“The wilderness and the dry land shall be glad,
the desert shall rejoice and blossom.”
These are the opening words of Isaiah 35, foretelling the joy in store when the period of exile is over and the people return to the Promised Land. Many of us are sensing the hope evident in this passage, as the days of the pandemic seem to be waning during this season of lengthening daylight.
I am taking great pleasure in tracking the progress of this succulent on my back patio. I bought it last summer. A deer ate some of its leaves, but it survived, and over the last several weeks it has grown noticeably. Most striking is the shoot in the middle, bent under the weight of buds. Every day they open a little further, revealing a delicate pink interior. A new shoot is growing, too, and in a few weeks it, too, should blossom. And so I wait and watch, patiently. It will not be rushed.
Last year as we entered the pandemic we might have imagined a quick return to “normal,” where things opened back up with the same speed as they shut down. It soon became evident that was not the case, and we have experienced an entire church year in the relative wilderness of Zoom, conducting our communal life almost entirely by computer and telephone. And yet, things have blossomed and we have had times of rejoicing.
As their time in the wilderness formed God’s people after their years of enslavement in Egypt, and as the time in exile in Babylon further formed them, so we have been and still are being formed by our time in the digital wilderness. And for us, as for them, a “return” is not to exactly what was. We are coming home changed, and I hope that you share my holy curiosity about the people and the community we are growing into.
We’ve been reading a lot about Abraham on Sunday mornings lately. Abram was 75 and Sarai 65 when God called Abram to leave his ancestral lands – and they went where God led them. They were 99 and 89 when God renamed them Abraham and Sarah, and reiterated God’s promise that Sarah would bear a son. We are never too old (or too young!) to change, to move, to adapt, to bring forth new life into the world. God calls us throughout our lives and wants to bless us so that we might in turn bless others.
As we continue in this season of Lent, watching and waiting and working to “return,” I leave you with the last verse of Isaiah 35:
“And the ransomed of the Lord shall return,
and come to Zion with singing;
everlasting joy shall be upon their heads;
they shall obtain joy and gladness,
and sorrow and sighing shall flee away.”