Rend your hearts

Scarcely a week goes by lately without one person telling me that they are full of hope and optimism for the future … that their world has never been better.  And often, in the same week of hearing such cheerful perspective from one person, I hear the exact opposite – that others are full of dread and gloom.  For them, the world appears to be headed downhill, fast.  I am proud of our parish that we can embrace a wide latitude of perspectives, but when our collective sense of hope seems to be bipolar, what should our spiritual response be? Reading the Daily Office ( at 4:30 am, the lesson today was from the prophet, Joel, chapter 2.  Scholars have trouble even determining the time in which Joel prophesied.  Was he before or after the exile?  No one really knows.  Was the invading plague of locusts a real, impending ecological disaster or was it referring to a real invading foreign army in metaphorical terms?    In the face of impending invasion, whether by insects or humans, Joel calls the people of Israel to gather together in a ritual of repentance.  The people of Israel looked forward to the coming “Day of the Lord” much like children today look forward to Christmas.  For the faithful Jews, the Day of the Lord meant the time when God would come and set things right.  The Jewish people would be vindicated.  God would drive out or destroy their enemies.  Peace would reign.  Justice would prevail.  But for Joel, the Day of the Lord meant bad news.  God was coming in judgment and God was not happy.   Joel saw the people as having strayed far from their faith in God.  He envisioned Jewish priests standing at the altar weeping and pleading to God to spare the people.  The solemn assembly of Israel is called to repent of their ways and turn to God.  In the end, God is “gracious and merciful, Slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love, And relents from punishing.”  The people are spared.  God sends them “grain, wine and oil” so they will be satisfied and they will be a testimony to God’s faithfulness.    The key here is repentance by the entire community not individual repentance.  The season of Advent is two weeks away.  In earlier times, Advent was understood as a season of repentance or even as a “minor version of Lent.”  Because of the coming of the Christ-child at Christmas, Advent is the season of preparation for Christ coming to us.  It is the season where we prepare ourselves.  The coming of Christ is always in judgment of the world and that is why we are called to prepare and repent.   This theme of Christ judging the world takes us directly to the situation of Joel.  All faithful people are called to come together and repent together for the sins of the world.  This isn’t a personal faith or personal religion.  The salvation is also not personal or individual.  It is salvation for the whole world.   In Joel’s story, God “satisfied the people.”   The fact that today we encounter a bipolar response to “How are things going?” tells me that many, if not all of us are blind to the realities of the world or we are in some state of denial.  If we believe that God works in human history, and if we believe that God has and will “satisfy the people.”  Then shouldn’t we consider communal, ritual acts of repentance as Joel describes?  After all, we are a people connected together by a Book of Common Prayer and we have Common Sacraments.   Otherwise, “ Why should it be said among the peoples, Where is their God?” (Joel 2:17)