YEAR C: SEASON OF PENTECOST
(Sunday between November 13 and November 19)
Isa 65:17-25 is an appropriate reading as we prepare for the feast of Christ the King or The Reign of Christ next week. We are coming to the end of the Christian year and our attention is directed to the fulfilment of Godís purpose for all creation. It is as if we are taken back to the beginning of things again, as if there is in the end a return to the start. That is true in more ways than one in our reading for this week.
The mention of a Ďnew heavens and a new earthí (v. 17), of course, recalls the idea of creation. This was a constant theme through the middle section of Isaiah, chapters 40-55, often expressed in the language of newness (see 42:9, 10; 43:19; 48:6). This newness was associated with the return of the exiles from Babylon to Jerusalem. In other words, deliverance from captivity was described as a new creation. But this language of a new creation possibly picks up more than just the themes of Second Isaiah. Isa 65:25 echoes Genesis 2-3, as well as recalling the hope of a new world in Isa 11:6-9. Isa 65:23 with its reference to no longer labouring in vain, and not bearing children for calamity, echoes the curse of Gen 3:17-19 and the story of the murder of Abel (Gen 4:8). We are taken back to the beginning of the biblical story itself, with its hopes for creation, and its story of the dashing of those hopes.
Isa 65:17-25 speaks not so much of the new creation itself, as of the joy and delight that will be part of it (vv. 18-19), i.e. what that new creation brings. It speaks about the lack of weeping, distress, infant death and shortened life, theft or misappropriation of property, etc. All these ills were included in the corruption of the earth described at the start of the flood story (Genesis 6-9). All that has prevented creation from being what God intended it to be will be removed. The disasters we see in the world about us every day are not what will determine the future of Godís creation. Neither terrorist activity nor the exercise of military power will hold sway in Godís order of things. Political deception will have no place, nor will abuse within the family or workplace. The selfish exploitation and neglect of nature will be recognised. And the suffering that these things bring, as well as that which seems to come by chance in illness or accident, will pass away. All that is evil will be seen for what it is, and all that is hurtful will be banished. This is what the writer of Isaiah 65 looks toward.
This writer looks not just to the making new of the physical world, but also to the renewing of the relationships and interconnections within the world which maintain life in its physical, spiritual, social and other dimensions. That is the Christian hope. While it might sound a bit Ďpie in the sky when you dieí, i.e. unreal, to doubtful minds, we should remember that Christian hope is not just about some distant future. That vision of the future is also what shapes our living in the world in the present. We are called to live as people of hope, shaped in our lives by that very hope.
This passage was also set as an alternative reading for Easter Day this year (see comment for Easter Sunday where you can find further comment on the detail of the passage). It is worth noting the connection because what is envisaged in Isaiah 65 is embodied already in a prefigurative way in Jesusí resurrection. In that event we see not only the promise of what is to be in the coming of Godís kingdom, but the first and foundational act of newness in that kingdom. What we celebrated at Easter has its outcome in the celebration of the rule of Christ over all, a rule of life over death, of love over all that seeks to destroy it. What we celebrate now as we approach the end of Christian year, is the coming to fullness in creation of that resurrection event. So our reading not only casts us back to the beginning and intent of creation, but to that one event within creation that holds the future of all things together Ė the resurrection of Jesus. It is the event in which we hear Godís eternal cry of ĎHere I am, here I amí (Isa 65:1) to a people who do not yet know how to seek God.
One final word is necessary about the Gospel reading set for today. It is Luke 21:5-19, an apocalyptic passage speaking of the signs of the times and the coming of the kingdom of God (see Luke 21:31). The Gospel speaks in almost depressing terms of all that is to be suffered before the final redemption of Godís people. Of course, we ought not to forget that from New Testament times right through to our present day, there have been Christians who have suffered such horrors in the hope of their faith. While the writer of this part of the Gospel speaks in apocalyptic tones of special and intensified tribulations that await the faithful, we cannot forget the present day suffering of Christians in various places throughout the world. These are part of that faithful suffering in hope for redemption (Luke 21:28).
However, the dismal reality of the world as presented in the Gospel is not the full story. The Gospel reading and the Isaiah reading for today counterbalance each other. While the Gospel seeks to strengthen the faithful as they deal on a daily basis with the horrors and pain of the world, so the Isaiah reading reassures us that neither our nightly news nor the struggles of the day is the measure of all things. In the time in which we live, death and suffering seem to be all conquering. In Godís measure of things, joy, delight, and life will prevail, but not in some simplistic manner. The suffering and death are real. We cannot deny that, and part of the message of the Gospel is to underline that. On the other hand, the joy and delight etc. are real too. It is Isaiahís message to which the faithful should hold firmly in the face of all else. This is ultimately what the Gospel wants to say too when it reassures its readers that not a hair of their heads will perish (Luke 21:18). As we find elsewhere in Scripture, we only get a full view of things by keeping two texts in relationship. So too this Sunday. The Gospel is to be found only as we let Isaiah and Luke speak to each other.
Psalm: Isaiah 12
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