In the year that King Uzziah died I saw also the Lord sitting upon a throne, high and lifted up, and his train filled the temple.
Isaiah 6. 1.
This reading is one of the most loved in Scripture as it unfolds the blessed vision that Isaiah had
when worshipping in the temple. Let our imagination capture the scene in the temple with incense billowing. It is a glorious and mystical experience for Isaiah, suggesting to us that when we become completely engrossed in worshipping God in all His wonder and majesty we too can be hither transcended.
In the western tradition it seems that aspect of the heavenly realm worshipping with us at our celebration of Eucharistic worship has been lost and that worshippers never contemplate that dimension of God’s creation, and so our worship becomes very earthy, so unlike Isaiah’s experience. Perhaps it is true to say that the mystery element is not really ignored by Western Christians for it has never been understood as it is in the Orthodox tradition. When we comprehend that God’s existence is veiled in a shroud as Moses saw on Mt. Sinai, then the preface to the Sanctus at Mass will hit us. “Therefore with angels and archangels and all the company of heaven, we laud and magnify your name, evermore praising and singing:
Holy, holy, holy, Lord God of Sabbaoth; heaven and earth are full of your glory.
This is the vision that Isaiah had in the temple. He was caught up in the mystical experience of all creation praising its creator in awe and adoration. All of this is seen through the cloud of incense that lends itself to the mystical as well as symbolising our prayers being lifted upward to join those of the heavenly choir. It is a moment that one wants to linger and linger where it is obvious that heaven and earth are one.
However the whole experience for Isaiah was overwhelming – the temple seemed to shake. Yet it is more probably a symbol of stirring within his own consciousness of his own unworthiness in the presence of holiness. For he exclaims, “woe is me! For I am undone; because I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips; for mine eyes have seen the King, the Lord of Hosts.” Wow! How often do we find ourselves exclaiming similar words? When we become conscious of God as He is in all His magnificence and mercy, it brings us to our knees. In the presence of the worthy one, we know that we are indeed unworthy. We all say those words, “Lord I am not worthy to come unto you, but say the word and I shall be healed” before receiving
the Sacrament at Mass, but I wonder how many of us are really conscious of what we are actually praying. In your presence Lord who is Lord of all creation, the Word who spoke to form this world, who died for me and rose again, and who gave His life in the Sacrament is inviting me to receive that life.
If we are truly conscious of all this, we shall then know as Isaiah knew that once the Lord touches our lips we are made clean and whole. We are a new person. We can never be the same again. We experience a taste of heaven. What joy this is for the communicant! Having tasted “how gracious the Lord is” we should experience as in the call of Isaiah, that the Lord does not want us to keep Him to ourselves. Can we hear the words that the prophet heard, “Whom shall I send?” If we hear it, what will be our answer? Will it be, “Here I am Lord, send me?” Isaiah heard the call and acted.
Isaiah’s answer to the voice is a wonderful starting point, not only after receiving our Lord at Mass in the Sacrament, but in our good works. It is also as a prayer to be said at the beginning of each day. The Lord only has us to allow His Spirit to work in His world, and so the more we are open to that whole mystical world the more we become conscious of being God’s servant and that what we do is is to glorify god.
Apart from being conscious of the wonder of God when participating in public worship, we also need to be conscious of that same wonder when we spend our quiet times with the
Lord. Even then we are not alone as we are always encircled by myriads of angels and archangels and all the company of heaven. Isaiah’s vision and response is one which should draw us back time and time again to ponder on how much do we lose ourselves in wonder, love and praise for our gracious God in order to appreciate just a little of His magnificence. We are just one particle of sand on the seashore but if every particle praised Him the noise would be deafening as it must have been for Isaiah in the temple that day.