We continue an examination of the thirty-fifth chapter of Isaiah. In this third and last installment, we return to the image of a desert land redeemed. If God can do such for a wasteland, he certainly can work his glory to heal us.
Arabah is the valley to the south of the Dead Sea if I recall my biblical geography:
For waters will burst forth in the wilderness,
and streams in the Arabah.
The burning sands will become pools,
and the thirsty ground, springs of water;
The abode where jackals crouch
will be a marsh for the reed and papyrus.
In other words, rather than be a place of danger and unfortunate surprises, human beings will find their pilgrimage home a sustaining one, and with sights of beauty. Our mortal death is inevitable. But sometimes we are graced with a happy death. I suppose if this reading were used for a celebration of viaticum, it might include a reflection that the journey to God will be eased and natural:
A highway will be there,
called the holy way;
No one unclean may pass over it,
but it will be for his people;
no traveler, not even fools, shall go astray on it.
No lion shall be there,
nor any beast of prey approach,
nor be found.
But there the redeemed shall walk,
And the ransomed of the LORD shall return,
and enter Zion singing,
crowned with everlasting joy;
They meet with joy and gladness,
sorrow and mourning flee away.
Michael Perry used this text as the basis for a metrical hymn which I set to music some years ago. It was never published, and I doubt it was ever performed outside of the parish of my grad school years. I mention this because I think this chapter invites a musical setting. Mine came quite easy to me, and if we find our return to God echoes the last verses above, it will indeed be an opportunity for song.
For an in-depth treatment of the Pastoral Care rites, check this page that outlines our examination from a decade ago.