The first of our readings for this Sunday's Mass consists of Isaiah's heady account of a visionary meeting with the Lord sitting in majesty, sumptuously arrayed, attended by seraphs, six winged – a rich experience. I like it a lot.
Aside from the lesson contained in the description, the very words make the fingers twitch: Could paint or tapestry capture the scene? I blush to confess my ignorance: someone must have done it.
I like to think I might have come close to a vision of angels. Six men, together as a group to support one another as each worked his way through the emotional torment of having recently lost a spouse.
'Do not be afraid; from now on you will be catching people.'
By this time they had grown comfortable enough to share in a way that only trust permits. In a certain session, one member, Bill, a retired university professor of psychology, caught the attention of the others.
"I have a guardian angel. Mine has comforted me, helped me. My angel helped me find a lost article, treasured because of its sentimental value. Each of you has a guardian angel and I see them beside each of you in the room at this moment."
For all the visible reaction of his fellows, he might have said that he had just bought tires for his car. All turned towards him but none expressed astonishment, quibbled, asked a question or said a word of gratitude.
Even the words "Tell us more" might have found a lesson he wanted to teach. Did Bill have a vision? Even now, at several years remove, I could just kick myself for missing an opportunity to learn.
Does Isaiah describe an elaborate vision in the text of the First Reading for today? Maybe not; maybe he describes a scene visible to his 20/20 eyesight. From the many accounts in the Old Testament, God seemed much closer to his people then. Like Bill, Isaiah saw the angels.
Isaiah's vision ennobles his message of the glory of God. And it worked! To this day, like the seraphs in Isaiah's vision, we cry out at Mass: "Holy, Holy, Holy Lord God of hosts. Heaven and earth are full of your glory."
Nor does Isaiah stop there. After a shriving and forgiveness, in another phrase that rings down through the centuries, he pledges himself, "Here I am Lord. Send me."
It gave me a particular thrill to discern the same message, though clad in different words, repeated in today's Gospel. Recognizing the Lord as Isaiah did in his experience, Peter confesses his sinfulness, and Jesus shrives him, "Do not be afraid." Then, referring to his current labours as a fisherman, Jesus says "From now on you will be catching people."
Ever economical of words, Luke does not put the jubilant statement from Isaiah into the mouths of the apostles, "Here I am Lord." Rather, fitting action to the words he says: "They left everything and followed Jesus."
It reads so well in English; would that I knew Luke's Greek to appraise its economy in that language.
(Ralph Himsl: firstname.lastname@example.org)