The Parish Church of St John-at-Hampstead
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Evensong      8th September 2019
Creation is God made real
Andrew Penny

Isaiah 43

The Isaiah, he’s the second writer of the book we know as Isaiah, who wrote our reading this evening addressed his message- his good news- to the Israelites as they were finding release from their captivity in Babylon. As so often with Salvation, there is a specific circumstance, a release from the bondage of illness, sin or oppression, but with that release comes a deeper comfort, the wholeness of spirit and sense of oneness with God, a sense that we can be what we are meant to be as creatures made in God’s image. This is particularly so, and magnificently expressed, in the second Isaiah’s poetic prophecy and it is perhaps the reason why that prophecy seems to have influenced Jesus, or at least to have been recognised, and alluded to, by those writing his life and recording his teaching - and incidentally, why we have so many readings from Isaiah in our Lectionary, in Advent, at Christmas, at Passiontide and now, in Ordinary time.

The second Isaiah’s a message is overtly of comfort. His first words, so familiar from Christmas are: “Comfort, comfort my people, says your God”. This Christmas reading, celebrating the Incarnation, comes a few pages earlier than our reading this evening, but it remains Isaiah’s theme. That comfort is expressed, as so often in the Old Testament, first by reference to the great works of God, and most frequently to the Exodus from Egypt, the escape from an earlier captivity, and most specifically to the crossing of the Red Sea, that seminal moment for the Israelites, to which Isaiah alludes-

Thus says the Lord who makes a way in the sea, a path in the mighty waters, who brings forth chariot and horse, army and warrior; they lie down and cannot rise they are extinguished, quenched like a wick:..”

This reciting of the great deeds has a parallel in the form of our Eucharistic Prayer in which we first give thanks or what God has done, sometimes generally, sometimes very specifically, but leading to a hymn of praise and change of tone. So too with Isaiah; he will return to his watery imagery, but his message of comfort changes key as he announces something new springing up. The grandeur of history and geography- the defeat of the Egyptians and their watery fate becomes somehow more intimate and human in scale as the imagery turns to water in the desert and wild beasts strangely tamed; the “New Thing” starts as a reversal of history- not a dry path through the wet sea but wet paths in the wilderness and water in the desert and wild beasts which are wild no longer. Water is no longer a destructive force, but life-giving refreshment “for my chosen people- the people whom I formed for myself that they might declare my praise.” There is an echo here too of the Eucharistic prayer as, after declaring God’s praise in the Sanctus, we remember the mysterious transformations as wine becomes blood and bread flesh. More obviously perhaps, this prophecy of Isaiah foreshadows the Resurrection morning with its ultimate reversal of death into new and paradoxically permanent life.

But of course, there isn’t anything new in earth or heaven; we are God’s creation, the realisation of his thoughts. It is all there already only waiting to become real as it is formed first into His word. There is in this sense, no incarnation; God is already present in all his creation; creation is God made real. What is new is our understanding of what we are and its implications for us. Before he can explain this Isaiah must refer to the way in which we have failed to understand our position and failed to act as creatures made out of God and in His image- expressed in Old Testament terms as our failure to bring sacrifice and instead our burdening of God with our sins.

But that is all old hat; God has forgiven those sins; there has been justice and retribution, and Isaiah (like other prophets) uses the imagery of the court room to express this (“Let us argue together; set forth your case…”) As in the Eucharist, and in this service, having acknowledged our failings and been forgiven, we can begin to see what we are, and to praise our creator.

And what is it that we are? What is the New Thing? It is only, but a momentously big only, that we were made by God, and -in an interestingly inclusive image-formed in his womb. As a baby is created from its parents genes, so we are created, and made flesh, out of God.

After this momentous statement we are brought back down to earth, quite literally; the earlier zoological imagery of wild beasts, has become botanical as, again, water is the benign life-giving element and we are compared to fresh green grass in a water meadow and waving willows by flowing streams. And crucially we become aware of what we are as we name ourselves, even writing on our hands “the Lord’s”. This last is probably an allusion to family slaves being named, and belonging to a wider family. This naming recognises that we come from the same matrix- we are all fellow creatures and members of God himself as we are members of a human family. Isaiah stops there, but we cannot I think, fail to see how St Paul takes this further in seeing us members of Christ’s body; the members left to continue the loving and creative work of God himself. This is the incarnation taken to its ultimate conclusion; as God allows himself to become human to the point of mortality, he reappears beyond that mortality, including us all in his new existence, as we return to our maker. This too has a parallel with Holy Communion as we eat the bread and become Christ's Resurrected body.

That is indeed comforting, but also, of course, hugely challenging, but what higher goal could there be? And what higher satisfaction than being able to feel that we had to even the slightest degree achieved our destiny and become however partially, divine? Amen.

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