One of my jobs before ordination was working in the Parts Department for a firm of Agricultural Engineers. Aside from getting to know the inner workings of tractors and diggers I spent a good deal of time with farmers.
Now farmers are in my experience pessimists. And they’re seldom happy. If it’s wet they want it to be dry. If it’s dry they want it to be wet. If it’s cold they want it to be warm. And always, always they’ve no money.
I understood a bit why they’re like this for making a living from the land is precarious. Indeed since then things seem to have got more difficult for farmers.
Yet there was a bit of me that thought their experience, especially those farmers who had tilled the same land for generations, might have a bit more confidence.
Confidence that the harvest would be safely gathered in. Confidence that they would make a living. In other words that, even if the tractor did conk out, it would be alright in the end.
Now you might be thinking those farmers are daft, except I know that there is a bit of me which is just the same, who worries, who is also well acquainted with pessimism. This last week has been a good reminder. A week when I’ve had too much to do and then the heating dies.
Spend any time with Isaiah or indeed many of the prophets and you’ll realise they’re a pretty gloomy lot too. I’m not sure if pessimism was the central personality trait for the Prophet Application Form not that there was such a thing but reading their words it would often seem they were a grumpy lot.
They often see the world as a place without hope. Of course much of the time they had good reason to, things were not as they should be, as we in our own time might say too, but sometimes it all seems a bit OTT.
Thankfully though, along with the doom and gloom, come little visions of the world transformed. Words which are filled with hope. That’s certainly the case this week, and thinking about that lovely first reading I read it thinking that it was as if God is saying to Isaiah “Come on, I know things are a bit rough but stop being so gloomy, it will be alright in the end.”
So Isaiah writes of ‘a new heaven and a new earth’ that ‘the former things shall not be remembered’ and adds ‘be glad and rejoice forever in what I am creating.’
Be glad and rejoice forever. Wow! It’s a moment when Isaiah to quote a little book by CS Lewis is ‘Surprised by joy.’
And that word joy is picked up in our second reading when the writer of the Book of Hebrews says of Jesus ‘who for the sake of the joy that was before him endured the cross.’
Here the writer isn’t sidestepping struggle, the difficult stuff, the cross and all that it means, but importantly they write that this is not all there is, there is joy to be found, it will all be alright in the end.
Now of course for us that’s sometimes easier said than believed, especially when things seem a bit overwhelming. But in this season of Saints I’ve been thinking of those who have inspired and encouraged me and of how they have often been those people who have reminded me it will be alright in the end.
I think of Noreen who would always encourage me, was full of ideas for the life of the church especially when things seemed difficult. Or of Gladys whose life of prayer was rich and faithful. Or of George, who made me laugh, filled with mischief and fun. I could go on.
For me, these dear folk are the Cloud of Witnesses of which we heard of in that reading from Hebrews. Each of them as I think of them now, was well acquainted with ‘every weight’ as the writer put it but they were not weighed down by it.
There was a hope to them, a joy and part of that joy flowed from their deep seated conviction that it would be alright in the end.
And so like Isaiah, I reckon God gives all of us moments of insight and hope.
Moments that stay the pen of our lives from pessimism.
Moments that invite us to be hopeful. To be joyful so that we might, to use another image from Hebrews ‘run with perseverance the race set before us’ whatever that might look like for us now, even when the heating breaks down.
Note to self – It will be alright in the end.