Stories of the Night: Hope Restored - Reflections 5-24-17

 A new heart I will give you...I will remove the heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh. 
 Ezekiel 36:26

 We are almost out of the Easter season. May 25 is the 40th day after Easter (Ascension Day). I have exactly two more devotions in which I am focusing on the lessons of the Easter Vigil.  

There are twelve lessons that night. Seven of them are stories about God interacting with delightfully human characters like Jonah who, when God said “Head to this country”, headed in the exact opposite direction. 

That leaves five lessons that are not stories. Some of them feel like poetry, some are prose, but all of them are hopeful as God extends invitations to eat and drink fully of life, life given by God. 

Of those twelve lessons, only four are “required reading”; all others are optional. Three of those are stories. The one non-story is Isaiah 55: 1-11

By chapter 55, the book of Isaiah speaks words of comfort and promise to a people who have been taken from all that has given them identity, meaning, security.  Everyone who is thirsty come to the waters … come, eat what is good, and delight yourselves in rich food. 

Note it says everyone. This is salvation offered to all. A few verses later, God offers – or is it, re-offers – the promise that since God’s people are chosen and loved, they will show the “all” what it God’s salvation looks like. Hope is restored. Any ideas on why this one is a required reading for the Vigil?

The next non-story is Proverbs 8. Lady Wisdom calls out for us to follow her in a new life and way of justice. Again we are invited to eat and drink.  Hope.

One lesson that I love and don’t usually omit is Ezekiel 36. It describes how God promises a heart transplant, taking out my heart of stone and replacing it with one that pulses with new life.  I don’t know why this lesson touches me so profoundly. There is something in the image of a stony heart that rings true in my soul…. And the grace that transplants new life. Hope.

Another word of restoration is found in the lesson from a not-so-familiar book, Zephaniah. In chapter 3, God proclaims that he will remove the people from disaster, will rejoice over them with gladness, and renew his love for them. Then God promises to save the lame, and gather up the outcast to bring them home… to restore their lives. Hope.

The last non-story lesson is again from Isaiah, only a few chapters later in chapter 61.  Jesus claimed the first part of this passage as the “mission statement” of his ministry. He has sent me to bring good news to the oppressed, to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and release to the prisoners. Once again God promises hope for a future that seemed impossible as God provides “garments of salvation”. Hope.

It takes a bit more creativity to “pull off” a presentation with each of these five lessons. We don’t usually do much more than read them; one year I displayed art from the high school class for the Ezekiel heart one. 

These lessons overflow with food and drink and care and clothes and promise – new life and resurrection. 
Hope restored.
Optional? Not really.

Your comments are always welcome.

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Gloria Dei Lutheran Church in Iowa City

Gathered by grace. Scattered for service.

123 E Market Street
Iowa City, IA 52245