- Written by Benjamin Carter
The reflection below was used as part of our Morning Prayer on Sunday which you can view on our Facebook page of on this YouTube video.
Everyday through the week: we will continue to offer Morning Prayer at 9am and Evening Prayer at 6pm streamed on facebook.com/parishesbythewall
Our Churches will be open for private prayer on:
- Wednesday 26 August 2pm-4pm St Cuthbert’s, Haydon Bridge
Next Sunday we will worship at:
- 9am: Morning Prayer with Hymns and Reflection streamed on facebook.com/parishesbythewall
- From 10am till 12noon: Private Prayer St Cuthbert's Haydon Bridge
- 10.30am: Benefice Eucharist at All Hallow's Henshaw: It will help our planning if you could contact the Church Wardens if you intend to attend.
For more information on our plans for the coming times please see this letter on our website.
Isaiah 51: 1-6
Listen to me, you that pursue righteousness,
you that seek the Lord.
Look to the rock from which you were hewn,
and to the quarry from which you were dug.
Look to Abraham your father
and to Sarah who bore you;
for he was but one when I called him,
but I blessed him and made him many.
For the Lord will comfort Zion;
he will comfort all her waste places,
and will make her wilderness like Eden,
her desert like the garden of the Lord;
joy and gladness will be found in her,
thanksgiving and the voice of song.
Listen to me, my people,
and give heed to me, my nation;
for a teaching will go out from me,
and my justice for a light to the peoples.
I will bring near my deliverance swiftly,
my salvation has gone out
and my arms will rule the peoples;
the coastlands wait for me,
and for my arm they hope.
Lift up your eyes to the heavens,
and look at the earth beneath;
for the heavens will vanish like smoke,
the earth will wear out like a garment,
and those who live on it will die like gnats;
but my salvation will be forever,
and my deliverance will never be ended.
One the most powerful biblical themes which has gained the most traction through this crisis has been that of Exile. Unable to worship in our buildings, living in a time or uncertainty and loss, many have looked to the prophetic books of the Old Testament to make theological sense of the disorientation many of us felt was we plunged, at startling speed, into lock-down and the world of Covid-19.
In biblical terms the Exile carries many meanings. On one level it describes an event in around 597 BC when King Nebuchadrezzar of Babylon ordered the sack of Jerusalem, the destruction of the Temple of Solomon, and the deportation of the people of Israel into captivity and slavery.
However more than simply a political moment, the Exile exists as one of, if not the defining psychological moments in the story of God’s chosen people. To be in exile is not simply a political experience, it is a state of abandonment, a place where hope could be lost.
The Exile infuses much of the stories of the Old Testament and, if you believe some scholars, provided the deep pattern of belief which informed the ministry of Jesus of Nazareth and who God is for us in Jesus. It is, though, explored and examined most deeply and poetically in the book of Isaiah which we heard in our Old Testament reading.
The Book of Isaiah is a complex and very long book in the bible. It is also one which was almost certainly not written by one person called Isaiah. Rather is a collection of writings which respond in turn to the different movements and moments of the political and psychological experience of exile.
The first, covering the first thirty-nine chapters, focus on the shock and loss of the Exile. Referring both to the Babylonian as well as the earlier Assyrian attacks on Israel, these chapters focus on lament and grief at the waywardness of God’s people and God’s righteous judgement of them in these moments of exile and destruction.
The second section, from which our reading was taken today, begins to look to a possible restoration from the experience of exile not in a definitive hope, but in the reassurance that God’s faithfulness in the past will lead to the restoration of this promise in the future.
The third and final section then looks to how that promise will be fulfilled and how God’s chosen one, a Messiah or, in Greek, a Christ, will come to guide God’s chosen people out of exile.
This is a hopelessly over-simplified account of this great and complex book with many of these themes spinning around one another through the whole text. But as we examine our own experience and as we begin to look to the future in hope, if not necessarily expectation, it provides a shape for our experience.
What Isaiah teaches us is that if we are to live in Exile we also need to hope for Restoration.
I am always a little nervous about the use of the language of exile in the life of the Church as it feels like an excuse to say that, but being in exile, we have been cast out and rejected, and that all we can do is sit by the river, play our plaintive songs, and weep.
But with exile comes the hope of restoration. As we hear in our reading today:
Listen to me, my people,
and give heed to me, my nation;
for a teaching will go out from me,
and my justice for a light to the peoples.
If we are to recognise this as a time of exile, we also need to seek and pray for the restoration which God will bring. Our world and experience may have changed, but God has not changed. God will act as God acted in the lives of Abraham and Sarah and acted in the forming creation and in drawing order out of chaos. We might not know how or where, but we must have faith that God will act to restore what has been lost.
As we have come to understand this season we have been living through as a time of exile we also need to recognise that with exile comes restoration.
So, what does that mean?
Well the first is to understand that restoration and return is not a moment. At the beginning of lock-down I think my planning assumed that things would close, and then we would reopen. Where the reality is that the period of reopening, we are going through will be longer and more protracted than the process of closing. For this reason we need to keep sight of the things which were precious form the time before – our work with children and families, our ministry of hospitality, singing in Church – and recognise that their restoration will take longer than the restoration of public worship by itself, but that restoration will come.
Secondly, as we come to terms with the reality that this will just take longer than we might want or expect we also need to not lose heart. What the prophetic voice of Isaiah reminds us is that, even if we can’t see it now, restoration will come because God is faithful. So, we must learn in our faithfulness patience.
Finally, in looking to restoration we are not looking simply to a return to how things were. Restoration comes with the scars of exile. As we return, we don’t forget that pain. Instead we seek to overcome what caused the exile in the hope to be remade by it.
In the face of this invisible enemy of this virus this might seem a strange challenge. But through this crisis we have uncovered and recognised those parts of our society and world which have made this time of exile harder and more challenging than they might have been before.
So a true restoration will not simply involve a return to the good old days, but a remaking of our society in which those who have been most deeply affected by this crisis - the poor, the elderly, the vulnerable - are protected most. Equally we look to a world where those on whom we have most relied on – such as overlooked and underpaid care workers – are held in the places of honour they deserve as we follow God’s call to us from our from exile to the new world he will restore.
Questions for personal reflection
• What have you been exiled from through this time?
• What has been the greatest cost to you of this exile?
• What must be transformed in the world that will be restored?
Collect for Tenth Sunday of Trinity
God of glory,
the end of our searching,
help us to lay aside
all that prevents us from seeking your kingdom,
and to give all that we have
to gain the pearl beyond all price,
through our Saviour Jesus Christ.
Please keep in your prayers: Those in need… Lesley Towers, Dorothy Hartley, Margaret McAllister, Allan Munns, David Lench, Sue Cantwell, June Henriksen
Those who have died…. Dorothy FurlongNotices:
Sermons and occasional musings of the Vicar and Curate of all the best bits of Hadrian's Wall.
If you have any comments on any content on this part of the website please contact one of:
The Vicar: Benjamin Carter
The Curate: Gill Alexander
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