I will never ever forget you

In today’s first reading, the Servant of the Lord is announcing freedom to the Jewish exiles in Babylonia.

In a time of favor I answer you,
            on the day of salvation I help you;
            and I have kept you and given you as a covenant to the people….

There is no way to overstate the crisis the exile in Babylon was for God’s people. They had been deprived of homeland and had been stripped of everything that had given them their identity. There on the banks of the streams of Babylon they must have wondered how God could truly have been God if he had let the Babylonians defeat them, desecrate the temple, and force them to leave the land that had been promised to their ancestors Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. Were they now forgotten by God? Would he ever remember them? Would he save them? Did God still love them? Could they ever trust the Lord again?

The conversations of the people of God in Babylon are similar to the conversations whispered in the homes where we’ve isolated far from our churches and from everything that had been “normal” about our life. We might have said with Zion: “The Lord has forsaken me, my Lord has forgotten me.”

Isn’t it too late now for God to show up, after loved ones have died, livelihoods lost, children affected by years of education interrupted? After millions across the globe have suffered indescribable loss.

The Jewish people in Babylon must have wondered also at this prophecy spoken by Isaiah:

Thus says the LORD:

In a time of favor I answer you,
            on the day of salvation I help you;
            and I have kept you and given you as a covenant to the people,
To restore the land
            and allot the desolate heritages,
Saying to the prisoners: Come out!
To those in darkness: Show yourselves!
Along the ways they shall find pasture,
            on every bare height shall their pastures be.
They shall not hunger or thirst,
            nor shall the scorching wind or the sun strike them;
For he who pities them leads them
            and guides them beside springs of water.

As we one by one continue to reshape our lives, we might wonder why the Lord didn’t “comfort his people and show mercy to his afflicted” by stopping the pandemic in its tracks before the damage across the globe had been done.

Our lament is as sorrow-filled and pitiful as the songs sung by the exiles who hung up their harps, refusing to sing the songs of Zion in a foreign land.

I hear such kindness in the final words of this first reading. God understands his people’s tears, their loss. He listens to the confusion and hurt of his people who, because of their infidelity to the Lord and their choices to align themselves with other nations instead of trusting in him, had been carried off into exile by these same nations. God doesn’t correct their theology with reminders about how good he is, how faithful, how he is ever present.

Instead, he evokes the image of tender love that is at the very foundation of every human life, an image that means warmth, safety, nourishment, a generous life poured out that a child might live.

But Zion said, “The LORD has forsaken me;
We say with them.
            my Lord has forgotten me.”

Can a mother forget her infant,
            be without tenderness for the child of her womb?
Even should she forget,
            I will never forget you.

Take a deep breath, my friend, and allow yourself to share your true feelings and fears with God. Wail and rail if you must. Be honest with the Lord in every way. And then receive his arms that surround you with a mother’s love, this God who pours out his life and tenderness in absolute fidelity to us forever. Let these words wash over you again and again, “I will never forget you. Never. Ever. My child. I could never be without tenderness for you.”

Image Credit: Pixabay

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