Maranatha! Come, Lord Jesus.
I don’t know about you, but I feel that prayer acutely now, as November begins, the days get darker, the cold finally closes in, and the world seems to go from bad to worse – politically, economically, and spiritually. I actually long for the day of graceful judgment, when Jesus will come to renew creation and inaugurate his reign of peace.
O that my words (of longing and hope) were written down!
O that they were inscribed in a book!
O that with an iron pen and with lead they were engraved on a rock forever!
These are the words of Job (19:23-24), who wanted his protests of innocence to be heard by God. He wanted there to be something permanent and indelible about his heart’s cry. With a similar urgency I feel this longing for the world to be right. So I cry out, “Maranatha! Come, Lord Jesus.”
Maybe you do, too.
Maranatha! is the cry of the saints and martyrs and witnesses whom we commemorate on the first Sunday of November, All Saints. There are the “official” ones with their names in our worship book, like Francis and Clare of Assisi, Patrick of Ireland, Julian of Norwich, Anthony of Egypt, Hildegard of Bingen, and Martin of Tours. And there are the “unofficial” saints commemorated by many, like Theressa of Calcutta, Florence Nightingale, Gandhi, Martin Luther King Jr., Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Thomas Merton, and Martin Luther—to name a few. More numerous still, and closer to us by far, are the unheralded and ordinary saints that we were close to, who were models for us in some way of the godly life, or manifestations of the love of God—the ones we call to mind on All Saints, for whom we light candles of remembrance.
They are with the Lord, and what they hold in common with the saints and witnesses and martyrs of every age is that they worked in some way, great or small, to renew the world and manifest Jesus’ reign of justice and peace, joy and freedom and love. Their work was incomplete, partial, deeply flawed in many cases, and yet it is honoured by God and embraced by Christ. So they, like us, the living, cry out for the fullness of God’s reign to be realized, for creation to be fully and finally renewed, and for the resurrection to be complete.
Maranatha! Come, Lord Jesus.
Maranatha is both a prayer and a confession, one of the very earliest prayers and confessions of the followers of Jesus’ Way. It’s a word (or pair of words, actually) in Aramaic, the language of Jesus himself, that can be translated in two ways: as a prayer of petition (“Come, Lord”), or as a confession (“The Lord has come”). In either mode it is a word for this season of commemoration of All Saints, during which we also begin our season of Advent.
The season of Advent—which begins for us on November 6—is a time to confess that the “Lord has come”. So much more than a time of preparation for Christmas, Advent is a season of celebration in its own right, for as the new liturgical year starts we confess that Christ has come as the first fruits of the resurrection. Maranatha - the Lord has come already,and begun the work of renewing creation. He is the very first fruit and he has called and chosen each and every one of the saints who has come after—right down to you and I—to be fruits of that work also. As Paul said to the Thessalonians (2:13-17):
We always give thanks to God for you, brothers and sisters beloved by the Lord, because God chose you as the first fruits for salvation… For this purpose he called you… so that you may obtain the glory of our Lord Jesus Christ.
Did you catch that? You are a first fruit of salvation, which means healing and wholeness. You are living in the resurrection. You are already enjoying the resurrection life, just as the saints who have gone before you have, and are. The Lord has come—into your heart and life already! That means you have this great joy and responsibility to live your life in such a way as it brings healing to this world.
Let’s live this day and this season with that ancient prayer on our lips:
Maranatha! Lord, you have come! Thank you! Empower me to live like you, bringing love and healing and justice and mercy to your world in need. Lord, you have come! And so help me to see the fruit of your renewing work in the people I meet, and the world I encounter. But also, Lord, I can see that the work of healing and restoration of the world is too big for me alone. Thank you for placing me in a community of people—the saints around me today and the saints who have gone before—to share the work and support me when I fall. I can also see, Lord, that the work of healing is not complete: self-interest prevails while the world turns barren, fear and anger take over our social life, bitterness and resentment hide in hearts and destroy relationships. The world is still broken. And so Maranatha! Come soon, Lord Jesus! Come soon and complete your work. For I know, like Job, that you live as Redeemer and Healer of all, and I know that I shall one day see your work fulfilled.