“Oh, that you would rend the heavens!”
I do not know how to repent.
I try to repent for myself, but it turns into shame, self-loathing and morose self-flagellations pretty quickly.
I try corporate repentance, but it turns into throwing my neighbor under the bus – except that I am allowed to feel self-righteous while I’m doing it. (Where else am I allowed to shame people made in God’s image and baptize it as Holy Work, except in a cheap version of communal repentance?)
I do not know how to repent.
I am also not brave enough to repent.
I know that I “should,” and it is Advent, which is a time for repentance in the church year. I know. But I have repented incorrectly before, and had to repent of my repenting. And some days I am not brave enough to risk doing it wrong.
Also, I feel I have a legit claim to my finger pointing and anger, because of a lot of reasons, but mostly because I am a queer woman who grew up in fundamentalism, and so if anyone has a right to stand with Isaiah and bellow to God –
“Oh, that you would rend the heavens and come down!”
…it is me.
Like the prophet, I step outside of the community to critique the community. Rend the heavens, oh Lord, and make your name known to Your enemies!
May those who sin always be “they” and never “us.”
I am in hiding from that damning “us.” I would rather say “the sinners, them” then “the sinners, us.” And if it means that I will stand alone, isolated, outside of community, so be it. I’d rather be alone on this high horse than join that “us” of the sinners.
I can spot the moment in Isaiah where the prophet realizes he has to shift from prophetic justice to corporate repentance. Oh that you would rend the heavens and come down and make your name known to your enemies! he starts out, in one big long breath. Cause the nations to quake before you! Then, a pause, a breath, a beat. You come to the help of those who do rightly, the prophet says,
…and, it turns out, those who do rightly – are not us.
The prophet doesn’t say “them” this time. He says “us.”
“All of us have become like one who is unclean.”
“All of us have become like one.” The community of many becomes one, because of our sin. We are one, big, sinful unit.
I don’t want to belong like that.
Corporate repentance means sinking deeply into the heavy side of belonging. What a move for our prophet to make, from the safety of distance to the dark intimacy of this heavy, terrible belonging.
I would prefer to stay at a distance.
I am not that brave.
The prophet stays here for a minute. He sits in this damning belonging, letting the words gather weight, piling metaphor on metaphor like coins on a scale, drawing us further and further down. We are dead leaves. Filthy rags. Dirty.
No wonder I do not want to belong. No wonder I do not want to repent.
Belonging, this time, is what condemns us.
The prophet has more to say about belonging before he is done, though.
Yet you, Lord, are our Father.
We are the clay, you are the potter;
we are all the work of your hand.
Oh, look on us, we pray,
for we are all your people.
God, save us, the prophet says. Because we belong to You. Because we are Yours. Are You going to forget that we belong to You? From the belonging of repentance, the prophet turns the belonging that he believes can save us. The belonging that is not damning, but salvific.
Grabbing hands with his people in the pit, brave enough to jump into the damning “us” instead of standing outside with false corporate repentance that is just condemning “they” –
the prophet looks up
from what must have felt like the end,
and with his hands in his people’s hands,
he is brave once again, to look up at God and say –
“Here I am.
No, here we are.
We have sinned.
I own this belonging.
But there is a deeper belonging that we are turning to.
We are Yours.
We are Your family.
We are Your ‘chosen family.”
Don’t save us because we are good! Don’t save us even because we are good at repenting. Save us because we are Yours.
Through the darkness of the heavy belonging of corporate repentance, into the salvific belonging of God.
I can stand outside all day, isolated and condemning. Or I can leap down with my people, whatever that means, take hands, look at the sky, and remind God that we may belong to each other in sin, but we belong to God as God’s family.
Which is a very Advent thing to remember. Because Advent is repentance, but it is also a hopeful repentance, because we are looking and waiting for a God who did rend the heavens and come down – but came down to take hands with us, and say “humanity, we” and not “humanity, them.”