Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Fly Like an Eagle

Today is the first day of Passover. It's the time of year the Jews remember when they were slaves in Egypt and God sent plagues against Egypt and then Moses led them out. It recalls the final plague, when God slew all the firstborn in Egypt, put passed over the Hebrew homes that had lamb's blood put on their doorposts. Hence the name, Passover. And then God parted the Red Sea, and the Israelites walked out on dry land, and all that stuff you've seen in old movies.

Passover is also the time when Jesus was crucified. The "Last Supper" as it's come to be called was a Passover meal. It's always nice when Passover and Easter coincide on our calendars, I think. So this post could be all about Passover. I could draw parallels between the blood of the sacrificial lamb on the doorposts and crossbeams and the crucified Jesus whose blood brings redemption. But today's post, as the title suggests, is only partially about Passover. Our theme today comes from the song "Fly Like an Eagle" by the Steve Miller Band.

When the Israelites reach Mount Sinai, just before God gives them the Ten Commandments, The first thing God says to them is, "You have seen what I did to the Egyptians, and I bore you on eagles' wings and brought you to Myself" (Exodus 19:4). God describes that first Passover event as carrying Israel on the wings of eagles. Now, I don't know about you, but for me this imagery immediately calls to mind something like this:

As a fan of Hobbits and such, I think of those moments in Lord of the Rings when they are saved at the last minute by the giant eagles who swoop them up and carry them to safety. And that's what God is saying here. He's saying that he heard their cry in Egypt, and he rescued his people and flew them out as if on eagles. J.R.R. Tolkien enjoyed stories with moments like this, which is why he put them into his own. It's that sense of sudden elation when Pippin says, "The eagles are coming!" It's the joy of a happy ending. Tolkien even coined a word for it: eucatastrophe. That is, the sudden joyous "turn", like a good catastrophe. In our lives we can spend a long time waiting for that something good to happen. We're quick to recognize catastrophe; bombings, mudslides, sudden illnesses. But God says he's come to bring eucatastrophe, and time will come we can fly.

Probably the most well-known scripture regarding flying like an eagle is found in Isaiah 40: 31.
But they that wait upon the Lord shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings as eagles; they shall run and not be weary; and they shall walk and not faint.
Some newer versions read "and not lose heart." If we trust in the Lord and wait, he will give us the strength we need to fly like eagles. But let's also look at this verse in context. This is the closing thought of a few verses that begin in verse 27. Here, Isaiah speaks of people complaining that God doesn't see them, or that he's ignoring them. But Isaiah reminds us that God does not tire, God always sees, and gives power to the weak. Even young, athletic types will eventually get wear out and lose energy, but God provides supernatural energy beyond that. God gives a new strength that allows you to run and never tire, and not only to run, but to fly. Sometimes we just have to be patient, and consistently wait on the Lord.

Let's bring things back to Jesus and the week leading up to Easter. During these days, he spoke many things about the final days to come, when he would return to establish his kingdom. But he warned that not everyone who was on his side now would be prepared when he arrived. The first side of flying like an eagle is patience. But on the other side is preparedness. Jesus tells the story of ten virgins who were waiting to escort a groom to his wedding. I don't think the story is saying that he was marrying all ten virgins (that would be crazy!), but that they were part of the proceedings. Anyway, they all brought lamps, but five of them didn't bring extra oil. The groom was delayed and when he finally arrived in the middle of the night, the lamps of those five were going out. So they quickly ran off to see if they could buy oil, but it was too late. So the groom went with the other five to the wedding, leaving the unprepared virgins behind. The groom here is Jesus. and he's reminding us that in our patience to wait on his coming, we must maintain a state of readiness. Before we look at the bigger End Times picture of what that means, let's think about it another way. You may know that God is coming for you. You may believe you're ready, waiting for that eucatastrophe. But as time goes by, does your faith wane? Does your light die out? Do you despair of him ever coming? "I knew he was coming, but I didn't think he'd take so long!" It can be hard to wait, and sometimes things take longer than we expected or would want. We need to be prepared with enough oil. In the Bible, oil is often a picture of the Holy Spirit. If we remain in the Spirit of God, that's how we maintain the oil for these situations, and he will multiply it like the miracle of Hanukkah, renewing our strength to bear the wait until we are borne on eagles' wings.

But this is really just a secondary interpretation. Primarily, Jesus is developing a picture here of what Christians have come to call the Rapture. That's when he will call all of his people, and they shall rise from life or death and "meet the Lord in the air", as Paul said. In a sense then, that's a day when many really will fly like eagles. There's a saying in the gospels that always struck me as really bizarre. For the longest time, I saw it as a kind of non sequitur image. Jesus, speaking of the last days says there will be those who say "He's over here!" but don't believe them, but that his coming will be like "lightning that comes from the east and flashes in the west". And then he says, "Wherever the carcass is, there the eagles will be gathered together." And I always think, "huh?" What part of what you just said is that referring to? Luke's gospel helps a little bit. Here, Jesus presents an image of the Rapture first, by saying that there will be two in a bed, one will be taken and the other left behind. Two in a field, one taken and one left behind. So one of the disciples asks, "where?" and he says, "Wherever the body is, there the eagles will be gathered together." So again the question becomes, is this "where" the place where the people are going, or the place they are left behind? It's an odd image for Jesus to use carrion fowl like this. But if the body is Jesus, then it might make sense that the eagles that gather around it are the ones he has called to himself. If this reading is accurate, than Jesus himself is comparing his saints to eagles, who will fly to him. Honestly, at this point it makes about as much sense as anything to me, and I thought I'd mention it since it fits with my eagle theme for today.

Over time, it's a shame that the Rapture has come to be understood almost with a smugness, that Christians lord it over the world that God will pull them out and then they'll be on their own to deal with God's wrath. But what is overlooked by these people is what Jesus was saying in his parable. Five of those virgins were on the side of the bridegroom; they were awaiting his coming just like the others. Jesus isn't saying "woe to all you wicked, 'cause after the Rapture you better look out!" Jesus is saying, "Woe to you Christians; keep yourself in me and in readiness, because if the Rapture comes and you ain't right, you ain't goin'!" We don't hear it this way in churches as often because it makes us uncomfortable. But Jesus is looking for faithful servants. "Time keeps on tickin'" says the song, and we need to remain in the Spirit, in readiness, doing what Jesus called us to do. If we do, then we really will fly like eagles one day.

Let's live in righteousness and readiness. Let's rise from the confines of this world to a greater glory to come. There will come a day when our problems will be ended. So on one hand, we can wait on the Lord, trusting him to bear us up. On the other hand, we can also be about his business, shoeing the children without shoes, feeding the babies, housing the people, until the Lord comes to complete the work. As Paul wrote in his concluding thoughts to the Galatians, "Let us not grow weary while doing good, for in due season we shall reap if we do not lose heart." Some versions say, "if we faint not." We need not worry about fainting while in the Lord, for he will renew our strength, and we shall walk and not faint. We shall mount up with wings.

I don't know about you, but I want to fly like an eagle, let his Spirit carry me.


  1. I'm not sure if you were being sarcastic, but doesn't Easter and Passover always coincide on our calendars?

    I really like the way you think. You make connections I've never thought about. Thanks for writing this.

    1. Passover and Easter are usually very close together, but can differ by weeks because of the different calendars. What I meant is that I like it when the two fall directly with each other, which they don't always. Sometimes Passover is over before Easter.

      This one came out pretty well, with some divine insight at the time of writing that I hadn't thought of at first either.