Zion Crumbles

Do not fear, O Zion;

let not your hands grow weak.

The Lord your God is in your midst.  (Zeph 3:16-17)

For most of her history, Israel has dreamt of Zion: a high place where God reigns, and where peace and prosperity, safety and happiness are the order of the day.  Christians inherited this dream from our Jewish ancestors.  We never forgot that we came from a people who were led by God to a Promised Land, a land said to be flowing with milk and honey.

So magnificent was the prospect of the American continent that it was easy for some of our more recent ancestors to imagine that this great land was, at last, the Promised Land of God.  Indeed, to travel across America – from its cities to its vast and varied wilderness – is to encounter a land that might well be blessed by God.  Many Americans have tended to think of our nation as a kind of Zion – an exalted place where God reigns, and where peace and prosperity, safety and happiness are the order of the day.

But we share with Israel – ancient and modern – the regular, painful awakening to our own delusion about this.  God is not in charge here.  Peace and prosperity are both elusive.  And safety and happiness slip easily from our grasp whenever we think we are holding them fast.  

The apparent foolishness of hoping for Zion is one thing that has contributed to the easy dismissal, these days, of religion and faith.  “See how all they hope for proves false and crumbles, time and time again,” say those who only believe that there is nothing to believe in.  And this can be a hard argument to counter, for it often appears to be accurate.  Zion is smoke and mirrors, a fantasy, like Oz – a manipulated but false promise that something beautiful lies at the other end of the yellow brick road.  Only fools, hopelessly stuck in a childish fairy tale, place their hope in such ideas.

It is, of course, true that Zion crumbles every time we think we have it in our grasp, that the Promised Land always lies just beyond the horizon, and sometimes the horizon seems very far away indeed.  As it does today, in the aftermath of the bloody slaughter of holy innocents in Connecticut two days ago.  If Zion was anywhere in sight before, we have lost it now; if ever it seemed within our grasp, it has proved to have been made of a kind of crystal that crumbles and melts at the merest touch of our fingers.

If Zion is the hope for peace and prosperity, safety and happiness, where is that hope today?  It is being readied for burial with the little bodies of twenty beautiful children.

What can we do but keep silent in the face of such sadness?



Somewhere beneath the rubble of our lives, are the foundations of Zion – the foundations of hope.  After the silence… eventually… when we are ready… comes the work of digging through the rubble of disaster to rebuild Zion, which is to say, to rebuild hope in our lives and in the lives, I pray, of those whose children or brothers, or sisters, or friends, or teachers, or students, were taken violently from them.

Every child is a Zion-in-miniature – a symbol of hope, of peace and prosperity, safety and happiness – and every child is just as fragile as the hope for Zion, just as susceptible to the wickednesses of every age, just as likely to crumble at our touch, especially when we treat so many children with a cruel indifference in our own day and age.  See how easily they crumble.  See how easily we destroy our own hope.  Zion crumbles. 

A voice says, “Cry.”  And I said, “What shall I cry?”  All flesh is grass, and its beauty is like the flower of the field.  Zion crumbles.

But a voice reminds us to dig through the rubble  - painful though it may be.  Yesterday that voice belonged to the parent of a murdered six-year-old girl, Robbie Parker, who, in expressing his grief, found the strength to offer his prayers and sympathy for the family of the man who killed his daughter.  As Zion crumbled all around him, he was already identifying the stones with which it would be rebuilt: stones of forgiveness, faith, and love.

Do not fear, O Zion;

let not your hands grow weak.

The Lord your God is in your midst.

… [and] I will bring you home.

Sometimes the voice is all we have; a voice that says, “Cry!”

What shall we cry?

We might remind one another that while it may be deeply American to defend the right to bear arms, it is yet more deeply godly to burn with a desire to beat our swords into plowshares and our spears into pruning hooks.  And that means every kind of weapon, firearm, missile, and bomb: transformed in the heat of God’s forge.  For Zion cannot be built with the edge of a sword or the barrel of a gun.

How easily and how often Zion crumbles.

Since Friday, Zion has lain in smoking, bloody ruins in a school in Connecticut.

Who knows why God has made Zion so fragile, when we think we need a fortress?  Why is hope so easily killed?

A voice says, “Cry!”  And I said, “What shall I cry?”

Do not fear, O Zion;

let not your hands grow weak.

The Lord your God is in your midst.

… [and] I will bring you home.



Preached by Fr. Sean Mullen

16 December 2012

Saint Mark’s Church

2 days after the shooting of twenty children

and seven adults in Newtown, CT

Posted on December 16, 2012 .