At the beginning of this week I said we may find passages from the prophets particularly resonant and meaningful this Holy Week. So here’s Hosea:
What will you do on the day of appointed festival,Hosea 9:5-7
and on the day of the festival of the Lord?
For even if they escape destruction,
Egypt shall gather them,
Memphis shall bury them.
Nettles shall possess their precious things of silver;
thorns shall be in their tents.
The days of punishment have come,
the days of recompense have come;
“The prophet is a fool,
the man of the spirit is mad!”
What will we do on the appointed festival, the festival that’s almost upon us? Easter is round the corner, staring us in the face. We’re probably all wondering, will it feel like Easter at all? Should it? Because the truth is: the voice of Hosea’s Israel is right. You’d have to be a fool or mad to have any Easter hope or joy now.
But then the message of the Cross is foolishness. As Paul puts it…
Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world? For since, in the wisdom of God, the world did not know God through wisdom, God decided, through the foolishness of our proclamation, to save those who believe.1 Corinthians 1:20-21
Theologians give this proclamation a technical name: kerygma. It’s actually the word Paul uses in that quote from the opening of his first letter to the Corinthians. The heart of our faith, these theologians say, is not doctrine or deeds or rituals or rules or laws but a proclamation: a shouting out of God’s love to a loveless world.
And this kerygma, let’s be honest, is foolish, mad even. Think how crazy it sounds in a world where building and selling weapons to regimes that bomb civilians and hospitals makes sense, in a world where chopping down rainforests makes sense, where closing borders to starving and desperate refugee families makes sense. In this world our faith is non-sense. It’s foolish.
At the World Economic Forum held in Davos back in January (another time, another world) the President of the United States said
we must reject the perennial prophets of doom and their predictions of the apocalypse. They are the heirs of yesterday’s foolish fortune tellers.
His words are precisely those of Hosea’s unfaithful Israel calling its prophets fools and mad.
I don’t want you to think for a moment that this reflection is directed at any particular country or government, or in any particular political direction; it’s not pointed at them or them or them. No, this message – the prophets’ message, Hosea’s message – is directed squarely at us.
Contrary to President Trump’s definition, prophets are not fortune tellers.Hosea is not in the business of telling us what will happen – as a matter of fact – in the future; he’s telling us how – as a matter of faith – we should change our lives now. He’s not telling your fortune; he’s telling you the truth.
And the demands that these prophets make on us to change, to repent are unreasonable. But then God is unreasonable. Is love reasonable? What would you do if you got a Valentine’s card one year that said “I love you, reasonably”? God loves unreasonably, unconditionally, foolishly. Perhaps we all do. Or should, if we’re doing it properly.
To balance the politics out a bit here, and to misquote the campaign of a previous president of the United States, it’s categorically not the economy, stupid. No, it’s us, loving and caring for one another. If that makes us fools, so be it. I’m a fool.
And I’m a fool among fools because I see a lot of this hopeful, joyous, prophetic foolishness in the parishes where I live and work. I see a new sense of love and care and service growing, flourishing in our communities, a readiness to serve, a prophet-inspired return to a different set of values. To say nothing of the dedication, service and sheer heroism of our nurses and doctors working on the frontline. The demands on them are unreasonable, the debt we owe them uncountable.
A normal year – and our Passiontide is drawing to a close, and Easter services are being planned and prepared in standard celebratory mode. Fantastic.
But this year – as we listen out foolishly for unreliable rumours of an empty tomb, of impossible encounters – let’s hear again Hosea, and all the prophets, and the kerygma of our faith…
Let’s turn Passiontide into Compassiontide, sharing our suffering and pain, and living it through the redemptive suffering of Our Lord Jesus Christ. So, the madness, the foolishness of our kerygma – He is risen! – will sound wildly fresh and strange and prophetic in our ears, with a new resonance, a new poignancy.
I tell you, what could feel this year like an Easter unmarked, may prove to be an Easter that marks us all, and marks us deeply. Because we will all come out of this utterly transformed, as the disciples and first witnesses were transformed.
We began with Hosea, and we’ll end with him. Mendelssohn includes lines from the prophet Hosea (7:13) in this moving, mournful passage from his Elijah oratorio:
God the Holy Spirit, giver of life, who speaks through the prophets,
make us your proclamation in a world deaf to your Word.
In this time of punishment and recompense,
spare us, restore us, revive us,
and reveal to us afresh
the Risen Son of the Father
to whom be glory forever and ever.