A promise of protection and restoration.
“Fear not, for I have redeemed you” (Isaiah 43:1). I encountered these life-changing words when I was a freshman at the University of Wisconsin Madison. At the time I had doubts about whether God loved me or could forgive my sins. These words were powerfully reassuring. I was reminded of them recently in light of the COVID-19 outbreak and the fear surrounding it. “Fear not, for I have redeemed you.” Might these words have something to say to us in this present crisis? Might the context in which these words were first spoken be similar to our own?
These words were first addressed to the Jewish people during the Babylonian exile (587-537 B.C). This was a time of crisis for the Jewish people. They had lost their land, the Temple had been destroyed, and it seemed that God had abandoned them:
For we are reduced, O Lord, beyond any other nation, brought low everywhere in the world this day because of our sins. We have in our day no prince, prophet, or leader, no burnt offering, sacrifice, oblation, or incense, no place to offer first fruits, to find favor with you.Daniel 3:37-38
With public celebrations of the Mass suspended across the Archdiocese, we may feel like the Jewish people did in exile. Our Christian temples have not been destroyed, but we are unable to participate as fully as we’d like in the “offering, sacrifice, oblation” of the Mass that takes place in them. We have no place to offer the first fruits of our week on Sunday!
Isaiah 43 was a promise of protection and restoration to the Jewish people during their exile. And God offers us that same promise today as we endure our own exile:
Fear not, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name: you are mine. When you pass through the water, I will be with you; in the rivers you shall not drown. When you walk through fire, you shall not be burned; the flames shall not consume you. For I am the LORD, your God, the Holy One of Israel, your savior…Fear not, for I am with you; from the east I will bring back your descendants, from the west I will gather you. I will say to the north: Give them up! and to the south: Hold not back! Bring back my sons from afar, and my daughters from the ends of the earth: Everyone who is named as mine, whom I created for my glory, whom I formed and made.Isaiah 43:1-3, 5-7
God was faithful to the Jewish people during their time of exile. He did not abandon them; He was with them in the fire and water. And He eventually brought them back to their land and the Temple. Worship was restored. God will remain faithful to us too. And in His good time He will also restore us to our Christian temples and to the worship which we so desperately miss. So fear not! He has redeemed us. He loves us. We are His.