I understand that in fabric stores there’s a section for remnants. I’m not much familiar with such things, but my intuition tells me that fabric remnants might be useful for quilting and other such projects (if I’m wrong, I’m sure someone will be happy to correct me!!).
In fact, the “remnant” is a fairly important theme with a few of the Old Testament prophets. They understood the remnant to be that small leftover portion of what once was a mighty host. I don’t know for sure how “mighty” the nation of Israel ever really was, but in memory it was something grand – and in the wake of the exile it was pretty clear that the remainder – the remnant – was certainly not very grand. The devastating impact of the exile on national identity was clearly a matter of significance to the prophets, and their oracles were not infrequently given to expressions of faith and hope about restoration – about the capacity of God to take something like the “stump of Jesse” and cause something new and important to grow forth from it.
The “stump of Jesse” (a related, though not identical concept to that of the prophetic “remnant”) is an idea that I have always found fascinating. Christians have embraced the “stump” notion in relation to Jesus – the one who we understand restores and surpasses the royal glory of David and Solomon.
The remnant, then, is the realm – the people – over which the newly restored Annointed One (the shoot from the stump) reigns. And in the time of the writing of the New Testament manuscripts, remnant would have been an apropos description of the people of “The Way.” They were ragtag and few in number and far from influential.
But over the centuries things changed. Whether by the compelling power of the gospel, or by edict of the emperor, “The Way” grew into “Christendom.” It became influential and powerful. It mattered (though sometimes it lost its soul).
Today we are heirs of Christendom – but that which we’ve inherited is diminished and still diminishing. It’s a shadow of what it once was (or at least of that which we imagine once was). Still, it’s hard to let loose of the vestiges of importance and influence. They are deeply ingrained in our sense of identity – particularly those of us who came to this church from the Congregational tradition – that church which was, once upon a time, formally established in a societal position of power and influence.
Whether we like it or not, those days are gone. I’d suggest that we’ve become a remnant – a shadow of what once was. And about this reality we face a choice – to go on forever lamenting and grieving that which once was, or to attend to our grief in a way that empowers us to let go of the past and begin to walk determinedly into an unknown future – the future of figuring out how a no longer influential remnant bears witness to the gospel. How we as a remnant people live and worship and serve so that we exemplify a faithful devotion to the Stump of Jesse – our risen and ruling Lord.
The remnants in that fabric store might be made into a quilt of stunning beauty and utility. Maybe the remnant of the people of God can also become something of stunning beauty and utility – folk of whom God may one day say, “Well done, good and faithful servants. Enter into the joy of my presence.”
May it be so!
Iowa Conference Minister