–By Elizabeth Ahlman
Thus says the LORD: “In a time of favor I have answered you; in a day of salvation I have helped you; I will keep you and give you as a covenant to the people, to establish the land, to apportion the desolate heritages, saying to the prisoners, ‘Come out,’ to those who are in darkness, ‘Appear.’ They shall feed along the ways; on all bare heights shall be their pasture; they shall not hunger or thirst, neither scorching wind nor sun shall strike them, for he who has pity on them will lead them, and by springs of water will guide them. And I will make all my mountains a road, and my highways shall be raised up. Behold, these shall come from afar, and behold, these from the north and from the west, and these from the land of Syene.” Sing for joy, O heavens, and exult, O earth; break forth, O mountains, into singing! For the LORD has comforted his people and will have compassion on his afflicted (Isaiah 49:8-13 ESV).
Hunger. There is physical hunger and there is spiritual or emotional hunger. Sometimes the table is literally bare, and sometimes the circumstances of our lives make us feel as though we are staring at a bare and desolate abyss. All around us, children and families literally go hungry for want of food and the basic necessities of life. From the United States to Europe to Asia to Latin America, to Africa, it happens everywhere. They stare down at the empty table, the empty fridge, the desolate cupboards and they hunger for the daily bread their bodies need to live. All around us, neighbors, family and friends face the desolate pastures of watching a loved one slip away into Alztheimers or dementia, of facing mounting medical bills they cannot afford, of watching a child struggle with a learning disability or of struggling with depression themselves. So often, life seems a series of “desolate heritages,” small imprisonments or descents into absolute darkness.
God, however, has made a Promise and a Way. He has promised to say to the prisoners “come out” and to the ones in darkness “appear.” He has promised to feed them, to make the bare places green pastures, to give them drink and shelter. During this month of Mercy emphasis, the Lutheran Church–Missouri Synod (LCMS) focuses on the ways in which God acts through the Church to bring physical mercy to His people and to the whole world. In urban centers this may look like food pantries and soup kitchens. It may look like special fundraisers for families lost in poverty or facing heavy medical bills. It may look like maternity homes for expectant mothers. In International Mission, it often looks like Mobile Medical Vans in impoverished countries, a meal fed to poor children gathered from the streets around Volkmarsdorf, Leipzig, or prison ministry in Russia. It may look like aid to refugees or coats handed out to the homeless in Frankfurt, Germany. God in Christ acts through His chosen people to meet the physical needs of those around them.
God acts through the Church also to bring Mercy to hurting souls — the mercy of comfort, forgiveness, life and salvation that can be found only within her walls. He feeds all those who are hurting — from those with dire physical needs to those with emotional and spiritual desolation — with His Word and the body and blood of His Son. He gives a promise and makes a way, and He delivers that promise and that way through the preaching of the Word, the announcement of absolution, the waters of Holy Baptism, and the bread and wine of His own Supper.
We all hunger. We hunger for food. We hunger for life. We hunger for forgiveness. We hunger for a final end to all desolate places. And Jesus satisfies that hunger with abundant bread, with abundant life, with abundant forgiveness, with abundant green pastures. When He does so, there is more than what is needed. The baskets fill to overflowing with the abundant provision (see the Gospel reading for the one-year lectionary, John 6:1-15). And He brings us into that abundant overflow. He sits us down on the grass of the beautiful pasture and fills us body and soul until we are satisfied. He is merciful in every sense of the word, and on the Last Day we will see fully just how green, just how abundant, just how overflowing all the desolate places will become.
Let us Pray: Lord Jesus Christ, You have shown us mercy abundantly and beyond measure; grant that we may rest in Your mercy and extend it to others around us, so that all may find green pastures in You; for You live and reign with the Father and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.