“Unless the Lord builds the house, they labor in vain” (Ps 127:1).
The citation of this verse may seem a pessimistic way to relaunch a blog. Yet for Covenant it is anything but. It is instead a token of God’s goodness to grasp, a rallying cry to summon the faithful, and a salutary reminder to humble our hearts before beginning such an effort or indeed any effort. For if the Lord wills, we shall see some fruit of our labor. If the Lord wills, our efforts shall not be in vain. If the Lord wills, this blog can serve for the edification of Christ’s Church and her constant renewal. We can assume our work. For with the help of our God, we “can scale any wall” (Ps. 18:29), overcome any obstacle blocking us from serving in the city of our God, whether that obstacle is lodged within our communities or even in our very selves.
“It is vain for you to rise up so early, to sit up late, eating the bread of anxious trouble” (Ps. 127:2).
It is vain indeed. Why have Anglicans contended so earnestly in the past several years to find some measure of harmony and unity, some measure of faithfulness and righteousness together, for all our efforts to seem almost wasted or frivolous? The cares have overwhelmed some to the point of resignation and overcome others to the abandonment of common counsel. Perhaps this exhaustion is a good thing. Perhaps the failure of our own charity and goodwill can itself serve as a reminder of our frailty. The unity of the city of Jerusalem cannot be brought about merely through our efforts; it is always a gift of God, descending from the Father of Lights like a bride adorned for her husband (cf. James 1:17; Rev. 21:2). “Jerusalem is builded as a city that is at unity in itself” (Ps. 122:3, Coverdale version), but only by the efforts of the Lord “in whom the whole structure is joined together” (Eph. 2:21). So why redouble our efforts? Why devote ourselves to regular writing and dialogue and conversation? Why rise so early and go to bed so late?
Is it not because we have some faith in the Lord who “gives life to the dead and calls into existence the things that do not exist” (Rom. 4:17)? We have confidence because the Lord who judges our discord is also our advocate in heaven, always interceding for us with the eternal prayer “that they may be one” (John 17:21; cf. Rom. 8:31-39). We can then pray with confidence, since the Lord who builds the city has not left us as orphans.
Built on such a sure foundation, a group with humility may work toward the renewal of the Church in small yet faithful ways. In the building of a house, many laborers are needed, many gifts given. One is a hewer of wood, another a dresser of stone, one lays brick, another fetches water, foremen are set over the work, the whole is overseen by architects and managers (cf. 2 Chron. 2; 1 Kings 5-7). And so it is with the Church. He who “ascended on high…gave apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors, and teachers” (Eph. 4:18-11).
And who doubts that the city is in need of some building? Its walls lie in ruins and “all who pass by pluck off its grapes” (Ps. 80:12). The structure has been torn down; this body is riven with wounds. But God’s servants love its very rubble (Ps. 102:14); they cling to this wounded body, hopeful that it may rise again, that God wills it to be lifted to the heavens and its towers to the heights.
We remember the pattern of God’s saving action. In the past, God caused a deep sleep to fall over Adam, and he opened his side to “build” a woman, as the Hebrew so vividly puts it (Gen. 2:21). And from the Lord’s wounds also the New Eve, the Church, ever springs forth, bone of his bone and flesh of his flesh (cf. John 19:34). God built his Church from a wounded body, and a wounded body it remained, even when perfected, glorified, and exalted on high (John 20:27; cf. Isa. 63:1). The wound was only ever the presage of better things to come, not the utter end of life.
With such a history, such a body, such a life as our inheritance, we bear hope that the present wounds in the Church might themselves herald the arrival of something ever old and ever new, the appearance of the City with eternal foundations. Indeed, we have faith that God wishes to build something out of the weeping ruins of our division. It is quite simply what he does. And we pray that we too may be sent. In the past, “Many were sent to build … patriarchs were sent, prophets were sent, the Angel Gabriel was sent” (Ambrose, Commentary on Luke, 2.89), and even foreign kings were sent by the Lord who could have completed all by himself.
I made the earth,
and created humanity upon it;
it was my hands that stretched out the heavens,
and I commanded all their host.
I have aroused Cyrus in righteousness,
and I will make all his paths straight;
he shall build my city,
and set my exiles free.
The Lord who made heaven and earth is pleased to work even through unlikely human beings, even those apparently alien from the work of God. It is through their work that he builds his city. How much more then may our God work through us? How much more naturally does the head work through his members? As Ambrose paradoxically puts it, “Many are sent, but Christ alone builds her; yet he is not alone” (Commentary on Luke 2.89). The Christ on whom the whole structure is built builds the Church on his own and yet by the agency of his people. He calls helpers. He makes helpers for himself, even as he made Eve as a helper to Adam. Our role, then, is to work towards the building of this city, to pray and beseech God for his aid, even when doing such humble things as starting a blog. It is ours to say, in the words of Ambrose: “Come, Lord God, build this woman, this city. And let your servant come also, for truly I believe you when you say: ‘He shall build my city’” (Ambrose, Commentary on Luke 2.87).
It is his will to build this city, this woman, this New Eve, and to raise her to the heights.