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Isaiah 43:16-21

Pause for just a moment and remember. Recall the event or events in your life that made you into the person you are today. Call to mind the moments where God met you in powerful ways that were beyond what you thought could be possible. Take a moment and speak aloud the story of how God delivered you from sin and death. Tell the tale of the way God met you in the bleakest of moments, defeated those enemies that were more powerful than you, and brought you in safety and wholeness to the place you had prayed for. Conjure up the story in your heart and mind that leaves you saying with the Psalter, “The Lord has done great things for them!”

There comes a moment in our Lenten journey when it seems like it will never end. There comes a moment where our fast has left us weary and our struggle has left us restless. There is a point at which the wilderness seems vast, our sin stifling, our darkness permanent, and where no way forward is evident. During our Lenten journey we come to a place where even the very best memories of what God has done for us in the past cannot seem to cheer or encourage. There is a moment where our memory of God’s mighty work is no longer enough to save us and something more is required.

Long weeks of Lent lie behind us and dark days of palms and passions, betrayals and arrests, denials and trials, crucifixion and burial lie ahead. Our best thoughts are no longer a joyful balm on our feet, nor can they effectively prepare us for what lies ahead. Like the people of Israel in Isaiah 43, held in Babylonian captivity, memories of God mighty works in the past are simply not enough. Like the Israelites when your best thoughts and efforts have failed to free us from our captivity, we need the promise and power from a Redeemer, the Holy One of Israel. We need God to step in and break down the bars turning the laughter of our captors into lamentation.

“Thus says the Lord, who makes a way in the sea, a path in the mighty waters, 17 who brings out chariot and horse, army and warrior; they lie down, they cannot rise, they are extinguished, quenched like a wick…”

When the Israelites paused to remember, this is the story they recalled. They remembered how God’s angel of death had passed over them bringing the laughter of the Egyptians to lamentation at the death of their firstborn sons. When the Israelites spoke aloud the saving work of God, they told the story of how the waters parted making a way for them to walk through the sea. They recalled how the strong army of Egypt that pursued them was snuffed out. For the Israelites this was their formative story, their seminal moment when they were no longer slaves but made truly free by God’s power and intervention. As captives in Babylon these are the mighty works of the Lord that they remembered to sustain them. But God, through the prophet Isaiah throws them a curveball.

“Do not remember the former things or consider the things of old.”

The memories that have sustained you in your captivity; forget them.  The stories that have given shape to your life of faith; don’t even consider them anymore.  The Passover you celebrate each year by recounting the story of God’s saving work back then; old news.  “The prophet is calling upon Israel to turn from memory to hope, from the epochal events of the past to the more decisive and redemptive events of the future.”[1] 

“I am about to do a new thing; now it springs forth, do you not perceive it?” Memory gives way to hope. Do you have a sense that God is putting something new into play? Recalling gives way to renewing. God arrives beyond the borders of what was thought possible and begins to do something entirely new.

God proceeds to announce a new exodus.  Reminding his children that he made a way through the sea and a path through the waters in the first exodus and then close the water to drown the pursuing armies of Egypt, God dares to publish the word of a new exodus.  Always before he had told his children to remember the deliverance of their forefather and foremother from bondage in Egypt.  While it is still good to remember the past God tells them he will do a “new thing” that they will know for themselves.[2]

In the barren wilderness where no one travels, God promises that he will make a path. The desert sands, dry and coarse, will give way to rivers of divine water that will cut through them and give life. These waters will not only nourish the chosen exiles, but the wild animals. The earth and nature itself will enjoy the work that God is doing. God will not allow those he formed for himself to dry up or waste away any longer. God will give drink to his people who are thirsty for his presence and way home through wilderness that separates them for their promised land. After drinking their fill right alongside of the jackals, God’s people will begin to tell a new story of Gods redemption, declaring His praise not for water that drowns enemies, but for water that washes clean, quenches thirst and brings to life the whole world; a living water.

With the exiles of Israel, it is time for us to move from memory to hope.  Forget what is behind you and lean into the new work of God that is springing forth in your soul.  It is time to declare praise for God’s new work.  Pause for a moment and tell the story of the new work God is doing in your soul.  Recite the moments that have been like water in the Lenten desert.  Attend for a moment to the ways that God’s new work is not just about you but will come to bring nourishment to others as well.  You are a captive set free.  You are an exile returning.  The Lord is doing great thing in you.    [1] George Arthur Buttrick, ed. The Interpreters Bible: Volume V. Abingdon Press, Nashville Tennessee, 1956. Pg. 495. [2] Lloyd J. Ogilvie ed. & David L. McKenna.  The Communicator’s Commentary: Isaiah 40-66.  Word Books Publisher, Dallas, Texas, 1994. 454.