Romans 11:33-36; Revelation 21:3-4; 22:20-21
As a child, when the choir sang the threefold “Amen” after the benediction, my heart would soar. The final “Amen” was a sure-fire signal to my young, not-so-pious mind that church torture was nearly over. I would soon be free from the noose around my neck that my mom insisted was a beautiful bow tie. In next to no time, my blister producing Buster Brown shoes would be tossed back in the box in my closet and I would return to the important business of play that my non-churchgoing neighbors had been doing during my forced exile in church. Yes, as a child, I lived for “Amen.”
Many, many years later, I still live for “Amen, but for very different reasons. As a child, “Amen” was the final period to Sunday worship. “In most churches,” writes James Mulholland, “Amen” “has degenerated into a signal that a prayer is over and we can all lift our heads. In the Jewish tradition . . . it literally meant, ‘So be it’. It was the worshipers’ commitment to do what they had prayed. It was a vow.”
Mulholland goes on to say, “The more I repeat the Prayer of Jesus, the more it reminds me of [my wedding] vow. Saying ‘I do’ was not the end of my commitment, but the beginning. I was pledging to fulfill those words – to have and to hold, for better or worse, for richer or poorer, in sickness and in health, to love and to cherish
. . . that has not always been easy, but in keeping that vow there has been blessing. When we say ‘Amen’ . . . We [are promising to] do what we have prayed” (James Mulholland, Praying Like Jesus, pp. 130-131).
The Apostle Paul closes the most complex part of his letter to the church in Rome with a resounding, “Amen.” This time the “Amen” is not so much what you and I are pledging to do but what God pledges to do, often despite us, despite our divisions, despite our stubbornness, despite our selfishness. Marveling in a God who refuses ultimately to cut off love from Jew or Christian or anyone, Paul concludes his letter, “O the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are God’s judgments and how inscrutable God’s ways! . . . For from God and through God and to God are all things. To God be the glory forever. Amen.”
“Amen” appears twice in the final phrase of the last book of the Bible. Revelation ends, “The one who testifies to these things says, ‘Surely I am coming soon’. Amen. Come, Lord Jesus! The grace of the Lord Jesus be with you all. Amen.” Note that the often violent and frightening book of Revelation does not end with plagues covering the earth. It ends with this vision of a new heaven and earth: “And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, ‘See the home of God is among mortals. God will dwell with them; they will be God’s peoples, and God will be with them; God will wipe every tear from their eyes. Death will be no more; mourning and crying and pain will be no more.”
According to this final vision in Revelation, in the end, God will execute justice; God will expunge evil; yet God will do so not to make heaven and earth an exclusive club for righteous, church going folks, but a place of welcome for those who come speaking Japanese or Arabic or Hebrew, French or Creole or Spanish, for those who sign because they cannot speak. In the end, God will not finally allow any barrier to stand between us and God.
So, each time you and I pray, “For thine is the kingdom and the power and the glory forever” we stand in the shadow of that amazing final claim in Revelation, that the Great God Almighty will not finally be deterred by the wreckage of our broken world and misguided ways. When you and I pray “Amen” to close the Lord’s Prayer, we are saying more than “I sure hope God will get busy soon setting things straight in this troubled world”; no, you and I are making a vow to work toward a world where all have enough bread, all have enough shelter, all have enough health care, all have enough forgiveness, all have enough justice, all have enough mercy, all have enough love to resist even the most charming lure of evil.
“Amen” is a reminder that God in Christ long ago tore down boundaries between Jew and Gentile and is still a boundary bashing God. Our God bashes boundaries between liberals and conservatives, Protestants and Catholics, churchgoers and non-churchgoers, women and men, old and young, and the list goes on. When you and I say “Amen” we are reminded of what God is doing and of what we are called to do – not to wall ourselves off from the world, from those with whom we adamantly disagree, but to tear down whatever the wall that divides us and to open ourselves to the life-transforming love of God in Christ.
Soon, you and I will feast at this table, a table set in China and Korea, in Belgium and Haiti, in Kansas and Kentucky. It is the “Amen” table, the table at which you and I are reminded that God spoke the first word and God will speak the last word, a word of welcome and reconciliation, a word of forgiveness and love.
The “Amen” table is a table of grace, a table that never runs out of food, that always has a seat available ready to pull up to it, a table that overflows with the drink of hope even in the darkest hour. The “Amen” table does not take reservations because it has already been reserved for us by God in Christ.
The poet and singer-songwriter Malcolm Guite puts it this way in a poem that is really a prayer:
When will I ever learn to say Amen, Really assent at last to anything? For now my hesitations always bring Some reservation in their trail, and then Each reservation brings new hesitations; All my intended amens just collapse In an evasive mumble: well, perhaps, Let me consider all the implications . . .
But you can read my heart, I hear you say: For once be present to me, I am here, Breathe in the perfect love that casts out fear Open your heart and let your yea be yea. Oh bring me to that brink, that moment when I see your full-eyed love and say Amen.
So, as we prepare to feast at the “Amen” table, let the people of God say, AMEN!