Thursday, April 4th
Throughout the year, the Massachusetts Conference of the United Church of Christ produces the Daily Lectionary for use by churches. These are the suggested readings for April 4th: Psalm 126; Isaiah 43:1-7; and Philippians 2:19-24. I would encourage you to read these short selections as part of your Lenten practice.
Scholars see the hand of three separate authors in the one book of Isaiah the prophet. The first is found in chapters 1-39, the second in 40-55, and the third in 56-66. This means that today’s Isaiah passage is from the hand of Deutero-Isaiah, the second Isaiah. First Isaiah writes during the final years of the Kingdom of Judah. Deutero-Isaiah is a prophet during the time of Judah’s exile. Their nation has been defeated, the population deported, strangers are living in their homes, and Jerusalem and its Temple have been destroyed.
This could have turned the people of Judah into an historical footnote. When the northern tribes of the nation of Israel fell before the Assyrians about a century and half earlier, they became assimilated into the cultures around them. Judah, instead, remained intact as a people without a land. It was their faith in Yahweh that kept them united. It was their hope that Yahweh would not desert them no matter how bad things were. And it was in this milieu that Deutero-Isaiah speaks to God’s people.
In today’s passage, Yahweh reveals through His prophet that no matter the trial, He will not abandon them. In an age when these defeated people may have felt invisible, God knows them: “Do not fear, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name, you are mine.” With so much happening that could erase easily their identity, the transcendent God bends down to tell them that each one of them is known personally to the Almighty. This shared experience was the unifying factor that fostered community as the People of God.
Sometimes when we speak about God, He can seem so distant and unmoving, not a real part of our world and our lives. Could the Almighty really understand the trials, fears and uncertainties of everyday human life? Passages like Deutero-Isaiah’s assure us that He knows us, and then the life and even death of Jesus of Nazareth make certain that He knows what it is to be us. Whenever we may feel distanced from God, remember that the suffering Saviour endured whatever the world would dare throw at God so that forever we are each known by name. And may this awareness also bring us closer together as the community of God's People.
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