Grasshoppers and Eagles Wings
Epiphany 5, Common Lectionary Year B
©2018 Rev. Elisabeth R. Jones
What we’ve just done with the children
is a midrash on the text.
We’ve taken ancient words, with humility and respect,
locating them in their original context,
and becoming wiser for doing so,
as we realize that the poet’s words are ones
of vision, wisdom and promise
of God’s power to redeem, rescue and uphold
those who feel powerless
in a geopolitical context over which they have no control.
Then we’ve brought them forward,
with holy imagination,
asking what they might say in our time and place,
putting these words onto our own lips,
into our own bodies and lives.
I dare say that these children will be soaring like eagles
for the rest of the day,
captivated by a vision and their call to be God’s helpers,
to be eagle’s wings for strangers, brothers and sisters.
But there’s a bit of a disconnect isn’t there?
If, in their original context,
these words were meant by Isaiah
to be a theophany, a revealing
and a reminding to those who had forgotten,
or who doubted, the cosmic power of
God the Creator of the Universe,
as being the One and only God,
willing and capable
of rescuing those living in terror and despair,
as were most of the original hearers of this text,
well, that’ s not our children’s experience of the world, is it?
For the most part, the children of Cedar Park United,
they are safe.
They are – globally speaking –
neither weary nor weak.
They are not, God be thanked,
pawns of the tyrants and rulers of the world,
as are for example the Dreamers (DACA)
or the children of those fleeing war in Syria,
Afghanistan, Congo, the Maghreb.
So how do we take this absolutely beautiful vision
of God swooping down to lift up the broken and weary
on eagle’s wings… to safety,
if these children have as yet, God be thanked,
little experience of terror, or existential exhaustion?
Enter an unnamed Rabbi,
and his passing preacher’s comment on these verses in Isaiah 40:30-31
even the young grow weary and fall exhausted,
but those that wait upon the Holy One
shall renew their strength and mount up with wings like eagles,
shall run and not be weary,
shall walk and not faint.
His midrashic question could so easily have passed
into the unremembered wisdom of history,
were it not for the context in which he mused.
In 1348 as the bubonic plague swept through
the Iberian (Spanish) peninsula and Europe,
killing over a third of the population,
Jews were blamed, scapegoated, persecuted, burned alive,
whole neighbourhoods destroyed
by a terrified so-called Christian population and their rulers.
Grasshoppers, as fleeting as grass itself,
of seemingly no account, wiped out in vengeance
for a world gone horribly wrong.
But in the ashes and ruins of one such Jewish community,
this Rabbi preached this text to the few who remained,
and asked them:
“We who survived this peril,
we, mere grasshoppers in the grand scheme of things,
how will we be eagle’s wings to our brothers and sisters?”
his humble, wise-yet-foolish midrash on Isaiah’s vision,
stunned those who came after him,
for its largeness of heart,
its stunning faith in God’s Dream
despite all evidence to the contrary.
And for that it has passed down through generations,
in the ghettos, during the pogroms
– systematic persecutions of Jews throughout Europe –
among who knows how many seemingly
insignificant gatherings of God-fearing grasshoppers,
captivating, as it has done here with our children,
the spiritual imagination of the tiny,
of God’s uwavering loving power to save,
but of their own power, through God’s grace,
to be eagle’s wings for others!
“How will we be eagle’s wings to our brothers and sisters?”
We, who often feel insignificant
in the geopolitical scheme of things,
or even we who have some clout
among the princes of the world,
but we who have nevertheless,
known the blessing of God,
how will we spend this blessing for the good of others?
To whom is God sending me?
Who are the exhausted, the weary, the broken,
to whom God calls us to be eagle’s wings?
I invite you to think on this for a moment in silence.
Who will we be called upon
to raise up on eagle’s wings,
through the power of God,
doing in and through us more
than we can ask or imagine?
Oh, I wonder!
Epiphany 5B, 2018 Elisabeth R. Jones