Lest you think that I was lazy in the fall, the pile of leaves that has gathered against my house is not my fault. It takes many loads in a huge tarp to rid my property of leaves in October. But there are peculiar, circling winds on my block that, over winter, deposit all my neighbor’s unraked leaves against the back of my house.
I’ve tried calling my neighbors to let them know they can come retrieve theirs any time in April. I wish. No, I just plan on hauling out the tarp again as a part of spring cleaning.
This is a week in which we ponder the heaviness of our sins on the cross. So, it’s powerfully pertinent that Isaiah weighs in.
6 All of us have become like one who is unclean,
and all our righteous acts are like filthy rags;
we all shrivel up like a leaf,
and like the wind our sins sweep us away.
7 No one calls on your name
or strives to lay hold of you;
for you have hidden your face from us
and have given us over to our sins. (64:6-7)
The essence of sin is a disregard for God. No one calls on him. No one strives to lay hold of him. Strives literally means to rouses oneself or, simply, wakes up. Our self-sufficiency is like falling into a stupor.
But notice that what ultimately undoes us is God’s disregard for us (hidden your face). Our relationship with him is our source of life; without him, even the best that we can do is unclean and worthless. Without his presence, we have no permanence, like a withered leaf that the wind blows away.
8 Yet you, Lord, are our Father.
We are the clay, you are the potter;
we are all the work of your hand.
9 Do not be angry beyond measure, Lord;
do not remember our sins forever.
Don’t be angry beyond measure. My commentator says that could be read “don’t let your anger have full play.” Malachi asks, “Who can stand when he appears?” (Mal. 3:2) This is the image of God that seems so foreign to my quiet, sheltered life -- an angry, wrathful God, bent on bringing judgment. Terrifying in his intensity and holiness.
This leaf I have chosen looks very much like a curled hand. So, I come inside and draw the hand this brings to mind. On the cross, Christ took the blame for our filthy rags. The one who had never known a millisecond away from the favor of God, felt the Father’s face turn away, leaving him in despair to cry out “Why have you forsaken me?”
He took the impact of God’s anger at full play. He felt the withering power of being forsaken.
So that I would never have to.
Words fail me. So, I will ask John Newton – former slave ship captain, redeemed reformer, author of Amazing Grace – to speak for me.
Let us wonder; grace and justice
join and point to mercy's store;
when thro' grace in Christ our trust is,
justice smiles and asks no more:
he who washed us with his blood
has secured our way to God.
Reader: What helps you keep the truth of the cross fresh and powerful?