Fellow Passengers: This week’s Promise Passage (2 Chronicles 30:1-12) transports me back in time 150 years to St. Joseph’s, Missouri, where a Pony Express rider took the reins to begin the fastest run on record, seven days and seventeen hours, as the team of riders delivered the text of the newly elected President Abraham Lincoln’s 1861 inaugural address to the Governor of California. With seven southern states already declaring secession from the Union, President Lincoln was intent on securing California for a possible war ally, primarily for the gold that the state could supply. Historians don’t know who the riders were on that epic journey; the team could have included some of the more famous Pony Express riders: Buffalo Bill Cody, Wild Bill Hickok, or Calamity Jane Canary. These and others had answered the call found on ads across the plains and western states: “Wanted. Young, skinny, wiry fellows. Not over 18. Must be expert riders. Willing to risk death daily. Orphans preferred.”
These expert death-defyers faced bitter weather and Indian attacks as they crossed the mountains and plains to get Lincoln’s message to Sacramento. I have to wonder if they also experienced mockery and ridicule as people began to get wind of the content of the new President’s address. From our post-Civil War vantage point, many of his comments aimed at unifying the States do seem preposterous and subject to scorn. I have no purpose, directly or indirectly, to interfere with the institution of slavery where it exists. . . I shall take care, as the Constitution enjoins upon me, that the laws of the Union be faithfully executed in all the States. . .In doing this there needs to be no bloodshed or violence. . . there will be no invasion – no use of force against or among the people anywhere. . .All the vital rights of minorities, and of individuals, are so plainly assured to them . . .in the Constitution, that controversies never arise concerning them.
I can’t help but imagine that people all along the route, in the nearly 200 stopping points and transfer stations, upon hearing some of these remarks, would have bust out laughing. What world is he living in? Is he kidding? I imagine there were more colorful taunts and mockery and ridicule for the riders to hear and endure as they carried these inconceivable assurances to the far reaches of the nation.
When Hezekiah was inaugurated King of the southern kingdom of Judah in the late 8th century BCE, the country of Israel had long been divided, and the northern kingdom had fallen to the invading Assyrian army. Sennacherib, king of the Assyrians, had already started the deportation of Israelite citizens into exile. Both northern and southern kingdoms had long forgotten the covenant that gave them birth, and had neglected the holy days, such as Passover. Hezekiah came to power with the intention of changing all this; he started the effort to restore the righteous relationship between the people and God. He came up with an initial plan to unify the country, north and south: they would bring back the Passover celebration. It was too late to do it on the prescribed date, so they postponed it for one month, and the King sent word out to all the citizens of both kingdoms. Like Lincoln, he employed something of a pony express, dispatching riders with his inaugural invitation to come and participate in the restoration event.
When the riders made their way into the defeated territory of the north, their message was met with great disdain, with mockery and ridicule and scorn. Who knows what was in the mind of these left behind people; odds are they were dealing with tremendous grief and shame and loss at having seen so many of their family and friends and neighbors carried off into captivity. Most were beyond hope, and could only respond with bitter disdain. Only a few responded positively to the invitation, and participated in the Passover event.
Perhaps more of the depressed and defeated northern kingdom dwellers would have responded positively if Hezekiah had concluded his invitation with the closing remarks of Lincoln in his inaugural. They are words that our country’s citizens would do well to hear and heed once again, as we face the bitter divisions and animosities once again threatening our stability: We are not enemies. We must not be enemies. Though passion may have strained, it must not break our bonds of affection. The mystic chords of memory, stretching from every battlefield, and patriot grave, to every living heart and hearth-stone, all over this broad land, will yet swell the chorus of the Union, when again touched, as surely they will be, by the better angels of our nature.