Let me send you my Greetings from Jerusalem in that most beautiful of all words: Shalom.
On Sunday, May 9, our Jewish brothers and sisters celebrated the feast of Shevuot (Feast of Weeks). Shevuot comes fifty days after the Jewish Pesach (Passover), just as Pentecost comes fifty days after the Christian Pascha.
Think back now to that first Pesach when G-d delivered Israel from bondage to the Egyptian Pharaoh. Through Moses, the people were lead out of Egypt and across the Red Sea, but the pursuing Egyptian army was drowned as the waters returned to cover them. And Israel became a free people, waiting only for the ratification of her freedom in the Sinai Covenant which was to come fifty days later. We can well imagine the joy as the people saw their oppressors vanquished forever. And we can virtually hear the voice of Miriam, the sister of Moses, as she led the women in song:
«Sing to the Lord, for He hath triumphed gloriously!
The horse and his rider He hath thrown into the Sea!»
How often the people of Israel must have sung those same words as they travelled towards Mount Sinai and the total ratification of the Covenant. And finally, at Sinai, the Lord came down upon his holy mountain and bound Himself forever to His chosen people.
Shevuot commemorates the giving of the Torah to Israel at Mount Sinai, and the Torah became the foundation stone of the ancient Hebrew religion, later to be known as Judaism. As is only natural, that day is even until now one of great rejoicing and thanksgiving, blessing and thanking G-d for the tremendous gift and privilege He bestowed upon His people. At that great Sinai Event, G-d entered into a Covenant relationship with His people, and Israel was thus created as «a kingdom of priests, a holy nation.»
Over the centuries which followed, ancient Israel and Judah went through many difficulties and hardships. There were times when the people weakened and became careless in their faithfulness to their G-d, and many times their prophets had to recall them to an understanding and renewal of their faith and loyalty. But through all the vicissitudes of history, G-d, the G-d of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, never abandoned His people. He chastised them when necessary, but He never renounced them nor gave them up. His Covenant Love was so strong that it surpassed all human understandings of love to an extent which none can ever imagine. And today the Jewish people now stand free in their own land as a testimony to the eternal faithfulness of G-d in His enduring Covenant with His people.
On Pentecost, the Christian Shevuot, Christians celebrate the coming of the Holy Spirit, the giving of new life and vigour to the Church of Christ. And just as at Sinai, a Covenant came into being, so on the Christian Pentecost the new Life, created in the Resurrection of Christ, was imbued with the power of G-d and the ancient Covenant was opened and extended to all peoples and all nations.
When Christ was presented as an infant in the Temple, Simeon proclaimed Him to be «a light to enlighten the nations and the glory of Thy people Israel.» Simeon recognized Christ as the Messiah, the Anointed One who had been appointed to renew the ancient Covenant and to make it accessible to all men and women, to all nations and to all races. But the Messianic role of Christ went far beyond what the Jewish people had understood and expected. Christ did not simply offer the Passover sacrifice; He was Himself that Sacrifice, the eternal Sacrifice which stands outside the boundaries of time and space and, through his Sacrificial Blood, brings G-d’s eternal Love to sanctify the whole of His Creation.
The Sanctification which Christ, through His Death and Resurrection, brings about as our High Priest, extends throughout our universe, and whatever universes may exist beyond it. His act of sacrificial Sanctification makes holy all that exists, all that is beyond our perception and all that will ever come into existence as the Creation continues to grow and develop. But that Sanctification fills not only the vast expanses of interstellar space, it extends even to the most minute things that exist. Every leaf, every flower, every tree becomes a revelation of the beauty of G-d’s eternity. Every living creature on earth takes part in the universal praise of the Creator. The wild beasts of the field, the domestic animals which serve us, the household pets which bring us joy and show us love and loyalty which we can never hope to deserve, the birds of the air and the creatures, both known and unknown, which inhabit the ocean depths — all of these are sanctified in Christ and by the outpouring of the Spirit at Pentecost.
In the early evening of Shevuot, here in Jerusalem, I had the great joy and blessed privilege of going to the Kotel, the Western Wall of the ancient Temple. There thousands of our Jewish brothers nd sisters gathered to rejoice in the precious gift of the Torah, the Law which made them into G-d’s people. At that sacred and holy place, the presence of G-d is especially felt, and prayer comes naturally to the heart and to the lips. And in that awareness of the presence of G-d, all the barriers and impediments which keep G-d’s people apart can disappear and vanish.
Above all else, let us learn to recognize and receive the Spirit of G-d which is the ground of all our existence and eternal being. Let us rejoice with all the people of G-d; let us recognize that we too are part of that «kingdom of priests, the holy nation.» For in Christ, the eternal Sacrifice which supercedes all other sacrifices, we have by grace been grafted into the eternal Covenant which G-d made with His Chosen People more than four thousand years ago.
In conclusion, let me commend to all of you this prayer which can so easily be offered by anyone who seeks after G-d:
May the time not be distant, Oh G-d,
When Thy Name shall be worshipped in all the earth,
When unbelief shall disappear and error be no more.
May the day soon come when all men shall invoke Thy holy Name,
When corruption and evil shall give way to purity and goodness,
When superstition shall no longer enslave the mind
Nor idolatry blind the eye.
Oh, may all created in Thine image know that they are brethren,
So that, one in spirit and one in love,
They may be forever united before Thee.
Then shall Thy Creation abide in the fullness of peace:
All nations, all men and women,
All animals and beasts of the field;
For they are our little brothers and sisters,
Created by Thee to share the earth with us.
They too know joy and sorrow,
They too rejoice in life, even as we,
And, in their innocence, they serve Thee far better than we.
So shall Thy Kingdom be established on earth,
And the word of thine ancient prophet be fulfilled:
For the wolf shall dwell with the lamb,
And the lion shall eat straw like the ox.
They shall neither hurt nor destroy in all my holy mountain,
For the earth shall be filled with the knowledge of HaShem,
As the waters cover the sea.
Blessed art Thou, Oh Lord our G-d, King of the universe,
Who hast sanctified us by the Spirit
And hast made us partakers of Thine Eternal Covenant.
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