Preached at the Church of St John the Divine, Victoria
Text: Isaiah 65:17-25, Isaiah 12 (Canticle 9), Luke 21:5-19 – Proper C28
For an audio recording: here
You will hear of wars and insurrections …
Nation will rise against nation and kingdom against kingdom
There will be great earthquakes and, in various places, famines and plagues
Our readings have a common apocalyptic rumble this week.
Hearing the gospel this morning, it almost sounds like Luke was anticipating our current reality.
These excerpts from our scriptures, written centuries ago but assigned for today in our lectionary, have the uncanny ability to speak truth in all ages and to us again here this morning.
This portion of Luke and our Hebrew Scripture reading from Isaiah are “apocalyptic” or “protoapocalyptic” texts. Unlike Hollywood’s depiction of “the apocalypse,” they are not foreshadowing alien invasions or meteors striking the earth. Neither are they prophecies or predictions of specific events (though we can see the echoes of specific events). Rather they are an attempt by their writers to reconcile their understanding of the righteousness of God with the destruction of land and the suffering of the righteous that they see on earth.
In Luke, the gospel writer has Jesus speaking a future that is an awful lot like the current reality of both the writer and the first Century Christian readers of the gospel. As Luke is writing, the Roman siege of Jerusalem and the destruction of the temple have already happened. The daily life of the Judean people has been decimated and the dwelling place of Yahweh on earth has been destroyed.
Likewise, in our reading from Isaiah, we come upon the Hebrew people re-entering a decimated land. The Babylonians have come and absolutely demolished the temple and taken many of the people away into exile. And only now, as these words are being penned some six or seven decades later, the Hebrew people are finally beginning to return and survey the destruction of their home.
Destruction is a common thread that winds through these readings this morning. Destruction of homes. Destruction of the temple. And, more broadly, destruction of ways of life that have sustained people spiritually and physically for centuries…
Which brings us to our present day.
Today we are remembering and giving thanks for those who have served in the many wars and conflicts of this past century, and for those still serving today – these wars and rumours of wars that have wrought devastation on the land, on society, on lives and families around the globe. [This year, like years past, we have heard some incredibly personal stories of how war has touched the lives of people within this community, and acknowledging that it has touched all of us in some way.]
And, with the political shifts of the past week, we must acknowledge that many of us fear that war will come closer to home, that racial and sexual violence, and religious discrimination will only increase – and for some, that fear is personal.
And at the same time we look around our continent at the ongoing destruction of the land and traditional way of life – the tug sinking off of Bella Bella a few weeks ago and the resulting decimation of livelihood being wrecked upon the Heiltsuk First Nation.
– the ongoing violence against the First People’s at Standing Rock as they seek to protect their sacred sites and treaty rights.
If there ever was a time for an apocalyptic word to help us to make sense of the righteousness of God in the face of the suffering of the righteous, this might be it.
In many ways, it seems like our readings from Luke and Isaiah portray different parts of the time continuum. Luke’s gospel is much closer in time to the destruction of Jerusalem at the hands of the Romans than are the words of Isaiah to those surveying the destruction of Jerusalem at the hands of the Babylonians.
Perhaps at the time Luke was written, they were still reeling, while Isaiah is more in the rebuilding phase – they’ve begun to return to the land and they are given the freedom and the space to imagine a long life there… Yet even that freedom and imagination is not without its bitterness:
Immediately before the our reading picks up this morning, there is a graphic reminder of how they got there and where the people had come from – in the language of the Hebrew Scriptures – Isaiah is holding out both the blessings and the curses.
This juxtaposition in some ways, gives more hope for us today than simply isolating the promises in the text we heard proclaimed this morning – that God is about to create new heavens and a new earth… Jerusalem as a joy and its people as a delight – where no more shall the sound of weeping be heard, or the cry of distress…
Because we see that as Isaiah addresses his people, the triumph of God – the Reign of Christ that we will proclaim next weekend – is not yet self-evident. In the “now” of Isaiah, it is not entirely clear when the blessing would come…
Even as they planted the vines for the vineyards, they would not see the fruit of their labours for many years. They were still waiting to experience the joy of the new creation with peace and economic justice proclaimed by Isaiah…
But they were building houses
Labouring in vineyards
Living with expectation
….all in the hope and anticipation of a Messiah they had not yet seen
In other words, it is a situation much like our own.
We live in hope that the world’s moral compass will shift towards love, inclusion, respect, and peace. And while we wait, Isaiah offers a strain of hope in that tension – while the former troubles are neither forgotten nor hidden from God’s sight, and while the future reality has not fully taken hold WE ARE DWELLING – EVEN PARTICIPATING IN – ITS ADVENT.
Because while we wait we are not idle. We look around us and see that God is in our midst.
Isaiah helps us reorient towards our future: a shining image of what is possible. A call to build enthusiastically and confidently. A vision of reconciliation between the endless warring forces around us.
Are we there yet? Probably not.
But, as Herb O’Driscoll writes, “In every society or institution there comes a time when someone must risk singing a song that other people cannot yet sing. Perhaps dark times still threaten, a sense of imprisonment continues to oppress, evidence is not yet sufficient to ignite a general hope. At such times, some voice needs to be raised in a song that no one else dares to sing.”
Our Canticle this morning gives us that song:
You will sing in that day:
Surely God is my salvation;
I will trust, and will not be afraid,
for the Lord God is my strength and my might;
God has become my salvation.
With joy you will draw water from the wells of salvation.
And you will sing in that day:
Give thanks to the Lord,
call on his name;
make known his deeds among the nations;
proclaim that his name is exalted.
Sing praises to the Lord, for he has done gloriously;
let this be known in all the earth.
Shout aloud and sing for joy, O royal Zion,
for great in your midst is the Holy One of Israel.
Or, in the words of another well, known song:
My life flows on in endless song;
Above earth’s lamentation,
I hear the real though far-off hymn
That hails a new creation;
Through all the tumult and the strife
I hear that music ringing;
It sounds an echo in my soul;
How can I keep from singing?
What though the tempest round me roar,
I hear the truth it liveth.
What though the darkness round me close?
Songs in the night he giveth.
No storm can shake my inmost calm
While to that rock I’m clinging;
Since Christ is Lord of heaven and earth,
How can I keep from singing?
And as those melodies echo around us this morning, let us remain confident that while we do not always see it, we are assured that we WILL see the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living.
So let us keep on singing…