I was struck by our beautiful first reading at Mass this weekend. I heard the statement that it was from Baruch, but then was surprised because it sounded so much like deutero-Isaiah… except, not quite somehow. Isaiah is incredibly poetic and literary; this sounded subtly more robust and straightforward.
Jerusalem, take off your robe of mourning and misery;
put on the splendor of glory from God forever:
wrapped in the cloak of justice from God,
bear on your head the mitre
that displays the glory of the eternal name.
That mitre caught my attention, as it sounds like the headgear worn by the high priest during the Day of Atonement ritual (during the First Temple period). The eternal name is the Tetragrammaton, of course, and the priest ritually takes on the persona of the LORD when he emerges from the sanctuary wearing it.
For God will show all the earth your splendor:
you will be named by God forever
the peace of justice, the glory of God’s worship.
Which made me hear this next part as if… as if it means, The time for liturgy is over: you really will go out into the world bearing God’s name and embodying the peace of justice and the glory of God’s non-violent worship.
Up, Jerusalem! stand upon the heights;
look to the east and see your children
gathered from the east and the west
at the word of the Holy One,
rejoicing that they are remembered by God.
Led away on foot by their enemies they left you:
That’s a reference to the exile, after the sack of Jerusalem.
but God will bring them back to you
borne aloft in glory as on royal thrones.
For God has commanded
that every lofty mountain be made low,
and that the age-old depths and gorges
be filled to level ground,
that Israel may advance secure in the glory of God.
And that just blew me away. I’m so used to hearing Isaiah’s (and John the Baptist’s) version, exhorting the people make straight in the desert a highway for our God. But that’s not what this is. This is God preparing a broad, secure highway for Israel, so that God’s people can come home. The whole people, marching home together.
It’s inverted from what I expected, just like the mimetic reading of the atonement is inverted from the usual propitiatory model and places us as the bloodthirsty power that must be appeased. God does for us what we think we’re supposed to do for God
The forests and every fragrant kind of tree
have overshadowed Israel at God’s command;
for God is leading Israel in joy
by the light of his glory,
with his mercy and justice for company.
Peace and justice. Mercy and justice. Glory, glory, glory.
In the fifteenth year of the reign of Tiberius Caesar…
John went throughout the whole region of the Jordan,
proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins.