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First Week in Advent: Wednesday

Today's readings, according to the Northumbria Community cycle for prayer are

Psalm 116:7

Isaiah 49:15-16

2 John 12

Of these, the one which seems to speak most obviously of hope is the Isaiah:

"Can a mother forget the baby at her breast and have no compassion on the child she has borne? Though she may forget, I will not forget you!  See, I have engraved you on the palms of my hands; your walls are ever before me."

It is one of the most misappropriated verses of scripture, all too often read as applying to an individual...  both Charles Wesley (Arise my soul, arise) and Charite L de Chenez (before the throne of God above) mistakenly understand this as "my name is written/graven on his hands".  Actually the words refer to Zion, to the People of God, and read in its wider context a different sense emerges...

Sing for joy, O heavens, and exult, O earth; break forth, O mountains, into singing! For the LORD has comforted his people, and will have compassion on his suffering ones.
But Zion said, "The LORD has forsaken me, my Lord has forgotten me."
Can a woman forget her nursing child, or show no compassion for the child of her womb? Even these may forget, yet I will not forget you.
See, I have inscribed you on the palms of my hands; your walls are continually before me.
Your builders outdo your destroyers, and those who laid you waste go away from you.
Lift up your eyes all around and see; they all gather, they come to you. As I live, says the LORD, you shall put all of them on like an ornament, and like a bride you shall bind them on.

Isaiah 49: 13 - 18 NRSV

It is not that God has scrawled 'my' name in the divine hand with a cosmic biro in order to remember to bless me... what a rubbish God that would be!  No, it is far more powerful than that.  Grave, inscribed, carved, gouged... you begin to see how people read this across to the nails of crucifixion (not entirely justified but even so).  God is incapable of forgetting any detail of God's people... symbolically the city or nation is indelibly marked on God's hand.  Perhaps if tattooing wasn't proscribed by OT Law, that would be an appropriate contemporary image. ;0)

Can a mother forget the baby that is suckling from her?  Of course not!  So, says God, it is with me, but more so.  No matter what, I will never forget you, abandon you or lose interest in you.

And so we find hope... not that 'my name is written on God's hands' in some individualist way, but that no matter what life throws at us, God is there, incapable of forgetting us, or anyone else, because we are all indelibly marked on God's very self.

"I will never forget you" - Lord can it be so?  Never, ever forget us, forget them, forget even me?

Grant us all the assurance of your eternal remembrance, hope for our darkest hours


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