If Israel and Judah figure the divided church, then we should expect to find First- or Second-Word sins on both sides of the divide. Protestants have their own liturgical sins to repent of, and I have spent a good bit of energy over the years identifying those sins and urging Protestants to liturgical faithfulness. One of the persistent sins of Protestants is the very same as the charge I lodged against Catholics and Orthodox: By restricting the Lord’s table to their own kind, they have claimed the right to determine the terms of access to the meal of Jesus. They have in effect treated Jesus’ table, a table for all who belong to Him, as their own.
With this figural history in mind, we also have a basis for celebrating the faithfulness of men and women in parts of the church where liturgical idolatry remains in place. I have often said that I regard John Paul II as the greatest Christian leader of the last century; yet I would also add that, like Asa and Jehoshaphat, he did not remove the high places. Henri de Lubac and Yves Congar are among my favorite theologians, and their labors cast down idols and falsehoods; yet they did not remove the high places. Alexander Schmemann is a prophet to Orthodoxy, and another of my favorite theologians; yet he did not call for a removal of the high places. These and other great figures in recent Catholicism and Orthodoxy are my brothers; yet they did not push their reforms to the limit. They did not remove the high places.
Eventually, kings arose who did remove the high places – Hezekiah and Josiah. And the latter not only removed the high places in Judah but also destroyed the shrine of Jeroboam at Bethel (2 Kings 23:15-20) and other high places throughout the northern territories (2 Kings 23:19; 2 Chronicles 34:33). That is to say, his purge of the land extended into the territory that once belonged to the northern kingdom of Judah. When he organized the great Passover in his 18th year, Josiah not only gathered the people of Judah but invited the people of the conquered northern kingdom as well: The feast was celebrated by “all Israel and Judah who were present” (2 Chronicles 35:16-19). One can imagine that not everyone liked what Josiah was doing: Israelites from the north might complain about the arrogance of the Davidic king asserting his power in their lands; Judahites in the south would no doubt be hesitant to share a Passover with former calf worshipers of the north. But it happened: After centuries of political and liturgical division, Israel and Judah were reconstituted as one people – as “all Israel” – at a great feast.
Josiah’s reign gives us a vision of the church’s future devoutly to be wished: Brothers separated for centuries sharing one table; a divided people guilty of multiple idolatries restored to fellowship with God and with one another. If the history of Israel figures the history of the divided church, Josiah’s reign gives hope that the rending of the corporate body of Jesus is not permanent, and that like the rending of Jesus on the cross it will in time be followed by a glorious corporate resurrection.
Are we in a “Josiah moment” when the divided church can finally share a single feast? I believe there are signs that it is such a moment. If it is, then the agenda for every branch of the church is the double agenda of Josiah: Remove the idols, whatever they are, tear down the high places, and join with all brothers and sisters at the one table of the one Lord.
There are parallels between the divided church of today and the situation that Leithart is writing about. But Leithart does not give the whole story. As I asked in my previous post, is he being dishonest, or just not all that bright? As it turns out, King Josiah did celebrate a feast with “all Israel and Judah who were present”. But the Biblical account does not show Josiah to be wise for having done so. In fact, it sort of confirms that he was a fool. Just two verses later, Chronicles says:
Josiah did not turn away from him, but disguised himself in order to fight with him. He did not listen to the words of Neco from the mouth of God, but came to fight in the plain of Megiddo. And the archers shot King Josiah. And the king said to his servants, “Take me away, for I am badly wounded.” So his servants took him out of the chariot and carried him in his second chariot and brought him to Jerusalem. And he died and was buried in the tombs of his fathers. All Judah and Jerusalem mourned for Josiah. Jeremiah also uttered a lament for Josiah; and all the singing men and singing women have spoken of Josiah in their laments to this day. They made these a rule in Israel; behold, they are written in the Laments. Now the rest of the acts of Josiah, and his good deeds according to what is written in the Law of the Lord, and his acts, first and last, behold, they are written in the Book of the Kings of Israel and Judah.
The thing about Josiah – he did not listen to the Word of the Lord. And he died a fool’s death.