The “Pulse” of Habakkuk

[It was going to be a simple thing. We would launch the new book Habakkuk Before Breakfast: Liturgy, Lament and Hope at Wine Before Beer on Tuesday, June 14 by revisiting some of the liturgy and music that we used during our 2015 winter series on the prophet, and I would forego the sermon by reading the introduction to the book. But then the Orlando massacre happened. Then 49 people were murdered at the Pulse Nightclub, and I knew that Habakkuk had something to say. So, picking up on the whole prophecy all over again, with allusions to Dylan’s “All Along the Watchtower,” Spektor’s “Apres Mois,” Cohen’s “You Got me Singing,” and Springsteen’s “My City of Ruins” I found myself writing a new reflection. And, because it is all so close, I have decided to post the sermon before it is preached. Here it is.]

HBB poster portrait

“There must be some way out of here.”

I wonder how many were frantically thinking that
on Saturday night in Orlando.
There must be some way out of here,
some way out of the Pulse nightclub,
some way out of the nightmare that had erupted,
some way out of the violence that had (again)
been poured out on the LGBTQ community.

How long shall we cry out for help?
How long must we cry out ‘violence,’
and you do not hear?

Destruction and violence,
murder and injustice,
anger and hatred!
How long must we sing this song?

There must be some way out of here,
but that way is blocked at every turn.
We’re surrounded by this violence,
hemmed in by this hatred
held captive by this fear.
Held captive in the Pulse nightclub,
where today the blood splattered plaster cries out,
the dance floor weeps,
the music is silenced,
and the bar has nothing to offer that can dull the pain.

“Because of human bloodshed,
and violence to the earth,
to cities and all who live in them.”
From the blood of Abel,
to the blood of the Pulse nightclub,
the earth has cried out.

All of creation suffers from our violence,
all of creation joins the chorus of grief,
and all of creation bears witness against this violence.

Woe to you who heap up what is not your own.
Woe to you who heap up the bodies of LGBTQ folks,
sisters and brothers,
mothers and fathers,
lovers and friends.

Woe to you who get evil gain for your house,
setting your nest on high
to be safe from the reach of harm!
Woe to you who erect walls of division,
walls of self-protection,
walls of injustice.

Woe to you who build a town by bloodshed
and found a city on iniquity.
The blood of the LGBTQ community,
the blood of young black men in Toronto,
the blood of our Indigenous neighbours,
the blood of our brother, Ramsey Whitefish.

Woe to you who make your neighbours drink the draft of your rage,
who pour out wrath until it leaves your victims naked and bloodied.
Woe to you who have turned your back on love,
and live out of a fear and hatred
that will inevitably rebound on you.

Woe to you who are seduced by idolatry.
Woe to you who make the gun into a sacrament,
and whose hands are smeared with the blood of your victims.

Woe, cries out the God of life.
Woe, echoes all of creation.
Woe, we shout or whisper or just moan, through our tears.

Habakkuk gives us the space for such grief.
Habakkuk gives us permission for such hurt and anger.
Habakkuk calls forth such lament.
Habakkuk authorizes such declarations of woe.
But Habakkuk does not leave us there.

Or better to say, God does not leave Habakkuk there.

Say it clear, say it loud,
there is still a vision for an appointed time.
There is still a word of truth that breaks through the deceit,
there is still a word of hope that breaks through the despair,
there is still a path of life in the midst of death.

The proud are beset with spiritual injustice.
but “the righteous live by faith.”

The arrogant will not endure,
but “the righteous live by faith.”

Wealth is treacherous,
but “the righteous live by faith.”

The death-dealing violence of racists,
homophobes and transphobes is insatiable,
but “the righteous live by faith.”

Those who embrace a path of righteousness
in the face of violence,
those who choose a path of justice
in the face of injustice,
are those who choose
faithfulness over infidelity,
truthfulness over deceit,
love over hate,
the God of life over the idols of death.

To be faithful, sisters and brothers,
faithful to those who have been lost,
faithful to their memory,
faithful to our own pain,
faithful to a vision of life restored,
faithful to justice,
faithful to Jesus whose blood also cries out,
faithful to a resurrection hope,
we must go on standing, because we are not our own,
we must go on singing, even though it all looks grim,
and in our city of ruins,
in Orlando, Toronto, and all other cities of bloodshed,
we must sing in hope and in defiance,
we must sing for the dead, come on rise up, come on rise up!

His body trembling,
his lips quivering,
his step faltering,
Habakkuk ends his song with this:
though the fig tree does not blossom,
and no fruit is on the vines;
though the produce of the olive fails
and the fields yield no food;
though the flock is cut off from the fold
and there is no herd in the stalls,
yet I will rejoice in the Lord;
I will exult the God of my salvation;
he makes my feet like the feet of a deer,
and makes me tread upon the heights.

Can you join Habakkuk in that song tonight?
Have you got it in you to sing
in the face of all that would render you silent?

Though the violence continues unabated,
and there seems to be no end in sight;
though homophobia continues to slaughter
God’s beloved children;
though we face death day in and day out
on the streets of Toronto;
though we are so broken-hearted,
confused and angry;
can we still proclaim,
Christ has died,
Christ is risen,
Christ will come again?

Can we still pray,
your kingdom come,
your will be done?

Can we still sing,
“taste and see the grace eternal,
taste and see that God is good”?

Can we still sing, in the face of it all,
“it is well with my soul”?

Maybe you can and maybe you can’t.

And if you can’t believe,
if you can’t pray,
if you can’t sing,
then know this, my friends,
there are some here who can,
and they will believe,
they will pray,
and they will sing for you.

And know this too.
There is bread and there is wine.
There is a table.
Come beloved friends.
Come and eat.
Come and drink.
This is a resurrection table.
This is a table of radical hope.

Amen.

Brian Walsh
Brian is an activist theologian and the CRC Campus Minister at the University of Toronto. He engages issues of theology and culture, and has written a couple of books you might want to check out. His most recent offering is entitled Kicking at the Darkness: Bruce Cockburn and the Christian Imagination.

One Response to “The “Pulse” of Habakkuk”

  1. Paul Pynkoski

    Thank you, Brian, for this, and for the reference to our brother, Ramsey.

    Reply

Leave a Reply