Readings: 2 Samuel 6:1-2, 12b-19, Mark 6:14-29
The Ark of the Covenant, whether the Indiana Jones version, or a 21st century impression by He Qi of China or this thirteenth century rendition from the Morgan Bible, has fascinated people throughout the centuries and across cultures. Where did it go? Did Jeremiah retrieve it and seal it up high in the mountains before the destruction of the Temple, or did the Babylonians take it with all the other treasure when they sacked the Temple? Others say it is in the care of the Ethiopian Orthodox Church, that the Knights Templar have it in France or the UK, or that it has been destroyed somehow. Whilst we could speculate a great deal on the fate of the physical Ark, (and some people have spent their lives doing just that) it seems to me that it would be more useful for us to ask what this text might say to us of God. Samuel Giere, a US theologian suggests this text provides a dynamic portrait of God's presence and power with the people of Israel and speaks strongly of the danger and joy of being in God's presence.
The ark for David and the people of Israel was not a benign presence, a safe harbour – anything but – ask Uzzah who, the passage says, simply touched the Ark to stop it falling when the oxen stumbled and he was dead – nothing fair or just or deserving about that. It goes on to say “David was afraid of the Lord that day” and he only came back to escort the Ark into Jerusalem three months later. Being in the presence of God, he discovered, is both a danger and a joy.
How do we do that sort of tension? How do we welcome the presence of God into our lives with great joy knowing that it can also bring an increased potential for danger –because we are called to speak out about those things that are unjust and unfair and unloving –in a culture that does not necessarily hold justice and love and compassion as the number one priorities. When we challenge the status quo, we are inviting trouble, failure, put downs, retribution and it happens – more often than not. Perhaps not quite the trouble that John the Baptist got into by speaking out against the household arrangements of King Herod but trouble none-the-less. And it’s not just about our intentional stands for social and political and economic justice that place us in relative danger – it is also about the ordinary hand that life deals us, the Uzzah moments in our lives where stuff happens – not because we deserve it or don’t deserve it – it just is. Inviting the presence of God into our lives is neither a ticket to safety nor to immunity from the sometimes harsh realities of life for us. As it was for John – he not only spoke out but he was also in the wrong place at the wrong time – a feast, the largesse, a spontaneous generous oath taken literally, an opportunity taken – all contributed to his untimely death.
So we have increased danger from our speaking out and no less danger for being in the presence of God – where do we find the will to dance with joy in celebration of God’s presence? We can dance because we, like David, know that there is a bigger story, a greater truth to be found in the presence of God. For us that truth is found in Jesus Christ who came among us not only to heal and reconcile but also to invite us into that bigger story, a life greater than we on our own can perceive, where our lives and life of the world can be transformed way beyond our imaginings or our individual realities, where in the power of the risen Christ we are able to not only confront the powers that abuse and exploit way and make a difference, but that we can also hold on to a hope, a love that will not let us go in the midst of all that life throws our way. That indeed is cause for celebration and joy even in the midst of danger. Thanks be to God.