Speak Lord: Broken Lord, speak of love

Gethsemane 2The first reading at Mass today comes from one of the ‘servant songs’ of Isaiah, widely read as prophetic anticipations of the sufferings of Christ, particularly in his Passion.

The Lord has been pleased to crush his servant with suffering.

If he offers his life in atonement,
he shall see his heirs, he shall have a long life
and through him what the Lord wishes will be done.
His soul’s anguish over,
he shall see the light and be content.
By his sufferings shall my servant justify many,
taking their faults on himself.

Isaiah 53:10-11

We need to be careful though. The reading responds to an experience of suffering, even a suffering that proves beneficial for others: so a direct correlation with the suffering of Christ can legitimately be made. Likewise the servant’s offering of his life in atonement: in himself achieving what others have failed to do, and doing so to honour the Lord his Father, our Father – there is direct comparison there, and it is fruitful for our understanding of Jesus and how he lived and died.

But it is a step too far to transpose the first line of this prophecy to the situation of Jesus. For itt has not pleased God to crush his Servant-Son. It has pleased God, indeed was his will, that Jesus be true to love, true to the covenant, true to his Sonship and Service. And Jesus agonised over this in Gethsemane, and triumphed over his fears.

But the crushing was achieved by man, not God: God overcomes the crushing when the Father raises the Son to the glory of the Resurrection, and then extends the offer of that gift to all humankind, even those debased by their sin against the innocent Son.

God in Jesus allows himself to be crushed by suffering, in solidarity, in communion, with us. That part of the prophecy is fulfilled. But fulfilled at a slant, and with divine irony.

  • What do you suffer for love?
  • Why?
  • What would be the alternative? Would it be better?

Olive trees in the Garden of Gethsemane. (c) 2007, Allen Morris.

Taste and See: At one with God

Patriarchs and ProphetsIf on Sunday you  heard the readings for the 5th Sunday of Lent in Year B, the first reading came from the Prophet Jeremiah.

If you were hearing the readings for Year A, because the scrutiny was being celebrated, or because they’d been chosen for pastoral reasons, the first reading you heard was from Ezekiel, and it appears at the end of this blog.

The reading from Jeremiah was the following:

See, the days are coming – it is the Lord who speaks – when I will make a new covenant with the House of Israel (and the House of Judah), but not a covenant like the one I made with their ancestors on the day I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt. They broke that covenant of mine, so I had to show them who was master. It is the Lord who speaks. No, this is the covenant I will make with the House of Israel when those days arrive – it is the Lord who speaks. Deep within them I will plant my Law, writing it on their hearts. Then I will be their God and they shall be my people. There will be no further need for neighbour to try to teach neighbour, or brother to say to brother, ‘Learn to know the Lord!’ No, they will all know me, the least no less than the greatest – it is the Lord who speaks – since I will forgive their iniquity and never call their sin to mind.

Jeremiah 31:31-34

The first reading sums it all up. In the covenant God seeks us out and holds us close, and in that closeness and love all will be well for us and the whole world. Long ways to go yet, but its begun and it will happen.

The reading holds comfort and challenge. The comfort of the promise of God’s faithfulness. The challenge because that faithfulness is tested by ‘our’ unfaithfulness. The reading might  be memorised and used as a prayer, a meditation for use after receiving communion: a meditation on what I have received and what I am to live. As we come to the end of Lent it might be used in an examination of conscience to prepare for confession: where, how have I broken covenant.

The language and the concepts of the passage are not necessarily everyday language and concepts. ‘Covenant’ is not necessarily what we speak about over the cornflakes.

The story is told of a reader charged with proclaiming God’s word and reading this passage. Only they got the word wrong: ‘I will make them a new convenience… not a convenience like their fathers had which they broke, but a new and everlasting convenience…’

Now, a new and everlasting convenience might be very useful. But a new and everlasting covenant is even more important.

Covenant? The promise that love between us and God is forever.

The new and everlasting covenant is achieved in Jesus Christ. It is the form of the covenant than which nothing greater can be imagined – sealed in the Blood of the Lamb. A covenant that achieves atonement for the sins of the world.

At-one-ment: God’s gift, our privilege and our vocation.

Photograph of frescoes of prophets and patriarchs, and held safe in their arms and laps, others of the faithful of God. Desert monastery, Egypt. (c) 2004, Allen Morris.

– – –

The Lord says this: I am now going to open your graves; I mean to raise you from your graves, my people, and lead you back to the soil of Israel. And you will know that I am the Lord, when I open your graves and raise you from your graves, my people. And I shall put my spirit in you, and you will live, and I shall resettle you on your own soil; and you will know that I, the Lord, have said and done this – it is the Lord who speaks.

Ezekiel 37:12-14