Archive for the month “May, 2014”

The Ticking Taskmaster

I have 30 minutes for lunch.

As I type these words, the ticking clock whittles the seconds away. Numbers are the god of my business. They demand tight routes, quick deliveries, heavyweight freight in lightweight time. Every day my job performance is judged by my numbers. Too low for too long, and I’ll be looking for employment elsewhere.

I now have 18 minutes left for lunch.

Would that at work alone my life were ruled by numbers. But when I get home, there are bills on the table with demanding numbers on them. My wife and I are in the middle of buying a home. Talk about numbers: square footage, interest rates, closing costs, how many inches away from the house bushes must be trimmed. At work, at home, these numerical ghosts haunt my existence.

I now have 15 minutes left for lunch.

Tomorrow will be a number day for me as well; I will turn 44 years old. That’s a bit over 16,000 days that I’ve lived. Each one brings me closer to another number, the number that will determine the year on the right side of the dash engraved on my tombstone. Perhaps that year will be 2014. I pray it will be a bigger number, but my number is in the hand of the Almighty.

I now have 7 minutes left for lunch.

Each second, each day, each month and year, each number in this life that ticks away so quickly is a gift from the eternal One. He who is above time, born in time, to redeem us in time, that we might live with him in eternity. My life is in the hand of the one who gave up His life for me. And that is enough. Let numbers come and go. I rest in that one of whom Israel says, The Lord our God, the Lord is One.

I have 1 minute left for lunch. But no big deal. I have an eternity with Christ to look forward to.

Stumbling Over David’s Confession: How to Understand “Against You, You Only, I Have Sinned”

David and Bathsheba

Bathsheba Bathing

The national media would have been blood-drunk. Sex always makes for a catchy headline, especially when politicians are involved. But this was a bonanza of epic proportions. A national leader gets caught with his pants down. Rumor is his paramour is a military wife. But the story gets even juicier. Turns out she’s pregnant, and her husband, who couldn’t possibly be the father, was all-too-conveniently killed on the battlefield recently. And, as icing on this scandalous cake, the nation’s leader makes the war widow his wife. When the scandal of David and Bethsheba leaked out, reporters would have descended upon the Jerusalem palace like locusts on a ripened field.

This story of lust and adultery, intrigue and murder, callousness and cover-up, captivates readers to this day. Perhaps that’s because it’s one of those ripped-from-the-headlines biblical stories. Perhaps it’s because the characters in the narrative make “better people” feel even better about themselves. And perhaps it’s because some of us see ourselves, and our own lurid personal narratives, reflected in this biblical story. For those of us in this latter category, a poetic outgrowth of David’s sin, and subsequent repentance, is especially meaningful. I refer to Psalm 51, which according to its heading, David penned after his affair with Bathsheba.

I have prayed this psalm more times than any other. Its confessions and laments and declarations of faith express perfectly the bitterness and sweetness of the life of repentance, of dying and rising. Yet within this psalm, one expression had always tripped me up. Indeed, when I prayed it, I seemed to utter a half-truth, at best. It comes near the beginning, where David says,

Against You, You only, I have sinned
And done what is evil in Your sight,
So that You are justified when You speak
And blameless when You judge.

“Against You, You only, I have sinned.” How could you say that, David? You sinned against God, to be sure, but also against Bathsheba, Uriah, your family, your military, indeed, your entire nation. How can you possibly limit the scope of your sin, and need for confession, to God alone?

Perhaps the answer to that question is found in a parallel situation, this one related to the holiness of God. In her liturgy, the church sings, “You alone are the Holy One,” (Gloria in Excelsis), echoing Revelation 15:4, “Who will not fear, O Lord, and glorify your name? For you alone are holy.” God alone is intrinsically, eternally, essentially holy. Yet, God is not stingy with His holiness; He grants it to people, places, things, and times. They share in what is His. The Lord, the Lord alone, is holy. And all else that is holy is holy because it is of Him. To desecrate that holiness is to do harm to the one with whom the Lord has shared His holiness, but the desecration is truly and ultimately directed at God alone, since He is the sole source of sanctity.

