Twenty Eighth Sunday in Ordinary Time
My friends in Christ, the Prophet Isaiah proclaims for us today a most beautiful, hope-filled, joy-inspiring vision of the future…when at last, at the end of days, all is turned to dust and Earth as we know it is ended with the utter breaking of the world…and that which awaits beyond all of that is, by God’s grace and at God’s good pleasure, made manifest…waiting for all of us to enter therein at last – we, who persevere through every trial, every tribulation, every sorrow and strife…. The vision of the Mountain of the Lord. And “on this mountain, the Lord of hosts will provide for all peoples a feast of rich food and choice wines – juicy, rich foods and pure, choice wines.” And there on that mountain, God “will wipe away the tears from every face,” and the people will sing: “Let us rejoice and be glad that [God] has saved us,” that God has delivered us through the ash and dust, through the utter breaking of the world…to this blessed feast of Heaven.
This Scripture text from the Prophet Isaiah is one of my very favorite passages in the whole Bible…because it is beautiful and hope-filled and joy-inspiring…. And it is a most blessed vision of that which awaits us at the far side of eternity, beyond the breaking of the world at the end of days.
I have read the Bible cover-to-cover. Several times, in fact. Perhaps not many people have done this, but I would wish it that all of you would read it because it truly is the Greatest Story Ever Told. But a lot of it is dark. A lot of it is war. A lot of it is betrayal. A lot of it is revenge…. A lot of it…is sin. But that is precisely why this text, given to us today, is one of my very favorites, because in the awful midst of the vast desert of sin and death (the setting, as it were, of the Old Testament), the precious few and rare Bible passages such as this one truly are like an oasis of blessings, comfort, and consolation – truly beautiful, hope-filled, and joy-inspiring.
It is like the south-central region of Eastern Washington, where the Palouse ends in the east and the deserts begin in the west. Washtucna. There is nothing there. Even the town of Washtucna, sadly, barely constitutes something slightly more than nothing – no offense! – until you suddenly get to the Palouse Falls. And there…you encounter something beautiful, hope-filled, and joy-inspiring.
Whenever we encounter Bible passages like this throughout the Old Testament, the reason why we are drawn to them, I would suspect, is because they are such a welcome contrast to the sin and death that surrounds it. Really, they are something of a longing, a yearning glimpse backwards in time to the Garden of Eden…Paradise, now lost. I would guess certainly that the Hebrews saw things that way, and in point of fact, that is not really so strange to us, if we think about it. I mean, consider our present situation. The year 2020 certainly is a year for the history books! Or, probably more accurate to say: a year to be ripped out of the history books, forever! Hear again our all-too-familiar “litany of despair” as I have come to call it: pandemic, panic, economic and societal shut-down, job loss, businesses closing, schools closing, Hollywood closing (no huge loss there!), sports canceled, camps canceled, vacations canceled (everything is canceled!), mounting tensions, flared-up racism, riots in the cities, anti-police protests, anti-everything protests, increasing numbers of deaths from coronavirus, increasing numbers of deaths from despair (alcoholism, drug overdose, suicide, and all because everything is canceled)…and lest we forget: the dreaded presidential election year!
It has become something of a joke amongst the parish and school staff that, as for me, I was definitely born in the wrong century! Because in addition to that awful litany of despair, I find myself increasingly reliant on the alleged “miracle” of technology. And I…hate…technology. Some people have a love/hate relationship with technology; I have a hate/hate relationship…. Truly I was born in the wrong century. The 13th Century – that is more my pace!
So…do we long for yesteryear? Do we yearn for the “good old days,” a time gone by? Are we perhaps like the Hebrews, who in their grief of the sin and death that was the bulk of their story turned a longing, yearning glimpse backwards in time to the Garden of Eden…to Paradise Lost?
