As I kneel at the altar to receive the Eucharist, it suddenly occurs to me that when Isaiah cried out, “Woe is me, for I am a man of unclean lips,” he may not have been speaking generally or just identifying with our human condition.
Maybe his cry wasn’t from false humility, an indicator of low-self esteem, or an excuse as to why he wasn’t prophet material.
What if, on the day of that overwhelming vision of God, he had with his lips hurled abuse at his wife, sealed an unjust deal, or remained silent and walked by on the other side of the road while his neighbour lay suffering. Perhaps that very day, he saw anew how his self-serving words, spoken decades ago have left an indelible mark.
I imagine Isaiah, facing the grievousness of his action, expects that this is the end. He knows God knows what he’s done. He knows that he, of all people, should not be a servant of the Holy One.
What does the Holy One do? God does not rise up in anger and dispense punitive judgment; nor does God excuse or minimize Isaiah’s sin. God sends a seraph with a live coal from the altar and touches his mouth. In an instant, Isaiah’s guilt is removed. He is forgiven and called to serve again.
I kneel at the altar, a woman of unclean lips, very aware of my own specific reprehensible sin. Then the priest, like a seraph, places the Host in my hands. I put it in my mouth and my guilt removed, my sin forgiven.
The scripture from Isaiah continues to speak to me personally, specifically. God asks, “Who can I send to care for my people?”
I take the cup that is offered and return to my place in the church.
“I will set out and go back to my father and say to him: Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son; make me like one of your hired servants.” So he got up and went to his father.
But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and was filled with compassion for him; he ran to his son, threw his arms around him and kissed him. –Luke 15:18-20 (NIV)
* * *
“In September 2017, St. James’ Anglican Church in the Downtown Eastside of Vancouver held a Reconciliation Feast to bring together parishioners and survivors of Canada’s Residential Schools who live in Vancouver. In the spirit of Reconciliation, the Feast honoured the strength, resilience, courage and dignity of survivors, and celebrated the beginning of a renewed relationship between our church and our Aboriginal neighbours,” writes Nii K’an Kwsdins (aka Jerry Adams). Jerry Adams and Father Matthew Johnson, both from St. James, facilitated a workshop at Inside Out Church, a mission conference hosted by the New Westminster diocese of the Anglican Church last Saturday. Along with the others in attendance, I hope that this will be the first of many feasts of reconciliation. In this article, Adams tells us how churches can plan and host one.