As a bit of orientation, Isaiah 2-4 begins and ends with visions of Jerusalem’s bright future. In between: descriptions of its scandalous present. Today’s reading: the ending vision, evoking memories of the generation that came out of Egyptian slavery, guided by the cloud by day and pillar of fire by night.
The Isaiah and Ephesians texts: each in their own way a vision of renewed human communities. We might poke around in them a bit, wondering what they have in common, what distinguishes them. Glory, for example, is a prominent theme in Isaiah. The word is lacking in the Ephesians text, but the previous chapter concluded with “to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus to all generations, forever and ever. Amen.” So our text: the beginning of a description of how God’s glory is made visible in the church?
Another dimension of this renewed human community in Ephesians: “The gifts he gave were that some would be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, some pastors and teachers, to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, until all of us come to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to maturity, to the measure of the full stature of Christ” (vv.11-13). “The work of ministry”: what is that? However it gets defined, whether as “building up the body of Christ” or more broadly, the division of labor seems clear, and perhaps surprising. The apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors, teachers: their work is preliminary, preparing “the saints” (all the baptized) for the work of ministry. The apostles etc.: the coaching staff; “the saints”: the folk on the field. So who’s in the bleachers? Perhaps 3:10 is a clue: “so that through the church the wisdom of God in its rich variety might now be made known to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly places.” The rulers and authorities, with their jaws dropping at the sight of Jews and Gentiles, slaves and free, women and men working freely together in love to build something beautiful: unexpected glory. Another take on Isaiah’s vision of the pilgrimage of the nations?