For as the rain and the snow come down from heaven and do not return there until they have watered the earth, making it bring forth and sprout, giving seed to the sower and bread to the eater, so shall my word be that goes out from my mouth; it shall not return to me empty, but it shall accomplish that which I purpose and succeed in the thing for which I sent it. For you shall go out in joy and be led back in peace; the mountains and the hills before you shall burst into song, and all the trees of the field shall clap their hands. Instead of the thorn shall come up the cypress; instead of the brier shall come up the myrtle, and it shall be to the LORD for a memorial, for an everlasting sign that shall not be cut off.
Christian Zionists interpret the idea of an ‘everlasting sign’ as pointing to the geographical place where Israel and the occupied Palestinian territories lie. They believe that the area that has been Israel since 1947 (and the rest of the land that is occupied by Israel), needs to be occupied by Jewish people who are the righteous heirs of the land. Many Christian organisations (especially from the US) fund illegal settlements for Jewish settlers to live in.
Trying to make one area ethnically homogenous and removing other people from their land because of their heritage is called ethnic cleansing. Palestinians are often called the “People of the Book” and their trade of tour guiding helps the gospels come alive. There’s a juxtaposition in this Isaiah reading. How can something that is alive and ongoing – an everlasting sign, also have a memorial – something that is erected to remind people of an event?
The phrase “the Holy Land” breezes across all the messy words to describe Israel/Palestine, and messy words that describe messy situations are important. “The Holy Land” turns Israel Palestine into a memorial, a place stuck in time that is loved just because of something that happened long ago. For me, Jerusalem is so beautiful because it’s so alive, the centre where three faiths meet, where Jesus walked and where His followers have walked ever since. But, even more, I love the interpretation from George MacLeod, the founder of the Iona Community, who in 1933 commented,
“how hopeless a thing it really was that He did when He decided to die […] in a land ordinary, dried up and insignificant: in a land seething with indifference, cynicism and ugliness— Christ died for men [sic]” (Govan Calling, 1934).
Knowing his privilege when talking to his working-class congregation in the industrial West of Scotland, MacLeod reminded them that Christ is found through His worshippers, and through love, grace and harmony, and these things keep Christ the everlasting sign.
Everlasting Sign, help us continue your presence in your world, enable us to love, accept, let go and protect. Guide us in your work, use our hands and our feet, and connect us to one other in praise of you. Amen.
Victoria Turner is a Tutor in Theology at Ripon College Cuddesdon and a member of the URC in Thames North Synod.