Friday, August 16, 2013

A Prayer for Egypt

This image in this photo is called the Sinai Pantokrator. It depicts Christ as the almighty ruler. Anyone who recognizes that it is Christ knows also that Christ suffered and died, and a reminder of the cruel violence of his death appears on the cover of the book that he is holding. But now he is serene. His gaze is steady. He surveys the whole world, and he sees deep into every heart. Everyone will answer to his gaze. To be sure, having suffered, he understands and is merciful. But he is also the judge of the living and the dead--a judgment, we are told, that begins with the household of God, which we may gloss as: with all who name God as great and merciful but act with pettiness and cruelty.

This image is from a Christian monastery on Mount Sinai. Sinai: the place between Egypt and Israel; the mountain upon which God descended to give the law (represented in the book in this icon). In Israelite and Christian tradition, God's revelatory presence moves between Mount Sinai and Mount Zion, the mountain associated with the rule of the Davidic King and with the temple which represents the new and abiding locus of God's presence with his people. Can we take the provenance of the image before us as a reminder that for Christians the Davidic King on Mount Zion is also the Son who was called out of Egypt? Can we see his gaze, which surveys the whole earth, as gazing intently also from Sinai into the land of Egypt? Can I trust that he sees my brothers and sisters in Egypt, whose voice I hear this morning in the words of this psalm?

Hear my prayer oh Lord; let my cry come to you. Do not hide your face from me in the day of my distress. Incline your ear to me; answer me speedily in the day when I call. For my days pass away like smoke, and my bones burn like a furnace. All day long my enemies talk to me; those who deride me use my name for a curse. But you, O Lord, are enthroned forever; your name endures to all generations. You will rise up and have compassion on Zion, for it is time to favor it; the appointed time has come.

I stop short at the first mention in this psalm of the name of Zion. I do not forget the historical, geographical significance of this name, and its recent use and abuse, but I choose to remember here its Isaianic theological significance: it denotes the place from which the God who descends to dwell with his people calls together all peoples and all nations to live in the light of his loving instruction. I believe that the Sinai Pantokrator gazes not only to the east and to the north but to the south and to the west. So this morning I read on:

Let this be recorded for a generation to come, so that people yet unborn may praise the Lord: that he looked down from his holy height, from heaven the lord looked at the earth, to hear the groans of the prisoners, to set free those who were doomed to die; so that the name of the Lord may be declared in Alexandria, and his praise in Cairo, when peoples gather together, and kingdoms, to worship the Lord.

May the children of your servants live secure, and their offspring be established in your presence.


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