Grace and peace to you from my last early-morning in front of our lit Christmas tea. I know that Epiphany, the traditional end to the Season of Christmas, already took place on Wednesday. But January 6 became such a painful day in our nation that I couldn’t take down the decorations yet, and have left them up a few extra days as a source of joy and strength.
We thought 2020 was bad. 2021’s start has plunged us even deeper into troubles. COVID-19 continues to spread wildly, here in Los Angeles County especially. And the political partisanship in our nation took an ugly and lawless and destructive turn this week with supporters of the president rioting, trespassing and vandalizing the US Capitol. There is no doubt, even at St. Matt’s we hold a variety of perspectives on social and public policy. But whatever policy differences we may have, I believe we are all deeply troubled by the near sacrilegious behavior of the rioters.
Beyond the issues of lawless entry and the threat of physical harm, I was struck by the rioters’ behavior, their loathing and disrespect for democracy and democratic symbols. For most Americans, there is something holy about the spaces in which democracy plays out, however imperfectly. But not for the rioters. They were intent on desecration. Like someone who breaks into a church sanctuary and picnics with communion elements and sacred vessels on the altar, who gulps sacramental wine and grinds wafers under their heels, and then tosses them all into a heap on the ground before parading around the space holding a processional cross upside down before too tossing it carelessly onto the floor.
Desecration is what I saw on Wednesday, desecration of democracy.
The good news is that the sacredness of democracy, like the holiness of our Christian tradition, doesn’t lie in things. It lies in what is behind those things. In the case of our political system, the sacredness lies in the values and practices of democracy itself. In the case of our faith, the sacredness comes from God in God’s self. Desecration only chips the surface, not at the source of sacredness.
I think something that makes us as Christians resilient in times like these is our deep awareness of this truth: that value and meaning come from the source and not the surface. We may be deeply troubled and unsettled by these happenings, perhaps feel wobbly. But we are not uprooted. We know who and what is our ground—our God of love and peace and restoration and justice. And we know that God is steadfast, and so we can be steadfast as we reground ourselves in God, our understanding of God, our awareness of God’s loving presence, in God’s promises given to us in our Baptism.
This Sunday is Baptism of our Lord. As we watch Jesus be baptized by John, we remember our own Baptism, we feel again the waters of love and restoration pour over us in the name of the Father, Son and the Holy Spirit. And we know. We will be alright. Our world will be alright.