1 Oh that you would rend the heavens and come down,
that the mountains might quake at your presence—
2 as when fire kindles brushwood
and the fire causes water to boil—
to make your name known to your adversaries,
and that the nations might tremble at your presence!
3 When you did awesome things that we did not look for,
you came down, the mountains quaked at your presence.
4 From of old no one has heard
or perceived by the ear,
no eye has seen a God besides you,
who acts for those who wait for him.
5 You meet him who joyfully works righteousness,
those who remember you in your ways.
Behold, you were angry, and we sinned;
in our sins we have been a long time, and shall we be saved?
6 We have all become like one who is unclean,
and all our righteous deeds are like a polluted garment.
We all fade like a leaf,
and our iniquities, like the wind, take us away.
7 There is no one who calls upon your name,
who rouses himself to take hold of you;
for you have hidden your face from us,
and have made us melt in the hand of our iniquities.
8 But now, O Lord, you are our Father;
we are the clay, and you are our potter;
we are all the work of your hand.
9 Be not so terribly angry, O Lord,
and remember not iniquity forever.
Behold, please look, we are all your people.
Early in his pastoral career, my father served a rural parish in south-central Iowa. It is still on a gravel road. He told me once of his surprise when, in the middle of a meeting, a thunderclap suddenly ended the proceedings. Most of the participants simply got up and left. One of the remaining members of the committee explained why. The soil in that part of Iowa was clay, a particular sort of clay which, when it got wet, would become very sticky. Many of his parishioners lived on dirt roads. The clay would build up on the tires of a car so thick that eventually they would not turn. The driver would have to get out and pry the viscous mass off his tires to proceed, only to be forced out of his car in a few moments to do it again. There were stories of folks who had spent the night in their cars not far from their own homes, unable to proceed. If you lived on one of those dirt roads, you wanted to be home before the rain fell and turned the roads into impassible morasses. That is why the meeting ended so abruptly.
The final verses of this reading imagine God as a potter and we as the clay on his wheel. In the hands of an artist clay can be fashioned into exquisite works of beauty and function. As I write these words, I am drinking a cup of coffee out of a mug made of clay by a friend of mine. I have included a photo. When it is stuck to the tires of your car in an immovable mass and you are still half a mile from your house in a rainstorm, you might not think so highly of clay. Isaiah asks God not to be so angry with us and not to remember our iniquity. I imagine one of those Lutherans laboriously pushing clay from the wheels of his car and cursing the clay. He asks God to do something dramatic, rend the heavens, burn like a fire, and do the awesome things that transcend our expectations.
Several years ago, my family stood in the little cemetery of that rural Lutheran Church and laid my father to rest in the clay of south-central Iowa. “Ashes to ashes, dust to dust,” we heard. Perhaps the preacher should have said, “clay to clay.” Throughout a long life of service, love, and faith God shaped my father. There were sticky, sinful, impossible blockages caused by sin in there. But God never lost faith. He kept the promises He had made to my father. Now, the potter has him on another sort of wheel to make something of lasting and true beauty, something which will come out of the kiln of the grave to be revealed for an eternity.
I cannot imagine that, if it could feel a thing, clay would enjoy the pounding, shaping, and spinning of the potter’s art. Any thinking person today is feeling uncertain about the future, afraid, isolated, and perhaps a little anxious. In Christ, God has gotten His hands dirty in the humanity we share. All this may simply mean He is working his masterpiece. Look forward to it. Join Isaiah in praying for it to come.