As we emerge blinking into the light from the dark of Lockdown, what is it that you’ve missed most? What is it that has started to reopen but is not the same -not yet. For many people, I know sport would be right up there. What makes a Saturday a Saturday if you can’t go and live through the agony and ecstasy of supporting your team from the stands? For me, it’s not football I’ve missed but Wimbledon. Ah, Wimbledon. There’s nothing quite like Wimbledon. The hours of coverage on the BBC, characterised by calm commentary and a Church like reverence. The discipline of the ball girls and ball boys. The pristine white kit. The strawberries and cream. The Chelsea pensioners taking selfies. A place where royalty rubs shoulders with the riff raff. The silence of the crowds punctuated with the pock pock of the ball, the grunts of effort from the players. The first week brings glorious weather, surprise exits, valiant victories. There are mumblings about the state of the courts as the sun takes its toll.
Then the second week comes. And we know what happens. We know the story. We know what to expect. At least one Brit will come to an ignominious end as across the nation we watch from behind the sofa in agonies of expectation. And one other thing is guaranteed. Rain. The rain will come to Wimbledon. Rain always comes to Wimbledon. Why else would they fit a retractable roof to Centre Court at the cost of £100 million? Because the rain comes. How I have missed that phrase this year: rain stopped play. The rain always comes.
The rain always comes.
Since time began, people have looked at the natural world and have seen God. For some, this is a sort of pantheist experience, finding gods in nature, an understanding of the divine in the breath of every living thing. For the writer of Isaiah, the experience of seeing God in nature was far more complex, far more challenging than just that divine spark in each living thing. For Isaiah, the natural world became a vast living parable for the nature of God and the actions of God.
As these chapters of Isaiah were written, the people of Israel were going through a drought. Not a drought of water, but a dry desert of bitter experience. After centuries of independence and struggle, Israel had been overrun. The temple had been torn down by the invading Babylonians. The means of worship, of identity, had been uprooted and burnt. And the people had been taken away into exile in Babylon, unable even to speak the name of their God, and living in servitude. A drought of hope and a drought of God. Their experience of life was dry and hard, this was a time of thorns and brambles. And into this drought Isaiah spoke prophesy. He saw the truth of God and spoke it to the dry hearts of the people.
This will pass. The rain always comes again. However dry and parched the land, the rain has always come again. And even in the dry, God is there. Water is never absent, God is never absent. Even in the dry, God is there, filling the tiny gaps in the rocks beneath our feet. God is always there in the mighty seas which lap the far edges of our consciousness. God is there in the clouds if we but look up. God is there in the air around us, unseen, untasted. God is quite literally in our very selves. And as water never runs out, but cycles endlessly around our planet, so God never runs out, is never diminished. And God is never static. God is always on the move, surging and rippling and flooding or sometimes just very very gently trickling.
Isaiah looked for the rains and saw what God would bring. A regreening. Not just a few shoots of hope, but a transformation. Great boughs of myrtle and cypress growing up as the people of Israel stepped out of Babylon in a time yet to come, the very desert springing to life under their feet as they walked back to Jerusalem. The whole created order rejoicing with them in their freedom, so that the very hills would sing in celebration and the trees join in with joy.
Prophets are prophets because they speak truth across time and space. And boy, does Isaiah speak loud and clear to us today. We have, together, corporately and individually, experienced drought during these days of COVID19. Drought of sport, drought of company, drought of health, drought of gathering in person to worship God, drought from Holy Communion. Isaiah looks at the clouds for us and says ‘rain coming.’ The first few drops are arriving, great fat drops hitting parched earth. So longed for, so welcomed that we can almost count them. Not enough to soak the land, not yet, but enough to show that the rain will come, the rain always comes. The drop that is the first haircut. The first hug from a family member. The first pint in a beer garden. The first match on TV. The first service together in Church.
But we are not all there yet. Isaiah’s words speak of something yet to come. Yes, the rains always come. But drops we are feeling are not a down pour. Not yet. We are longing for rain, ground soaking, splashing in puddles, hair drenching, transforming rain. So platitudes are not enough while we still experiencing drought. We need reminding of the certainty of rain, we need to know for sure the faithfulness of God. We need to be assured that God is powerful and will come to transform and regreen and bring life, even out of the drought of this COVID pandemic.
How can we know, how can we know for sure that the drought will end, that the rain will come? Because it has always come, God has never abandoned us. And because we believe that God came as Jesus. Jesus the living water. Jesus the ultimate, living parable. Jesus who enacts the life that is coming. The ground soaking, splashing in puddles, hair drenching, transforming life that is promised for all who believe.