Similarly, when I seduced Bathsheba, when I stole from and murdered Uriah, when I brought dishonor to my family, when I failed in my office–when I was David–I sinned against all these people. Their forgiveness I implore. At the same time, against God, God only, I have sinned and done what is evil in His sight. For it is His law I have broken, His office in which I have failed, His people against whom I have sinned. All is from Him, so all I have taken, I have taken from Him. All others against whom I have sinned, I have sinned because they are of Him.

Within this confession, there is also a hidden beauty, a secluded comfort that is perhaps only truly appreciated when it is a lived reality. There were, I suspect, people in Israel during David’s lifetime who never forgave him for his scandalous conduct, his lies, his lust, his bloodshed. He had sinned against them, to be sure, but even in his life of repentance, even as he sought their absolution, they withheld it, whatever their reasons might have been. Did their refusal to forgive mean that David was unforgiven? Did David’s absolution depend on people’s willingness to forgive? Absolutely not. For “against You, You only, have I sinned.” Just as confession is directed fully and ultimately to God alone, so absolution is received fully and ultimately from God alone, in Jesus Christ.

There is the hidden beauty in this seemingly limiting confession of King David. For David’s sin, another David would pay the price in blood. In Him, and in Him alone, would absolution for the world be earned and given. For that reason, this verse from Psalm 51 that used to trip me up, now is my greatest delight. For as much as it may hurt that others refuse to forgive, Christ does not. Against Him, Him only, have I sinned. And from Him, Him only, I receive absolution, full and free.

God’s Throne Is Not Unmanned: Why Ascension Thursday Almost Out-sundays Sunday

There are two Thursdays a year which out-Sunday just about every Sunday in the church year. The first is during Holy Week, Maundy Thursday, when our Lord prepared a supper in which He is host and meal. The second is this Thursday, which will be forty days from Easter, the Thursday when Jesus ascended into heaven. What Jesus did and gives on these two days encapsulates His whole life and mission.

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Last Supper

On the Thursday of Holy Week, we meet the Jesus who gives you His everything. He doesn’t merely give you love or life or forgiveness; He gives all, down to the very blood pulsing through His veins and the meat affixed to His bones. “Is not the cup of blessing which we bless a communion in the blood of Christ? Is not the bread which we break a communion in the body of Christ?” (1 Cor 10:16). He gives His everything into your everything. You are welded to the iron of His very existence, bonded whole and inextricably to God. You eat Him. You drink Him. He everythings you.

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Ascension of Jesus

If on Maundy Thursday we meet the Jesus who gives you everything, on Ascension Thursday we meet the Jesus who takes your everything into Himself. He doesn’t go up into heaven alone, nor does He slough off His humanity like a snake his skin. Because He has taken all you are into all He is, and made it everlastingly His own, you ascend with Him. God “raised us up with Him, and seated us with Him in the heavenly places, in Christ Jesus,” (Eph 2:6). God’s throne is not unmanned; it is occupied by the man who contains all men within himself. The divine throne is crowded with humanity. One small sitting down for Jesus, one giant uplifting for mankind.

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Adoration of the Lamb

These two Thursdays, Maundy Thursday and the Ascension, merge into a single day every time the church encircles her Lord’s altar. There we physically partake of the God who has physically partaken of our humanity. The altar is a throne, the throne is an altar, where the crucified King enthrones within us His body and blood, even as He has enthroned our body and blood within Himself. We lift our hearts to the Lord who has dropped His heart into our own.

Sundays are great days for the church. But I daresay these two Thursdays deserve to be elevated alongside any Sunday, for in them incarnation, atonement, resurrection, and glorification unite in a single voice to proclaim, “This is who Jesus Christ truly is.”

Camo-Clad Angels: A Memorial Day Poem

Lest terrors and bondage eclipse freedom’s sun
Our camo-clad angels bore missile and gun.
Their plowshares they beat into death-dealing swords
To battle for peace ‘gainst tyrannical lords.
The blood in their veins pulsed red, white, and blue,
And shed it they did, for their country, for you.
So hallow the memory and honor the name
Of all those who fell to keep freedom aflame.

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Call Me Lazarus…One Year Later

I was sixteen years old when I met the rest of my life. Of course, I didn’t know it when it happened. We never do. All I knew, on that February evening in 1987, was that a local girl had asked me if I wanted to go with her to the FHA Sweetheart Banquet. Her name was Stacy. I said yes, we stood at least six inches apart for the official picture that evening, and I took her home afterward. That was our evening. That was our first date. And that would be our only date until over a quarter of a century had passed.

We went on about our lives. She eventually married and became the mother of a daughter and son. I eventually married and became the father of a daughter and son. We carved out our place in the world. And both of us, in our own ways, saw those worlds collapse. We both found out what it’s like to fall into darkness and wonder if you’ll ever see the light again. We both became profoundly different people over the course of that quarter of a century.

Twenty six years later, we went on our second date. We were no longer naive teenagers. We were no longer innocent. But we were both ready to begin life anew, to find love and acceptance and forgiveness in someone who would be flesh of our flesh, bone of our bone.

Our Wedding Day

Stacy Bird, May 23, 2013

One year ago today, God joined us as husband and wife. These past twelve months have been the best year of my life. I do not exaggerate. I could never have anticipated how much one person would mean to me, how God would use her to bring such profound healing and hope to my life.

Last year, at this time, right before our wedding, I published a short piece entitled, “Call Me Lazarus.” Here it is again. It is even truer today.

 

Call Me Lazarus

I’ve hunkered down in a dark place, where light is not only absent, but banned. The darkness is loved, almost worshiped, for it is a sanctuary in which to hole up and lick one’s wounds without fear of having even more inflicted upon you. God is unwelcome there, as are his phantasms of hope and love and tenderness and fidelity and all other mirages that slake one’s thirst with a mouthful of sand. Going there are those who flirt with a pistol to the head, whose veins flow with whiskey, whose child lies under six feet of soil, who curse the day of their birth, who spend every waking and sleeping hour playing and replaying the nightmares of their past. I’ve been to that dark place, and some of you reading this have, too. Maybe, in fact, you’re there now.

Today I stand in the light. There is one reason, and one reason only: because the God I once hated, never stopped loving me; the God I screamed at until my voice collapsed in on itself, never interrupted me; the God I damn well knew had become my worst enemy, never stopped being my compassionate Father. I blamed him for my sins, the sins of others, for just about everything wrong in my life. I did trust God, but I trusted that if I asked for a fish, he’d give me a snake; or if I asked for medicine, he’d give me poison. I was angry at heaven, at earth, and everything in between, for my life and my love and my hopes had all gone wrong, terribly, irreversibly, wrong.

But it was I who was wrong, terribly, but not irreversibly, wrong. I’m not here to tell you that God had some grand plan for my life, and I finally discovered it, and now everything is sweetness and light. I do still struggle with my past, and I probably always will, to an extent. The present is almost always charged a certain tax by the past.

What I will tell you is that, despite all evidence to the contrary, despite what you think and feel and imagine, God is indeed in that dark place. You don’t know it, but he’s licking your wounds, too. And he’s keeping the deeper, blacker darkness at bay. And he hears, on the other side of your angry screams, the cries of a hurting child begging for help, but not knowing how to ask for it.

Today I stand in the light, and—miracles of miracles!—this week a woman will stand beside me in that same light, to take my hand in her own, look into my eyes that once beheld only darkness, and tell me, before the witness of heaven and earth, that she will be my wife. I would have believed the blind would receive sight, the lame walk, and the deaf hear, before I would have believed that I should be so blessed as to be as happy as I now am.

But therein is the love of God revealed, a love that gives us gifts beyond anything we could imagine or comprehend. Why, O why, am I surprised, for if God did not spare his own Son, but lovingly gave him up for us all, how will he not, along with him, graciously give us all things?

 

Obese Kings and Tent-Pegged Generals: Poems from Judges on Ehud and Jael

Ehud Delivers the Lord's Message to Eglon

Ehud and Eglon

Eglon was a monarch, of proportions rotund;
An extra slice of cake, his Highness never shunned.
His despotizing hand, o’er Israel heavy weighed.
Jacob had a fat chance, his terror to evade.
Ehud was a lefty, from a right-handed tribe,
Who mixed a killer drink, for Eglon to imbibe—
A double-edged dagger, of proportions quite small—
Bound it to his right thigh, and on the king did call.
He told Eglon he had, from God a secret word,
A message from above, the Lord would have conferred.
In a cool, upper room, where the king sat all alone,
Ehud preached that sermon, while the king shat on his throne.
He shoved the sword in deep, and out spilled guts and gall.
This omnivorous king, swallowed the hilt and all.
Eglon’s terminal meal, was not his menu choice,
But so it goes for men, who will not heed God’s voice.
Our God is one strange Lord, who loves what men debase.
For where they hurl contempt, he grants the deepest grace.

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Jael and Sisera

Sing praise to the God of feisty Jael,
Who wielded a hammer and peg quite well.
While Sisera hid in her tent asleep
The evil he’d sown, Jael helped him reap.
The head of the foes there met his fate
With a stake of wrath sunk deep in his pate.
Death befell evil and all of its ilk,
Through this redemptrix, a bearer of milk.

These two playful poems, “Eglon the Omnivorous” and “Feisty Jael,” are both included in my recent collection, The Infant Priest: Hymns and Poems. If you’d like to purchase a copy, you may do so at this website or on Amazon.com.  Thank you!

Bitter Women Utter Honest Prayers

Noami

Naomi

Naomi tasted the bitter irony of her name. Her parents had given her a name meaning “pleasantness,” tempting the God of reversals to do his thing.  And he did.  Unlike the patriarch of her people, who was enriched when he left Israel during a famine, Naomi became impoverished. She who bore the name Pleasant bore first her husband, then her son, then her second and last son to the graveyard. So when she returns from her exile, widowed and bereft of her children, she laments to her former neighbors, “Do not call me Pleasant; call me Bitter, for the Almighty has dealt very bitterly with me.”

Christianity can easily be twisted into spiritualized etiquette. You learn how properly to eat at the Lord’s table, how respectfully to address him, how politely to carry on a conversation with him. If you don’t like what he serves, well, tough, clean your plate and ask for seconds. If you don’t feel like shaking his hand, do it anyway and beam at him like there’s no one else you’d rather be meeting. And above all, if his behavior toward you is cold and rude, if he insults you, shrug it off or put the best construction on it, and never, ever tell him exactly what you think of him. In short, such a religion teaches that nothing pleases God more than a fake.

Suffering has a way of stripping off the masks we wear when speaking of God, or to God. Hear Naomi unmasked. “The Almighty has dealt very bitterly with me.” Or as she says to her daughters-in-law, “The hand of the Lord has gone forth against me.”  There are no fine theological distinctions here between God’s consequent and antecedent will; no attribution of her suffering to Satan, that ever-handy scapegoat; not a hint that her losses are part of the raw reality of life in a fallen world. Naomi feels quite simply that God has ruined her life; and she’s not afraid to say it.

A relationship with God that has no room brutal honesty is no relationship at all. It’s a farcical faith. God is not somehow protected, or honored, when his children give no voice to the pain they experience at his hands. Indeed, the very complaint is itself a confession of faith. For faith does not require that we like what the Lord does. Faith is not his amen pew, Yes Sirring the divine. It is the kind of trust that knows that I can tell my Father how much he’s hurt me, abandoned me, ripped away my deepest loves—and still know he is my Father.

There is more, much more, to the story of Naomi. But we know that; Naomi didn’t. Yes, five years down the road, your friend who buried her husband early this year, has a daughter addicted to crack, and was just diagnosed with breast cancer—in five years she may have happily remarried, seen her daughter’s life turned around, and have a clean bill of health. But she knows none of that now. Now all she knows is a broken heart. Telling her that God causes all things to work together for the good of those who love him may well be true, but I doubt it is profitable. For now she needs, like Naomi, to speak the truth to the God who can handle it. And in time, he will answer her, as only a Father can.

