As part of my daily practice I read the readings in the Daily Office. It is the Bible, broken up into an Old Testament, an Epistle (or letter), and a Gospel reading. You will have read the majority of the Bible if you read the Daily Office over the course of several years. The readings are sequential, so it is amazing how often there is a common theme. It is as if the Bible isn’t just a series of stories, but a telescope, with each subsequent level of story bringing the real story into sharper focus. The themes repeat across time, going from the general to the specific, going from back then to right now.
God is always present, always listening to us. Wherever we are in our journey, God is with us. Whatever is going on is not the final answer. Pray, and God has the ability to change the situation.
I’ve shortened these readings to boil them down to the essential point today.
In 2 Kings 20:1-7 (NRSV) we read –
1 In those days Hezekiah became sick and was at the point of death. The prophet Isaiah son of Amoz came to him, and said to him, “Thus says the LORD: Set your house in order, for you shall die; you shall not recover.” 2 Then Hezekiah turned his face to the wall and prayed to the LORD: 3 “Remember now, O LORD, I implore you, how I have walked before you in faithfulness with a whole heart, and have done what is good in your sight.” Hezekiah wept bitterly. 4 Before Isaiah had gone out of the middle court, came to him: 5 “Turn back, and say to Hezekiah prince of my people, Thus says the LORD, the God of your ancestor David: I have heard your prayer, I have seen your tears; indeed, I will heal you; on the third day you shall go up to the house of the LORD. 6 I will add fifteen years to your life. I will deliver you and this city out of the hand of the king of Assyria; I will defend this city for my own sake and for my servant David’s sake.” 7 Then Isaiah said, “Bring a lump of figs. Let them take it and apply it to the boil, so that he may recover.”
Hezekiah was about to die, but he prayed, and God listened to him and added fifteen years to his life.
In the New Testament we read in Acts 12:1-11 (NRSV)
1 About that time King Herod laid violent hands upon some who belonged to the church. 2 He had James, the brother of John, killed with the sword. 3 After he saw that it pleased the Jews, he proceeded to arrest Peter also. (This was during the festival of Unleavened Bread.) 4 When he had seized him, he put him in prison and handed him over to four squads of soldiers to guard him, intending to bring him out to the people after the Passover. 5 While Peter was kept in prison, the church prayed fervently to God for him. 6 The very night before Herod was going to bring him out, Peter, bound with two chains, was sleeping between two soldiers, while guards in front of the door were keeping watch over the prison. 7 Suddenly an angel of the Lord appeared and a light shone in the cell. He tapped Peter on the side and woke him, saying, “Get up quickly.” And the chains fell off his wrists. 8 The angel said to him, “Fasten your belt and put on your sandals.” He did so. Then he said to him, “Wrap your cloak around you and follow me.” 9 Peter went out and followed him; he did not realize that what was happening with the angel’s help was real; he thought he was seeing a vision. 10 After they had passed the first and the second guard, they came before the iron gate leading into the city. It opened for them of its own accord, and they went outside and walked along a lane, when suddenly the angel left him. 11 Then Peter came to himself and said, “Now I am sure that the Lord has sent his angel and rescued me from the hands of Herod and from all that the Jewish people were expecting.”
The church prayed for Peter to be freed from prison, and God sent an angel to lead him out of jail safely.
And then we read a story of Jesus in Luke 7:11-17 (NRSV)
11 Soon afterwards he went to a town called Nain, and his disciples and a large crowd went with him. 12 As he approached the gate of the town, a man who had died was being carried out. He was his mother’s only son, and she was a widow; and with her was a large crowd from the town. 13 When the Lord saw her, he had compassion for her and said to her, “Do not weep.” 14 Then he came forward and touched the bier, and the bearers stood still. And he said, “Young man, I say to you, rise!” 15 The dead man sat up and began to speak, and Jesus gave him to his mother. 16 Fear seized all of them; and they glorified God, saying, “A great prophet has risen among us!” and “God has looked favorably on his people!” 17 This word about him spread throughout Judea and all the surrounding country.
The man was dead. He was being carried out of his home. Jesus called to him and he revived.
This is the same story, over and over. What we think is the end isn’t the end. Sometimes it is the beginning of an amazing story. God has the power to release a person, however that person is trapped. It makes no difference whether it is sickness or prison or death. In all those cases all we humans see is a “closed” sign. God sees it as an opportunity. It makes no difference whether we pray, the church prays, or Jesus prays – release is release. As Christians, we believe that Jesus is constantly praying for us, constantly being our intermediary with God.
In liturgical churches, the words “The Word of the Lord” are said at the end of each reading. The people then reply “Thanks be to God”.
Let us give thanks for these stories that point us to our knowledge of a living and loving God, who is always present to us. It is through these words that we come to know the living Word.