On Tuesday mornings a number of us have been working our way through one of the most beautiful poems in the Bible, Isaiah 40-55—the book of “comfort” to Israel’s exiles in Babylon. The Hebrew term “comfort” (nicham) is not merely receiving sympathy, but being consoled by a radical “change” of circumstances. God’s comfort “changes” things—“he comforts all her waste places and makes her wilderness an Eden, her desert like the garden of the Lord” (51:3). We’ve found the prophet’s words surprisingly relevant to our forced “exile,” sheltering in place. Amy Moore took great comfort in the Lord’s promise to be Israel’s “rear guard” after he rescued them from Babylon. She writes,
After three weeks of sheltering in place, I am drawn to the word “rear guard,” an image of protection, which actually means “to gather” (ʾāsap ). The Alpha and Omega surrounded His people, behind and before, an escort of protection during their departure from captivity. In this strange, Lenten season marked by pandemic, God is present, too, with us. Our routines have unraveled, our distractions have shifted and our compasses are recalibrating; our lives are stripped to essentials, and for some, even “essentials” are threatened. We find comfort in His presence, not only individually in our homes, but with us as an assembly, headed to the most historic event, when every knee will bow and tongue confess Him as Lord. Our Sunday morning virtual gathering has been a complete blessing, a spiritual lifeline really, a glimpse into the gifting of our pastors and staff, our under-shepherds. Watching the Spirit work in our community to embrace the technological challenge of distance worship, respecting our secular leaders, and caring for our Body moves me; I can hardly sing along with James from his music room, for my heart is full of recognition for God’s care for his church during this time when we cannot assemble in person. When this Shelter in place is lifted, may we gather with new appreciation for the privilege, and may we spur one another to live in the power of the Spirit who forms us against the values of this world and in the power of Christ—the salvation of God’s people, the fruition of His Glory, the culmination of his plan to redeem His people. This poem speaks into our opportunity to experience God’s presence with us as a people gathered to himself.
A Poem for our Shelter in Place
from Isaiah 51:9-52:12
by Amy Moore
We say, “Wake up, God! Can you see what is happening?
Are you still watching us here on earth? There is suffering, people are dying!
We do not know when the despair shall lift!”
To this, He replies, “You wake up, my church, my beloved. Rise up from despair.
You are afraid of the Virus, the invisible threat of illness,
But really, the disruption of your usual affairs. Take heart.
Remember that I am God. I made, I am pursuing these afflicted ones.
Wake up, my redeemed daughters and sons!
With this moment, recognize that I transform what is outwardly deadly to
Inward healing. Everyone is invited to drink this cup of Life.
Step into your redeemed self and extend your arm for others’ healing.
While many will not see Good in this time of sheltering,
You know that I am here. Take joy in the comfort of my Presence.
Free from happy shackles, some can now see clearly my Glory.
Live in fullness—with confidence and protection, sheltered under my Wing.