the penultimate WORD
2004 - April
The Irvine Tartan • My monthly column in The New Brunswick Anglican
For the trumpet will sound, and the dead will rise immortal, and we shall be changed.
1 Corinthians 15: 52 New English Bible
Dogs in the vicinity began a cacophony that swelled throughout the neighbourhood. The blast of the Shofar did not go unnoticed, the interior of the car acted like a megaphone. The alarm was heard for blocks!
The box hinted at its contents and the Customs sticker confirmed that the parcel contained the large Yemenite ram’s horn that I had ordered. My Shofar had arrived! I took the horn to my friend, Ken, knowing he would be able to get a sound out of it. His years with the trumpet in the Salvation Army Band would equip him with the ability to sound this new trumpet! Once in the front seat, I passed him the long corrugated cardboard box – a squared cylinder – and as one end was cleared of its cellophane, and flaps lifted the bubble wrap was exposed. The horn had been wrapped and entombed – and now it was being brought to light.
Front windows had to be lowered to allow for the removal of the large ram’s horn from its tomb.
The horn glistened in the sun that worked the natural tones and textures along its corkscrew length. I held the “bell” over the steering wheel as Ken filled his lungs and brought his pursed lips to the aperture.
The trumpet did sound! And the rolling note blasted low throughout the vehicle and beyond, deep and penetrating: neither musical, nor melodic, but alarming!
The evangelists do not record the sound, but the sound of the Shofar would have reverberated in the garden where Jesus’ body had been laid, announcing the first-born of the dead. It the early morning dawn, creation filling the garden was awakened before nature awakens with the broadcast of the blast from the trumpet. The darkness could not have muffled the blast. Carried on the air, the trees would stir and their inhabitants take flight. The calm of the deadened night was broken and a stone moved. All creation stood still to take notice.
That’s the sound known of the Shofar and the sound anticipated, certainly by Paul, and in the passage of time less by us, as unfamiliar.
Several years later, at a study, I invited another to blow a blast. A French horn musician with the band of The Royal Canadian Regiment, David was undaunted. He held the large ram’s horn in both of his hands – with the reverence a musician has for his instrument. This is where the French horn originated he said. He lifted the full length of the horn towards the ceiling, and with his lungs full of air, blasted a note: low, long and loud. Eyes dilated like tombs with stones rolled away. Silence immediately fell into the wake of the blast, and that broken by the clap of astonishment.
The trumpet did sound! And the unfamiliar sound seemed to reach down into our past long forgotten and erupt with the anticipation long associated with the primordial note of the ram’s horn.
More than the note, the horn prefigures Jesus. From the patriarchal era of Abraham, recollecting the Binding of Isaac we have seen his deliverance by the provision for the sacrifice of a ram – caught in a thicket. Our hindsight allows us to see Jesus in the ram, his brow wrapped in the thicket, as the propitiation for us all.
The braying of the ram was silenced by death. But his identification with the One promised of God goes beyond the altar fires of Moriah. The ram’s horn – the Shofar – remains as the natural sign and pledge of hope, for us all.
This Easter no horn will sound. That has fallen away from our practice and expectation. At best we might polish brass and play a Voluntary. But that was not the sound Paul anticipated nor is it the note he alerts us to. That metallic note, thrilling as it is, is a note of empire, authority and remains fast to the limits of our daily experience. Nothing is stirred beyond the grave; nothing is changed.
Paul alerts those in Corinth to the pledged hope in and for change. We are reminded of this in the lesson for the Burial of the Dead. But what we are reminded of is Easter morning. The unwitnessed events of the early dawn are now know by their effect and the revelation Jesus makes of himself, to Mary in the Garden and at supper in Emmaus. There are other occasions too, when Jesus revealed himself to those who grieved for him. These stories we know well and recall throughout Eastertide.
Soon, the stories were all that was known and Paul’s reproach has echoed in every generation that becomes satisfied with knowing only the stories. We as they, ignore the expectation and the pledge of promise.
The Shofar will sound, wrote Paul… and we shall be changed.
Copyright © 2004 James T. Irvine