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As Holy Week begins, many search the scriptures for glimpses of Jesus of Nazareth through prayer and ritual enactment of His passion, death, and resurrection. Both Testaments reference God’s salvation mysteries, a response to the woeful circumstances that we have created for themselves. One of the most powerful images comes from the Old Testament, and still sparks fire in my psyche and reduces me to silence.

The image of an enigmatic suffering servant emerges in four songs, found in the Book of Consolation, attributed to Isaiah’s prophetic school, the Book of Consolation, in the sixth century, BCE.   

In the First Servant Song, Yahweh speaks of taking his beloved’s hand and forming Him, endowing Him with the spirit of prophets, gentleness, and soft-spokeness. As servant, His mandate is to serve the cause of right, to be a covenant of His people, and to free the blind and imprisoned.

To his former gifts, the Servant in the Second Song acknowledges his former gifts, adding his tongue like a sharp sword or arrow for disputes, and his light a beacon for all nations. Salvation is world-wide.

The gift of listening enables the Third Servant, with Yahweh’s help, to maneuver the courts; opposition will be devoured “like moths.” Critical, above all, is to lean upon God in the midst of darkness. The first reference to “plucking beards,” to “whippings” occurs in this Song.

But in The Fourth Song, the suffering servant bears the full brunt of unspeakable cruelties, many of which are identical with Jesus’s passion narrative in the gospels. These atrocities, silently borne, address the global sin that still persists.

So, superimposing these vignettes atop each other, reveal another way of viewing Jesus that still silences me, especially Jesus in His suffering members in Ukraine. There, fires still burn.

Outside my study window, a robin alighted upon the still wintry appearance of a branch, caught by April’s tag with the sun, then was gone. Unlike signs of other leafing shrubs, this one feels shivery with indecision, its scraggy impression resembling a cluttered attic. Yet, upon closer inspection, a few small slender buds point toward the sky; the color, still to come.

The experience reminds me of Isaiah’s prophecy:

Behold, I will do a new thing. Now it shall spring forth;
Shall you not know it?

Intended for exiled Israelites under the Babylonians, soon to be freed in 539 BCE, the text still carries fresh power. The new thing fires the imagination and excites creativity, looks beyond the humdrum, and inhales vistas yet to be explored. But the even greater challenge is to recognize the new thing when it comes.

Memories of missed invitations rankle, with their failure of nerve, too absorbed in my psyche to take the necessary actions. In preferring my will, I scraped depression’s depths rather than internalize the gift proffered. And only within the gentle discipline of AA, years later, did I begin to watch for the telltale signs of new growth.

About that same time, the season of spring began to remind me of Creator God and His color-making power in ever-expanding universes—even now, in this eighty-six-year-old cypher.

Soon, the robin’s perch in the summer snowflake viburnum will assume the shape of a lacy gown—the seventh year of its flowering outside my study window. I give thanks, with gusto.

We are the clay and You are our potter, and we are all the work of your hands.

This image is found in the great psalm, included in Chapter 64:8 of the prophet Isaiah by the unnamed writer from his school; it dates back to the end of Jewish Exile, 537 BCE.

Yet, this image’s roots are much older: from the Yahwistic writer of Genesis 2-7, drawn from 4,000 BCE—Indeed, the dynamic in the Jewish psyche which nonetheless speaks if we listen and obey.  

Such hands still form, rework, and reclaim life as we experience it each moment in the actualization of our birthrights: To pierce setbacks elicits new courage, to unravel wisdom’s intricacies enlarges understanding, and to rejoice in intimacy deepens hope in this invisible Touch that keeps us whole.

To maintain such moistness so as to be malleable, though, requires attentive and gentle discipline. Only with heart-mind-openness to His Touch can this occur.

And how badly this openness is needed in Ukraine’s “special military operation,” now in its third week: Its woundedness dries and cracks apart spirits like broken sherds—both the aggressor and their prey. Terror seeps into psychic pores and hardens spiritual functions. Would that these hostilities lead to global purification.

Only intact clay pots can hold the message of the Potter’s unconditional love and share it with others, a reality consonant with our ancient creation story, found in the book of Genesis.

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