“… to comfort all who mourn, and provide for those who grieve… to bestow on them a crown of beauty instead of ashes, the oil of gladness instead of mourning, and a garment of praise instead of a spirit of despair… (from Isaiah 61:2b, 3).
How does one answer the call to comfort those who mourn? Provide for those who grieve?
How does one convey to the hurting the hope that they’ll receive a crown of beauty when all they can see is the ash heap upon which they dwell?
What words might one conjure up that could ever come close to conveying the message to those who mourn, “You’ll soon receive the oil of gladness”?
How does one hold out a garment of praise to the displaced wearing the spirit of despair after devastation? “Here, you should wear this instead.” Really? Again…
On this day eighteen years ago, the world watched as terrorist attacks–unlike any we’ve seen on domestic soil–took place. Likely, each knows exactly where he or she was when the Twin Towers fell. We remember the horror we felt as we witnessed planes being purposefully crashed into steal and concrete–watched as terror-stricken victims, fearing fire or complete collapse, jumped out windows to escape, believing death was imminent either way.
And we have never been the same–many more fearful, less trusting, more jaded and judgmental.
A little more than a year before this fateful day, I was sitting in the quiet security of my home in South Carolina preparing to lead a women’s Bible study at my church. It was late August, and our ladies’ group had decided that we wanted to study various women of the Old and New Testament, using a particular study guide. For our first session, however, the books hadn’t arrived, so I prepared an introductory session to get us started.
In my quiet time prior to this class, I asked the Lord to guide me–to direct me to a passage that was His desire for our first session. Although I don’t rely on “Bible Roulette” often, I did open my Bible randomly, eyes closed in prayer. When I opened them, I looked down at a passage with the heading, “The Women of Jerusalem” (from Isaiah 32:9-20).
I found this interesting because, even though this portion of scripture was, at that time, yet unfamiliar to me, it was obviously written specifically about women. And because I was preparing for a women’s Bible study particularly studying women of the Bible, this jumped out, and I knew God was speaking.
So I read the passage–once, then again. It was a charge to women, exhorting them to rise up from complacency.
You women who are so complacent, rise up and listen to Me; you daughters who feel secure, hear what I have to say (Is. 32:9)!
As I read further, I understood that God was alerting the women of Jerusalem of coming disaster. In fact, this prophetic disaster would come…
In little more than a year… (v. 10a).
As I read and prayed, I decided that God simply wanted me to share with the women in Bible study that we were to be ready at all times–not lazy in our faith, nor complacent in our roles as God’s daughters. Rather, we were to listen and be prepared–armed with our Swords of the Spirit, diligent in prayer.
Still, the words “In little more than a year” sort of unsettled me, and I wrote in the margin of my Bible, “Warning to be ready!” I didn’t want to be an alarmist, but perhaps we were supposed to at least discuss ways to stand firm in faith in the face of hardship. After all, no one ever knows when disaster may strike.
Fast forward a little more than a year.
I was sitting in my living room in Indianapolis, Indiana getting our young boys ready for their first day of preschool. The phone rang, and I answered. It was my sister, and she immediately said, “Sit down.”
Our parents were traveling, and I feared she had bad news about them. Sitting down, I gasped, “What’s wrong?”
It was then that she told me to turn on the television. I did–to the Today Show–and the horrors I saw are forever imprinted on my mind.
Only moments later I saw the second plane crash into the other tower, and instantly the Lord brought to mind the passage from Isaiah 32.
I left my seat on the couch just long enough to retrieve my Bible. Opening it to that passage, I read again…
In little more than a year…
I continued reading, and a particular portion that I hadn’t understood a little more than a year earlier suddenly made more sense.
Yes, mourn for all the houses of merriment and for this city of revelry. The fortress will be abandoned, the noisy city deserted; the citadel and watchtower will become a wasteland forever… (Is. 32:13b, 14a).
The Twin Towers–a wasteland forever.
And then, not many more minutes later, they indeed did fall–leaving an ash heap unlike any we’ve ever known. My heart sank, and I trembled.
Read on, dear friends–because it doesn’t end there. The message to these women wasn’t punctuated merely with disaster. No, it ends with hope–punctuated instead with promise!
Till the Spirit is poured upon us from on high, and the desert becomes a fertile field, and the fertile field seems like a forest. Justice will dwell in the desert and righteousness lives in the fertile field. The fruit of righteousness will be PEACE; the effect of righteousness will be QUIETNESS and CONFIDENCE forever. My people will live in peaceful dwelling places, in secure homes, in undisturbed places of REST… (Is. 32:15-18).
Flowers will bloom. Barrenness will be replaced with fertility. Homes will be built. Lives will be restored. Peace will replace the chaotic brokenness of this world.
How? Through the promised One who would–Yes, WILL!–come to make all things right.
And therein lies the answer to our question–
For those who’ve lost a loved one tragically and their minds are crazy with grief–JESUS.
For displaced people rising from the wake of a hurricane–the death toll rising like a tsunami–JESUS.
For the couple who’s told, “I’m sorry. There’s no heartbeat,” and their dreams, too, have died–JESUS.
For the one fearing he’s lost his battle with cancer–JESUS.
For the widow who wakes from her sleep to discover again, he’s gone–JESUS.
I remember hearing a story not long after the attacks on September 11, 2001. Attempting to escape the burning, smoke-filled towers prior to their demise, men and women fled to the exit stairways and, blind and groping, made their descent.
Many were coughing, gasping for breath, but out of the darkness and din, a word was proclaimed–perhaps no louder than a whisper. Soon, more voices–raspy and broken–rang out, called out, sang out… a name.
The name that pierced the darkness with its power, with its light.
The name that offered hope when all hope seemed gone.
The name that wasn’t defeated by terrorists and won’t be destroyed by a hurricane.
No storm is greater–not loneliness, not cancer, not even death.
It’s the name above every name–the name that, when called upon, identifies the One who is both the Deliverer and Restorer of dreams.
Just imagine. Can you hear it?
So–“How?” we sometimes ask, overwhelmed as we are in the midst of such sadness.
The same Spirit poured out on the women of Jerusalem is the same Spirit that poured out on 9/11 in the darkened escape route in a terror-stricken NYC tower, and it’s the same Spirit that meets us right where we are–today and forever.
Sometimes, Jesus, that’s all one can pray–just Your name over and over and over again. But we know that there is power in Your name, and so–when all we can muster is a breathless mutter, when our voices crack with heartbroken cries, when the chaos of life leaves us silent instead… JESUS.