The earth dries up and withers, the world languishes and withers; the heavens languish together with the earth. The earth lies polluted under its inhabitants; for they have transgressed laws, violated the statutes, broken the everlasting covenant. Therefore a curse devours the earth, and its inhabitants suffer for their guilt; therefore the inhabitants of the earth dwindled, and few people are left. The wine dries up, the vine languishes, all the merry-hearted sigh.
The earth is utterly broken, the earth is torn asunder, the earth is violently shaken.
Just how bad is it?
Yes, we know that there’s more carbon dioxide in the atmosphere than is good for us. Yes, we know that there aren’t as many insects around as there used to be. Yes, we know that the weather is different. But let’s not be gloomy. We can fix it, can’t we?
Isaiah has a reputation as a prophet of hope. Perhaps that’s because we only read the hopeful bits. Today’s reading is bleak.
Isaiah paints a desolate picture of devastation. It affects people and nature alike. Stand in deforested Amazonia and read this. Read it in the flood waters of Tuvalu. The earth is utterly broken.
Laments tell it as it is. They unpick the tapestry of sunny optimism and the reassuring lie that things aren’t so bad. Laments reveal that the world is broken. Not slightly damaged, but utterly broken. Laments leave us in such a bleak place that we realise at last that we cannot fix this. We need God.
Isaiah wraps God around his lament. Perhaps Isaiah is a prophet of hope because he knows how dark the dark can be. Isaiah prophesies through burned lips (see Isaiah 6:1-10). His mission is painful and hopeless, but he clings to God. In the darkness comes the glimmer of hope that God can do something new.
Resurrection comes, not after thinking about the grave, but after lying, dead, in its cold, dark reality.
As followers of Jesus, we can lay bare the brokenness of the world without giving in either to the system that broke it or to despair. We can stand in the dark while we look for the dawn. This is our gift to our true love.
Holy One, all-seeing, all-knowing, all-feeling, we cry to you from the devastated earth for its languishing inhabitants.
Will you do something new today, God – in us, with us, through those at the COP – will you renew the face of the earth?
For the sake of Jesus, crucified and risen, we pray. Amen
The Rev’d Alex Mabbs is ministry team leader at Trinity Church, Gosforth, in Newcastle-upon-Tyne. He has written more about applying Biblical lament to the ecological crisis here.