A sermon preached by Fr. Jason Postma on Sunday, November 18, 2018.
We all know the power of metaphor. Consider, for example, a couple of well-known metaphors – if you know who coined the metaphor, please call out the answer: consider this practice for Trivia Night on Saturday!
“All the world is a stage…” (Shakespeare)
“Dying is a wild night and a new road” (Dickinson).
We use metaphors everyday: we don’t want to “spill the beans”; she is as “happy as a clam”. Metaphors help us convey ideas and meanings; good metaphors are evocative and memorable. If, to borrow a metaphor, ideas have legs, then metaphors are part of the muscle fiber. But Metaphors also have limits. Good metaphors help with the intellectual lifting; but even a good metaphor can strain under the weight of the idea it carries, especially if we expect that the metaphor carry all the weight.
In Anglican-land, one of the most persistent metaphors is that Anglicanism sits upon the three-legged stool of tradition, reason, and Scripture. According to legend, this metaphor was coined by the Richard Hooker, a 16th century Anglican priest and theologian. However, this legend is false. While Hooker does talk about the relationship between tradition, reason, and Scripture, nowhere does Hooker use the metaphor of a three-legged stool. Although it is false, the metaphor lives on – mostly because it provides not only an appeal to a recognized Anglican authority, it also makes a subtle argument about the place of Scripture in the life of the Church, an argument that Hooker would reject. I think it is time to do-away with this metaphor.
You see, the main problems with this metaphor is that it limits the voice of Scripture and puts it on equal footing with reason and tradition. This means that Scripture is only one of three equally authoritative voices for the Church; it also means that reason or tradition, or both of them combined, can be used to overrule Scripture, especially those parts we find difficult or offensive. Ultimately this means that with this metaphor in use as the basis for how we approach Scripture, we can reason ourselves into unscriptural positions or maintain unscriptural traditions. If we are going to use a metaphor to describe the relationship between scripture, reason, and tradition, I think the image of Scripture as a map, tradition as the map’s legend, and reason as a compass puts us in the right direction. In the age of GPS, I realize there are limits to this metaphor, but I think it still works.
We also have a metaphor problem when it comes to the Holy Scriptures. Often, we will hear the Scriptures referred to as a library; there is truth to this. The Scriptures are comprised of 66 different books of different genres. However, this is too passive an image. Libraries allow us to pick and choose which books we like and to avoid the books we don’t like, the parts we find difficult or offensive, leaving them on the shelf to gather dust.
I think a better metaphor to describe a book that is God’s loving self-communication to God’s own people, a voice that is, in the words of the book of Hebrews, living, active, and sharper than any two-edged sword, is a symphonic score. Every note, every instrument, every phrase and measure all have an integral role to play: if a single part changes or is omitted, the whole piece collapses – think of this scene from one of my favorite movies ‘Amadeus’. Because God reveals Godself through the entirety of Scripture, the themes and figures in Scripture echo and reverberate in God’s great scriptural symphony. This is why the Church reads from the Scriptures as a unified whole: in so doing, we can hear more clearly God’s voice telling us who God is and how God acts in the world, culminating in the life and ongoing ministry of Jesus Christ, the Word made flesh. We can hear this symphonic unity reverberating in the songs of Hannah and Mary.
Hannah is a woman who is dedicated to God. She is also a woman who longs for God to deliver Israel. While 1 Samuel immediately follows the book of Ruth, the context of 1 Samuel is the conclusion of Judges, a book that ends in chaos, summarized in its concluding verse: “in those days there was no king in Israel; all the people did what was right in their own eyes” (Judges 21.25). From her song in chapter 2, it is clear that Hannah is longing for God to deliver Israel, longing to deliver the world from chaos.
So, Hannah praises God; however, she does not sing when her son is conceived, but when she hands over her long-awaited son to the temple. It seems rather odd for a woman who was desperate to have a child to sing praises to God when she entrusts him to the care of Eli, the priest, only to see her son once a year. He song is born of hope and trust in God’s faithfulness, even in the low-points of life. Hannah sings “my heart exults in the Lord…the Lord makes poor and makes rich; he brings low, he also exults. He raises up the poor from the dust” (1 Sam. 2.1b, 7-8a). Her song is a forward look in hopeful anticipation of God’s deliverance of his people, caught as they in the machinations of power and living under the shadow of sin and death.
