By Ken Sehested
Written against the backdrop of New Year’s Eve services, 1862, when African Americans gathered to await news of US President Abraham Lincoln’s promised Emancipation Proclamation. Inspired by Revelation 21:1-6a, lectionary text for the New Year’s Eve Watch Night service.
The angel breaks with Heaven’s hail!
from Joy’s horizon on every weary heart,
amid that unruly, precarious land beyond
where cheery sentiment stalls and merry,
bright roads end. Now, in terrain beyond all
mapping, the adventure begins. No warranty
reaches this far. Creature comforts here are
few, risks are high, and danger surrounds.
Here winded Breath calls to bended knee
with promises of ecstasy and manna’s
fragile provision. Here water clefts rocks to
slake desperate thirst. Chained, tamed hearts
will never survive, deprived as they are of
Mercy’s solvent power to undo generations-old
resentments, driven deep by fear’s reflexive
habit into armed entrenchments. The
temptation is strong to abandon earth’s rancor
in favor of Heaven’s rapture. Yet from Joy’s
horizon storms the quelling word: Heaven’s
abode is anchored in earth’s tribulation.
The proclamation has been rendered;
incarnation, tendered; emancipation,
though delayed, will not finally be hindered.
Misery’s tearful eye will glisten with elation;
mournful cries shall rise in thankful jubilation.
Despoiling death itself will yield to adoration.
Behold! All things—from earth’s bounded
borders to Heaven’s blissful shore—stand
destined under Glory to be made new.
The quelling word to a quarreling world:
Come home. Come home.
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Ken Sehested is curator of prayerandpolitiks.org, an online journal at the intersection of spiritual formation and prophetic action.