I am holding a small branch of a pincherry bush. It appears to be
quite dead. There are these tiny buds which seem so small and powerless,
and which anyone can break off with a finger nail with no effort.
As the early 20th century French poet Charles Peguy said in his
poem, "The Mystery of the Holy Innocents," without those tiny buds
on all the trees of the world, without those tiny buds which seem
like nothing and have no power and no strength, all of creation
would be nothing but an immense cemetery of dead wood.
Good afternoon my friends.
I was given an advantage over you
in considering this year’s
theme; “The sign of the times” because Isabel gave me
an advance copy of the prayer service. When I looked at it I was
stunned. I found myself just laying the pamphlet aside to let my
mind and heart slow down a bit. As soon as I picked it up again,
the force, the power of the words of our scripture readings and the
prayers of the women of South Africa washed over me in wave after
It took me a long time to sort things out in my own heart and make
a few decisions about which reflections I would try to share this
afternoon. Yet, regardless of what I may say or do not say, the real
power and the real reflection will be within each of you as you consider
the word of God, as you reflect on the signs of the times, and as
you consider the soul-shaking power of the prayers the women of South
Africa are sharing with us today.
It was not a coincidence that we gathered here this day and began
our service at 2:00 P.M. This is happening around the world and a
tidal wave of prayer and reflection is rising from and around the
earth. We have seen the destruction of a tidal wave of water in Asia
and in the U.S. Gulf, let us pray that we see the healing and grace
of God as our prayer wave moves around the earth. This is a sign
of our times.
In thew passage from Luke that
we read today, Jesus tells us about the coming destruction
of the temple in Jerusalem.
presence to the people of Israel. What Jesus foretold was unthinkable.
Try to imagine that every Christian
minister is killed, every Christian church burned to the ground,
every hymn book and every bible destroyed
and any Christian gathering forbidden. Would our religion and faith
survive such a destruction as no stone upon which we depend would
be left upon another? Would our God still be with us? Would
we still be able to find our God? That is what Jesus was predicting
own nation. While the image I asked you to imagine might not actually
happen, real equivalents are happening in the lives of individuals,
in families, in communities and in nations every day. Great material,
social, moral and political disasters come to our world today. Have
we been touched by them? Do we know the despair of such signs
of our times? i think we do.
Ezekiel was sharing his visions
after the destruction of the temple in Jerusalem which happened
after the second exile of his people to Babylon. There
was nothing left that could give a shred of hope. Judah had sinned
and God had abandoned the people. The only sign of the times people
saw were a multitude of dry bones. These were a people who did not
believe in resurrection so the dry bones represent an absolute and
total end. To a people living an experience of absolute grief and
despair, Jahweh spoke his instructions to Ezekiel. The sign held
forth for a broken people of dry bones was the sign of the power
of Jahweh. And the dry bones came together and new sinew and new
flesh came onto those bones, and in a repetition of what Yahweh did
at the beginning of creation, a wind, the breath of God, came from
the four directions, and gave life to what was absolutely dead.
What are our versions of dry
bones and despair? Is it the scourge of drug addiction or alcoholism
in our family? What is beyond hope
in our life? It is into that valley of dry bones that God will come
and breathe the life of new creation. Because that is who our God
The reading from Matthew is actually
sandwiched between two other significant passages. That points
to its own very
Just before the story of the woman from Bethany, we are told that
all of the respected people of the Jewish nation, the scribes,
the elders and the priests, had met to plan the death of Jesus.
In the passage we read today, the disciples
are angry at the unnamed woman’s prophetic sign of pouring
costly oil over Jesus.
Then we are told that Judas Iscariot
made up his mind, left, and went to the Chief Priest and asked
what he would be paid for Jesus.
He had given up on Jesus utterly. All of his hopes for what Jesus
was supposed to be and do for him, for the disciples and the whole
Jewish nation, had come crashing down. He despaired of Jesus and
left with hatred in his heart. The sign he saw was a sign of total
failure and collapse of such high hopes and dreams.
This passage that we read from
Matthew is one of the few that tell of the role of women in
the time of
the retelling of the stories by many
men and even the eventual writing of those stories by other men.
For it to have survived points to its great significance. It was
only a woman, and not even one who had always been with Jesus, who
understood the real greatness of Jesus and who showed honour to that
greatness. The men did not understand and could only find within
the gesture, a source of petty conflict. It was also only women
who would have the strength to stand under the cross and let their
love testify to who Jesus was. When this woman anointed Jesus she
was declaring that his real power would be revealed and released
in his sacrifice and death.
Think once more about the wave of prayer building around the world
today. Think about this wave whose energy our prayers are building
into a huge tsunami of voices raised to God .. .to our God whose
real power over death, destruction and all the sources of death on
this earth, were revealed and released in an incredible wave of power
through love that came from a mangled and broken body dying on a
cross ... on a piece of a dead tree that finally made a permanent
connection between earth and heaven. This is the only sign of our
times that is worthy of our attention and the only sign that the
women of South Africa hold up for us in prayer today.
The symbol they ask us to consider
is young leaves. Well, for us today, that sign is still dormant
in this branch and in these buds.
As women and men of the north and as women and men of faith, we know
the leaves will come forth to bring us our own signs of God
in our times.
Thank you for this opportunity to share some thoughts with you.
Gerald Regnitter / Candesna Cun Wakan Oksina