Psalm 46, 97 (Morning)
Psalm 96, 100 (Evening)
Isaiah 52:7-10 NRSV: How beautiful upon the mountains are the feet of the messenger who announces peace, who brings good news, who announces salvation, who says to Zion, “Your God reigns.” Listen! Your sentinels lift up their voices, together they sing for joy; for in plain sight they see the return of the Lord to Zion. Break forth together into singing, you ruins of Jerusalem; for the Lord has comforted his people, he has redeemed Jerusalem. The Lord has bared his holy arm before the eyes of all the nations; and all the ends of the earth shall see the salvation of our God.
Generally speaking, the traditional interpretation of “God’s arm” is one of strength, power, and dominion. Even Mary, in the Magnificat, mentions that God “has shown strength with his arm.” Other times, though, we view God’s arm as a place of safety and comfort, and not always for the usual power-related reasons–the old revival hymn “Leaning on the Everlasting Arms” comes to mind.
But, given my line of work, I sometimes wonder about a different allegory for God’s arm. You see, the most common reason I see bare arms is when someone is getting his or her blood drawn. Looking at God’s bare arm in this way opens up the possibility that it is this intricate network of blood vessels–exposed to the world–with only scant millimeters between us and the divine. The blood in God’s arm pulsates with life and warmth. It contains all things necessary for life. Rather than God’s arm being turned dorsally in the “smiting” position, this image instead evokes an arm turned volar surface up, and the only reason it’s making a fist is so it’s easier for us to find a vein.
In a way, that’s what Epiphany is about–the discovery of God, not in the expected powerful, conquering hero way, but in the form of something exposed, vulnerable, and capable of bleeding. It will not be the only time we encounter such a form of God in the New Testament. I wonder sometimes how many times when we’re searching for God we are on the lookout for flash and thunder, storm and wind, and in reality we’ve missed the fact that God was there all along, arm outstretched, beckoning for us to draw a sample of the healing fluid that is filled with corpuscles oxygenated with the Breath of Life, platelets that plug the wounds in our own bleeding souls, and the plasma of the Peace which passes all understanding. Perhaps God’s throne is actually a phlebotomist’s chair where God simply sits quietly and waits for us to find a vein, no matter how clumsy and awful our attempts.
What changes for us when we no longer think of God’s arm as a mighty weapon, but something that bleeds out for the life of the world?
Maria Evans, a surgical pathologist from Kirksville, MO, writes about the obscurities of life, medicine, faith, and the Episcopal Church on her blog, Kirkepiscatoid. Dr. Evans recently returned from a mission trip from the Diocese of Missouri to the Episcopal Diocese of Lui, South Sudan. http://luinetwork.diocesemo.org