The Saints of the Old Testament – Br. Jim Woodrum
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Hebrews 11:1-3, 8-12, 23-28, 32-12:2; Psalm 37:28-36; Matthew 22:23-32
When we brothers were on pilgrimage to the UK a little over a year ago, we stayed at Keble College while in Oxford. Among the prominent features of Keble College is its chapel. It is not that there is anything outstanding in its architecture that makes it stand out, but rather, once you walk through the doors you are thrown into a sort of sensory overload, especially because all around the perimeter of the chapel are beautiful, multi-colored mosaics. Once you get over the initial shock and begin to study the mosaics, you will note that most of the scenes portrayed are from the Old Testament. You see Noah and the Ark, Abraham and Isaac, Joseph, and others. It may seem odd at first to experience a Christian chapel that predominantly features scenes from the Old Testament. That is until you take a closer look and note that in each of the scenes there is a thinly veiled reference to Jesus Christ.
In the image of Noah we see a dove flying between the Ark and the rainbow, a symbol of the Holy Spirit hovering over both the waters of Creation and of the waters of Baptism. Directly below that we see in the story of Abraham the priest Melchizadek offering bread and wine, the emblematic food of the Christian, the flesh and blood of Jesus Christ.[i] And as you go around the chapel observing these mosaics you can see that Jesus is subtly there and that each story from the Old Testament is giving a knowing nod to the Word (sometimes referred to as the Wisdom of God), who the prologue of John’s gospel says was present in the beginning with God. For the leaders of the Oxford Movement, the Old Testament is “one vast prophetic system, veiling, but full of the New Testament,” and, more specifically, “of the One whose presence is stored up within it.”[ii]
In the calendar of the Church we remember today the Saints of the Old Testament. Like the mosaics of Keble College Chapel, this might have a strange ring to it. We are used to calling characters from the New Testament and beyond saints: St. John, St. Paul, St. Benedict, St. Francis, etc. But what about St. Abraham, St. Noah, St. Sarah, St. Ruth, and St. Rebecca? That may give us pause unless like the leaders of the Oxford Movement, we read the Old Testament incarnationally, that is with and understanding that Jesus Christ, the Word made flesh, is present throughout the epic biblical stories, present with God from before the beginning of time.
So what do we take away from our celebration of the Saints of the Old Testament? Well, the Letter to the Hebrews calls our attention the word ‘faith,’ which it defines this way: the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen. Our forebears from the Old Testament were a long way off from seeing the incarnation of God in the Christ event, yet they were faithful to the promises that God made them through covenant. By faith Abraham obeyed when he was called to set out for a place that he was to receive as an inheritance; and he set out, not knowing where he was going. By faith he received power of procreation, even though he was too old—and Sarah herself was barren—because he considered him faithful who had promised. By faith Moses was hidden by his parents for three months after his birth. By faith Moses considered abuse suffered for the Christto be greater wealth than the treasures of Egypt, for he was looking ahead to the reward.
In our own day, we are seemingly overwhelmed by difficult news and we may wonder where in the world is God in all of this. We, like the Saints of the Old Testament, may feel like we are light years away from the realization of the reign of God. But through Jesus Christ, we hear the gospel message that the Kingdom of God is happening now, and is a process of redeeming and healing the Creation, to which we are being called to participate. We have no reason to doubt what God is doing, but only to have faith, looking to the example of the Saints of the Old Testament, that God indeed will accomplish what He has promised. Like the mosaics of Keble College Chapel, all we need to do is look closely to see the signs where Jesus is with us and among us, restoring us and all of Creation, and calling us to join him in this sanctifying action, one holy moment at a time, with faith: the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen. The Saints of the Old Testament whom we remember today.
[i]Westhaver, George. “Reading the Bible through Keble’s Mosaics.” Covenant, The Living Church, 6 Dec. 2017, livingchurch.org/covenant/2017/12/05/reading-the-bible-through-kebles-mosaics/.
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When I feel overwhelmed by the daily news of our world, one consolation I have been made aware of has to do with what we are finding out about the creation God made, e.g. How trees “talk” to each other through their underground system to defend against disease and thereby help each other survive. There seems to be evidence that somehow the Creator is still in charge, and we can cooperate with him in small ways, delighting in things God is doing with the part of creation still under his control! How can I be more in touch with my Creator, like a tree. Just a morning thought.
Thank you Br. Jim for your helpful words today. I struggle with things going on in this world, why are they happening, so many worries about “what if’s?” Being reminded of the history of God and having faith in His reasons for doing and being is a reminder of what is needed for me to get through these difficult times.
Diane…I, too, was so assured by this message. Thank you, Brother Jim! Indeed, these can be and probably are the “birth pangs” of the Age to Come. Come, Lord Jesus, Come.