Lenten Observance: Comfort My People

Comfort, comfort my people, says your God.  – Isaiah 40:1

Heidelberg Catechism Q. and A. 1

  1. What is your only comfort in life and death?
  2. That I am not my own, but belong—body and soul, in life and in death—to my faithful Savior, Jesus Christ . . .

By now, with sixty years and more in my rearview mirror, I have watched and waited at the bedside of my father and then, ten years later, my mother as each by death passed from this life.  They had both lived well and long and were faithful followers of Christ.  Yet death for each was a battle, and those of us children present at their sides sought to comfort the dear one who was dying.  The sustained grip of hand on hand, the caress of the forehead, the moistening of dried lips and mouth with cool water, the soft yet firmly spoken words of love—we were intent to comfort:  you are dear to us, all will be well, we will be together yet again . . . . Then, as one by one they passed beyond our labor to comfort and we were left bereft and alone to witness the flash-freeze pallor of death, we sought comfort for ourselves.

Thus when God speaks comfort to his people through his prophet Isaiah, we are more than ready to identify ourselves with that people.  We have witnessed death’s hard labor, our hearts have been torn by separation from those we have loved, we carry within the purses of our own souls the wages of sin even as we await the final, fatal payday, so God knows we crave comfort.

God commands his prophet Isaiah in this verse to bring comfort. These words are presented to us not as mere wish or fond hope. They are the certain words of command, albeit as Handel draws it out in the opening recitative of The Messiah, a command steeped in lyric beauty. Ah, but is there any basis in reality for such words with their plaintive beauty?  Or is such comfort simply empty promise of a long-gone prophet? Right here is where the Incarnation is in full play.  It is in Christ, the Ancient of Days become babe who grows to manhood to embrace the cross, that God himself has delivered comfort to us and made us his very own.  On account of his mercy our wish is his command. We by faith are made his dear family, his children, his brothers and sisters—and he alone is our comfort, in life and in death.

~Dan Gibson

 

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A Great Gap Torn

Heidelberg Catechism Question and Answer 1:

Q: What is your only comfort in life and in death?

A: That I am not my own, but belong with body and soul, both in life and in death, to my faithful Savior Jesus Christ. He has fully paid for all my sins with His precious blood, and has set me free from all the power of the devil. He also preserves me in such a way that without the will of my heavenly Father not a hair can fall from my head; indeed, all things must work together for my salvation. Therefore, by His Holy Spirit He also assures me of eternal life and makes me heartily willing and ready from now on to live for Him.

 

Where God tears great gaps we should not try to fill them with human words.
They should remain open.
Our only comfort is the God of the resurrection,
the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ,
who also was and is his God.

~Dietrich Bonhoeffer from “Circular Letters in the Church Struggle”

No greater gap was torn
than when Christ was separated from the Father,
forsaken,
choosing suffering
on behalf of his brothers and sisters
by paying with his life
a ransom we could never satisfy,
so dead broke are we
and captive to our sin.

Only the Word can fill
what remains open and gaping,
until we accept the comfort of his grace
freely given.

Grace great enough
to fill every hole
bridge every gap
bring hope to the hopeless
and restore us wholly to our Father
who was and is
the one and only God.
~Emily Gibson

Comfort, Comfort To My People

Isaiah 40: 1, 2
Comfort, comfort my people, says your God.  Speak tenderly to Jerusalem, and proclaim to her that her hard service has been completed, that her sin has been paid for, that she has received from the LORD’s hand double for all her sins.

Heidelberg Catechism Q. and A. 1

Q.  What is your only comfort in life and death?

A.  That I am not my own, but belong—body and soul, in life and in death—to my faithful Savior, Jesus Christ . . .

By now, as sixty years closes in on me, I have watched and waited at the bedside of first my father and then, ten years later, my mother as each by death passed from this life.  They had both lived good, long lives and were faithful followers of Christ.  Yet death for each was a battle, and those of us children present at their sides sought to comfort the beloved who was dying.  The sustained grip of hand on hand, the caress of the forehead, the moistening of dried lips and mouth with cool water, the soft yet firmly spoken words of love—we were intent to comfort:  you are dear to us, all will be well, we will be together yet again . . . . Then, as one by one they passed beyond our labor to comfort and we were left bereft and alone to witness the flash-freeze pallor of death, we sought comfort for ourselves.

Thus when God speaks comfort to his people through his prophet Isaiah, we are ready to identify ourselves with that people.  We have seen hard service, our hearts have been rent by separation from our beloved, we have pocketed within our own souls the wages of deadly sin, so God knows, we need comfort.

As God commands comfort in verse one, so he promptly provides the means of delivering that comfort in verse two:  speak tenderly, proclaim that hard service is completed, that sin has been paid for doubly, much more than enough.  These are indeed sweet words for one who would be comforter.

But what is the basis in reality for such words?  Here is where Christmas is in play.  It is in Christ, the Ancient of Days become babe, that God himself has performed hard service for us, has paid off the wages of sin with the gift of his life, has given double grace in spite of all our sins, has gone ahead and opened a way for us through death to life everlasting—and we belong to him.  On account of his mercy we by faith are his dear family, his children, his brothers and sisters—and he alone is our comfort, in life and in death.

~Dan Gibson