The final oracle of the prophet Zephaniah is offered for an Easter Vigil reading in the Book of Common Prayer and for Byzantine Christians. The verses selected vary, with some overlap. The Orthodox use 8 through 15, the Anglicans 12 through 20. Some portion of this section is used twice in the Roman Lectionary: on the Third Advent Sunday in cycle C (14b-18), and the 4th Ordinary Sunday in cycle A (12-13).
Zephaniah is gloomy, even as the prophets are judged so. He does have a soft spot for the poor. In his mind, they are the only ones worthy of rescue and salvation from the devastation of Jerusalem. Neighboring kingdoms will not be spared either. Nations will be gathered, as we read in verse 8, not for unity and mercy, but to be burned up.
Therefore, wait for me—oracle of the Lord—
until the day when I arise as accuser;
For it is my decision to gather nations,
to assemble kingdoms,
In order to pour out upon them my wrath,
all my blazing anger;
For in the fire of my passion
all the earth will be consumed.
Early in the book, the prophet calls for silence. Two chapters later, he relates God will purify the words of the poor remnant of all these wicked nations. All across the world, people will worship the one true God, no longer silent. No longer suffering. But united in praise of their Redeemer:
For then I will make pure
the speech of the peoples,
That they all may call upon the name of the Lord,
to serve him with one accord;
From beyond the rivers of Ethiopia
and as far as the recesses of the North,
they shall bring me offerings.
On that day
You will not be ashamed
of all your deeds,
when you rebelled against me;
For then I will remove from your midst
the proud braggarts,
And you shall no longer exalt yourself
on my holy mountain.
Here is where the Anglicans pick it up:
But I will leave as a remnant in your midst
a people humble and lowly,
Who shall take refuge in the name of the Lord—
the remnant of Israel.
They shall do no wrong
and speak no lies;
Nor shall there be found in their mouths
a deceitful tongue;
They shall pasture and lie down
with none to disturb them.
Shout for joy, daughter Zion!
sing joyfully, Israel!
Be glad and exult with all your heart,
The Lord removed the judgment against you,
he has turned away your enemies;
The King of Israel, the Lord , is in your midst,
you have no further misfortune to fear.
The Orthodox drop out from here to the end of the book:
On that day, it shall be said to Jerusalem:
Do not fear, Zion,
do not be discouraged!
The Lord , your God, is in your midst,
a mighty savior,
Who will rejoice over you with gladness,
and renew you in his love,
Who will sing joyfully because of you,
as on festival days.
I will remove disaster from among you,
so that no one may recount your disgrace.
Zephaniah looks to a day when God’s chosen people will be lifted up from every nation, not just Israel from Egypt, and not just Jerusalem’s needy from unjust rule. It’s an apt warning for our modern age when people have been at the mercy of colonialists, slavers, and profiteers for five or more centuries.
At that time I will deal
with all who oppress you;
I will save the lame,
and assemble the outcasts;
I will give them praise and renown
in every land where they were shamed.
At that time I will bring you home,
and at that time I will gather you;
For I will give you renown and praise,
among all the peoples of the earth,
When I bring about your restoration
before your very eyes, says the Lord.
The Roman use on Gaudete Sunday looks obvious. But I like the whole passage as an Easter Vigil choice. It is a healthy reminder that power and abuse are not rewarded. The thread back to the Advent season is good (for those who remember it). The gentle lyrics at the conclusion are like a peaceful cadence to a prophet’s angry diatribe against the rich and powerful.
Every reading needs a companion Psalm. The Book of Common Prayer suggests the 98th or the 126th. I think the latter is a good choice.