Mary, like Hannah, is a woman who is dedicated to God, as evidenced by her song. Mary’s song, known as The Magnificat, directly echoes Hannah’s song. Listen: “my soul magnifies the Lord…for he has looked with favor on the lowliness of his servant….he has brought down the powerful from their thrones, and lifted up the lowly; he was filled the hungry with good things, and sent the rich away empty” (Lk. 1.47-48a, 52-53). Do you hear the echoes between Hannah and Mary’s song?
In the stories of Hannah and Mary, we see God bringing life so that his people can live. Moreover, these women stand, as “a type of the church”; their singular dependence on God, especially during the turmoil of life, anticipates the faith of the church. The worship and the witness of the Church stands in direct continuity with Hannah and Mary, indeed with Israel itself, people chosen by God to play integral roles in God’s deliverance of his people.
Both Hannah and Mary’s sons, Samuel and Jesus were children born of God’s promise. Each one also had intimate relationships with the temple. Although the temple in Samuel’s time predated the great temple in Jerusalem built by King Herod in Jesus time, the function of the temple remained the same: the temple was a microcosm of the entire created order and it was the place where priests offered sacrifices in order to atone for the sins of the people.
Hannah dedicates her son’s life to serving as a priest in the temple. God calls Samuel to be the new high priest. Samuel serves God as both priest and prophet and, as chapter 3 describes: “the Lord was with [Samuel] and let none of his words fall to the ground” (1 Sam. 3.18). Through his life, Samuel served God’s people, prophetically speaking God’s truth, even when it meant confronting kings. In many ways, the life and ministry of Samuel stands as a figure of and in anticipation of Jesus’ life and ministry. In other words, Samuel points to Jesus.
Throughout his earthly ministry, Jesus prophetically spoke and enacted God’s truth. In today’s Gospel reading, Jesus remarks that the temple will be destroyed. Earlier in Mark, Jesus cleansed the temple of the money changers and in last week’s Gospel reading, we heard of how Jesus called the teachers of the Torah hypocrites for their exploitation of the weak. Now, Jesus says the whole temple system, including its very centre of gravity, will come crashing to the ground.
Jesus himself is the end of the sacrificial system that the Temple represents. The curtain of the temple tearing in half while Jesus hung on the cross is a symbol of the end of this system and the opening of a new way (cf. Heb. 10.20); Christ himself is the “single sacrifice for sins” (Heb. 10.12) who ascended to sit at the right hand of God the Father where he serves as our heavenly high priest, offering himself to us through Scripture and sacrament. Christ’s death and resurrection are birth pangs that reverberate with those of Mary and Hannah; Christ’s death and resurrection are the birth pangs of the renewal of creation and the nativity of the church.
The church is the new temple created by God (cf. 1 Cor. 3.16), a people chosen by God and dedicated to participating in Christ’s priestly ministry, serving as agents of God’s reconciling love. Therefore, the church is rightly called a royal priesthood, a priesthood whose origins can be traced back into the Old Testament, through Samuel, culminating in Jesus Christ; the church is a priesthood baptized into Christ’s death and resurrection and liberated from the bondage of sin and death.
So, liberated, the Church meets every week to remember Christ’s death and resurrection and to sing praises to the same God praised by Hannah and Mary for his promised deliverance of his people and of all creation. Because God is faithful, from beginning to end, we have hope and assurance that the future is firmly in God’s hands. However, we so easily forget this amidst the turmoil of life, amidst “wars and rumors of wars” (Mk. 13.7), which is why the author of Hebrews enjoins his readers to continue to gather to be reminded through word and sacrament: the Holy Scriptures and God’s Table stand at the heart of our shared life as a parish – everything we do together finds its life in what we do here today. The life of the gathered and worshipping church is non-negotiable for the life of the sent and witnessing church; we worship and we witness to the God who is faithful to his promises, the God who has power over life and death. This is part of our priestly and prophetic vocation as baptize people: to urge and to provoke others, both inside and outside the church, to worship the faithful God of Hannah and Mary and to follow Christ’s way of love.
Provoking others to worship and to Christ’s way of love is risky business because it means that we move out of our comfort zones. It also requires that we are continually nourished by Christ’s self-giving love in Scripture and Sacrament. It also requires that we do not get caught up in building temples or kingdoms of our own glory, but that we encourage and provoke one another to fix our eyes on Christ alone. So, let us together faithfully read, mark, learn, and inwardly digest Scripture so that we may hear, know, and meet Christ on every page and provoke each other to grow in God’s love and in love of our neighbour. In the name of God, who is Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Amen.
 John Webster, Holy Scripture, 42.
 Webster, 13.
 St. Cyprian of Carthage, as cited in Francesca Aran Murphy, 1 Samuel, 21.