dispatches to and from

nathan f. elmore

Dispatches to and from faith, culture, and things in between

The Right to Bear Arms

I occasionally tell stories in the voice of a pastor. This is one such occasion.

On April 22nd, in the middle of the Good Friday Liturgy at St. Paul's Episcopal Church in Richmond, during the homily, the Rector called Jesus' death "a revolution of humility." In that moment I remember whispering to myself: Thank God. Thank God for that sort of revolution. For the delightfully surprising way he accomplishes his will in the story of how he saves the world.

If it is to be believed, God ultimately makes his rescue -- tenderly and strongly, in Jesus -- through a surrender of will. This surrender knows no coercion or physical force. It arrives not necessarily by ingenuity or deft skill, and, in fact, often in the distinctly human form of failure. To be sure, it is not sourced in the usual cultural narratives that we admire and hail. For all to publicly see, Good Friday means that God's surrender instead arrives and is much acquainted with and sourced in a remarkable humility, a word whose high connotations always start off exceptionally low.

That twisting turn of a Rector's phrase immediately took me back to April 9th, a Saturday, in the swell of the Lenten season.

On that afternoon, after a morning meeting in Washington D.C. and then lunch with friends, I found myself milling about in the grandeur of the Washington National Cathedral for the first time. In one of the small chapels, somewhere toward the back of the Cathedral, I became transfixed by an ornate collage of iconography. Central to the collage, the figure of Mary held a child, who, in turn, was holding his arms open. That image was juxtaposed right above a larger figure, Jesus of Nazareth, all grown up and on a Roman cross, his arms still wide open.

These humble (if not humiliating) images -- different while having a similarity; contrasting but very much in concert -- of course herald the story of two of the Christian faith's prominent historical and theological markers: the Incarnation and the Crucifixion. In the story we display for the world, Jesus' initial arrival came as we all come (and must spiritually come) -- naked, vulnerable and helpless. Within the iconography, notice that the loving mom is holding up the dependent boy even as the boy holds open his wide arms. But in the bottom scene a very grown man is no longer able to hold himself up. Here, too, is the story we display for the world. Jesus' departure went the way we all must go if we are to find life in this life and in the next. We bow our head, give up our spirit and embrace the dying -- in this life.

Personally, as I continue to look more intently upon the infant Jesus and the grown-up Jesus presenting themselves before me, as I meditate on the revolution involved in each presentation, it is all a stunning, gracious reminder of God's right to bear arms. In so doing, he has exemplified an almost ungodly surrender as a form of an otherworldly love.

The right conjures up the absolute freedom, power and will of God, for whom nothing is impossible or beyond the limits. To bear highlights the enduring God-sized actions of lifting, carrying, and then some. And with arms?

Yes, it is Eastertide, the season of God's resounding triumph and vindication. But forgive me if I am still lingering a bit on how it came about, on those revolutions of humility seen most picturesquely in the person of Jesus -- as a baby, as a man. There he comes, there he goes: the manifestation of God's inviolable right to bear arms in order to rescue the world.