“The dawn from on high shall break upon us”

Dear colleagues,

One of the most appealing parts of praying the Daily Office is the repetition. I find myself drawn deeper into the Bible by reciting a similar set of canticles day after day. Lately, I’ve found myself dwelling in particular on the Song of Zechariah, which comes from Luke 1:68-79 and which we say together every morning.

A few weeks ago, after the killing of 11 elderly Jewish worshippers at the Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh, it was jarring to come to Morning Prayer and recite the words of Zechariah, himself an elderly Jewish man: “Through his holy prophets he promised of old, that he would save us from our enemies, from the hands of all who hate us.” The reality of the hate which Zechariah speaks of suddenly became clear to me in a way it hadn’t before. When Zechariah goes on to speak about the freedom “to worship without fear,” I think of all those in this world—Jewish, Christian, and otherwise—who are unable to do precisely this.

In the last week or two, as Advent approaches, I’ve found myself dwelling on one verse in particular: “In the tender compassion of our God the dawn from on high shall break upon us, to shine on those who dwell in darkness and the shadow of death, and to guide our feet into the way of peace.” I’m attracted to this verse for a number of reasons. For one, it’s deeply poetic—“dawn from on high” is a beautiful way of expressing the messianic vision with which this canticle concludes.

I’m also drawn to the phrase “tender compassion.” It expresses so much that is true about God’s grace but it does so in a way that makes me smile. The Greek translated as “tender” is in fact the word for our guts or intestines. In the ancient world, it was widely believed that one’s abdominal organs were the origin of one’s passions. (Today, we are more likely to speak of the heart in this context.) So the phrase “tender compassion” could also be rendered as something like “grace of the guts.”

Finally, I can’t help but think that living in the shadow of death might be an apt description of what I read in the headlines and see as I look around the world. I can’t help but want to turn to this dawn from on high to be led into the way of peace.

In this one verse of one canticle, I find the deep meaning of the gospel, a word that gives voice to my own prayer, and a way to stand with you and those who have gone before us in witnessing to gracious God’s action in the world.

Faithfully yours,

Jesse Zink

This reflection was written by College Principal Jesse Zink for this week’s Wingèd Ox, a community news digest named for our patron, St. Luke, and published weekly during the term normally on Monday (or Tuesday when Monday is holiday).

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