Pilgrim Notes

Reflections along the way.

Month: March 2013

Wounds of Love


On Good Friday, we come to cross of Christ. We behold one stricken, smitten, and afflicted. As we look upon the broken body of our Savior, we behold our own broken and wounded lives. Each of us bears the scars of a world reeling from the curse of sin.

I have a scar on my left pinkie finger that dates back to my early childhood. Somehow I got my hand on a razor when taking a bath and nearly sliced the finger off. Though I faintly remember the accident, the scar remains. For all the scars we can see, there are many more we cannot see.

Wounds that damage our body and soul leave marks that are often permanent. Some wounds happen in an instant. Just as the razor scarred my finger for life, so a word, a tone, an act can traumatize in a moment. An angry word spoken in haste may leave a permanent, unseen mark on the heart.

We bear the mark of sin. It damages the heart, the mind, the emotions and even the body. We bear marks caused by the sin of others. We bear marks caused by our sin. Most of these marks we do not readily see. Yet they persist, impacting our perception of the world around us, impacting our perception of our self, impacting our perception of God.

Sin is not simply failing to do the right thing or choosing to do the wrong thing. Sin is the unraveling of God’s good creation. We are caught up in this unraveling. We contribute to this unraveling. We live in a good world gone wrong.

Grunewald_Isenheim1On this Good Friday, on this Holy Day of Days, we behold the One who steps into this world gone wrong with unrelenting love. He bears the marks of our broken hearts.

We behold His grief, and see our hidden silent grief.

We behold His affliction, and see the affliction that paralyzes us.

We behold His scars, and know that we ourselves are scarred.

As we behold our Savior, we come to see our desperate need for healing, cleansing, restoration. We realize that the wounds of sin have crippled us. We realize that we ourselves have repeated this pattern of damage by hurting others in word and act.

As behold our Savior, we behold the wounds of love. For His scars reveal the glory of God in the midst of a broken world. God’s relentless love will not allow sin to unravel this good and wondrous creation. Jesus bears the sin’s sting of death. In Him alone the cursed power of sin is unraveled. His Love bears all the destruction, hate, deception, abuse, violence, and hatred that sin releases. His Love bears it all continues to forgive,

“Father forgive them, for they know not what they do.”

We come on this Good Friday and behold the Glory of God in the cross of Christ.  On this mountain of mercy, we behold our hope. We behold the promise that these scars in soul and body have been taken up into God’s redeeming love. In Christ, these scars will shine with His glory, His love, His victory.


Curses into Blessings


9 The sons of Eliab were Nemuel, Dathan, and Abiram. These are the Dathan and Abiram, representatives of the congregation, who contended against Moses and Aaron in the company of Korah, when they contended against the Lord; 10 and the earth opened its mouth and swallowed them up together with Korah when that company died, when the fire devoured two hundred and fifty men; and they became a sign. 11 Nevertheless the children of Korah did not die. (Numbers 26:9-11)

This little passage appears in a larger passage listing the various names of fathers and sons in various tribes. In the middle of the extensive list, a reference appears to the rebellion against Moses in Numbers 16:

Now Korah the son of Izhar, the son of Kohath, the son of Levi, with Dathan and Abiram the sons of Eliab, and On the son of Peleth, sons of Reuben, took men; 2 and they rose up before Moses with some of the children of Israel, two hundred and fifty leaders of the congregation, representatives of the congregation, men of renown. (Numbers 16:1-2)

In the end of the story, God brings judgment upon the families and the earth swallows them:

31 Now it came to pass, as he finished speaking all these words, that the ground split apart under them, 32 and the earth opened its mouth and swallowed them up, with their households and all the men with Korah, with all their goods. 33 So they and all those with them went down alive into the pit; the earth closed over them, and they perished from among the assembly. 34 Then all Israel who were around them fled at their cry, for they said, “Lest the earth swallow us up also!”  35 And a fire came out from the Lord and consumed the two hundred and fifty men who were offering incense. (Number 16:31-35)

Now we learn in Numbers 26 that God had mercy on them and didn’t remove their family line from the earth. (11 Nevertheless the children of Korah did not die. Numbers 26:11). Later in the Psalms, we’ll discover a range of Psalms attributed to the sons of Korah (Psalms 42–49; 84; 85; 87; 88). What began as a curse later becomes a blessings and the sons of Korah (the sons of rebellion) become singers in the house of the Lord.

