This column is entitled Liturgy and Life. Usually, when I begin writing it, I focus first on the liturgy. This time I’d like to start with the “life” part of the equation. As I write, our community is reeling with the news of the violence and pain suffered by the people of La Loche. Our hearts our broken on their behalf and I wonder: What does the liturgy have to say in these anguished moments of human life?
As it turns out, liturgy has quite a lot to say. Liturgy shines in the midst of our sorrow. It stands as a beacon of God’s great promise of unconditional love and radical solidarity with our human condition. This week’s liturgy is no exception.
In the entrance antiphon the psalmist begs God to remember God’s compassion and mercy. That sort of desire can only emerge from past encounters with God that were indeed compassionate and merciful. Compassion and mercy are God’s essential character traits. The psalmist knows this and so his next prayer also makes sense: Redeem us from all our distress. Again, if God had not acted in such a redemptive manner in the past, it would make no sense for us even to ask!
Looking at life today, then, we can harken back to those past experiences where our ancestors have encountered a compassionate, merciful God, a God who redeems us from our distress. It’s to that God that we turn when our hearts are broken. We believe because others before us have believed — and experienced — redemptive mercy and compassion that heals wounded hearts.
We move on to the story of Abram making covenant with the Lord. Abram engages in the ritual that his people commonly used to make covenants with each other. Animals were cut in two to symbolize that such would be their fate if they broke the promises they made. Keeping the covenant meant living in right relationship with each other. By using these common rituals with regard to God, Abram (later Abraham) committed himself and his people to living in right relationship with God. When we live in right relationship, Scripture tells us, everyone prospers.
It’s interesting to note that the Hebrew word eduth can be translated in two ways. It can be translated as “covenant” or as “treaty.” Perhaps, as we reflect on our own lives today, it would be helpful to think of our own treaties we have made as peoples in Canada. We have entered into treaties as indigenous peoples and newcomers to this land. We have made a covenant with each other so that we could live in right relationship. But, as the prophets in Hebrew Scripture knew all too well, when covenants are broken, disasters happen. Could that be what we are living today? Could it be that we have not lived up to the promises we made in our own treaties, that we have not lived in right relationship with all peoples in Canada? Scripture tells us that living up to the covenants we make leads to health and well-being for all. How can we, as Canadians, live up to the treaty promises we have made so that we can all truly share in the prosperity of this land?
Finally, in the gospel we hear that great story of encounter and transformation: the transfiguration. The disciples go up the mountain with Jesus. There they have a run-in with God and Jesus becomes radiant, his clothes a dazzling white. In Hebrew Scripture, that radiance is a sign of encounter with God. When Moses would go up the mountain to converse with God, he would come down and his face would shine so brightly that he had to wear a veil! Encounters with God change us.
What can this gospel story of encounter tell us about our lives today? Again, the translations can give us a clue. When the voice comes from the cloud, in some translations, it reminds us that Jesus is God’s “chosen” and that we should listen to him. Other translations use the word “beloved.” Both words reveal something profound. The word “chosen” harkens back to the idea of the Israelites being a chosen people. Being chosen, in that case, meant being chosen to reveal God’s mercy to humanity. So it is with Jesus. Jesus is chosen to live in radical solidarity with our broken, weeping humanity and to reveal God’s compassion and mercy to us. Jesus is God-with-us reminding us that we are not alone in the most sorrowful moments of our lives (and likely in the most joyous moments as well!). But the word “beloved” also alerts us to a great truth. Just as the word “chosen” harkens to the past, the word “beloved” engages with the future. The voice from heaven calls Jesus “beloved” and, from that moment on, we, as brothers and sisters in Christ, know that God wants to call each and every one of us “beloved” as well. As beloved, chosen people, we can move forward through sorrow in hope.
Liturgy and life walk hand in hand. Liturgy reminds us of the encounters we humans have had with God throughout history. It shows us that, in all things, God has been faithful to us, reminding us that we, too, are God’s beloved sons and daughters. It calls us to be faithful, in turn, to the covenants we have made with both God and each other. By living in right relationship, we are told, we will share fully in the abundance of God’s mercy and compassion in the days ahead.
Rompré is the director of Mission and Ministry at St. Thomas More College in Saskatoon.