A Benefice Service for the Commemoration of the Departed

The Season of All Saints and All Souls

November 2020

 

 

"Peace, peace to the far and near"

 

 

 

 

Reading

Isaiah 57 15-19 (New Revised Standard Version)

 

 

For thus says the high and lofty one
    who inhabits eternity, whose name is Holy:
I dwell in the high and holy place,
    and also with those who are contrite and humble in spirit,
to revive the spirit of the humble,
    and to revive the heart of the contrite.
For I will not continually accuse,
    nor will I always be angry;
for then the spirits would grow faint before me,
    even the souls that I have made.
Because of their wicked covetousness I was angry;
    I struck them, I hid and was angry;
    but they kept turning back to their own ways.
I have seen their ways, but I will heal them;
    I will lead them and repay them with comfort,
    creating for their mourners the fruit of the lips.
Peace, peace, to the far and the near, says the Lord;
    and I will heal them.

 

 

 

 

Reflection

Peace, peace, to the far and the near, says the Lord; I will heal them.

These gracious words come from the Old Testament Book of Isaiah.  The book was written in sections over about 130 years beginning at the time of the Assyrian invasion (702 BC)  when Isaiah was a leading prophet in Jerusalem. It was continued by other authors and covered the much more destructive period of the Babylonian conquest 116 years later and the terrible exile that followed.  The Jewish people lost everything.    Jerusalem the capital city and the temple were burned to the ground.  The royal family was massacred, and the people taken into exile.  "By the waters of Babylon we sat down and wept when we remembered Zion." (Psalm 137).  They would be gone for over 70 years.  It had all ended in tears. 

Prophetic writing does not predict the future.  It throws light on what is happening in the present, and sees events from a different vantage point.  God's view of events;   " thus says the high and lofty one" .

In the earlier sections of Isaiah the message is clearly framed for people in a specific, historical situation.  Our reading today comes from the later chapters of the book which are distinctive in that the historical context is replaced by universal ideas. True the prophet still envisages  restoration of the Jewish nation and a return to justice and homeland.  However his theology applies to everyone who has sustained a loss, including us.

We have gathered because we have lost loved ones. There are other losses that resonate with Isaiah.  Loss of home. Displacement; perhaps we feel we don't belong to modern times. Perhaps we lament the loss of personal control over our lives. Frustratingly, things don't turn out as hoped for, especially in a time of pandemic.  Perhaps we feel we have lost innocence, or faith in God or ourselves. We are all people of exile one way or another.

Isaiah has God speak to us not just from a high and lofty place  as he put it, but from the company of the contrite and humble in spirit. "I dwell....with the contrite and humble in spirit".   Having created us,  he knows exactly what we are or are not capable of, what our needs are and his purpose for us. " I will not always be angry; for then the spirits would grow faint before me, even the souls that I have made".

Our reading finishes with the assurance of healing and peace, in the full knowledge  of our shortcomings "I have seen their ways but I will heal them".  Peace to the far and the near.  The far get mentioned first. However far we think we are from the peace that is offered hardly matters.  Isaiah can see that we are safe within the purpose of our Creator, beyond separation or distance and in spite of ourselves.

Peace, peace, to the far and the near, says the Lord; I will heal them.

 

Mark Taylor, Reader