The Gates of Carbuncles. Homily for the Vigil of Easter
In tonight’s 4th Reading from Book of Isaiah, we heard,
O afflicted one, storm-battered and unconsoled, I lay your pavements in carnelians, and your foundations in sapphires; I will make your battlements of rubies, your gates of carbuncles, and all your walls of precious stones.
What is a carbuncle?
According to the Encyclopaedia Britannica, a carbuncle, ”in mineralogy (is) a deep red, cabochon-cut almandine, which is an iron aluminum garnet.”
That doesn’t help much, does it?
In Wikipedia, we read that “A carbuncle is a gemstone. It can also be a stone with magical properties. It is sometimes capable of providing its own illumination to an otherwise dark interior. It is mentioned in a number of medieval texts” (in Wales, France and Constantinople).
The stone is also mentioned in several biblical texts:
Ezekiel 28:12-14 – A Lament over the King of Tyre “Son of man, take up a lament for the king of Tyre and tell him that this is what the Lord GOD says: ‘You were the seal of perfection, full of wisdom and perfect in beauty. You were in Eden, the garden of God; every precious stone was your covering, sardius, topaz, and diamond, beryl, onyx, and jasper, sapphire, emerald, and carbuncle; and crafted in gold were your settings and your engravings. On the day that you were created, they were prepared.
What’s happening here? Tyre is a port city on the Mediterranean Sea. It’s located just north of the Israeli – Lebanon border. Because of its geography, it was a tremendous harbor. Thus, in ancient times during the time of Ezekiel, it was a city of tremendous wealth. It did a lot of trade with the Hebrews in Israel (in the North), Judah (in the south) and Syria. That stopped when Nebuchadnezzar, King of Babylon, came by, put a siege around Tyre. He put another siege around Jerusalem. He conquered both places and herded the Hebrew people 1,700 miles back to Babylon.
This is what Ezekiel wrote about. The people of God had gotten fat and rich. Their lives looked beautiful on the outside, like precious gemstones. But they had forgotten their God.
Fast forward to the next passage from Isaiah 54:11-13
“O afflicted city, lashed by storms, without solace, surely I will set your stones in antimony and lay your foundations with sapphires. I will make your pinnacles of agate, your gates of carbuncles, and all your wall of precious stones. Then all your sons will be taught by the LORD, and great will be their prosperity.”
The Hebrews are in Babylon. They have been in captivity for many years. They feel as if God has abandoned them. But Isaiah says, “No, can a mother forget her child?” (Isaiah 49:15) God has not forgotten you. It is His intention not only to restore you but to make you even more prosperous than before. Not only prosperous, but valuable, like precious gemstones.
Why? Why is there a Jewish people? They are God’s chosen people. Chosen for what? To be God’s gift to the nation. They are to live and act in a particular way. People should be able to point to them and say, “Their life is totally incomprehensible unless there is a God.”
Exodus 28:16-18 (and 39:10-12) – [The breastplate of the High Priest] “must be square when folded over double, one span long and one span wide. You shall set in it four rows of stones. A row of sardius, topaz, and carbuncle shall be the first row.”
What is interesting is that this is the ‘Breastplate of Judgement.” It didn’t deal with legal judgements. It dealt with the judgement of discernment. It dealt with gaining enlightenment. They were looking for insights. They wanted to determine what God’s will was in a particular situation. Isaiah 54:12 uses ‘carbuncle’ to convey the value of the Lord’s blessing [and promise] to a woman who was barren. That God would bless her with children and that God planned to bless his people with abundance.
Does this sound familiar? Does any of this resonate? I dare say that every person has found themself in at least one of those narratives over the last several months. Some have found themself in more than one. We have lived the story of prosperity – suffering – death – resurrection. It’s been a lived Lent. We have gone from the Hosanna of Palm Sunday, through the Passion of Good Friday.
We are the new Hebrew people. We are called to be people of hope to other people. We are called to be this was especially in situations that seem so hopeless. We look at a new horizon. We look towards an entirely new, different and glorious resurrection. We live as if our life makes absolutely no sense – unless there is a God.
So let me close with another prophet who lived about the same time as Ezekiel and that was Jeremiah:
“..and I will bring you back from captivity. I will gather you from all the nations and places where I have banished you,” declares the LORD, “and will bring you back to the place from which I carried you into exile… For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the LORD, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future. Then you will call on me and come and pray to me …
and I will listen to you.”