21 August 2016

Lord, let me know mine end

There is a striking moment in The Nine Tailors when Lord Peter is attending a funeral, studying the suspects, and notes in passing the genius of Cranmer in putting together the Anglican funeral rite. He marks especially the reading of Psalm 39, Dixi Custodium (anyone miss the old Latin titles like used in TLH?), and particularly these lines:

LORD, let me know mine end, and the number of my days; * that I may be certified how long I have to live.

An interior dialog ensues in which Lord Peter expresses a very modern thought: "Certify me no such thing!" And why not? Better not to see the monster creeping up to devour you; better not to know how close he is standing to you, your spouse, your parents, your child, your neighbor, your friend. The thought is that if you knew how close he was to you, it would spoil all enjoyment of life itself. That's what Lord Peter was thinking and it's quite the way folks operate these days.

Cindi noted a picture she had from a happy event in our lives not too long ago. In the picture were two dear people who have since died. Would it be better to enjoy the happy moment, blissfully oblivious of the beast stalking you? Is that the only real way to enjoy life?

The Scriptures think differently, and therefore so does the Church. No, we may not know the moment that the monster will begin munching us down, but the Scriptures and the Church are quite certain that we do very well NOT to ignore the reality of the end that awaits. We do well to actually ponder it. For then we can stare the monster in the eye each and every day that we live. And far from impoverishing the days we have here on pilgrimage, it actually sets those days utterly free, fills them with laughter and joy!

To pray with the Church in the Litany "from a sudden and evil death: Good Lord, deliver us!" is to pray with the Psalm: "let me know mine end, and the number of my days." For, of course, when you know your end to be "I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever" it is the promise THAT end that fuels the fight against the monster. It is true, "I had fainted; unless I had believed to see the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living." But since I HAVE believed that, I can turn to face the snarling beast.

I can stare him in the face and say: I know not the day you will make your move, but I know that when you've finished with me and think I am done, you will have to taste the same bitter defeat you tasted in Palestine so long ago. For He lives and He has promised me that my end is not to be turned by you into worm food. My end is to sit with Him in His Father's house as His beloved brother, and to feast in joy forevermore. Yes, He will raise this flesh which you, foul beast, will devour but which you will not and cannot hold. It has partaken of the medicine of immortality, into it has gone the undying Body and Blood of the Savior who defeated you long ago. I am baptized into Him. His life is my life! His blood covers all my sins! Come when you will, do what you must, but YOU are not my end. No, "I shall not die, but live and declare the works of the Lord" (Psalm 118, Luther's only motet).

With all due respect to Lord Peter, he missed Cranmer's true genius, for he mistook what is "mine end" and the wondrous marvel of my days being without end. So comforted, you can stare the monster down and sing it a cheerful round or two of the song of victory every single day; it's all practice for the moment when you hear your song blend with angels, archangels and the whole company of heaven. The Church's hymnody is ammo for that fight!

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