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2 Maccabees 1 and 2: The Ark Hidden During Captivity

Second Sunday of Easter, April 28, 2019

The Ark of the Covenant

Written on July 19, 2008 and posted today as a Favorite . . .

The HARPERCOLLINS COMMENTARY gives a wonderful exegesis of all four books of the Maccabees, but today we look at just these first 2 chapters of 2 Maccabees which the Douay Version refers to as the incident of the hidden temple fire or as “The Hidden Ark during the Captivity”.  All of this sets me to thinking about the wonder of our creation, about the mystery of our personal and collective evolution, and about how and when we go into captivity . . . how and when we return from exile.

We all experience captivity.  Some say that life here on earth is nothing more than that – an exile, a place of suffering and pain.  Optimists see life as a series of experiences, gifts, blessings and celebrations.  Still others see life as a combination of many opposites, dichotomies, bifurcations and amalgamations.  From any of these perspectives, when we look honestly and carefully, we see that each life has its own Captivity with its own Ark in which reposes the Fire of the Spirit.  This fire is the very breath of God at our creation, the mission for which we are destined, the karma for which we are to live, the potential gift God offers to the world as an act of love.  And when we are led away into captivity, all of this is held hidden for a time to be called forth at a precise moment.

Recently I have come to understand that Captivity is not all bad.  It can be a time of suffering and separateness, and it can also be a time of forced retreat, a time of letting go and giving over to God, a time of healing and restoration.  Taken this way, we understand that exile is a time to be hidden, to be held confined for a time away from something we have thought we desired, to be held safely just long enough that we reach the precise point in our pilgrimage where we see something clearly for the first time.  Captivity of the Spirit endures long enough for us to cease thrashing against the world and against ourselves.  It lasts to the precise tipping point at which we jettison all that has pained us . . . because there is nothing else to do.

And all the while that we have been apart and away, the spark of our creation has burned as brightly as ever even though it appears – as we read today in Maccabees – to be mud and water.  Nothing has diminished; rather, all has been clarified, magnified.  All that was captive and hidden now glorifies God more than before.  Imagine our surprise when we, like the Jews who rededicated their temple, lay the tinder to offer holocausts to our God and we realize that we have ignited the offering with the mud from the hidden place of our exile.  Suddenly we see our captivity as gift rather than punishment.

There is a need from time to time to go into exile, to find the place that is to remain unknown and to hide away in this secret place the tent and tabernacle, the altar of incense and fire, and the ark.  We are meant to block this place off and to seal it up so that the hidden spirit and temple fire might be rediscovered when God calls it forth.  And this tabernacle, with its sacred fire appearing as mud, is meant to be reopened and rededicated.

We have learned to fear captivity and the restriction it symbolizes.  How much better we will be when we come to see it as a quiet time in which the living fire of our soul learns to rekindle in God.  Like the people in today’s reading, once we begin to look for resurrection in loss, we will be amazed that the fire of our spirit comes forth from the mud and we will see as gift what we thought to be punishment.  We will marvel that God again resides in the Ark of our lives and we will finally come to understand . . . that he was never truly gone.


A re-post from Easter Week 2012.

Image from: http://www.mishkanministries.org/theark.php

Mays, James L., ed.  HARPERCOLLINS BIBLE COMMENTARY. New York, New York: HarperCollins Publishers, 1988. Print.

Tomorrow we will reflect on Captivity Ended

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