The first word we hear from the readings this Sunday is “Rejoice.” We citizens of the United States will be doing plenty of rejoicing this weekend. There will be lots of good food on the grill and fireworks lighting up the night sky as we celebrate Independence Day.
The first reading comes from the final chapter of the Book of Isaiah. Isaiah was celebrating an independence day too, but this one took place over 25 centuries ago. The people were at last free from Babylon; they were in their homeland once again.
The prophet pictures the scene as children coming home to mother. The mother in this case is the city of Jerusalem; the children are her citizens making their way back. There are lots of them. But Jerusalem has the resources to keep them all well-fed and happy. Isaiah takes things to a new level when he says God comforts the people “as a mother comforts her child.” We often hear of God as father; Isaiah balances the picture with the image of mother. Thus we get a complete picture of God parenting the children of this world. God as loving parent is an image popular with Isaiah whose book begins with God looking for the children who have wandered off to places they think will make them happy. But in the final chapter of the book those children have returned. And God is standing there with open arms ready to welcome them home.
There’s a great deal of rejoicing in the Gospel for this Sunday too. Jesus sends seventy-two disciples to prepare the way for him in every town and place he was going to visit. What a wonderful assignment! They bring with them words of peace, and they have the power to cure the sick. It’s difficult to think any town would not welcome such visitors! When Jesus sent the disciples out to do their work he said they would be like lambs among wolves. We can just guess the outcome. Lambs are no match for wolves. But in God’s plan lambs win out over wolves.
When these lambs return from their travels they are filled with excitement, especially over the fact that unclean spirits were subject to them. Jesus explains that he gave them power over the enemy, power to free people to walk the journey of faith in freedom. But Jesus tells his disciples to rejoice for a different reason. After all, as Jesus saw it, their power over the unclean was never in doubt. So what they should rejoice over is that their names are recorded in heaven. They have served well the kingdom of his heavenly father.
In the second reading Paul rejoices too. He tells the Galatians he always finds reason to boast “in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ.” This may at first seem a curious reason for celebration. Why would death on a cross be something to celebrate? But Paul is thinking of the gift of salvation won for all through the suffering and death of Jesus who rose from the dead. Jesus fulfilled his mission as the ideal servant of God. He has opened up for us the way to salvation. The traditions of old have been surpassed by the Lord. For Paul the only thing had has meaning now is the “new creation” Jesus has achieved. Paul regards his own suffering as means of witnessing to all that Jesus did. For him, they are “the marks of Jesus.”
So as we celebrate Independence Day this weekend, let’s celebrate also the freedom over sin and death won for us by God’s saving grace in the Lord Jesus Christ.