A reflection on the previous Sunday’s Lectionary readings.
When Babylon and Assyria tore through Judah and Israel, it had seemed like there was no more hope for God’s people. Yahweh had cut a covenant with Abraham centuries ago, promising that his presence would be with Abraham’s children and that his descendants would number more than the stars. But when the invading armies of the North tore through the kingdoms of God, it definitely seemed like those promises weren’t going to be fulfilled any longer.
As foreign armies destroy and plunder your cities, as they murder your friends, as they steal your wives, how easy would it be to forget that Yahweh is with you? It’d be far easier to imagine that Yahweh had left you Forsaken, your land Desolate. How sweet, then, would Isaiah’s prophecies sound to those hurting ears? Yahweh is going to remain faithful to his covenant because of his great love for Israel.
I can imagine that hearing that Yahweh has a plan to save you would sound pretty great no matter what his motivations were. But notice how profusely Isaiah describes the love that Yahweh has for his people. They are not Forsaken; instead, they are Married. The land is not Desolate, but in fact, Yahweh calls her “My Delight is in Her”. Isaiah describes the rejoicing that Yahweh has for Israel with a metaphor for marriage. Just as a groom will rejoice over his bride, how much more will Yahweh rejoice over his Bride? (Zephaniah will echo this later in one of my favorite verses.)
This bridal imagery carries throughout the rest of the prophets; for example, Ezekiel talks about how Yahweh raised and cleansed Israel so that he could marry her himself (Ezekiel 16). This theme carries into the New Testament, as, fittingly, Jesus’ first sign (in the Gospel of John) is performed at a wedding. He and his mother, Mary, attend a wedding in Cana, and the crowd ends up drinking all of the wine that had been provided for the wedding. Whoops. Mary prods Jesus into revealing his ministry by helping the bride and groom celebrate the wedding with more wine. This wine is so good that the celebrants can’t help but comment how odd it is: why did you save the best wine for last?
For those familiar with Isaiah’s prophecies, that Jesus would perform his first miracle at a wedding is pregnant with meaning. I’ll unpack only a little here. The texts makes two temporal points: this takes place “three days later” and is the seventh day on a Johannine chronology. That this event takes place “three days later” is a hint that this is somehow related to the Resurrection. Remember, from earlier in Isaiah (24-27), Yahweh promised to swallow up death and celebrate Israel in a marriage feast upon his holy mountain. Notice that John is drawing together a long strand of biblical themes (Resurrection, weddings, celebration) at the beginning of his Gospel, as he will later end his Apocalypse with the same themes (Revelation 21-22).
That this wedding takes place on the seventh day is also significant. Israel did not drink wine, or add it to the Ascension offering, until she had reached the Promised Land. Wine is connected with rest in the Scriptures, like when Noah drinks wine as he rests from his work in creating a new vineyard, for example. Now Jesus is bringing Israel the new wine to celebrate the New Covenant as he leads them into their eternal promised rest. This is a Sabbath event, pointing us toward the final Sabbath that Jesus has for us.
This helps us imagine, more fully, what David is praising Yahweh for in Psalm 36. After reading John 2, you can’t help but read 36:8 differently. When David says that God’s people will feast on the abundance of his house, we remember the time when Jesus made the good wine out of water. When David says that the Lord gives us drink from the river of your delights, we think about the quality of the wine. Because we, as part of God’s people, are Married and God’s delight is in us, we can praise the Lord’s faithfulness with David. God’s people are diadems in his hands, a royal crown that he holds, and we praise him because his steadfast love has seated us in the heavens. He delights in us, saves us, and takes pleasure in revealing himself to us. When we pray this Psalm, remembering the steadfast love God showed us in fulfilling his promise spoken by Isaiah, our hearts can’t help but overflow in praise. Thankfully, David gives our praise form.
In response to this beautiful outpouring of love that God has shown for us, we respond with our gifts. These gifts come from the Spirit, who has given gifts to all believers. Just as you were saved to be a part of God’s family, you were given gifts to serve God’s family. Responding properly to God’s love is using the gifts of the Spirit to build each other up, not ourselves. When we exercise the gifts of the Spirit properly, we help each other enjoy the Triune God and live in light of his love.