Perhaps the most honest prayer ever prayed was by a condemned man, who cried out in his death agonies, “My God, my God, why hast Thou forsaken me?” And he was answered, three days later, when he looked over his shoulder at the grave he had just vacated. That suffering man, the atoning Lord who cried out to His Father, cries out still in us and for us and through us to the God who raised him–and us in him–from the dead.

The Backstory of “The Infant Priest”: From a Student’s Meditation, to a Scrap of Paper, to a Communion Hymn

Over the weekend, my son and I were paper archaeologists. We dug through some of my yellowed, dusty files to see what discoveries awaited us. We unearthed handwritten writing assignments from high school, short stories from college, and my very first published work: an article in the September, 1992, issue of the Lutheran Witness. Among our finds, however, the two that I treasure the most were early versions of what eventually became my first, and still my favorite hymn, “The Infant Priest Was Holy Born.”

A Student’s Meditation

In February of 1997, this Texas boy was freezing his way through a final winter at Concordia Theological Seminary in Fort Wayne, IN. Ordination was mere months away. As was customary, when Lent approached that year, the students prepared a devotional booklet for the campus which contained a meditation per day for the season leading up to Holy Week. I was asked to write one on Hebrews 4:14-16, to be read on Thursday, February 20. Among the finds that Luke and I discovered this weekend was that meditation. Here it is.

Humbly arrayed in the priestly garments of human flesh, the Infant Priest, divinely ordained prior to all, emerged pure from the temple of His holy mother’s womb. Worshiped by heavenly hosts seen and unseen, His veiled glory diminished not the laudatory rivers flowing from angelic lips. A new Abel was born of the new Eve, destined to be a sacrificial victim whose blood would speak a better—more salvific—word than the blood of Abel.

By Jordan’s waters anointed, armored with the Spirit’s authority, He who led the armies of Israel marched with purposed stride to the devilish battleground of the Tempter. His divinity camouflaged in humanity, this Davidic youth hunted fearlessly the hellish Goliath, armed solely with the sling of incessant obedience to His Father. With three smooth Scriptural stones chosen from the brook of Torah, he defeated the uncircumcised Foe and struck fear into the hearts of every fiendish spirit allied with the fallen one. The victory battle foreshadowed victory war.

Unparalleled in piety, no stranger to demonic assault, this Priest—blessed be He—traversed the holy land, leaving in His path purified worshipers, the holiness of His flesh sanctifying the uncleanness of their own. From His mouth wafted wise words as fragrant as incense, His tongue the coal upon which the Father’s frankincense fell.

 He approached the place of sacrifice undaunted by the absence of a lamb…for the Lamb was He. Upon the crucifixion altar, at which wailing angels dared not gaze, He lay bound by the cords of human infidelity. The fire quenched, the plague stayed, the veil rent, alive again He arose triumphantly to lead pious children into the paternal throne room where they bask in the regal radiance of grace. Midnight spirits upon whom the baptismal sun has risen, we with faces aglow recline roundabout the Incarnate Ark and feast on the sacramental showbread of His flesh. Flesh and blood dripping down the clouds of His body fills to overflowing the priestly chalice of redemption, bedewing cracked lips as we drink deeply in the gold-laden Holy of Holies.

Poetic Scribbles on a Scrap of Paper

Almost every author has had someone who’s helped him believe that he actually is a writer, that he has a gift, and that that gift needs to be shared with readers. During seminary, my encourager was Donald Deffner, one of my beloved professors. Already during my first year, when I shyly handed him a couple of short stories I’d written, he began to buoy my confidence.

When he read my meditation on Hebrews 4, he recommended I attempt to transform this prose into poetry, to craft a hymn from this meditation. That was a literary path I’d never traveled before, but, as it turned out, one that I still remain on today. While Luke and I were rummaging around, I found this, the scrap of paper upon which the first draft was written.

