In this week’s lectionary readings we find a prayer from Isaiah 64. The tide has turned in Isaiah’s (or second Isaiah’s) thoughts and no more are there promises of destruction… now there are promises of salvation and pleas for God to act.
“If only you would tear open the heavens and come down!” Isaiah cries.
It is a lament, for Isaiah looks at himself and at his people and knows why God is not answering. The people have sinned and turned their backs. So God is waiting.
As I read this prayer today with my lectionary group, I was unprepared for the next line in the scripture. As I remember the translation there was always something about filthy rags… but as I read along in my new Common English Bible, the verse leaped off the page:
“We have all become like the unclean; all our righteous deeds are like a menstrual rag.”
In order to become clean again… a ritual washing is required. Sometimes just the hands, sometimes full emersion. But washing none the less.
When Isaiah uses this concept in the passage, he is connecting the hearts of the people to their worship. He is connecting a physical reality to a spiritual one. Because of their sins, they have defiled themselves. God doesn’t want them in the presence of the divine right now. Like it will later say in Malachai 1:10 –