Here I am, Lord. Is it I, Lord? I have heard you calling in the night.
I don’t have enough fingers and toes to figure out how many times I sang these words at how many campfires. We’re probably talking hairs on my head at least. Goodness me, I would sing it frontwards and backwards and probably while bailing a sinking canoe blindfolded.
But the story is much harder to hear than the song. It’s a great text for Trinity Sunday which many churches mark this week, but it isn’t an easy one.
In the year that King Uziah died – right off the bat, you’re landed in history. Isaiah is always history while also being always poetry. Grim political realities are unavoidable. But so are God’s abundance, grace, and majesty. Isaiah gives us God, loud and clear. And inutterably mysterious. The calling to Isaiah which comes at the end of this passage is to speak unclearly to the people, to cloud the message just as the temple is clouded with smoke. The ways of God are not the ways we imagine. The ways we desire. But they are the ways of God, and in that there is awe.
This is a good passage for Trinity Sunday which is all about the mystery of knowing God in history and in the poetry of our own lives. It feels strange to me that we have come to Trinity Sunday already. Last week, I was almost ready for Pentecost and the end of the Easter season. It felt like we have lived through Easter almost long enough. The Easter season is such a physical time – we live with the hard realities of God incarnate and suffering, and then the joy of resurrection when the physical is affirmed, embraced and promised so much. The profound experience of humanity – vulnerability, hunger, suffering, mortality, glimpses of the sacred, the divine – all these are the things of the Easter season. It is all life and death. Pentecost can come as a relief in a way when our thoughts turn to the early days of the church, and to the pragmatic realities of human work, a side-step from the full-on focus on the ultimate things of Easter.
Easter has provided my three-year-old Blue with a lot of food for thought. He’s become quite interested in death. Beangirl went through this a few years ago, too, so I suspect that it is just a stage they go through. But for her, death was a mystery – and solved more or less with a strong emphasis that God looks after people through everything. Blue is more likely to yell I’m dead! and dive into the carpet with a crash. Can’t say I’m a huge fan of self-induced forehead carpet burn.
He’s also full of questions. After I’m dead, will I rise again? Will you be there, too? Will I die on a cross? Will Jesus get to teach me about it? These come out one at a time, seemingly random. We can be waiting to pay for groceries or playing on the seesaw in the park. Is it dark when you die? Will I be dead at the church garden party?
I suspect that leaving the season of Easter won’t change this thought pattern for Blue, but it might help me to step beyond it.
And this week, thinking about the Trinity, we step into Isaiah. It is a wonderful passage, this week. Isaiah gives us a glorious vision, and reading it in this after-Easter, post-Pentecost context, I can’t help but thinking about this vision in terms of the complexity of God – Father, Son, Spirit. God – Creator, Incarnate, Inspiring. God relational. God in the temple is hard to see through the smoke and the glory, but we must see the torn curtains, the winds of the spirit, the one who could call hosts of angels to his side. But didn’t. And now the hem of his garment fills the temple.
Holy, holy, holy.
Isaiah calls out that he is unclean and can’t possibly see what he is shown. And an angel takes a live coal from the altar and touches it to Isaiah’s lips, assuring him that his guilt is removed, his sin is blotted out.
Easter might be the coal from that altar. The Easter story is hard to tell, hard to watch. Easter burns into us with a hundred thoughts and emotions. Death is close and loud, ringing with betrayal, doubt and despair. Then hope becomes tangible, but we’re not to cling. Everything changes because of this story. We see each other differently. We see our own bodies differently. History and poetry change. We are seared with this story. Seared and set free.
And the voice comes: Whom shall I send?
And Isaiah says here I am.