God of hope, we lament the suffering and isolation, and sometimes death, that the pandemic is causing our world, our communities, our families. Give us protection, especially all those on the front line of medicine and research, and those whose work makes them in contact with many people. Give us our daily bread, as so many are hurting economically now. Give us hope to see beyond this turmoil and teach us lessons of endurance, faith, and love, as we pray constantly for an end to the virus.
God of creation, quiet the earth where it trembles and shakes. Help us to protect vulnerable ecosystems, threatened habitats, and endangered species. Prosper the work of scientists, engineers, and researchers to find ways to restore creation to health and wholeness.
May your Spirit strengthen each of us with words of hope and love, that we might be the church for this time, and share that same hope and love with our neighbors. With your steadfast love, dear God, hear these and all our prayers as we speak them to you, through Christ our Lord, Amen.
Adapted from Prayers of Intercession for Jubilee Weekend by Pastor Steve Herder, Ascension ELCA, Thousand Oaks, California.
Instructions in the book of Leviticus for observing a jubilee year inspired this Jubilee Weekend. As scripture explains, seven weeks of years, seven times seven years, so that the period of seven weeks of years gives forty-nine years – and then the fiftieth year, a year-long Sabbath grants freedom and new beginnings to all the people, all the animals, and to the land—although apparently God's people Israel never celebrated a jubilee year to the fullest. Before looking at today's passage from the poet synagogue and church sometimes call Third Isaiah, here's part of the jubilee year description from Leviticus. By the way, does "seven times seven" sound familiar? Seven times seven also measures the fifty-day long week of weeks celebration of Easter, and isn't the end of death and dying the ultimate freedom?
1The Lord spoke to Moses on Mount Sinai, saying: 2Speak to the people of Israel and say to them: When you enter the land that I am giving you, the land shall observe a sabbath for the Lord. 3Six years you shall sow your field, and six years you shall prune your vineyard, and gather in their yield; 4but in the seventh year there shall be a sabbath of complete rest for the land …7for your livestock also, and for the wild animals in your land all its yield shall be for food.
8You shall count off seven weeks of years, seven times seven years, so that the period of seven weeks of years gives forty-nine years. 9Then you shall have the trumpet sounded loud; on the tenth day of the seventh month—on the day of atonement—you shall have the trumpet sounded throughout all your land. 10And you shall hallow the fiftieth year and you shall proclaim liberty throughout the land to all its inhabitants. It shall be a jubilee for you: you shall return, every one of you, to your property and every one of you to your family. 11That fiftieth year shall be a jubilee for you: you shall not sow, or reap the aftergrowth, or harvest the unpruned vines. 12For it is a jubilee; it shall be holy to you: you shall eat only what the field itself produces.
13In this year of jubilee you shall return, every one of you, to your property. … 17… for I am the Lord your God.
• 1st Isaiah, mostly writings from Isaiah of Jerusalem, prior to Babylon exile: 1-39
• 2nd Isaiah, during exile in Babylon, 40-55. Includes "Comfort ye… every valley" we know from Handel's Messiah and other memorable passages
• 3rd Isaiah, after the exile, back in town trying to rebuild lives, physical and community and religious structures
6"This is the kind of fast day I'm after:
to break the chains of injustice, get rid of exploitation in the workplace, free the oppressed, cancel debts.
7What I'm interested in seeing you do is:
sharing your food with the hungry, inviting the homeless poor into your homes, putting clothes on the shivering ill-clad, being available to your own families.
8Do this and the lights will turn on, and your lives will turn around at once.
Your righteousness will pave your way. The God of glory will secure your passage.
9Then when you pray, God will answer. You'll call out for help and I’ll say, 'Here I am.'
"If you get rid of unfair practices, quit blaming victims, quit gossiping about other people's sins,
10If you are generous with the hungry and start giving yourselves to the down-and-out,
Your lives will begin to glow in the darkness, your shadowed lives will be bathed in sunlight.
11I will always show you where to go.
I'll give you a full life in the emptiest of places—firm muscles, strong bones.
You'll be like a well-watered garden, a gurgling spring that never runs dry.
12You’ll use the old rubble of past lives to build anew, rebuild the foundations from out of your past.
You'll be known as those who can fix anything, restore old ruins, rebuild and renovate, make the community livable again.
The Message (MSG) Copyright 1993, 2002, 2018 by Eugene H. Peterson
Everyone didn't leave Jerusalem and Judah for Babylon; some who left settled in Babylon permanently and helped create good living conditions there. The prophet and poet called 3rd isaiah wrote to the few who'd remained in Jerusalem and to exiles who returned. The temple was gone, the city in disrepair, no one trusted much of anyone. They needed to rebuild infrastructure that would include streets, roads, meeting places, markets for sales and exchange; they needed to rebuild reliable human community that would help with physical, material needs. They wanted to rebuild the temple.
Leading up to the Isaiah passage for today, people had been performing empty rituals and not backing up their claims to love God and neighbor with actually loving, life-affirming, situation-transforming actions. One of the revolutionary things about Yahweh, the God of the Bible, is that unlike other gods of the Ancient Near East, Yahweh didn't require appeasement, tribute, protection, or beseeching. Through Isaiah and other prophets, God tells us holy righteous living means to share your food, invite the homeless / poor into your spaces, put warm clothes on people who need them, be available to your own families. [Isaiah 58:7]
In an echo of the year-long Jubilee Sabbath, this passage connects being good neighbors with proper religious observance. It lines out a series of "if – then" conditions regarding human behaviors, God's response, and effective outcomes. This is a word about the neighbor, about the other; it's neighborology that offers guidelines for creating covenantal community where people trust God and one another. It's a word about a Holy God and a holy people of God.
You may remember Luke 4:16-19 records Jesus of Nazareth's first act of public ministry when he reads from Isaiah 61 and announces good news to the poor and release to the captives? That proclamation ties in closely with this week's passage and to the ministry God calls us to wherever and whenever we are.
Although when we read scripture we first ask about the historical setting that inspired it, most times we want to know "what's in it for us right here and right now." Cities and communities that need rebuilding have become familiar to us. A couple of times I've asked if our current unsettled situation with a global pandemic that seemingly won't quit, worldwide environmental devastation, ongoing social unrest, qualifies as exile, sabbath, winter, or something else. Whatever anyone names it, instructions for the Jubilee Year and from Third Isaiah give us workable ideas for rebuilding our own surroundings. Let's remember the God of liberation and homecoming also is God of resurrection!