St Catherine’s Church, Burbage
Friday 22 May 2020
Reflection for Morning Prayer
“Hallowed be thy name”
Isaiah 6: 1-8
6 In the year that King Uzziah died, I saw the Lord sitting on a throne, high and lofty; and the hem of his robe filled the temple. 2 Seraphs were in attendance above him; each had six wings: with two they covered their faces, and with two they covered their feet, and with two they flew. 3 And one called to another and said:
“Holy, holy, holy is the LORD of hosts;
the whole earth is full of his glory.”
4 The pivots on the thresholds shook at the voices of those who called, and the house filled with smoke. 5 And I said: “Woe is me! I am lost, for I am a man of unclean lips, and I live among a people of unclean lips; yet my eyes have seen the King, the LORD of hosts!”
6 Then one of the seraphs flew to me, holding a live coal that had been taken from the altar with a pair of tongs. 7 The seraph touched my mouth with it and said: “Now that this has touched your lips, your guilt has departed and your sin is blotted out.” 8 Then I heard the voice of the Lord saying, “Whom shall I send, and who will go for us?” And I said, “Here am I; send me!”
Parts of the Bible have experienced the Hollywood treatment by various cinematographers and directors, like Cecil B. DeMille and Ridley Scott. We have seen vivid recreations of ‘Noah’s Flood’, Moses and the ‘Parting of the Red Sea’, and ‘Samson and Delilah’, otherwise known as the most expensive haircut in history. Presentations of the life and times of Jesus Christ are firm favourites, though seldom do they appear on British television channels today, except, perhaps, at Easter time.
Holy Scripture includes other events, which lend themselves wonderfully to large scale visual recreations. You have just heard one of them, a passage from Isaiah. It is glorious, isn’t it; you can almost imagine it in your mind’s eye. It recalls an occasion at the time when King Uzziah of Judah died, most likely in the middle of the eighth century BC. Isaiah came to the Temple, where he was met with something a little out of the ordinary, certainly something that would have made you think twice at any rate. Isaiah had a vision of the Lord in that space, which was filled with smoke, and God was accompanied by angelic winged-beings, seraphs, who sang out a hymn “Holy, holy, holy”, a hymn we repeat today in church in a modified form. We are told that the whole space was filled with the sight; the hem of the robe filled the Temple, which gives you an idea of the scale. The pivots of the thresholds shook because of the voices of heaven.
This is clearly an extraordinary and unique event, one to be remembered and to be recorded. It reveals something of God. It shows something of the majesty of God, the wonder of God, the mystery of God and the greatness of God. It shows something of the ‘specialness’ of God. This occurrence marks out God as a god worthy of praise and thanksgiving. Something ‘holy’, just as the seraphs’ hymn reinforce.
The word ‘holy’ is a very difficult one to define; once you start to get a grip on it, the definition then slips through your fingers, unhelpfully. Some words which are used to explain the term ‘holy’ include special, sacred, right and pure. Indeed, the word ‘holy’ marks out a God who is God above all gods.
And this word ‘holy’ relates to another in the phrase ‘Hallowed be thy name’, a line from the ‘Our Father’ that we are thinking about today. The word ‘hallowed’ is related to holy. In other words, to ‘revere’ to ‘honour’ that special and sacred name. To reverence that glorious name of the Father which is above every other name. It teaches us to treat God, and his name, with the respect he deserves and not to be too ‘chummy’.
But how to remember the ‘specialness’ of God; how to remember the ‘sacredness’, or ‘holiness’ of God, is a question worth keeping in mind. This is where worship plays a part, though sadly beyond our reach at present. Although Anglo-Catholic liturgy is sometimes criticised as being old fashioned by many in the church today, there is something about it that promotes the holiness of God, and a reminder that God is great, huge, enormous . . . better still, is very much the Almighty. The use of singing, the utilisation of incense, and the physicality of the sacred space, all contribute to that point and that is that the name of God is to be ‘hallowed’, or revered. Throughout history, churches have tried to achieve this and succeeded to greater or lesser extents. The Medieval church conducted it with aplomb, coming unstuck at the Reformation. In England, under the reign of Charles I in the seventeenth century, greater ritual was employed. And in the nineteenth century, the Anglo-Catholics, but also the ascending Roman Catholics, brought a sense of God’s majesty and awe into some of the most bleak and deprived parts of this country. This all went hand-in-hand with their endeavours to bring social justice to those communities dominated by those ‘dark Satanic mills.’
So, that phrase in the Lord’s Prayer speaks of the great and holy God, whose name should indeed be revered. God is special and worthy of our honour. Isaiah’s encounter with God was dramatic to be sure. Our encounters with the holy God maybe very different. Who knows, you might receive a vision of clouds of smoke and singing cherubs in St Catherine’s. But whether our encounters be grand, or quieter affairs, be ready to respond as Isaiah did: “Here am I; send me.”