Fellow Passengers: This week’s Prophetic Passage* (Isaiah 34) transports me to Free Derry, Ireland, January 30, 1972, a day when 27 unarmed civil rights marchers were shot in broad daylight by the British military. Thirteen were killed, the first being teenager Jack Duddy, shot in the back as he and a priest ran away down the street trying to escape the mayhem. It turned out to be one of the most significant days of Northern Ireland’s period of “The Troubles.” It was the Lord’s Day, and using Isaiah’s language, it was a day bathed with blood. . . a day of vengeance, a day of retribution. The issue at hand on that bloody day was the land, who controlled the land, whose flag would fly.
Conflicting claims over land plagued northern Ireland from the early 1600s, when Protestant settlers from England and Scotland, known as “planters,” were given Gaelic land confiscated from the native Irish. The ethnic and sectarian violence lasted until a peace process that began in the 1980s was concluded in 2007. Four centuries of bloody conflict seems like a long time, until you look at the troubles of the Holy Land. Try four millennia. Almost four thousand years ago the first Hebrew “planter,” Father Abraham, made his way from Ur, in what is now southern Iraq near the Kuwait border, and traveled to the land of promise, Canaan land. The conquest and confiscation of this land by later planters, led by Joshua, led to a cycle of violence over disputed territory that was very present in Isaiah’s time. The cycle continued through a period of Roman planters and then Byzantine Christian planters and then Zoroastrian Persian planters and then Arab-Muslim planters and on and on to our day and time. Frustrated peacemakers are constantly reminded of the competing claims for “plantation” – the Hamas Charter refuses to recognize Israel’s right to exist, while Israel’s ruling party, Likud, states in its charter that “The Government of Israel flatly rejects the establishment of a Palestinian Arab state west of the Jordan River” and promises to do all it can to strengthen Jewish settlements on the West Bank. And so the swords remain sharpened.
Who knows when the prophecy of Isaiah will come to its final passage, when people of faith will hear God saying that the sword has drunk its fill. With that day of peace still on the horizon, the streams of various contested lands continue turning to pitch and jackals continue haunting the battlefields. The measuring line of chaos continues to lengthen and the plumb line of desolation continues to reach new depths. When is the Lord’s Day, when we can hear and then proclaim God’s end to violence? As Christians, we claim to know when the Day of the Lord is; we say that the Lord’s Day comes around every Sunday. You might say that we in the Christian community claim it as our own Bloody Sunday of sorts, a day when some in the faith community still have the stomach to sing about the powerful blood of Jesus, blood that is able to wash away all sins, even the sins of land grabbing and conquest and slaughter. It is a day when the faith community gathers around a table to drink from a common cup and hear these words of institution: This cup is the new covenant in my blood. Do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of me. In our world of too many troubles, with too many broken bottles under children’s feet and bodies strewn across dead end streets, it’s no wonder Bono sings of the real battle yet begun, to claim the victory Jesus won, Sunday, Bloody Sunday. The Lord’s Day led another troubled lyricist to borrow lines from today’s passage and sing these words of a hopeful day when the clouds will be rolled back like a scroll, it is well, it is well with my soul. . . Oh Lord, haste the day when this faith shall become sight.
How about you? Where does this Prophetic Passage take you on your journey of faith? Feel free to comment.