Oaks of righteousness (23-07-21)
A Bible Reading: Isaiah 61. 1 - 3
The Spirit of the Sovereign Lord is on me, because the Lord has anointed me
to proclaim good news to the poor.
He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim freedom for the captives and release from darkness for the prisoners, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favour and the day of vengeance of our God, to comfort all who mourn, and provide for those who grieve in Zion— to bestow on them a crown of beauty instead of ashes,
the oil of joyinstead of mourning,
and a garment of praiseinstead of a spirit of despair. They will be called oaks of righteousness,
a planting of the Lord for the display of his splendour.
A Thought There is something majestic about oak trees. I grew up near Bradgate Park in Leicestershire, a park full of ancient oaks. They have been there for hundreds of years. To this day, many still display the ‘beheading’ all the oaks in the park received in 1554. The estate workers cut off the tops of the trees in protest and solidarity to honour their young mistress, Lady Jane Grey, the ‘Nine Days’ Queen. At only eighteen, Jane had been executed for treason.
I also remember visiting (and climbing on) ‘The Major Oak’ of Robin Hood fame, near Edwinstowe in the middle of Sherwood Forest. I was captivated by stories of the heroic Robin, who stole from the rich to give to the poor, but I marvelled at its age and size too. ‘The Major Oak’ remains the biggest oak tree in Britain and it is thought to be between eight hundred and a thousand years old. Although it is now supported by metal props and protected by a wooden enclosure, there is something awesome about this enormous tree and longevity.
The passage from Isaiah was quoted by Jesus at the beginning of his ministry. Isaiah had been writing about the deliverance of God’s people from a long and tough period of exile in Babylon. In Luke 4, Jesus applies this passage to himself, setting out a mandate for his ministry through the power of the Holy Spirit. He then calls his disciples to follow his example. The passage ends with the image of oaks of righteousness, which particularly captures my imagination. These are the people who have received the good news, who have discovered freedom and healing, who have found comfort at times of mourning, and who stand as testimony to God’s saving power.
As we move out of the legal Covid restrictions, we face ongoing anxiety and uncertainty with the pandemic far from over and new cases increasing at a fast pace daily. Surrounded by the consequences of lockdowns, self-isolation, social distancing and bereavement as well as the risks of infection from Covid itself, we too are called to bring good news, comfort and release.
You will no doubt have heard the saying: ‘Mighty oaks from little acorns grow’. The Major Oak and the great oak trees of Bradgate Park all started life as little acorns. They bear testimony to the truth of this saying across many centuries. Here our churches bear testimony to Christian presence and ministry in our villages across the centuries. Today, we too can start small following Jesus’ mandate, but let’s aim to leave a lasting legacy of righteousness for his glory.
A Prayer May the Spirit of the Sovereign Lord anoint us afresh
to bring good news and release, healing and comfort to those in our community,
that they may bear witness as oaks of righteousness,
a planting of the Lord for a display of his splendour.
You may want to spend further time meditating on this scripture by using this photograph:
Photograph by Tracie Moore, © Fine Art America, 2018