Isaiah 43:16-21, “Do not remember the former things . . . I am about to do a new thing . . . Do you not see it?”
John 12:1-8, “Mary took a pound of costly perfume . . . , anointed Jesus’ feet, and wiped them with her hair.”
Do you see it yet? Have you caught a glimpse of it? Have you smelled it? Have you seen the blooms on the azaleas and the dogwoods? Spring is nearly here on the calendar. Just last week, we sprung forward on our clocks to daylight savings time . . . all the signs seem to be in place.
And as the church, we are reaching the end of this time that many of us celebrate called Lent. On Sunday April 1, we will celebrate Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem with the palms and the children laughing and with everyone saying, “Blessed in the one who comes in the name of the Lord!”
This is where we are.
But sometimes it seems hard to imagine. Even though spring may have sprung all around us, sometimes it is not the easiest thing to see. Sometimes even though that bud that will soon be a flower is right in front of us, we still may not see it.
And the prophet Isaiah in the passage from the Hebrew Scriptures listed above is asking us, “Do you not see it?” And he’s asking this because he is talking to a people who haven’t seen it yet. Or if they have caught the barest glimpse of it, there is still that hesitancy there. There is that pause when they are not sure if they can or should follow. And at times in our lives that may be hard to understand, but for a lot of us, we remember when we were not sure. For some of us that is closer to our hearts than we care to admit.
A few summers ago it is possible that my wife and I may have been a bit worried about our hearts, I guess. We’re both in pretty decent shape. I do a fair amount of running, and my wife practices and now teaches yoga. So that particular summer, we did not think a whole lot about climbing all those steps up the falls at Amicalola.
Amicalola Falls is close to Dahlonega, Georgia. It was one of the places that we drove to for a date once when we were both in college. And things had changed a bit since we were last there . . . it had been about 10 years ago. And ten years before you could climb up a portion of the falls, but you had to stop about midway up. If you wanted to see the top of the falls, you had to drive up there.
What was neat about going back was that now, there are steps, wooden steps built up the entire side of the falls. We think we counted about 400 steps the day that we climbed them. And these steps wind their way this way and that, and at one point, you encounter a bridge that spans across the middle of the falls. And if you are brave (or maybe stupid), you can climb the whole thing now, all the way up to the top of the falls.
So for my wife and I going back to Amicalola, this was a hearkening back to something old, and an experience of something new. And climbing those steps was not easy.
Definitely not easy.
But then many of the experiences that we encounter in life are not easy.
Many of the challenges that you face and I face are daunting; they are hard; they give us pause . . . and let me tell you sometimes you do have to stop and pause and wait and then . . . once you have caught your breath . . . start again. It is not easy.
And even though we were in pretty good shape, climbing all those steps up the falls was not easy. And many times the path up the falls led away from the falls. Sure you could still hear their roar; you could still tell from the cool humidity in the air that you were close to this rushing water, but sometimes the falls were not so easily seen.
Isaiah asks us if we have seen it yet? And you know, sometimes that’s a hard question to ask.
As we went up the falls, we noticed a sign and stopped to read it. It was not one of those signs that explained the difference between a frog and a toad, or told you what type of vegetation was typically found next to the falls. This was a sign that told you when and how this path, these steps up the falls had been cleared and built.
It seems that after hurricane Opal several years ago, there were a lot of downed trees along the falls. Some of those trees were still there even though many had been removed. These falls are not nearly as shady as they were back in 1994. And that sign where we stopped told about how the park service decided to use labor from a local prison to help with the clearing and to help with the construction. It was a way to save money of course, but I also have to imagine that there was a certain benefit to the prisoners in getting out for a while, in working in the outdoors, in working next to this reminder of the way in which water can sometimes spring up out of the ground, the way in which water finds a way, finds a path, sometimes moving around rocks and trees, and sometimes falling . . . I wonder if some of them, while they lifted those four by fours, while they drilled holes and secured the steps, I wonder how many of them thought about the fall they had taken, and about which way they would go next. I wonder if they caught sight of that in the midst of their work. That’s all it would have to be . . . just a glimmer of a different life, of a new life, of a way where you may have thought that there was no way.
That is what that water did, that is what the falls did.
And you see, Isaiah is talking with a people who are about to be freed from bondage, from a prison of a sort. The people of Israel have been living in Babylon for years upon years now. Some of them have assimilated into the culture and business of this foreign land. They have opened up their own shops; they have become used to living in this place, and not worshipping God in the ways that they had.
And here comes Isaiah.
Here comes Isaiah to ask them if they see it. “Do you see the good things that God has in store for you? Do you see the wonderful things that God has in store for each and every one of you? The old things have passed away.” God says, “Watch this! I’m going to do something new!” You may think that you are going to be thirsty along the way, but I will bring you rivers of water! I know change is hard and it is difficult and we don’t always want to leave what we are used to and embrace something new. But God is saying to the children of Israel, “I will provide.” This is what these rivers of water in the wilderness, in the desert are for, to provide for the people while they travel back home, while they travel to the land where they once lived. “I am about to do a new thing,” God tells them.
But new things surprise us. They shock us and make us nervous. I think this is part of Judas’ reaction when Mary pulled out this extravagant perfume and poured it on Jesus’ feet. The worth of that perfume was nearly a year’s wages. It was as if someone worked 300 days, saved all of that money, and then bought this lavish gift. And Mary poured it on Jesus’ feet. And Judas got upset! And I can kind of understand it in a way. This seems so wasteful. When there are people starving and hungry, why would you spend money, hard-earned money on perfume. This was an extravagant gift, given out of an extravagant love. And I think Mary did it because she saw it. Mary could answer Isaiah’s question with a strong “Yes! I see the new thing that God is doing!” In front of everyone there she showed her love for Jesus in a way that mirrored Jesus’ great love for each of us, an extravagant love, a love we cannot imagine, a love so amazing and so divine! She saw it.
And I ask you again, do you see it?
Have you caught sight of it yet?
As you have journeyed through these 40 days of Lent, this time between Ash Wednesday and Easter, have you seen it?
This time we have spent in prayer and study, doing whatever it is you have been doing, or not doing whatever it is you said that you would not do, or give up, this is a time of preparation. It is a time where we hope to catch sight of God’s vision for us, for God’s vision for the church, to just get a glimpse of what resurrection and Easter look like for us.
Spring is showing it’s colors all around us; and very soon we will celebrate Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem; then we will walk through Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, those difficult days when that vision of glory, that vision of God may be most difficult to see, just like those times when we could not see the falls, but we knew that they were there. You still feel the cool mist. You still hear the rushing of the water. And you press on with your climb.
God says to the people then and to us now, “Do not remember the things of old. I am about to do a new thing. Do you not see it? Look now as it springs forth, making a way in the wilderness and a river in the desert!”
May we be a people that see it, both in our individual lives and as a community of faith!