Be comforted: I will raise you up on eagles’ wings
Peter Seal, 7 June 2020
Isaiah 40: 12–17, 27–31; Matthew 28: 16–20
Trinity Sunday is a festival day. That’s why the altar frontal and the clergy stoles are white – the party colour! Trinity is also a season: the time of the ongoing life of the Church. The Trinity season stretches right through the summer, into the autumn and up until the end of October. During this extended time the liturgical colour is green, which reflects the burgeoning green growth in God’s creation all around us.
In his book The Divine Dance, Richard Rohr writes helpfully about the Trinity. He encourages us to experience the Trinity as something active and personal rather than static and distant and abstract. Using the famous icon by Andrei Rublev as a visual aid (and it’s printed in the welcome sheet if you want to see it), Rohr encourages us to engage with the Trinity as something that we are invited to become an integral part of.
He points out that in the centre of the icon at the feet of the two angels is a space into which we are beckoned. We’re invited in. The quite extraordinary thing therefore is this: we discover that we have a place at the table. We become nothing less than God’s life – the fullness of God as Father, Son and Holy Spirit is something that we enter into.
All this means that the word Trinity is actually far more a verb than it is a noun. The Trinity is something dynamic and living which we are caught up in and indeed embraced by. We become part of the life of God, in all that God longs for, for us and for his world.
Today’s reading from the prophet Isaiah makes lyrical reading. It’s those final words which I particularly love: ‘Those who wait for the Lord shall renew their strength, they shall mount up with wings like eagles, they shall run and not be weary, they shall walk and not faint’. I find myself singing the song you may know which has the words, ‘I will raise you up on eagles’ wings’. And then I picture an eagle, strong and mighty, soaring high in the sky. The eagle, known as the king of the birds, the bird used for many lecterns in Christian churches – only the king of the birds is counted worthy to carry the Bible, the word of God. The word of Holy Scripture tells us, week by week, of the King of Kings, Jesus himself.
It’s helpful to know that the people who Isaiah is addressing in this passage are completely worn out. They haven’t even got the energy to actively reject God and seek other sources of comfort. Instead, they sit around and they whine. Even the young are slumped wearily, unable to summon up the enthusiasm for anything. These people believe that they are utterly forgotten and of no value to anyone, including God. This feeling of being despised and neglected fills them with a terrible lethargy. If God doesn’t care, why should they?
In this passage from Isaiah the people are offered a picture of God’s patience and of God’s diligence – our God is a God who forgets nothing. Underlying all this is Isaiah’s insistence upon the utter freedom and all-knowing nature of God. Isaiah asks them, ‘Who can claim to have taught God anything?’ God didn’t need to ask advice when he was making the world, and he doesn’t need to be told what to do now.
These words from Isaiah to these depressed Israelites become a source of comfort and of joy, both then and down the ages. God made the world without help or guidance from anyone. He’s not a careless God. Rather, he’s one whose ways of measurement are fiercely exact. We can’t measure every drop of water in the world, or weigh a mountain; but God can, and has.
Isaiah’s point is that what appears to be our very insignificance is, funnily enough, a reassurance. This majestic God is Israel’s Lord, who cares for them, as he has always done. When we are too tired, too bewildered, too woebegone to find any way out of our plight, we can remember that our God is inexhaustible. We can remember, reach out and feel the potent, unending energy of God.
When we are too tired, too bewildered, too woebegone to find any way out of our plight, we can remember that our God is inexhaustible. We can remember, reach out and feel the potent, unending energy of God.
God is both sovereign and free, and at the same time utterly committed to each of us. This conviction is at the heart of our Bible, which tells us about God. In creation, incarnation and Pentecost we see God at work, patiently, with infinite attention to detail, drawing us into the all-embracing freedom and inexhaustible life which is his very nature.
Through the prophet Isaiah, God has this wonderful message for us: ‘I will raise you up on eagles’ wings’!
In St Paul’s Church some very skilled men are at work. Those of us who have had the privilege of seeing the fruits of their labour marvel at their attention to detail. Their abilities, and the pride they are taking in their work, are an act of creation. I believe that their work is actually part of God’s ongoing work, as we saw in Isaiah.
One aspect of what they are doing is their ability to make accurate measurements. It’s a mystery to me how they manage to get levels and measurements, both in straight line and in curve, spot on. As an example of God’s life-giving energy, their measurements are fiercely exact.
Last week work began to lay the new stone floor. After several days of measuring, checking and re-checking, the stonemasons had laid just one stone. It’s right in the centre of St Paul’s. It’s the stone from which all the other stones are now being laid. Getting that one stone absolutely spot on was crucial. It’s known as the keystone.
Standing on this stone, you can see the whole of St Paul’s all around you. I long to be there with you, and one day we will be. Before that, maybe in a future sermon, I’ll give a fuller description of what you can see as you turn through 360 degrees, looking around. Today I invite you, in your imagination, to look with me towards the altar and the great east window, and to the great brass eagle lectern, which will be safely and familiarly repositioned on the left as you look towards the altar. Our renewed St Paul’s will be an appropriately fitting place for the eagle lectern, the king of the birds, who carries the word of God and the story of our King of Kings.
In conclusion, may these words from Isaiah ring out in our lives this week: ‘I will raise you up on eagles’ wings’.