At the end of 2020 I preached on Zechariah 1:7-21. I introduced the sermon with reference to Bootes void which is a giant hole in the universe some 350 million light years across, a place where galaxies are generally not formed. This great big nothingness.
Someone later asked me about the name ‘Bootes’ and whether it had any connection with ‘booths’ (the festival in Zechariah 1). I went home and did some research on Bootes and was intrigued to learn that it came from the Greek plural for ‘ox’, that is: Bowtes meaning oxen. And that was because this constellation has that kind of shape – a plougher with his oxen (or something along those lines. Plougher or plower – whichever you prefer!)
From there I found myself browsing the Scriptures like 1 Corinthians 9:8-12.
“Do I say these things on human authority? Does not the Law say the same? For it is written in the Law of Moses, You shall not muzzle and ox when it treads out the grain. Is it for oxen that God is concerned? Does he not speak entirely for our sake? It was written for our sake, because the plowman should plow in hope and the thresher thresh in hope of sharing in the crop. If we have sown spiritual things among you, is it too much if we reap material things from you? If others share this rightful claim on you, do we not even more. Nevertheless, we have not made use of this right, but we endure anything rather than put an obstacle in the way of the gospel of Christ.”
Paul is quoting from Deuteronomy 25:4 and it is interesting that the context there is harvest and then judging disputes (Deut 25:1-3), and that Paul also quotes it in 1 Timothy 5:18 which is also in the context of elders and discerning truth.
What was particularly amusing for me on that Sunday was my Bishop, Michael Stead, had suddenly turned up at my front door unannounced after the service. Bishop Stead is an expert on the book of Zechariah and has even written a commentary on this minor prophet. And, would you believe it, in my morning sermon on that very day I had actually expressed disagreement with my Bishop’s viewpoint on Zechariah 1?! First time I had ever done something like that…and then an hour later he is on my doorstep! Talk about feeling like I was under scrutiny a la 1 Timothy 5:18. If a parishioner had directly phoned the Bishop to give a formal complaint I doubt he’d have turned up as quickly. It was such uncanny timing. I found myself humbly confessing to my Bishop – ‘well you see Bishop, it just so happens that this morning…grovel, grovel’. He looked slightly perplexed about it all for actually he had just rolled up with his wife to give us a gift and expression of support during the pandemic period (they were going around to every church in the region…though I bet I was the only one who had preached and openly expressed a disagreement with his own commentary that morning.)
There is a beautiful piece of music titled ‘Spiegel im spiegel’ which stirs and touches my emotions when I hear it. The German can be translated ‘mirror in mirrors’ – conveying that scenario of looking at a series of infinite images in reflecting mirrors. I listened to it that Sunday.
It kindles in my mind the apostle’s words: ‘For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I have been fully known.’ (1 Corinthians 13:12).
When I meditate upon the Lord of hosts in Zechariah 1, upon the Lord of Bootes void and myrtle trees, I find myself overwhelmed with the wonder of the Lord’s word and knowing him. The book of Ruth has a theme of ‘emptiness to fullness’ which I had drawn to my attention on the Saturday night. Next morning I was speaking about ‘Bootes Void’ – the greatest emptiness…the great Nothing – and shortly after this music piece drew me to being ‘known fully’ drawing me to Paul’s words in 1 Corinthians 13:12. From emptiness to fullness again.
“For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I have been fully known.”
It was a glorious moment of sensing the Spirit of the Lord after that service and surprise episcopal visit. This notion of fullness and the link with Ruth did not even come to my mind until I turned open 1 Corinthians 13 to read about the mirror. But what a link – the Bootes void suddenly jumped in to my thinking as I recalled the comment about emptiness and fullness. Paul writes:
“And he put all things under his feet and gave him as head over all things to the church, which is his body, the fullness of him who fills all in all.” (Ephesians 1:22-23).
The Lord graciously fed me that Sunday morning…and even more so as I recalled that we also had read Acts 27 in our service:
“When neither sun nor stars appeared for many days, and no small tempest lay on us, all hope of our being saved was at last abandoned.” (Acts 27:20).
How wonderful it is to know and to be known by the Lord of Pleiades and Orion. The Lord who gives us hope…even when there is nothing, only void, emptiness…the Risen Lord is our fullness. Thanks be to God!
 Bit of a spelling debate on this word: plow or plough, plowman or ploughman. I have grown up on the latter!