Gilead, Nineveh, Damascus, Beersheba, Galilee. The place names of the Bible echo back to Sunday-school childhood and thousands of years before that—names forged out of the mysterious encounter of human and divine.
Isaiah features the crowning biblical place name, Jerusalem, and its renaming, a sign of God’s special devotion to it no matter how traumatic the moment.
I visited Jerusalem years ago. Often it was hard to sense the blessing that is celebrated in Isaiah. What was evident was the menacing tension among the world faiths that compete for it. The jostle of the crowds added to the jitteriness. The Church of the Holy Sepulchre with its dark corridors felt disorienting too.
Then, near sundown on a Friday, a different mood descended. The Jewish Sabbath was arriving. The pinks of dusk reflecting on buildings, the unblinking windless sky, the sudden quiet—everything pointed to an implausible cessation of troubles. The Lord’s day was taking center stage once again.
“You shall be a crown of beauty in the hand of the LORD,” says Isaiah, and at such moments biblical truth stands right in front of you.
Jerusalem remains at the center of a religious cold war. The political future, as always, is unclear. What doesn’t change is the power evoked by these place names on the biblical map and the Power behind them. God stays involved in human affairs—sometimes naming world-historical cities, other times meeting the human heart in small, steady, weekday ways. Bethlehem, Nazareth, Calvary, Emmaus, Jerusalem . . . names that set destinies in motion and are motioning toward us.
Eternal Spirit, thank you for the renewal and astonishment we find in the Bible, in the witnesses who encountered you there, in the towns and cities where your name was first heard and raised up. Keep us open to scripture’s power each day. Amen.
Popular conceptions of God sometimes mislead us. Messages coming even from within Christianity sometimes make us think that God is constantly angry, just waiting for us to slip up. This week’s readings remind us of the truth. Isaiah teaches us that God delights in God’s people just as a groom delights in his bride. This love, the psalmist proclaims, is steadfast and never-ending. The life of Jesus shows us that God even wants us to have a good time in this life. Jesus chooses a wedding as the place to perform his first sign. He multiplies the wine in order to multiply the enjoyment of the guests. Paul in First Corinthians speaks of spiritual gifts. These gifts are all given by God for the good of the entire community.
Read Isaiah 62:1-5. Recall a time when you have flourished and a time when your life was far from peace and order. How did you feel God’s delight in each situation?
Read Psalm 36:5-10. When have you felt God’s light or taken refuge in the shadow of God’s wings?
Read 1 Corinthians 12:1-11. How can you use your God-given gifts to complement others’ and to support the common good?
Read John 2:1-11. How do Jesus’ miracles help you to understand his identity as the Son of God?
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