Rinse Reeling Brouwer
Mid Day Prayer Groningen 5th November 2014. Meditation.
Psalm 113:11-18; 1 Peter 1:22-25; LB 757
Peter speaks to people who have been purified and who have been born again, and on the basis of these radical changes in their lives, he calls them to obedience to the truth and to wholeheartedly love to one another. There may be some tension between these two efforts: obedience to the truth and mutual love. For when you are really searching for truth – as we all are supposed to do in a scientific institution like ours –, you can make some discoveries that are not very welcome to your neighbours: some members of your community can feel threatened by those. And, the other way round, you yourself can defend the truth you found in such a fanatic way, being all too sure from your own convictions, that your conduct can be really dangerous for a community. In this way sectarianism uses to arise. Therefore we have to ask further, what is Peter meaning, and what we have to mean? with obedience to the truth as well as with affection to your fellows?
In the first place we hear in our reading from the connection with the word of God. It tells us how faith can be fruitful. But it is not of a mortal character, it is not a human tradition that is handed down from father and mother to their children, but it is immortal, it is the Word of the living and enduring God. These two participles which Peter uses, ‘living’ and ‘enduring’, are a quotation from the book of Daniel, Chapter 6 (vs. 27). It is the story of Daniel in the lion’s den. A stone was laid upon the mouth of the den, Daniel had been let alone with the lions during the night, but in the morning he appeared alive and well. Then the king commanded all the nations in his enormous reign to fear and to honour ‘the living and the enduring’ God of Daniel. The church has always read this story as an eastern narrative, a story of life that is stronger than death. In this way we can say: the truth about which we are talking in the Christian community is not a truth we have invented ourselves, but is the truth of the immortal Word that is not ours, and that is much stronger than our inventions. That is an insight which has to make us humble and which has to mitigate our sectarian inclinations.
As far as the fellowship is concerned, I want to bring in the famous spiritual we will sing after this meditation. As you will know, the text refers to the story of Elijah, who went to the river Jordan with Elisha, and a chariot of fire appeared, and horses of fire. Elijah was taken up by a whirlwind into heaven, and Elisha cried: ‘My father! My father! The chariot of Israel and the horsemen thereof!’ (2 Kings 1:11-12). Chariots were the most advanced weapons at that time, and so Elisha is saying that the only weaponry in Israel is prophecy. By calling Elijah his father, he also says that the prophecy is handed down to him by this predecessor. But how tradition is transmitted here? By the mantle of Elijah that fell from heaven, thus only by a gift of God. At the same time Elisha is left alone, and he misses his father. And exactly this is the basic feeling of the spiritual: ‘tell all my friends I’m com-in too’ (in that place where they are already) / coming for to carry me home’, the singer expresses this feeling (in the second stanza). We always have to pay attention to the different layers that are present in such a song, all at the same time. The river Jordan, that is the river of the biblical story, but at the same time it is the Red River in Oklahoma, that was the border between the slave plantations of the southern States and the free land of the Northern ones and of Canada, in the years of the American Civil War. The other side of the river is the land of freedom and heaven at the same time. And the fellowship in this heaven, in this other world, forms an indissolute contrast to the daily life experience of the slaves. On the plantations, there was the continuous threat of being separated from one’s beloved, whether by the sale of yourself or your friends and your relatives to another slaveholder, or by the death that was always very near. And exactly therefore it is important not only that you will definitely be purified in that other world, but also that the communion of saints, of the living and the dead, will be restored. In conclusion: also this dimension of the fellowship, as that of the receiving of the truth of the divine Word and the transmission of it to the following generation, is related to an eastern narrative. Both dimensions presuppose the victory of eternal life over death, both commandments of the apostle are rooted in this victory and therefore have to be obeyed in a way that corresponds with this victory. Amen.