God is real: “I am”, he says. God is involved. God is on our side. These are the basic propositions of our faith. Sunday after Sunday they’re brought before us. Brought before us at Mass, in the Liturgy of the Word and the Liturgy of the Eucharist. And Sunday after Sunday the poor preacher scratches his head and prays to the Holy Spirit that he may not entirely mask and muffle these life-giving truths. God is real. God is involved. God is for us.
In today’s first reading, the Lord speaks through Isaiah (or Second Isaiah, as he’s called, since the passage comes from the later part of the book). The Lord speaks, through a prophet’s human words, to the Jewish exiles in Babylon in the 6th c. before Christ. Thanks to political convulsion in the Middle East of those days, the prospect of return to the Promised Land has opened up. The prophet hears the Lord inviting his people back, or rather forward to new freedom and fullness. Three times, he says ‘Come’. Three times he says, ‘Listen’. There’s a promise of water and wine for the thirsty, grain for the hungry, a promise of milk and honey. It is the promise of a better, fuller future. It’s being said to a people who had been deported some seventy years before from Palestine to what’s now Iraq, to Babylon some sixty miles south-west of modern Baghdad. Their natural fate would be to disappear from history. But the Lord is real, the Lord involves himself, the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob was on their side. They didn’t disappear; instead a whole new future opened up to them. They were re-created and began again. In Aberdeen, we won’t find a Babylonian Ziggurat or a Philistine temple; but we can find a synagogue. And this reading is read at the Easter Vigil, because it proclaims the Resurrection.
In the Gospel, six centuries later, beside Lake Galilee, the Word made flesh steps ashore and his heart goes out in pity. He heals all day and then, come evening, multiplies the bread and the fish, and through his disciples feeds the thousands in front of him. He feeds them lavishly: “they all ate as much as they wanted” and there’s enough left over to go around again. This prophesies the Eucharist, the meal he bequeathed in the evening of his life and that has filled the world. It too is here in Aberdeen, two thousand years on.
The Lord is real. We walk among wonders and we don’t see them.
“Nothing can come between us and the love of Christ”, says St Paul in the 2nd reading. He conjures up, first, a whole range of experiences from anxiety to hunger to bodily assault – his own experiences. Then he lists the forces and elements of creation: life and death, heights and depths, present and future. We could make our own contemporary versions easily enough. What he is saying is, once again: the Lord is real, the Lord has made a covenant, the Lord is with us. There’s nothing any of us hunger for more than to be loved: unassailably. This is the Promised Land we long for; this is food. When we’re loved we’re fed and watered. We’re alive. We are unstoppable. We can begin again and again. St Paul wants to say what Sunday after Sunday says, what the prophets and evangelists and the Body and Blood of Christ say, what the Church proclaims throughout the world, proclaims unmasked and unmuffled, proclaims and sings. The Lord is real. The Lord is involved. The Lord is with us. This unique love is given. Come, come, come!
(St Mary’s Cathedral, Aberdeen, 2 August 2020)