“Be strong, do not fear!
Hear is your God.”
Monday, Advent II Jan Robitscher
Isaiah 35:1-10 CDSP--All Saints' Chapel
Psalm 85:8-13 December 8, 2014
Marana tha! Come, Lord Jesus!
Advent is the season of the comings of Christ: past, present and future. The word “Advent” means literally “to come to”. For most folks the main focus of this season is on the past, remembering the coming of Jesus at his birth, the fulfillment of ages of longing for a Savior, of longing for God to break into our good world marred by sin. This is not a bad thing! But it is also not complete. God comes to us continually and in many ways from the beginning of the cosmos until the end of time as we know it. Yet to only dwell on God coming to us--even most supremely in the Coming of Jesus-- is to miss an important part of this season. What about our coming to God? Advent, then, is the season of God’s comings to us and of our comings to God. What does it mean, then, to pray this simple, ancient prayer, “Marana tha!” and what might it have to do with today’s lessons?
Marana tha is an Arabic phrase that occurs only once in the New Testament (1 Cor.16:22) and is usually not translated. It also appears in the early lirurgical document, the Didache. It can have at least two different meanings: “Come, Lord Jesus” or “Our Lord has come”, though the weight of must scholarship is on the cry and command, “Come, Lord Jesus”.1
My journey with this word-prayer began a year ago when I attended a workshop given at All Souls Church on paperless music. We were asked to make up a simple melody that could be easily taught that expressed some aspect of Advent. Here is what I did. I invite you to sing after me:
(Sung): MARANA THA! MARANA THA!
This experience launched me into an intense time of praying “Come, Lord Jesus!” in many forms, most notably several of the Taize chants we did here at CDSP during Lent last March. One of them went like this:
(Sung): The Kingdom of God is justice and peace
and joy in the Holy Spirit.
Come Lord, and open in us
the gates of your Kingdom.
(Sung): And another: Let all who are thirsty come.
Let all who wish receive the water of life
freely. Amen, come Lord Jesus.
Amen, come Lord Jesus.
Each chant contains the phrase, “Come, Lord!”. I was surprised how much I wanted to pray this prayer. Not as in former years when I would have been afraid to pray for Jesus to come: too scary; not worthy; not ready, and many more reasons. Yet, now it has become the expression of a deep longing both within me and for our world.
But enough about me. What about the lessons? Isaiah shows the signs of God’s coming with a word-picture of the desert in full bloom, but also bids the people to be strong, to have courage. God is indeed coming, but maybe not as we would like or expect:
“Be strong; do not fear!
Here is your God. He will come
with vengeance and terrible recompense.
He will come and save you.”
Only then does he speak of the wonderful healings that will take place: the eyes of the blind opened, the ears of the deaf unstopped...
And our Gospel lesson? Here is a story that is really of a double-coming. It tells of a paralytic who longed to see Jesus so much that his friends went to wildly creative lengths to bring him right to the center of the crowd, to Jesus’ feet. But--much to the consternation of the Pharisees and the crowd--Jesus also longs to come to him--and not only by his presence. He wanted to heal the man physically and spiritually. Not just his paralysis of body, but of mind and heart and spirit. And then he asked “Which is easier...?” The Pharisees and the crowd were confused. The man left with greater clarity--forgiven, healed, freed and rejoicing, “glorifying God”.
We, too, long for Jesus to come; to be in his presence; to be healed both pyisically and spiritually. We do not have to wait long for Jesus to come. In a few minutes we will [receive the Sacrament of Healing]. In a few more minutes we will be invited to receive Jesus as he gives himself in bread and wine. He will come to us and dwell in us and we will become Christ bearers to the world.
Which brings us back to the question: In this Advent, do we really want Jesus to come? Do we really want to pray, “Marana tha! Come, Lord Jesus”? I wonder what would happen if we tried it, both individually and as a community? What would happen if Jesus really did come into our lives, into our communities, into our world? Then maybe the words of the Psalm would be fulfilled:
I will listen to what the Lord God is saying,*
for he is speaking peace to his faithful people
and to those who turn their hearts to him.
Mercy and truth have met together;
righteousness and peace have kissed each other.
Truth shall spring up from the earth
and righteousness shall look down from heaven.
(Psalm 85: 9-11, BCP)
And Advent will truly be the Season of Comings: God to us and us to God.
Be strong; do not fear! Here is your God!
Marana tha! Come, Lord Jesus!”