Thus says God, the LORD, who created the heavens and stretched them out, who spread out the earth and what comes from it, who gives breath to the people upon it and spirit to those who walk in it: I am the LORD, I have called you in righteousness, I have taken you by the hand and kept you; I have given you as a covenant to the people, a light to the nations, to open the eyes that are blind, to bring out the prisoners from the dungeon, from the prison those who sit in darkness. I am the LORD, that is my name; my glory I give to no other, nor my praise to idols. See, the former things have come to pass, and new things I now declare; before they spring forth, I tell you of them.
Isaiah 42:5-9 (excerpt from Isa 42:1-9, lectionary text for Sunday, January 15, 2020)
My route home from work passes within a few blocks of an elementary school. A florescent-vested crossing guard monitors the six lanes the students need to cross. A woman comes with a small child. They walk hand in hand, step in step. A daughter holds her father’s hand. His grip seems inadequate for her desiring: she takes her other hand and carefully folds her father’s fingers around her own, tightening his clasp. A woman calls to a child who is lagging behind. He is studying the ground — that stick there is very interesting — and shows no conception of the passage of time, the need to get across the road, or of any next thing to be done. She calls again, and holds her arm behind her, hand outstretched, and the child trots up and extends his own and she latches hold of him. He seems still preoccupied with the various excessively interesting details of the world all around, but as her hand takes hold, his own seems also to respond and grasp. She holds him, and he holds her, and the two of them cross.
‘I have taken you by the hand,’ the LORD says. My own hand opens. I study it as if seeing it anew. ‘I have taken you by the hand.’ Called, yes — that’s a church word for vocation. Called and righteousness and keeping and covenant. All church words. But not only — not even first — words for use in a sanctuary on Sunday. Words for everyday. Words for crossing the street. Calling. Taking hold.
The LORD calls and not only stretches out his arm, extends his hand for my own to hold (the parent not looking behind but waiting for — expecting — the feel of the smaller hand inserted into her own), but the LORD takes hold of my hand. The LORD grasps. The LORD holds on to me. Do I need to carefully curl God’s fingers more closely around my own fist or is God’s clasp already close enough for comfort and strength? How do I feel God’s hand holding mine? How do I reach to hold on to God’s?
Looking at my own hand, my own palm. Fingers curl sightly inward when my hand is at rest; forming a slight hollow, a curve, within it. I stretch out my arm and reach and grasp my Bible with my hand. I feel the texture of the cover, the slight heft of its whole within the curve of my palm. Jesus was handed the scroll and unrolled it (Luke 4:17). Jesus held God’s word in his hand. I hold God’s word in my hand. I open and touch the smoothness of the page with my finger. Let my eyes rest, again, on the tiny black type. I am reaching for God’s own outstretched hand. I am taking hold. I am held and kept and pulled along (that little boy!) into God’s next new thing.
‘I am the LORD,’ God declares. ‘My glory I give to no other,’ God proclaims. But my hand I give to yours, God promises. And you, God says, I give to the work that we shall do together: open eyes, invite light. Hold my hand. It’s time to cross.
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