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In spite of the fact that we’re finally rounding the corner with Covid, there’s been a lot of heaviness in the lives of a lot of people lately. For some, the heaviness has been the result of illness, death or shocking accidents, which were completely unrelated to Covid. For some, the heaviness of all the other problems going on in our society is making its way into our consciousness again – whether it’s climate change, immigration debates or mass shootings. And for some, the heaviness comes from needing to deal with the stress, turmoil and change of these last 15 months.
I suspect many of us have a sense of heaviness from more than one of these! And usually, when something is “heavy” in our lives, it’s not a good thing. A heavy thing is usually something which:
- Weighs on our minds, even when we’re not actively thinking about it…
- Crushes our souls, and puts a damper on our ability to experience the good things around us …
- Can cause us to have a sense of resignation or even despair, because so many of the heavy things we deal with are, by their very nature, things we can’t change or do much about…
And I suspect that Isaiah also felt a sense of heaviness in his life as he entered the Temple in today’s first reading. Life around him was not all that good. There were enemy armies who had conquered the northern kingdom of Israel, and now threatened Judah and Jerusalem. Isaiah, like many of the prophets, was also disturbed that this external threat had not resulted in people in Jerusalem pulling together and treating each other as fellow citizens who needed each other, or even as people who should call upon God to help them. And it’s clear that Isaiah, even though he was one of the “good people” in Jerusalem, knew that he himself had messed up as well.
Life was probably full of heaviness for Isaiah. And then, he entered the Temple, and to his shock (and even horror!) he encountered an even heavier thing – the actual presence and glory of God. He looks up and sees a vision of God sitting on his throne, surrounded by serpahs (which are a kind of winged angel) who cry out that indeed the whole earth is full of God’s “heaviness.”
That’s because the root of the Hebrew word for “glory” is “heavy” or “weighty.” God’s “glory” is not simply a pretty decoration, but the weightiest thing of all. And the presence of God which reveals this “glory” is “heavier” than anything else.
And so Isaiah says, “Woe is me! I’m toast!” The heaviness of God’s glory is going to finish me off and crush me … (which is what people thought would happen if they ever came into close contact with the “glory” of God …)
But the heaviness of God doesn’t crush Isaiah. Instead, he finds that the heaviness of God’s presence outweighs all the other heaviness in his life. God’s heaviness is weightier than his personal sin; it’s weightier than the problems of his society; it’s even weightier than the external threats that surround them.
And so Isaiah finds that the weight of God’s presence actually helps him to deal with all the other heaviness of his life. God’s heaviness gives him the ability to:
- Acknowledge the “weight” of the problems that might have always been there, but that he had probably been trying not to think about … (he can actually say, “Woe is me”, not just “woe to all those other people”!)
- Have hope and trust that God’s heaviness was going to help him and not crush him … (after all, it takes some courage to let a live coal touch your lips!)
- Be willing to act, even in the face of the heaviness of his life … (And for full disclosure, “Here I am send me!” is a great ending to the reading, but if you read on God tells him to go and speak, but not expect that it’s gonna do much good…!)
For Isaiah, the “heaviness” of God simply came from having a living experience of the presence of God in his life. Isaiah didn’t end up knowing everything about God. He could describe the seraphs, but all he really saw of God was the hem of his robe! And even with instructions from God on what to do next, Isaiah was still unclear on exactly what God was up to.
None of those things mattered, because Isaiah experienced the heaviness of God as different from the heaviness of life. God’s heaviness gave him strength. God’s heaviness gave him hope. And God’s heaviness gave him courage to act, even when he knew his own actions might not seem to make much of a difference.
And on this Holy Trinity Sunday – when sometimes we try too hard to figure God out – Isaiah is a helpful reminder that the real message of the doctrine of the Trinity is that God’s glory – God’s heaviness – is greater than anything we can really describe or imagine.
And, it’s also the message that God’s glory – God’s heaviness – is found through having a living experience of the presence of God, which God intends us to experience as a counterweight that’s greater than all the heaviness of our lives.
And as with Isaiah, the heaviness of God’s presence in our lives is intended to give us:
- Strength – it doesn’t stop the heaviness of all the problems, but it gives us the experience of the weight of something bigger than those problems; and it also allows us to honestly face the heaviness and, sometimes too, the ways in which I cause the heaviness in my own life …
- Hope and trust – not that we can solve the heaviness of life, but that the heaviness of life is NOT all there is (even when we feel that way); and that the heaviness of life won’t win out in the end…
- Courage to act – even if it’s not clear that what we’re doing will make a lot of difference; Isaiah figured it was important to speak simply because God asked him to. And sometimes, God asks us to act simply to show resistance to the heaviness around us … (I remember the story of Colditz during WWII – the allied soldiers knew they couldn’t escape, but continuing to try was a worthy act of resistance…!)
Sometimes, our lives feel full of the heaviness, because of stress and problems and external threats. But as the seraphs reminded Isaiah and us, the whole earth is also full of God’s heaviness, which is actually weightier than everything else.
And so God called Isaiah, and God calls us, to continually open ourselves to experiencing God’s presence in our lives so that heaviness of life won’t be all that we feel. God called Isaiah, and God calls us, to live in ways that help us experience God’s presence in spite of the heaviness that often distracts us. And God called Isaiah, and God calls us, to act with hope and courage, because we’re promised that in the end the heaviness of God’s presence, love and mercy will win out over all the other heaviness in our lives.