By the time I arrived (a little after 9 AM), our annual parish apple-butter cooking was in full swing Saturday morning: Four enormous copper kettles, all a-bubble-splosh-and-steaming…accompanied by an iTunes sound track already well into its “country” playlist.
I noticed that Johnny Cash made a cameo appearance in the background music—but it was “A Boy Named Sue” we heard as we stirred, not the thematically more appropriate “Ring of Fire.”
Then again, the Cash tune might have been a bit out of place—lamenting, as it does, love gone sour. In contrast, the rings of fire under our copper kettles tend to have just the opposite effect at our parish every fall. They forge bonds of community, bonds of love.
Maybe I was particularly attuned to the image, because I’d just come from daily Mass…where we’d heard a liturgically obscure passage from the prophet Zechariah. It begins with this curious scene:
I, Zechariah, raised my eyes and looked: there was a man with a measuring line in his hand. I asked, “Where are you going?” He answered, “To measure Jerusalem, to see how great is its width and how great its length.”
The prophet doesn’t explain, but you get the sense that the man expected Jerusalem’s physical dimensions to tell him something about the city’s prestige and prominence. Soon enough, though, a heavenly messenger is sent to give the man an entirely different perspective on what matters in God’s eyes. The angel says:
“Run, tell this to that young man: People will live in Jerusalem as though in open country, because of the multitude of men and beasts in her midst. But I will be for her an encircling wall of fire, says the LORD, and I will be the glory in her midst.”
There’s that ring of fire, I noticed. Amazingly enough, it’s functioning not unlike the fires we built at our parish this weekend. It’s bringing multitudes together – encircling them, and making the glory of the Lord apparent, right out there in the open…without the need for imposing ramparts.
And I was delighted to realize that God keeps this same sort of promise today, even in small-scale blazes we build under our copper kettles. The ring of fire still has the power to bring us together, old-timers and first-timers alike. It stirs up a glorious celebration of community, right here in our midst.
Let us pause now…to recall that we are in the presence of the Holy & Merciful One.