Day 5 of Advent 2020

In the year that King Uzziah died, I saw the Lord sitting on a throne, high and lofty; and the hem of his robe filled the temple. Seraphs were in attendance above him; each had six wings: with two they covered their faces, and with two they covered their feet, and with two they flew. And one called to another and said: ‘Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of hosts; the whole earth is full of his glory.’ The pivots on the thresholds shook at the voices of those who called, and the house filled with smoke. And I said: ‘Woe is me! I am lost, for I am a man of unclean lips, and I live among a people of unclean lips; yet my eyes have seen the King, the Lord of hosts!’  Then one of the seraphs flew to me, holding a live coal that had been taken from the altar with a pair of tongs. The seraph touched my mouth with it and said: ‘Now that this has touched your lips, your guilt has departed and your sin is blotted out.’ Then I heard the voice of the Lord saying, ‘Whom shall I send, and who will go for us?’ And I said, ‘Here am I; send me!’

Isaiah 6:1-8

Entering into this powerful image, we see Isaiah, a man in despair, calling out his vulnerabilities, and then marked by the apparent suffering of searing burning coals upon his lips. Yet through that pain, he is somehow “cauterized”, strengthened and transformed and he steps forward to take upon himself the unenviable and inevitably challenging role, of a prophet of God.

Henri Nouwen speaks powerfully of using our pain for good. He said, “When our wounds cease to be a source of shame, and become a source of healing, we have become wounded healers.” Download his book “The Wounded Healer” by clicking the title.

I don’t think that Nouwen is forgetting that for some, woundedness can have very grave consequences indeed, but he highlights that within those who have gone through their personal suffering, there lies a greater sensitivity to the pain of others and the possibility of healing, and triumphant release.

The Isenheim Altarpiece by Mattias Grunewald depicts a resurrection that is born of the horrific, cauterizing crucible of the suffering-cross; complete, beautiful, triumphant, yet wounded, fully identifying with our humanity. The patients of a hospice would come everyday to pray where the painting was. Knowing who the audience for his painting would be, Grünewald actually depicted Christ with plague-type sores (as you can see in the second photo), to show symbolically that Jesus understood and shared their afflictions.

So, today we give thanks for Christ incarnate who unlike us knew why He came in our world and it was not for himself.

“Come, broken Victor, condemned to a cross

how great are the treasures we gain from your loss !

Your willing agreement to share in our strife

transforms our despair into fullness of life.”

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