3rd Sunday OT ~ "In Case of Emergency, Break Glass" ~ Susan McGurgan
It’s 10 AM in a small town down the road--
the kind of town that can be found
half-way between "just about anywhere,"
and "no place in particular."
the air is heavy and close.
Heat rises in waves above the asphalt parking lot
and the sun angles through the stained-glass windows,
leaving a riot of color across the polished floor.
Ladies fan themselves with last week’s bulletin
and men mop their brows,
dreaming of tall glasses of sweet tea
sipped on a shady porch.
A ripple of anticipation breaks the stillness,
as one of their own,
a boy from the neighborhood
and walks slowly to the pulpit.
He had grown up among them,
an ordinary boy—
a bit precocious, perhaps,
apprenticed to the town mechanic.
And his parents?
Well… just like any of them, they supposed,
no better, no worse.
called to preach?
that remains to be seen, doesn’t it?
A hush falls across the assembly—
the coughing and rustling pauses
as he lays his calloused hand upon the well-worn bible
and begins to speak in a clear, strong voice.
The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring glad tidings to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim liberty to captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, and to proclaim a year acceptable to the Lord. He closes the Bible and stands for a moment in silence,
looking out at his neighbors,
familiar faces he has known his entire life.
People who remember
that time he lingered in the city after the field trip,
lost in conversation,
and causing panic at home.
People who hire his father for day jobs,
and gossip about his mother—
People who think they know
there is to know about him.
He gazes out at their faces,
so familiar and beloved,
and says quietly,
this scripture passage is fulfilled in your hearing.” His words are met with silence.
Polite at first,
as if the listeners don’t quite grasp his meaning.
Then a gasp,
as the enormity of what he implies sinks in.
arises from a dozen throats,
the noise electrifying the air
like an arcing wire from an overloaded circuit.
He steps from the pulpit
and walks down the aisle and out of the church
leaving them speechless,
# # #
Today, this scripture passage is fulfilled in your hearing.
the poor hear Good News announced.
the oppressed go free.
the blind see,
begins the year acceptable to the Lord.
or next week.
when we all feel just a bit more ready.
Not when change is more convenient,
or when the powerful and the comfortable
are ready to move over and make some room.
Right here in our midst.
10 AM Mass,
in a town halfway between just about anywhere
and no place in particular.
Exactly where the sun
angles through stained-glass windows
and splashes a riot of color across the polished floor.
If we’re being honest,
this doesn’t seem possible,
or even very welcome.
Most of us,
if we are being completely honest,
don’t really want the Gospel message
to unfold in front of us
without warning or time to prepare.
We aren’t entirely sure
that we want a front row seat
and unfettered access to
and overturned money tables
and sketchy women
and zealous, rough men who reek—
just a little—
of yesterday’s catch.
Tomorrow or the next day or even the week after that
will do just fine,
I mean, after all,
there’s nothing wrong with a little buffer zone—
a safe perimeter—
time to put our affairs in order—
on second thought,
maybe Scripture is actually best kept
safely inside a locked cabinet
in a museum of ancient curiosities—
perhaps in one of those
“In Case of Emergency, Break Glass” cases.
we know where God’s Word is
at all times,
and it’s right there
safe and sound
when we really,
really need it,
but, you know…
Whether we are ready or not,
I suspect that this passage
is supposed to remind us that
someone stands to proclaim Scripture;
someone preaches the Word;
we sing psalms of deliverance, and lament, and hope;
Each and every time—
we will discover Christ standing in our midst,
just as he did that day so long ago in his own hometown,
scripture is being fulfilled in our hearing.
The day of jubilee is now.
The time of liberation is upon us.
Captives are being freed.
Graves are opening up.
Stones are rolling away.
Burial cloths are unwinding.
The poor are hearing glad tidings
and the accepted order of things
is being overturned.
Maybe we should gasp out loud.
Maybe each reading of scripture should leave the air
heavy with electricity.
Maybe we should catch a whiff of ozone
and hear the crackle of live wires arcing from an overloaded circuit
at the end of every hymn
or the beginning of every psalm.
Maybe we should remember
that journeying through scripture
is like walking beside the third rail…
charged with dangerous power just waiting to be unleashed.
The author, Annie Dillard once said,
“It is madness
to wear ladies' straw hats and velvet hats to church;
we should all be wearing
Ushers should issue life preservers and signal flares;
they should lash us to our pews.
For the sleeping God may wake someday and take offense,
or the waking God may draw us out to where we can never return.”*
I don’t really know what to make of this.
I only know that my life feels a bit too tame
and my dreams suddenly seem too small.
Maybe I should lash myself to the pew
and strap on a crash helmet,
and prepare for signs of the kingdom,
emerging all around me.
Today this scripture is fulfilled in my hearing,
and I fear I am not ready—
Come, Lord Jesus.
(c) Susan Fleming McGurgan
*Annie Dillard “The Abundance”, p.173