Perhaps you have heard via Catholic Radio this week an encouragement to fast during this three day holiday weekend. I wholeheartedly support the effort: whether through abstaining from meat, abstaining from snacks, reducing the number of meals or through a true bread and water fast from sundown Friday until sundown Sunday. Fasting is the first form of prayer, a ritual surrender of mind, body, heart, spirit and soul to God’s will, letting God’s Word be our sustenance for the journey. Inevitably the emptiness which occurs during fasting leaves us ever more vulnerable to God’s grace.
I trust our fasting and our prayer will open us to the true meaning of our Declaration of Independence, first uttered 244 years ago. Might we understand the Declaration of our independence from England in 1776 as a vision of a much more profound freedom for all God’s children. Just like the prophet Zechariah in Sunday’s first reading, might our authors of this sacred document might be prophets of a future not even they could have imagined? There are four clear references to God and the sacred; how can we sustain honest dialogue among all in our community regarding the ultimate purpose of our lives as “children of God?”
Our experience has already taught us that the authors did not have a grasp of the full import of their words. When they proclaimed the self-evident truth that “all men are created equal,” they meant all white property owners in the 13 colonies/states. And we are slowly, but surely, learning that ALL means ALL, including women, Blacks, Native Americans and immigrants from every corner of the earth.
The people who first heard Zechariah’s prophecy near the end of the sixth century before Christ could not have possibly understood the deeper meaning. They were returning to Jerusalem after eighty years of exile in Babylon; returning to a holy city which had been destroyed at the beginning of the exile. When Zechariah says, “Rejoice heartily, O daughter Zion, shout for joy, O daughter Jerusalem! See, your king shall come to you, a just savior is he…” the people longed for a return to the time of David, when Israel was a united, and very strong, nation, devouring its neighbors and place other nations at their service through taxes and forced labor. They wanted a return to earthly power as a sign of God’s blessings. Come to find out that was NEVER going to happen. The second part of the prophecy turns out to be most important: “meek and riding on an ass, on a colt, the foal of an ass. He shall banish the chariot from Ephraim, and the horse from Jerusalem; the warrior’s bow shall be banished, and he shall proclaim peace to the nations. His dominion shall be from sea to sea, and from the River to the ends of the earth.”
While Zechariah is offering hope in the short term he is declaring a vision of God’s Kingdom which is actually beyond their imagination in that moment. When Christ offers his life on the Cross, beginning with his triumphant entry into Jerusalem, “riding on the foal of an ass,” and ending with his victory over death by the power of love to bring about resurrection life, we are all invited into a brand new way of living, perhaps a WAY which is yet beyond our imagination because we have not trusted God’s promise to us in Christ.
Let us embrace the vision of the Declaration of Independence and the vision of Zechariah’s Declaration of Freedom in Christ Jesus. I believe we can let go of earthly visions of Kings riding in triumph on horses and continue the journey of descent. William Stafford, a great holder of our vision in the twentieth century teaches us in “Spirit of Place: Great Blue Heron;”
If you keep faith I will exist at the edge, where your vision joins the sunlight and the rain; heads in the light, feet that go down in the mud where the truth is.
We must first trust God’s vision revealed through Zechariah and fully revealed in Jesus Christ. Then we will know that our life, even now, is eternal. We will know that truth in the light vanquishes all darkness. We will know that love is, indeed, more powerful than death. Then we can turn our hearts to the Declaration of Independence which is, in its own way, a reflection of God’s vision for us, His children. The beautiful vision of freedom for all the citizens of this new nation, still new after 244 years, is yet emerging. Do we have the courage to pick up the song? Can we craft a beautiful rendition in our day? Knowing that our God is with us, trusting that our destiny is secure, let us risk enough to love until “Thy Kingdom come, Thy Will be done.” Behold the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world.