This reversal from curse to blessing is similar to a reversal of Jacob’s curse upon Reuben:

“Reuben, you are my firstborn,
My might and the beginning of my strength,
The excellency of dignity and the excellency of power.
Unstable as water, you shall not excel,
Because you went up to your father’s bed;
Then you defiled it
He went up to my couch. (Genesis 49:3-4)

But centuries later, Moses will offer God’s blessing upon Reuben:

6 “Let Reuben live, and not die,
Nor let his men be few.” (Deuteronomy 33:6)

Some of the rebels mentioned in Numbers 16 (Dathan and Abiram the sons of Eliab) were sons of Reuben. God in his mercy does not blot out Reuben’s line, but pronounces life and not death.

Mercy and grace appear all through Torah. Though men and women break God’s law and come under curses, again and again and again, we behold the Lord showing “hesed” and turning curses into blessings.

* Image by Anthony Posey used by permission (per Creative Commons)

Praise is a Language


I’ve been thinking of the praise as a language that we must learn to speak. It is not simply a matter of learning to be grateful, it is tuning our ear and mouth to sound God’s praise. The Psalms teach us how to speak the language of praise or the grammar of praise.

Think of a child learning to speak. According to some theories, the child is born with the ability to make all the sounds for all the languages of the world.* The child must learn which sounds not to make. As his parents speak, the child hears the sounds of his language. He learns which sounds to use and which sounds are not used. Over time, he learns to mimic the sounds of his parents, speaking words. Making mistakes. Correcting. Improving. Then he gradually learns how words work together. He learns this socially in a family, in a classroom, in church and later in life in a business. Every time we enter a new social circle, we may learn new patterns, new constructions of meaning, and possibly even new sounds.

As we read and sing the Psalms in community, we are learning the sounds, the words, the grammar of praise that can shape our speech in thanksgiving, praise, supplication, and even lamentation.

* – Thanks to Madalena Cruz-Ferreira’s article on “Child Language Acquisition” at The Linguist List and Carol Bainbridge’s article “How Do Children Learn Language?” at About.com.

Learning to Speak Torah

In Deuteronomy, we hear how Torah shapes listening, speaking and acting. Listen to the Shema,

4 “Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God, the LORD is one. 5 You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might. 6 And these words that I command you today shall be on your heart. 7 You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise. 8 You shall bind them as a sign on your hand, and they shall be as frontlets between your eyes.[1]

The first response of Israel to the Lord is “Hear.” Hearing gives way to loving, living, teaching. The parent resounds the call of the Lord to their children, and in turn, the children resound the call to their children. Torah shapes our speech. By rehearsing the Word of the Lord, the people of God learn how to speak, how to articulate life and wisdom and love in the world. Just as a child mimics her mother in learning to speak, the children of the Lord learn how to speak by mimicng, rehearsing His Word.

This rehearsing, this sounding out, changes us. Train us in listening, speaking and acting. St. Hilary offers a helpful prayer asking for grace to speak the articulate word,

‘Almighty God, bestow upon us the meaning of words, the light of understanding, the nobility of diction, and the faith of the true nature. And grant that what we believe we may also speak.’ – St.Hilary, The Trinity (de Trinitate, PL 10, 49)

[1] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. 2001 (Dt 6:4–8). Wheaton: Standard Bible Society.

Image from hoveringdog on Flickr (used by Creative Commons)

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