One of my favorite passages of Scripture comes to us today in our Old Testament lesson: the call of Isaiah. There is arguably no greater vision in terms of imagery. If you don’t have a Bible handy, let me remind you:
“I saw the Lord sitting on a throne…and the hem of his robe filled the temple.” “Seraphs were in attendance…each had six wings: with two they covered their faces, with two they covered their feet, and with two they flew.” “Holy, Holy, Holy!” “The pivots on the thresholds shook at the voices of those who called, and the house was filled with smoke.” “Woe is me! I am lost, for I am a man of unclean lips.” “Then one of the seraphs flew at me, holding a live coal…and the seraph touched my mouth….”
And who will go for us? Isaiah said, “Here I am; send me.”
Each time the Confirmation Class rolls around, I get the privilege of talking with our 7th and 8th graders about prayer. Some of us, especially at that age, can get lulled into a sense of one-dimensional prayer – that it is only talking to God. To break the Confirmation Class out of that, and expand their definition of prayer, I often teach the Ignatian method of praying. It is a good one for Presbyterians, and for others who need permission to “pray with scripture”. The Ignatian method not only uses scripture in prayer, but involves the imagination and all the senses. 7th and 8th graders are great with this! Through that method, you become a part of the story. What did you see? What did you hear? Smell? Taste?
I was enchanted by the seriousness that confirmads undertake this. They all become a part of the story, each noticing and feeling different aspects of this grand story. Some felt fear as the seraph flew at them. Some tasted the coal – others felt the heat or the purification. Some had been local bystanders, looking in on this scene in which the hem of robes filled the temple. They were in awe.
The last section is often the most powerful: Here I am; send me. Isaiah was beginning his ministry. He had a lot of unpopular things to say to the people, who were trapped in their mediocrity. This was an acceptance of the burning coal from the altar and what it represented. Isaiah may now speak for God. He had been washed clean, and was ready for service.
This is one of the reasons we offer a confession very near the front of the service in most Presbyterian worship services. We come to God as we are, which means accepting our brokenness and wanting to do something about it.
As you encounter this passage today, whether you sink deep into the rich imagery, or whether you find the confessional aspects most alluring, may Isaiah’s vision inspire you to greater appreciation of the depth and beauty of the Old Testament.