In the year that King Uzziah died, I saw the Lord sitting on a throne, high and lifted up, and the train of His robe filled the temple. Above it stood seraphim; each one had six wings: with two he covered his face, with two he covered his feet, and with two he flew. And one cried to another and said: “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of hosts; the whole earth is full of His glory!”
And the posts of the door were shaken by the voice of him who cried out, and the house was filled with smoke.
So I said: “Woe is me, for I am undone! Because I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips; for my eyes have seen the King, the Lord of hosts.”
Then one of the seraphim flew to me, having in his hand a live coal which he had taken with the tongs from the altar. And he touched my mouth with it, and said: “Behold, this has touched your lips; your iniquity is taken away, and your sin purged.”
Also I heard the voice of the Lord, saying: “Whom shall I send, and who will go for Us?”
Then I said, “Here am I! Send me.”
Did you know that there is a part in the Divine Liturgy where the priest echoes the words of the angel? When the priest partakes of the blood of Our Lord Jesus Christ, the rubrics state that he shall say the following: “And thus, having wiped his lips and the holy chalice with the cloth which he holdeth in his hand, he saith: ‘Behold, this hath touched my lips, and taketh away mine iniquities, and purgeth away my sins.’”
The problem that the Prophet Isaiah faced was that he entered into God’s presence and had one of those moments of realization. “I am a dead man.” If a priest is a good priest, that should be exactly the feelings that he gets after he consecrates the bread and wine. “I am in the presence of God. I am a dead man.”
Quite honestly, I do not always have that thought when I celebrate the Divine Liturgy. But, every so often the words of the priest’s prayers break through and remind me that I am so sinful that I should say “Woe is me [in Spanish it is ‘Guay de mi’].” But, there is a second part to the prayer. While the angel brought a live coal, notice that the priest says that drinking of the Lord’s blood has taken away his iniquity.
That is, I, as priest, am able to stand before the Lord only because his blood has cleansed me. “… this hath touched my lips, and taketh away mine iniquities, and purgeth away my sins.” This is a statement that should make Evangelicals happy. After all:
What can wash away my sin? Nothing but the blood of Jesus; what can make me whole again? Nothing but the blood of Jesus.
Oh! precious is the flow that makes me white as snow; no other fount I know, nothing but the blood of Jesus.
There is also a nice parallel between the two passages. Hebrews 12:29 says, “… for our God is a consuming fire. …” While Isaiah receives a symbol of God’s cleansing, we receive the actual blood of Our Lord which cleanses us. But, it does not stop there. As Saint Paul said, we are redeemed in order to serve, “For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.”
Isaiah’s passage ends with the famous, “Here am I! Send me.” In the same way, the priest’s response is to walk out of the Sanctuary and to announce, “In the fear of God, with faith and love draw near!” This is the Gospel call. It is the call to draw near to God through Our Lord Jesus Christ. Then, having received the Body and Blood of Christ, the priest calls out as he returns inside the Sanctuary, “O God, save your people and bless your inheritance.” After all, those who have received Christ’s body and blood are his inheritance, so it is perfectly appropriate that the priest turns back toward God and calls on him to remember those who have participated in his body and blood.
But, it is important to not forget that the priest has a broader call. He is indeed called to be willing to say, “Here am I! Send me.” And, he should be willing to say that after each and every Sunday liturgy.
The Divine Liturgy is not simply being present in the Holy of Holies. The Divine Liturgy is a divine reminder to the priest that we are to go back out into the world to communicate the Gospel.