Do we wish that this year had never happened? Do we catch ourselves sometimes thinking, like a people trapped, “I wish that none of these awful things happened in my time?” That would be, I would guess, very understandable if we did think that…. But whenever I may happen to think that, I remember something that was said by a very wise (albeit very fictional) character, Gandalf the Grey, from The Lord of the Rings. Do I wish that none of this had ever happened? Well “so do all who live to see such times. But that is not for them to decide. All [that] we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given us.” Gandalf said that…but Tolkien wrote it; and Tolkien wrote it as a Catholic Christian who understood quite well that though we may not understand any of this…God is good.
Therefore, I think it helpful, for me anyway, that one thing which I can do with the time that is given to me (though I still am convinced that the 13th Century is more my pace!)…something that we can do now in the midst of our time is to long for, pine for, yearn for a Paradise Lost – but not to escape this fallen, broken world…but, rather, to remember the world that once was, thus to understand that there was a world far better, far greater than this…and that there is a world far better, far greater than this. Because God created the world and called it “good.” And so, it is good.
Fundamentally, ours is a very good world, indeed. It is a good world – and it is even a very good world, why? Because not only did God create it, God created us, too; and when God created us, that is the moment when that which was once called simply “good” is now called “very good.” And if you read the Bible, the Book of Genesis, you will discover that truth quite clearly.
But God did not just mold us out of nothing, wind us up and let us go like some tinker toy; read the Book of Genesis and you will discover still more of the beauty, goodness, and truth of what really is going on here. God gave Adam life by breathing the Breath of Life into that as-yet un-alive body…. The Breath of Life…breath…spiritus, in Latin…that is: spirit. The Holy Spirit – the Lord Himself – was given to Adam at the moment of his creation. Just so, the Holy Spirit (the Breath of God) is given to each of us from the moment of our creation. We are not tinker toys! We are God’s children – God’s beloved, deliberately-planned, and intentionally-created children! And I am a child of God! And you are a child of God! And just as the present time in which we find ourselves never has happened before and never will happen again (thank goodness!)…I have never happened before, and you have never happened before, and neither you nor I will ever happen again. This is our time, and we were born for this!
The imminently loveable, infinitely unique, and irreplaceable you. God planned for you. God connived and conspired for you, arranging the precise circumstances wherein your parents were to meet and fall in love, then get married and so conceive and give birth…to you…. God planned for you and has a plan for you; and that purpose, that plan, in point of fact, has everything to do with the awful and unfortunate here-and-now in which we live, “the time that is given us.”
And what is that plan? Well, I would suspect that part of that plan anyway has something to do with the final redemption of a fallen, broken world. The world is fallen; the world is broken; and the world is crying right now. And as I said last week in my homily: the Lord has had quite enough of this, and He wants His world back. He wants Eden back – and, in very truth, what He wants is a thing even better, even greater than the Garden. He wants Paradise back, Paradise lost…but He wants it found…. He wants that mountain, that feast of juicy, rich foods…pure, choice wines. He wants us to perceive the beauty, and to embrace the hope, and to encounter the joy that was there in all of its fullness – in all of its greatness and glory – at Creation…. And He wants us…to be a part of it.
The Paradise of Eden is where we once were…. The desert of sin and death is where we now are…. And the mountain of that blessed Feast is where God wants us to be, wills us to be, and calls us to be. God never wanted the desert! God does not want sin and death to be our dark domain! No, God created us by love, for love, to love. Love, His love, is why we were made, why we were created, and truly, yes, why we were born….
We were born…for this moment. This is the time that is given us; what, then, are we going to do about it…? We were born for this – for greatness, for glory…for this moment…. I know that; and now, you know that. And soon, and by the grace of God and with our eager embrace of and faithful response to that grace, they will know that, too – they…the world entire….
Another oasis of blessings, comfort, and consolation, of course, in the midst of this horrible desert of sin and death…is the Church…the Mass…the Eucharist. The Eucharist is the fullness of God, as we know…and, as rich a Feast as the Eucharist is…even this is still but a foreshadow of the greatness and the glory of the Kingdom that is to come…. May it be, then, that God, given to us in the Eucharist, will sustain us as we continue this pilgrim’s journey of faith through the desert to the mountain…through this mortal coil of a fallen, broken world…to the blessed eternity of Heaven.
on Monday, October 12 at 10:42AM