July 13, 2015

The Power of Symbols

            Yesterday’s lectionary reading from the Hebrew Bible had a lengthy narration of the procession of the Ark of God from Baale-judah to the city of David, the appropriate home for the symbol of the presence of God among the people.  Scholars generally agree (can you imagine?!) that the installment of the Ark in Jerusalem was a pivotal move in consolidating David’s reign.
            The most memorable part of this story is David’s exhilaration at this process, which he celebrates in uninhibited dance.  While we do not know exactly what he had on as he danced before the Lord, his wife is not amused, but rather quite disgusted by his public display.  This heated confrontation with Michal definitively signals the end of King Saul’s rule, the era of her father.
            Religious and civil symbols hold great power, and their numinous influence captivates history and identity.  The story of the transfer of the Ark of the Covenant reveals how seriously humans must take an entity that conveys a connection to the holy.  When Uzzah attempted to steady the Ark after the oxen had stumbled, he was struck dead for merely touching it (2 Samuel 6:6-7). 

            This past Friday morning America witnessed an historic event, the lowering of the Stars and Bars, a vestige of racial oppression.  I was privileged to observe the event in a room pretty evenly divided between African American and European American Baptist leaders, and we suspended our agenda to gather together for this dramatic occasion.
            Observing the event with my revered sister, Rev. Dr. Trinette McCray, held special significance for me.  While our experience of racism has been different given our social location, our desire for the dream of a beloved community draws us together in hope.

            Sighs and tears accompanied our riveted attention to the meticulous and respectful transfer of the flag from over the South Carolina statehouse to a museum.  This emblem of Southern memory, and for some, contemporary pride, was freighted with too much baggage to continue to fly.
            Symbols have their seasons.  The Ark of God is not a continuing emblem of the presence of God in Christian theology; the Incarnate One, Jesus the Christ, eclipses the earlier sign of God’s accompaniment.  It is his life that allows us to draw near to God, as the whole of the Epistle to the Hebrews declares.  For clarifying events in our civil and our religious life, we give thanks.

            Molly T. Marshall
Central prepares women and men for seeking God, shaping church, and serving humanity.


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