The Stanford Axe, proto-Anglicans, and King David

 Transcribed from the sermon preached June 5, 2016

The Reverend Todd Jolly

Scripture Readings: “I CHRONICLES 15  David…prepared a place for the ark of God and pitched a tent for it”

For those of us not steeped in the traditions of the Cal Bears-Stanford Cardinal rivalry, the Stanford Axe is a trophy held by the team that wins the Big Game.  It first made an appearance in 1899 at a rally in which Stanford fans chopped off the head of a straw man dressed in blue and gold ribbons while chanting the Axe yell.  Two days later it appeared at a Cal-Stanford baseball game in San Francisco, was stolen by some Cal students, the handle broken off, and the axe head smuggled to Berkeley on a ferry, right under the noses of police officers who were searching passengers.  The pranks and exploits over the past century surrounding the artifact are more numerous than we have time to recount, but one can imagine the lengths to which college sports fans might go to possess such a precious item.  By the way, Cal won the baseball game.


In 1 Chronicles 13, two chapters earlier than the passage we have read, David addresses the whole assembly of Israel and says, “Let us bring again the ark of our God to us; for we did not turn to it in the days of Saul.”  David would have his followers believe than Saul was godless, whereas David was faithful.  It is hardly necessary to explain the main point of this grand procession of the ark into Jerusalem:  the meeting place of God and people resides in the city of David.  And no court in the land was about to order the Ten Commandments removed from the premises.


So all Israel prepared to bring the ark up from its current residence in the house of Abinadab.  How, then, did the house of Abinadab come by the ark of God?  Admittedly, the chest of acacia wood, overlaid inside and out with the purest gold, and containing the tablets of the ten commandments, and who knows what other cult artifacts of the wandering Israelites, would be more tantalizing than a nineteenth century lumberman’s axe.  Is it possible that the ark of God was passed around among David’s favorites?  During the days of David’s military campaigns, was one of the prizes for leading the charge against this or that enemy the opportunity to guard the ark of God for a time?  How many chieftains of Israelite tribes peeked inside that coffin?


Whatever the answer to that question may be, the first attempt to bring the ark to Jerusalem failed badly.  One of the oxen pulling the cart carrying the ark stumbled.  The ark wobbled.  Uzzah, one of Abinadab’s sons, who was helping drive the cart, reached out instinctively to steady the cart.  For that terrible sin, God struck him dead on the spot.  Or perhaps his blood pressure skyrocketed from the catastrophe that had almost happened and he died of a heart attack, but not according to the Chronicler.


Three months later David assembles a more worthy crew to transport the ark, the Levites.  They carry it on their shoulders according to the Law of Moses, not on a cart pulled by oxen.  With all of the attention given to music and places of honor and smells and bells and proper garb, David and those Levites must have been the ancestors of the Anglicans.  What a grand procession!  At the end of it, David dances well enough to win the mirror ball trophy on “Dancing with the Stars.”


As a musician, I feel much more appreciated by the pages of the Hebrew Scriptures than by the Gospels and Epistles.  In particular, this passage from 1 Chronicles celebrates music and musicians like none other except, perhaps, some of the psalms.  Meanwhile, the Apostle Paul says, “If I speak in the tongues of mortals and of angels, but do not have love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal.”  For this and other reasons, I do not think Paul and I would have gotten along well.


One of the two occasions music is mentioned in the Gospels regards another procession into Jerusalem, with the Son of David riding a donkey.  Apparently it does not matter much who does the singing or what the participants wear.  All that seems to matter is that this is the meeting place of God and people.  It could just as well happen in Berkeley as in Jerusalem.  There might be harps and cymbals and trumpets, or there might simply be a gathering of common folks lifting their voices together in song.  Whatever the details, and however people may try to dress it all up, what matters, when all is said and done, is that God dwells with us, in us, in this body of Christ that does its best to be faithful.  Here we break bread together and drink from a common cup.  Here we listen to each other’s stories and support one another in our struggles.  We forgive one another as Christ has forgiven us.  And we look forward to that great day when all nations gather in the holy city, and God prepares a rich feast for