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A Communion Hymn

Word by word, a hymn emerged from those inky scratches. I showed it to Richard Resch, the Kantor on campus, who shared it with the committee that was in the final stages of preparing Hymnal Supplement ’98 (HS98), a collection of additional hymns not included in our (then) current service book. In all honesty, I was amazed that the committee even considered it. So you can imagine my shock when I received the news from Resch that it was accepted, that it would be included in the supplement.

“The Infant Priest” eventually made its way into the section of Lord’s Supper hymns in the Lutheran Service Book. Even though I still find myself calling it my hymn, it has truly ceased to be. It is part of the church’s hymnody now. And so it should be. To me, that is one of the characteristics of a hymn writer that sets him apart from a poet. A poet’s works, even though they may be enjoyed and even treasured by the general public, remain that poet’s works. A hymn writer composes for the church, that his words, echoing the Lord’s own words, might become her words.

Let the word of Christ richly dwell within you, with all wisdom teaching and admonishing one another with psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing with thankfulness in your hearts to God. Colossians 3:16

 

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No One Has Ever Fallen in Love

Falling, Falling, Falling

I was sixteen years old, standing on a porch bathed in moonlight, the taste of her lip gloss fresh on my own, when I told the girl. My first time to voice the words. I was spinning in that tornadic swirl of physical and emotional changes we have so clinically dubbed puberty. I felt some “thing” for her, a thing that was tingly and distracting and deliciously intoxicating. Like Adam, I had to name this animal roaming and roaring within my chest. So I rifled through my vocabulary for a label to pin on the feeling. And I chose the only one that seemed to fit, the sole word that kept bubbling to the surface of my lips. For I just knew that, for the first time in my life, I had fallen in love.

I was sixteen years old, I was a child, I spoke as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child. When I became a man, I put away such childish things.

Okay, not really. It turned out falling in love was something I had a knack for doing, so I did a lot of it, for a long time, with far too many women. She would enter my life like a cool breeze on a July day, or wrap herself around me like a warm blanket on a January night, and the next thing I knew I had lost my footing, was stumbling, and then falling, falling, falling into that thing called love.

I was no longer sixteen years old, but I was still a child, I spoke as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child. I was a long time in becoming a man, far too long in putting away such childish things.

What we call falling in love has nothing to do with love. It is not even love’s opening act, the red carpet on which love walks into our lives. Perhaps you can help me rename it? I daresay you have experienced it yourself. It is an emotional high, a fire of passion, the drug of desire, a fearfully delightful plummet into the warm abyss of possibility. It goes by many names, this falling, but it is not love. For love is not a thing into which one falls; it is an action to which one arises.

Love is patient, long-tempered when your spouse pushes your buttons, your children get on your nerves. Love is kindness toward the unkind coworker who doesn’t seem to give a damn about you. Love knows when to shut up about your pay raise or your publications or your promotion, lest pride begins blabbering. Love keeps no running tally of how many times your husband has failed you, how many times your wife has angered you. Love always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. Love always asks not what others can do for me, but what I can do for someone else.

Love is not some emotional pit into which one falls; it is a sacrificial mountain which one climbs. As you climb, yes, you’ll enjoy the breathtaking beauty, but that’ll be balanced by bleeding fingers, scraped knees, aching muscles, and the inescapable knowledge that the summit will never be reached in this life. For love is a steady, lifelong climb upward.

I am almost forty-four years old. I am a man, I speak as a man, I understand as a man, I think as a man. But it took me a long time to get here. It took me half a lifetime to realize that true love is always of God, whose truest act of love was his self-sacrifice for those who loved him not. You will find no Hallmark cards with a picture of a dead Jesus on the cover, besmeared with blood, soaked in spit, with a halo of thorns. But that is love. It is the action to which God arose to save us, the cruciform mountain He was willing to climb to make us His own.

I will never have a love so pure, so all-giving as that of God. But I do have God, who works in me His own love, that I might imperfectly love others, even as He has perfectly loved me in Jesus Christ.

