how snow makes the ground more fertile, I blogged about it last year on Culture of Chemistry. When I went up to see my spiritual director at the beginning of Lent, the last part of this pericope from Isaiah was the reading and I noted that I found consolation in these last words for writers - that our words are watered by the Word and will not return without doing the work intended.
This column is the fifth in a series on the readings from the Easter Vigil for CatholicPhilly. The reading is Isaiah 54:5-14. You can find all of CatholicPhilly's Lenten material here, including editor Matt Gambino's reflection on the collects for the Sundays in Lent. This piece appeared at CatholicPhilly on 17 March 2015.
For just as from the heavens the rain and snow come down
and do not return there till they have watered the earth,
making it fertile and fruitful, giving seed to the one who sows
and bread to the one who eats, so shall my word be
that goes forth from my mouth; my word shall not return to me void, but shall do my will, achieving the end for which I sent it. Is 55:10-11
When I hear this reading from Isaiah at the Easter Vigil, I tend to focus on the shower of blessings with which it begins. Come, all who thirst, all who hunger, come, eat and drink without cost. Such abundance stands in stark contrast to the Lenten disciplines of fasting and self-denial, drawing my attention in those last moments before Easter dawns to the rich fare to come, the Eucharist about to be celebrated in a church ringing with alleluias and ablaze with light.
But here, in the depths of Lent, I find myself contemplating not the glowing promises, but the final two verses, with their everyday images of rain and snow, seeds and bread.
I am struck by the sense of expectation. Gifts are there in abundance to be sure, but they are beginnings, not ends.
God sends forth his Word, expecting that he will not just pass through the world, but engage with us, saturating us, making us a new creation. In his commentary on Isaiah, St. Jerome, a fourth century doctor of the Church, called the Gospels “rainstorms.” The Word that cascades down upon us, week after week, day after day, working in us.
There is power in these words, too, and reassurance. Our work in the world does not depend on our resources alone. God has spoken, and if we let the word enter our hearts, it cannot help but bear fruit, returning to God having achieved the end he desires.
I looked out at the deep blanket of snow covering my back yard last weekend. I thought about all the nitrogen trapped in the snow, given to feed the grass and fruit trees as it melts. What the plants took last year from the earth is returned to the ground, that it might burst forth again in spring blossoms and summer fruit.
I sit now under Lent’s blanket of snow, listening to the familiar Gospels, letting the rainstorms soak the seeds planted in my heart, reading them to burst forth, doing the work God intended for me.