“For I am about to create new heavens and a new earth; the former things shall not be remembered or come to mind. But be glad and rejoice forever in what I am creating; for I am about to create Jerusalem as a joy, and it’s people as a delight.” Isaiah 65:17-18 (NRSV)
Isaiah’s proclamation from God is that God is creating new heavens, new earth, a new Jerusalem. What does that mean? The Hebrew people have been in exile, taken away from their homeland of Israel. Those who longed for their homeland and for Jerusalem where they believed God resided became homesick, feeling that God had abandoned them. They had been separated from loved ones and brought to another country to be enslaved or intermingled with the population of that country (depending on which country was holding them captive).
God’s promise was that they would be renewed, restored, and transformed. Their anguish at being taken away from their homeland would turn to joy and delight as they would return home and all nations would look up to them. Jerusalem would also be restored, and people would once again look up to Jerusalem (sometimes called Zion). In the midst of the wilderness, Jerusalem is on a hill, so all roads lead upward to get to the Holy City. The reuniting of the people with their homeland was a promise and a gift from God, in spite of the ways in which the Hebrew people had turned away from God and stopped following in God’s ways. The promise of renewal and restoration gave them another chance, another opportunity to set the relationship with their Creator right.
The mountain top reminds us of the presence of God. In the Bible, it is often where the significant encounters with the divine happen, such as Moses receiving the ten commandments, Jesus being transfigured, and Jesus’ ascension into heaven. Today, we speak of a significant spiritual awakening or experience as a “mountaintop” experience. We need the mountaintop encounters with God in order to live in the valleys and plains of life. We have both mountaintop and valleys, and we recognize the wonderful things of life because we have walked through the valleys and lived on places where things seem at times to level out.
For example, one of my most powerful mountaintop experiences (I’ve been blessed to have many) was being in the land of Israel on a tour designed for pastors. At first I was disappointed that so many churches had been built on the traditional sites of the life of Jesus, but eventually I began to absorb the idea that I was walking where Jesus walked (our tour guide said that we “ran” where Jesus walked because the tour was crammed into seven days instead of ten). My most moving experience there may have been at the west wall of the Temple when I crammed a little wad of paper that contained the deepest prayer of my heart into a little hole in the wall. There was a strong connection with my spiritual ancestors as well as the presence of God. The women were over in one place, the men in another, and we were not allowed to speak out of respect for others who were there to pray.
I can’t say that the experience necessarily change my life, but it touched my heart and reminded me that we don’t have to travel to Jerusalem to be moved by prayers to our God. God hears our prayers no matter where we are. A mountaintop experience reminds us of the great love and abiding presence of God in our lives and God’s promises to “make all things new.” God can take the worst circumstances and bring something new or transformed out of them. At the time we are going through them, it may not seem that way, but like the Hebrew people in exile, we can trust God’s promise to bring renewal and help us “come home” to God. We can trust God’s promise to point us in the right direction and find blessings even when things haven’t gone so well.
May we trust God’s promises and may we have mountaintop experiences so we can make it through the valleys. Amen.