Consider Nathan Wilson’s Empire of Bones, a fun and swashbuckling young adult novel (part of a series, not yet complete) that has a major character singing Psalm 22, singing it joyously—for the joy set before him, as he gives his life in the hope of saving others. With a small quote it’s impossible to capture the intense build-up that has brought the book and series to this point, but here is the bittersweet moment:
Surrounded completely, the Captain’s blade was still fast enough to keep the ring from closing. He laughed as he fought, and his smile was as grim as any reaper’s. And then he began to sing. His accent and his effort slurred his words, but Diana recognized the song. Her own mother sang it in the kitchen, and her happiness in the singing always belied the sorrow of the words.
The Captain sang and he danced and he slashed the ring around him. He sang even when Radu’s chain found his legs and lightning forked from the links and felled him. He sang as the transmortals tore the blade from his hand, grabbed his wrists, and stretched his shaking oak-strong arms out from his sides.
He was singing as they tore off his breastplate, and singing as Rupert pulled Diana back from the rail, away from what was about to happen.
“You are no immortal,” Radu spat. “You are a beggar with a scrap of Odyssean Cloak hidden beneath your skin.”
“Their mouths they opened wide on me,” the Captain sang. “Upon me gape did they, like to a lion ravening and roaring for his prey. For dogs have compassed me about; they pierced my—”
The Captain’s voice broke into a shout of pain, and then he sang on, louder still, filling the vaults with what sounded like triumph, like joy.
John Smith was ready to sail.
Diana shook as Rupert pulled her away. But she heard the beastly snarl as the scrap of Odyssean Cloak was taken from inside the Captain’s chest. She heard a blade sing. The snarling stopped. Mocking laughter began.
He is even strung out in the shape of a cross.
After this I looked, and the sanctuary of the tent of witness in heaven was opened, and out of the sanctuary came the seven angels with the seven plagues, clothed in pure, bright linen, with golden sashes around their chests. And one of the four living creatures gave to the seven angels seven golden bowls full of the wrath of God who lives forever and ever, and the sanctuary was filled with smoke from the glory of God and from his power, and no one could enter the sanctuary until the seven plagues of the seven angels were finished. Then I heard a loud voice from the temple telling the seven angels, “Go and pour out on the earth [or land] the seven bowls of the wrath of God.” (Revelation 15:5-16:1)
Summarizing James Jordan, the bowls of Revelation constitute a kind of day of at-two-ment. Seven mediators, dressed in linen, come from the cherubim-throne and issue a return-to-sender for centuries of offering bowls, purifying bowls, and seven-fold sprinklings. This is poured out not only upon the unbelieving land of Israel, but upon the entire old-covenant and old-creation world where Israel served as mediator for the nations.
After Jerusalem falls, Jesus is the only mediator left standing, the fountainhead of the new creation and the greater Solomon to whom kings and nations must gather.
A strong parting blessing:
It is time for me to go. May the Almighty
Father keep you and in His kindness
watch over your exploits. I’m away to the sea,
back on alert against enemy raiders.
(Beowulf: A New Verse Translation 316-319, Trans. Seamus Heaney)
My pastor has some helpful reflections on the Christian’s privilege to “draw near to God” at our church blog.
Another important aspect of drawing near relates to Israel’s system of offerings and sacrifices. There are a cluster of Hebrew words that relate to this:
- qarab — to draw near, to offer; used frequently to speak of worshippers bringing an offering
- qorban — an offering, or the “thing brought near”
- qereb — inside, in the midst, inner parts; used of the inner parts of an offering that are burned and made to ascend into God’s presence
So, we can say that God’s people draw near to him through offering a sacrifice. There are two ways in which this is true for the Christian — first, we draw near through the once-for-all sacrifice made by Jesus nearly 2000 years ago. But second, we draw near week to week by offering ourselves, by offering a “sacrifice of praise.”
The purity regulations for worshippers also come into view as we draw near. There are also two ways to take this; on the one hand, we have “once been cleansed” (Heb. 10:2) by Jesus’s blood, so we may stand with confidence before our king. But on the other hand, we are called to actively cleanse our hands and purify our hearts (James 4:8), and we do so by confessing our sins (1 John 1:9). What this means is that the church’s historic practice of corporate confession and public proclamation of our forgiveness in Christ is a very appropriate and helpful part of our drawing near.
Finally, we are helped by remembering the ultimate outcome for sacrificial worship — a fellowship meal with God. The offerings themselves were food for God (Leviticus 1:9), and all but one of Israel’s offerings culminated in the priests or the worshippers sharing food with God. Furthermore, the high points of Israel’s liturgical calendar were the feasts where they met and ate in God’s presence at God’s house. The most familiar example of this is the annual Passover feast at the tabernacle and temple. In the same way, the high point of Christian worship, our drawing near, is our fellowship meal with Jesus in his house: the Lord’s supper. As Calvin writes, “the sacrament [of communion] might be celebrated in the most becoming manner, if it were dispensed to the church very frequently, at least once a-week.” Even if you do not practice the Lord’s supper weekly, you can remember and rejoice in the fact that you have an open invitation to sit at Jesus’s table.
See also: Ascent
I read this quote years ago and can’t remember how I came across it. It’s from Tom Wolfe’s I Am Charlotte Simmons: A Novel, which I haven’t read. Wolfe is insightful here:
Charlotte laid her head back on Momma’s shoulder and sobbed softly. She could see Daddy standing right there, and she took her tears to him and threw her arms around his neck, which clearly startled him. Daddy didn’t hold with public displays of affection. Between sobs she whispered into his ear, “I love you, Daddy. You don’t know how much I love you!”
“We love you, too,” said Daddy.
He also didn’t know how much it would have meant to her if he could have only brought himself to say I.
Congratulations to Asher for being the 2014 Ranger Kids Ranger of the Year at our outpost!
M. F. Sadler discusses the meaning of “saint” in his 1876 book, The Second Adam and the New Birth:
The word “saint,” or “holy person,” is now almost universally used as implying real purity of heart and devotion to God’s service. It is applied to Apostles, such as St. Peter or St. Paul; to eminent men who have been raised up by God in bygone times to contend for the faith, such as St. Athanasius or St. Augustine; or to men and women of very deep holiness and spirituality of mind.
In the New Testament, on the contrary, it is the common appellation of Christians. In no one place is it used to distinguish Christians of very deep holiness and spirituality from those who have not attained to such a measure of conformity to God’s will. In only a small number of texts does it imply internal purity and spirituality, and in these places it has reference not to the present character of Christians, but to that which those will be found to possess at Christ’s second coming who have continued in that service of Christ to which at Baptism they were solemnly separated and set apart. (111)
As James Jordan often says, the meaning of saint is to have sanctuary access:
[God] raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus (Ephesians 2:6 ESV)
Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need. (Hebrews 4:16 ESV)