So, at last night's Occupied Ash Wednesday gathering, the one person present who had no substantial connection to Christianity was blown away by Isaiah 58, and at the end, said something like, "Oh my god, this is so beautiful! If your book says this about 'raising your voice like a trumpet,' and 'shouting out loud about the rebellion of the people,' and 'feeding the hungry,' why isn't this plaza packed with church people?" Those of us who are Christian just looked at each other sheepishly.
Why isn't the public square packed with church people? Is that part of a more basic question: why isn't the church packed with church people? Or is it the other way around?
The list of reasons is long and complicated, to be sure, but it gets down to some basic questions of faithfulness. Do we really believe the prophet's vision:
Then your light shall break forth like the dawn, and your healing shall spring up quickly; your vindicator shall go before you, the glory of the Lord shall be your rear guard. Then you shall call, and the Lord will answer; you shall cry for help, and he will say, Here I am. If you remove the yoke from among you, the pointing of the finger, the speaking of evil, if you offer your food to the hungry and satisfy the needs of the afflicted, then your light shall rise in the darkness and your gloom be like the noonday. The Lord will guide you continually, and satisfy your needs in parched places, and make your bones strong; and you shall be like a watered garden, like a spring of water, whose waters never fail. Your ancient ruins shall be rebuilt; you shall raise up the foundations of many generations; you shall be called the repairer of the breach, the restorer of streets to live in.
It is beautiful. But do we believe it, and not just in the manner of giving intellectual assent to the proposition that God is with us and thus we shall be the repairers of the breach, the restorers of the streets? Do we believe it such that we are willing to give our lives to it?
The evidence -- in the public square and in the church house -- is not promising.
On the other hand, many of us continue to show up in those places and more, and we continue to lift up words of hope, of love, of justice.
Oh, and here's a hymn inspired by Isaiah's vision for singing in the public square or the church:
This is the Fast
Is this the fast I choose for thee
Of ashes, tears and empty misery?
Or rather this: To share abundant bread
That all my children will be loved and fed
Why do you fast yet still not see
Your sisters suffering in poverty?
Their children cry and still you do not hear;
their fathers bowed and broken by their fear.
This is the fast I choose for thee
Of justice, peace and human liberty
Not forty days, but all your yearning years
My love will wipe away all human tears
Break, bless and eat; then drink this wine
The fast I choose makes ev’ry midnight shine
You shall be called restorers of the street.
Arise, now shine! And make your fast complete.
Tune: Truro (Lift Up Your Heads, Ye Mighty Gates; Christ is Alive!; Live Into Hope!)
Feel free to use it. Copyright, D. Ensign, Lent, 2005