Saturday, November 19, 2011

Hebrews 12: The Mighty Cloud, and my vision

This will be the Moreh's final Sabbath at our small synagogue. His words have indeed cut through the sinew and marrow of my rebellious flesh. I look forward to reading a copy of the letter he is writing to the Faithful of Israel.

Like the Queen of Sheba, I can say that before the Moreh's visit I had known of the King of Israel, Judah and David's son, but now I know Him better and in person and His glory is like none other. Unlike the Queen I have no gold to give, but freely give Him the gift of my broken and contrite heart.

The Moreh encourages us to live holy lives, inspiring us with the example of the holy saints who have followed the Moses of the New Covenant, Jesus, on the hard, joyful path through the wilderness of Death to the Promised Land where they now live and wait for us -

"Since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles, and let us run the race marked out for us. Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before him endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of God....the heavenly Jerusalem, the city of the living God. You have come to thousands upon thousand of angels in joyful assembly, to the church of the firstborn, whose names are written in heaven. You have come to God, the judge of all men, to the spirits of righteous men made perfect..."

During his first week here, the Moreh spoke of “the Gifts of the Holy Spirit being distributed according to His will.” As he speaks, I am blessed with such a gift – a prophetic vision. In the place of the Moreh, holding not a strange-looking Holy Book – shaped not like a scroll, but like a box that opens - I see a man with strange clothes and straight hair and skin even whiter than the Romans, closest in appearance perhaps to the Germanic tribes the Romans employ in their farflung legions. Strange in appearance, but kindred in spirit. He is a follower of Jesus, a righteous Gentile, a defender of Israel against a mighty Pharoah of the future bent on destroying not only the first-born, but all of the children of Israel. I too am dressed in strange clothes like this as I sit in a large hall of worship in the city of Londinium, a northern outpost of the Roman empire. Sitting next to me is a member of the Great Cloud, a little boy whose flesh was destroyed by the wicked Pharoah and its ashes blown with hundreds of others out of a smokestack, but not before his joyful spirit had ascended to the heavenly Jerusalem. Our brother with the fair skin and strange clothes, the Moreh Dietrich, says:

No one has yet believed in God and the kingdom of God, no one has yet heard about the realm of the resurrected, and not been homesick from that hour, waiting and looking forward to being released from bodily existence.

Whether we are young or old makes no difference. What are twenty or thirty or fifty years in the sight of God? And which of us knows how near he or she may already be to the goal? That life only really begins when it ends here on earth, that all that is here is only the prologue before the curtain goes up - that is for young and old alike to think about. Why are we so afraid when we think about death? ... Death is only dreadful for those who live in dread and fear of it. Death is not wild and terrible, if only we can be still and hold fast to God's Word. Death is not bitter, if we have not become bitter ourselves. Death is grace, the greatest gift of grace that God gives to people who believe in him. Death is mild, death is sweet and gentle; it beckons to us with heavenly power, if only we realize that it is the gateway to our homeland, the tabernacle of joy, the everlasting kingdom of peace.

How do we know that dying is so dreadful? Who knows whether, in our human fear and anguish we are only shivering and shuddering at the most glorious, heavenly, blessed event in the world?

Death is hell and night and cold, if it is not transformed by our faith. But that is just what is so marvelous, that we can transform death.

When Moreh Dietrich finishes, the little boy leaves, headed for a sickbed in a place called Vermont to comfort a woman named Diane who will shortly after join him in the Mighty Cloud.

And I? I will not be disobedient to the heavenly vision. Until the day I join the boy, and Dietrich, and Diane, and the Moreh, and all of my other brothers and sisters, by God’s grace I will follow the teaching of the Moreh: endure opposition from sinful men without growing weary or losing heart. Endure hardship as the discipline of a loving Father, anticipating the harvest of peace and righteousness it will produce. Strengthen my feeble arms and weak knees, so that through me the lame might be healed by Messiah. Make every effort to live in peace with all men, to extract and burn the root of bitterness, to keep my marriage bed pure. And worship in awe and reverence our God, who is a consuming fire.

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