The Glance of the Lord
Homily for the Memorial of Saints Thomas More and John Fisher
Preached on June 22, 2010 at Holy Spirit Parish/The Newman Center at the University of Kentucky, Lexington KY
Readings: 2 Kings 19:9b-11, 14-21, 31-35a, 36; Psalm 48:2-4, 10-11; Matthew 7:6, 12-14
The Assyrian came down like the wolf on the fold,
and his cohorts were gleaming in purple and gold;
and the sheen of their spears was like stars on the sea
when the blue wave rolls nightly on deep Galilee.
Like the leaves of the forest when Summer is green,
that host with their banners at sunset were seen:
like the leaves of the forest when Autumn hath blown,
that host on the morrow lay withered and strown.
For the Angel of Death spread his wings on the blast,
and breathed in the face of the foe as he passed;
and the eyes of the sleepers waxed deadly and chill,
and their hearts but once heaved, and for ever grew still.
And there lay the steed with his nostril all wide,
but through it there rolled not the breath of his pride;
and the foam of his gasping lay white on the turf,
and cold as the spray of the rock-beating surf.
And there lay the rider distorted and pale,
with the dew on his brow and the rust on his mail:
and the tents were all silent, the banners alone,
the lances unlifted, the trumpets unblown.
And the widows of Ashur are loud in their wail,
and the idols are broke in the temple of Baal;
and the might of the Gentile, unsmote by the sword,
hath melted like snow in the glance of the Lord!
First published in 1815 by Lord Byron in his Hebrew Melodies, this poem, titled “The Destruction of Sennacherib,” sums up the fate of the arrogant Assyrian king who taunted the besieged city of Jerusalem and Her living God. Its verses, written in anapestic tetrameter, recall the rhythm of galloping horse’s hooves, that frightful beat of an army riding into battle. That was the pulse that signaled the destruction of many cities by Sennacherib; it is the same pulse used here by the poet to recount the destruction of Sennacherib.
The Assyrian had warned Hezekiah that the Holy City would not be spared, that he was deceived if he relied on God to save Judah (cf. 2 Kgs. 19:9-10). But, it was Sennacherib who was deceived; his Assyrian hosts were in no way a match to the Lord of hosts. “That night the angel of the Lord went forth and struck down one hundred and eighty-five thousand men in the Assyrian camp. Early the next morning, there they were, dead, all those corpses!” (2 Kgs. 19:35) The fearsome façade of those faithless foes had crumbled to dust in the glance of the Lord.
Many other kings since Sennacherib had fallen into the same delusion that their military might and so-called ‘divine right’ could sway the servants of God from their faithfulness to Him. They were fools to expect that those who had found the narrow gate that leads to life (Mt. 7:14) would easily give up what is holy to dogs or throw their pearls before swine (Mt. 7:6). For the Lord’s faithful have their priorities right, because they know, as Saint Thomas More had once put it, that they are “the king’s good servant[s], but God’s first.”
God’s good servants—Hezekiah and Isaiah, John Fisher and Thomas More—will tell us that no king or queen, no president or prime minister can ever outrank and overpower God. And any of them who try to exercise might and morality beyond their pay grade will find themselves rather small before the glance of the Lord.