Bows, Arrows, and Baptismal Fonts: The Significance of the Rainbow in the Bible

Bow and ArrowsOne of the perks of growing up in the Texas Panhandle was that I could see most of the United States from my front porch. It was that flat. Sunsets there transform the whole horizon into a vast canvas of color. And if you’ve ever wanted to actually find the end of a rainbow, then that’s the place to be. You can spot where both ends of the arch kiss the earth.

Speaking of rainbows, they were the stuff of my Sunday School years, along with candy and campfire songs. Noah, the animals two-by-two, and finally the multicolored memento that God wouldn’t liquidate the earth again. The rainbow made for a pretty ending to an ugly story, but, honestly, I’d lost as much sleep fretting about worldwide flooding as I had about being mauled by a Texas polar bear. The rainbow was just one more biblical footnote in that jumbled mess of story after disconnected story in the Old Testament.

Or so I thought it was. Now, when the rain has ceased, and I happen to spy that bright bridge shining in the sky, I see God at work, finger-painting in the heavens a picture of salvation. Here’s why.

The Old Testament, which was written in Hebrew, has no word for rainbow. Yes, I realize that in your translation of Genesis, it might read something like, “I have set my rainbow in the clouds, and it will be the sign of the covenant between me and the earth.” (NIV, 9:13). But the word often translated as rainbow, keshet, simply means a bow. What we see in the heavens is none other than a weapon of war.

But this weapon of war, two peculiarities set it apart. First, the bow is not drawn back. It’s suspended there, hanging in the heavens. Second, even as it hangs there, it’s pointed upward, not earthward. The bow of the divine warrior, the almighty judge, by which he shot oceans of arrows into the rebellious human race, has been retired. The instrument of execution has been changed into an emblem of peace–a hawk become a dove, a sword hammered into a plowshare. Now every time God sees His bow, He who never forgets will nevertheless remember His oath never to draw it again to punish the earth by a cosmopolitan flood.

But hold on, because the story gets even better. In two prophetic visions, Jesus appears wrapped in the radiance of this beautiful bow of peace. Ezekiel saw Him first, a man-like God, whose radiance was like “the bow in the clouds on a rainy day,” (1:26). John also saw Him, this God-become-man, enveloped by a rainbow that surrounded the throne of God (Revelation 4:2-3). Thus, as the story in Scripture unfolds, not only does the bow remain a token of God’s promise, iconic in the heavens; it also becomes associated with the manifestation of Jesus Christ, enthroned in glory.

And there’s yet one more wrinkle to this story. That ancient flood, which drowned the unbelieving world, but through which Noah and his household were saved, was a foreshadowing of the flood of regeneration and renewal which God works in the font. Peter says that “baptism, which corresponds to this [flood], now saves you, not as a removal of dirt from the body but as an appeal to God for a good conscience, through the resurrection of Jesus Christ,” (1 Peter 3). The flood, which both killed and kept alive, was a predecessor to baptism, which drowns the old Adam within us and makes us alive by uniting us to Jesus Christ.

Now when we assemble all these parts of the biblical narrative, we see that, unlike I supposed in my Sunday School days, the rainbow is not just one more biblical footnote, disconnected from a seemingly disconnected story. In many ways, the two ends of the rainbow join together the two ends of the Bible, uniting Genesis to Revelation, and everything in between. When you are baptized, the Lord drowns you in that flood, but then raises you alive out of those waters to enter a new and better ark, the door of which was hewn open by a Roman spear in the side of Jesus the crucified. A rainbow envelops with its radiance our saving Lord. This colored arc betokens that He is the one who has put an end to the wrath of the Father, made peace between God and man, and ushered you into a new creation.

I’ve never walked into a church in which the baptismal font is adorned with a bow, pointing heavenward, hanging above it. But if I ever do, if you ever do, then we’ll know why.

++If you enjoy my writings, and would like to read more of them, check out my two recently published books, one of hymns and poetry, and one of meditations and sermons. The Infant Priest is a collection of about 20 hymns and 90 poems. Christ Alone contains brief meditations and sermons that are steeped in the language of creation, the Passover, the worship life of Israel, and the Gospels. Click on either of the titles, or visit Amazon.com, to read more and find out how you can purchase a copy. Thank you for your interest!

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