Richardson artist in words and collage tells a wonderful, true story of two sisters born in Scotland in the 19th century.They were scholars in Semitic languages and biblical studiesand in 1892 they travelled to Egypt to visit St. Catherine’s monastery at the foot of Mt. Sinai.
There in the library,
that treasure trove of ancient manuscripts,
they were handed a thick volume,
its pages so unused to being turned that they needed much gentle manipulation with patient fingers
or in some cases to be steamed apart.
As the sisters worked with the book one of them recognized it as a palimpsest,
a manuscript whose original text had been partly scraped away
and written over
to get as much use out of the scarce vellum as possible.
The most recent and most easily seen text told the stories of women, some of the desert mothers, women of the early centuries of the church
women who gave up much to follow Christ.
Just visible under the stories of these saints was written gospel;
what was then the oldest Syriac version of the four gospels.
There were layers.
The underlying gospel had informed the lives of these women
and they in turn had with their lives shone gospel into the lives of others.
The text made visible in a particular way the meaning of their lives
as they with their lives made visible
in a particular way the meaning of the gospel texts.
That is why when I read these beginning words of Jesus ministry I am thinking of layers.
What is it of this One who comes to Nazareth, this One whose proclamation Luke so carefully places at the beginning of his story of Jesus ’ministry that we need to lay our lives over?
What do we see here?
Jesus comes to Nazareth,
the eagerly anticipated hometown boy.
He heads for the synagogue as he has so many times before
and like an honoured guest he is asked to read from the prophets.
Luke has placed these words near the beginning of Jesus Galilean ministry because beginnings and endings are important and he wants these beginning words of Jesus to be like the first ones written down on the vellum,
or the papyrus of Jesus’ life
or of ours.
He wants these words to shine through everything.
He wants everything that’s written over them to be informed by them, he wants them to be first,
however many attempts to scrape them away
or erase them are made,
it’s these words of Spirit and history and fulfillment Luke wants to sink into the vellum of our lives,
the papyrus of our understanding of Jesus,
on whom the Spirit of God rests.
And like a good narrator or dramatist, like Racine,
Luke builds in dramatic tension.
Jesus stands up to read.
Someone hands him the scroll on which are written the words of Isaiah, He unrolls the scroll (remember the tension of the academy awards) . . . he finds the place and he begins to read,
The Spirit of God is upon me,
Because he has anointed me to bring good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives,
recovering of sight to the blind,
to let the oppressed go free
to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favour
These words of God’s desire and promise
have risen through Jesus like the sun spreading in vivid lines
and in gentle dispersion through the sky.
Up through history they have moved til they are grasped by Jesus and flung out into the world in a particular way.
The light of these words has spread through generations.
They have come to Jesus
audacious and expectant
from the lips of the once barren Hannah,
the throat of Isaiah
and the heart of Mary.
They are drawn up out of the deep well of God through the generations,
these words spoken by Jesus and offered to us this morning.
Jesus rolls up the scroll,
gives it back to the attendant and sits.
Then he says it,
“today this Scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing”
Just those words
and perhaps his mother off to one side in the synagogue nodding.
Because this is as she knew it would be.
These words of Scripture have been fulfilled.
Of course we know that the poor still need good news.
The poor need this news not from any with a long reach and averted eyes, we need this news from those of us who know our own poverty.
Captives still need release,
not by those who stride in with an easy passkey
but by those who have known their own captivities.
The blind still long to recover their sight
and we long to recover it in the presence of those who know that they too have been blind.
Oppressed still long to go free
and we long to be free with those who have known their own circumstances of oppression.
Jesus words speak of fulfillment
not because as he speaks them every wound is healed.
He speaks them because in him the words are gathered up into living Word that in a particular way assures fulfillment.
And for Luke this involves us,
the gathered body,
the faith community,
What do I want to say to you?
That these are living words,
layered in our lives by Jesus
the Word in whom we say we live.
That through our lives shine the text of these words
the Living Text that shapes our lives
With Jesus Christ we are a palimpsest –
Can people read the living word under the text of our lives
or has it been scraped away,
by time or indifference or overcautiousness.
Or have we opened the pages of our lives individually and corporately to let this life show through?
Do we have people who will, with patient fingers, work with the pages of our lives to reveal the Word of Liberation and of Healing written on each page?
Will we, you and I, help one another to let our lives show this One’s life and to let this one’s life be shown in ours?
I came here because I believe we share that desire.
Our anthem today said
Assemble, leaven, mix and knead
our clashing norms, opposing views
and bake a loaf of joy and peace
that hungry hearts will not refuse.
Perhaps this is where Corinthians helps us,
with the loaf we are to knead and bake,
the community we are to build,
the life we are to live.
Each of us has our own gifts and our own captivities.
Each of us claims a life that is written over the life of the Living Word. Each of us is a line over the rough and time worn living text that in our hearing is fulfilled.
For our life together and for the life of Jesus Christ that shines through, thanks be to God.