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Rituals to Wake Up

Our reading from the narrative lectionary this week is Isaiah 6:1-8.  In a vision Isaiah is transported to the throne of God.  He sees God sitting on the throne, surrounded by angelic beings worshiping.  He panics, thinking he is doomed for being in the presence of God.  He begins focusing inward on his own shame and worth.  An angel brings a hot coal and touches it to his lips, proclaiming him forgiven.  Moments later, when God called out "Whom shall I send?", Isaiah had the boldness to say "Here am I, send me!".

"Then one of the seraphim flew to me with a live coal in his hand, which he had taken with tongs from the altar. With it he touched my mouth and said, 'See, this has touched your lips; your guilt is taken away and your sin atoned for.'" - Isaiah 6:6-7

This week I was struck by the change in Isaiah's internal dialogue. Just a moment before boldly accepting the ministry call, he was focused on his own shame.  He became consumed with negative thinking.  His inner critic was leading the dialogue as he turned inward, away from the amazing scene before him.  An angel saw this happening and offered what you might call an olive branch.  An act of symbolism that woke him up. 

It is hard for me to imagine that the touch of a hot coal has any power to atone for sin, though I admit I would be more likely to believe it if a six winged angel told me it had.  Atonement is through the work of Christ, a work that would not be done till long after the death of Isaiah.  So what is this encounter all about?

I think this is an act of symbolism.  A ritual performed for the benefit of the receiver.  If Isaiah had remained lost in his own shame, could he have responded to the call of ministry in verse 8?  I believe that God knows that we have a tendency to get stuck in our own heads.  We get stuck turning inwards, and God is constantly calling us to turn outward again.  I have come to believe that our rituals and traditions are mostly symbolic reminders to turn outward, so that we can respond as Isaiah did: "Here am I Lord, send me!"

What rituals or symbols from our faith have woken your heart before? Which ones do you lean on as a weekly reminder?

God, bless you for providing a way out of our inward turning.  Please continue to remind us to turn outward.  Provide us with the strength to act on the needs we see when we turn outward.  Amen.



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