Due to the invitation by our new Diocesan Bishop to join her online in worship at our Cathedral this coming Sunday, we will not be having our regular St. Philip zoomchurch and I will not be preaching.

If I had been giving a sermon this Sunday, I would have focused on the timely passage from Isaiah 40:21-31 and might have said something like this:

Isaiah chapter 40 is generally believed to have been addressed to the people of Judah as they struggled in exile in Babylon in the middle of the 6th Century BCE. For so long, they had yearned to return to their homeland. For perhaps fifty years, they had prayed and hoped that they might finally go back to the land of their ancestors. They had longed to share again in the traditions of their faith and go up to the holy city of Jerusalem to rebuild their temple and worship God according to their cherished customs. It is not hard to imagine that these exiles might have become discouraged during their painful exile as captives in a foreign land.

Living through a pandemic is a kind of exile. We are cut off from so much that is familiar and valued. Beloved traditions and practices have been lost. Contacts we have valued are gone.  Many of the supports upon which we have relied to shore up our sense of self, have been taken away. There is a sense of loss in this time. Every day we are aware of our inability to control the circumstances of our lives. We are forced to confront our powerlessness. We yearn for the end of physical distancing, social isolation and the unavoidable fear of disease; but we cannot change the reality of life in these COVD times.

It is tempting in the midst of uncertainty, confusion and threat to cast around hoping for princes and rulers who will come to our aid. Surely, someone out there has the formula to end this scourge. Surely, there is a leader who has the magic answers to end this struggle. But the prophet is clear that hope is not to be found ultimately in any human power. Princes have been brought “to naught” and rulers “of the earth” made “as nothing”. Even the great and mighty are powerless to bring a quick end to this invisible enemy by which we are tormented.

The prophet describes the people of Judah as being “like grasshoppers” (v. 22). Grasshoppers are fragile little creatures, easily crushed under foot. At the first sign of danger they spring into life and seek to ricochet out of the path of the approaching threat.

COVD has made most of us aware of our fragility. The prospect of life-threatening disease stalks every corner of the fields in which we seek to find shelter. The awareness of our mortality is newly present with every day’s litany of new infections and death. We become restless and jumpy. It feels as if there is no solid ground under our feet. Life seems unreliable, frightening and deeply confusing.

In Isaiah 40, the prophet is sensitive to the danger for the people of Judah. He understands that in their long stretch of waiting, there is a real risk they may abandon their faith . Speaking for God the prophet challenges the people asking,

Why do you say, O Jacob,
   and speak, O Israel,
‘My way is hidden from the Lord,
   and my right is disregarded by my God’? (v. 27)

But there is another way. We don’t have to live like grasshoppers. The writer of Isaiah suggests we might live instead like eagles.

The grasshopper can’t get far from the ground; the eagle soars above the turmoil. The eagle is not quite so caught up in the chaos. It has the ability to observe from a slightly removed perspective. The eagle has a bit of distance, a slight detachment, from the uncomfortable realities of life in this time-bound changeable material realm.

If we are to live like an eagle the prophet says, one thing is necessary, or maybe actually two things, both suggested in one word. The key word is in v. 31, where the prophet is said to have encouraged the people of Judah saying,

those who wait upon the Lord shall renew their strength, 
they shall mount up with wings like eagles,
they shall run and not be weary,
   they shall walk and not faint.

The important word here in Hebrew is qavah, most commonly translated into English as “wait”.

How do I wait?

I tend to wait more like a grasshopper than an eagle. I am restless and impatient. I want this COVID thing just to be over. I want life to return to normal. I hop from activity to activity seeking distraction, hoping for relief from the pain and uncertainty of this awkward moment.

The eagle just perches and watches. The eagle is perfectly still, looking down upon the world and waiting, endlessly patient. Even in flight the eagle hangs in the air and glides rather than frantically flapping. I need to find within myself that steady, strong eagle place, that does not try to flee the fear, or deny the reality of danger or feel compelled to change anything. The eagle just watches until the moment is right to act. Then, when the right time comes, the eagle launches into purposeful effective action. I respond better to the reality of my circumstances when I start with stillness.

Waiting is good preparation for life-giving action.

But, there is another way the Hebrew word qavah can be translated. The word qavah appears also in Genesis 1:9 where the writer says,

And God said, ‘Let the waters under the sky qavah into one place.’

In this case qavah is translated as “be gathered together.” This is what I do when I wait like an eagle; I “gather together”; I harbour my inner resources; my energies are collected. My attention is focused. I am less fragmented. I am able to be in a more unified place within myself.

The problem with living like a grasshopper is that my life is scattered. I am reactive, controlled by external circumstance. My energy is wasted; it spills out in every direction as I leap frenetically around trying to wrestle life under my control or just to avoid the danger that seems to lurk at every turn. The eagle holds his energy within. He “gathers together” all his resources. He listens attentively and watches carefully. His body is poised as he prepares to take action.

When I am like an eagle I do not squander my energy in useless hopping. I am able to “mount up with wings like eagles.” I find the energy to “run and not be weary… to walk and not faint.”

In these days of threat, uncertainty and doubt, I need to stay in touch with that eagle-steadiness that is always available. Jesus confronts the storms that blow within and says, “Peace, be still.” When I stop hopping in a panic, I touch this place of peace and stillness and soar like an eagle.