Holy, Holy, Holy

Trinity Sunday. Isaiah 6:1-8.


Rev. David Domanski

5/26/20244 min read

In the year King Uzziah died, an amazing story happened! . . . But who was King Uzziah? Well, don’t worry much about King Uzziah (also called Azariah), but this does tell us that the story is very real—a real time and a real place in history. The Kingdom of Israel had split into two kingdoms, the divided kingdom—Judah in the south and Israel in the north—at Solomon’s death, about a thousand years before Christ. King Uzziah had reigned over the Southern Kingdom, Judah. And in the year he died, about seven-and-a-half centuries before Christ, Isaiah, son of Amoz, one of the earliest prophets in Judah, had a vision. This is the amazing story (vv 1–2).

Isaiah sees himself in the temple. But this is the heavenly temple, which formed the pattern for the earthly temple, where the sacrifices were daily made for the people’s sin. In heaven, Isaiah sees God surrounded by seraphim, one of the orders of angels, beings created by God to serve him and mankind. Isaiah describes them as having six wings, two covering their faces, two covering their feet, and two for flying. The seraphim begin singing to one another. Their song is, “Holy, holy, holy” (v 3).

The repetition of their song underscores God’s complete holiness, completely separated from sin. The angels use God’s covenant name, Yahweh, in the phrase “Lord of hosts”—that’s “Yahweh of hosts.” The covenantal name reminds us that here we have a God who has made a covenant with the people of Israel—and with us. He has a relationship with us.

Not only is God holy in heaven, but even earth experiences his glory. But “Holy, holy, holy” says something else too. You know where this is going on this Sunday, don’t you? The threefold repetition announces the Trinity, three holy persons in one holy God.

Modeled on the Athanasian Creed, we can say, “The Father is holy, the Son holy, and the Holy Spirit holy; and yet they are not three holies, but one holy.” We actually do sing this song of the angels in our liturgy, in the service of the Sacrament, where “with angels and archangels and with all the company of heaven” we sing, “Holy, holy, holy.”

Instead of taking us into heaven, God brings heaven down to us. The common saying “Heaven is where Jesus is” holds true here, since Jesus’ body and blood are on the altar. And what he experiences in his vision is overwhelming for Isaiah! (vv 4–5).

When Isaiah sees God and the angels in his vision, he recognizes that he himself is not holy, but “a man of unclean lips.” He constantly lives among people in the same condition. “Unclean” points out that Isaiah cannot fulfill the demands of God’s Law and is “unclean” in the ritual sense of ancient Israel. A man of unclean lips cannot stand before God as the holy angels, the seraphim, can. Isaiah’s only appropriate response is “Woe is me! For I am lost.”

The people of the Old Testament knew this well, marveling whenever one of them saw God and lived. Jacob, for example, wrestled with a man and later said, “I have seen God face to face, and yet my life has been delivered” (Gen 32:30). Even the seraphim cover their eyes before God. So Isaiah’s response is appropriate and correct. What to do? The sinner is surely undone!

And then, when Isaiah has no hope as a sinner before a holy God, an angel brings a burning coal from the altar and places it on his lips (vv 6–7a). The altar is the place where sacrifices for sin were made. So the angel declares, “Behold, this has touched your lips; your guilt is taken away, and your sin atoned for.” The sacrifices made for sin on the altar are applied to Isaiah personally. This action is a model of Confession and Absolution.

In the same way as Isaiah exclaimed “Woe is me,” we confess our sins at the beginning of the Divine Service, for we deserve God’s punishment and not the chance to stand before him.

In the same way as the angel applied God’s forgiveness to Isaiah, the pastor absolves the sinner, delivering to each sinner God’s forgiveness won by Jesus Christ through his sacrificial suffering and death on the cross : “I forgive you all your sins in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.”

After Confession and Absolution (and only then), the congregation is prepared to come before God to worship. Because each person bears the righteousness, the holiness, of Christ, he or she now can stand comfortably before the Holy Trinity.

And that, ultimately, is why we care about this story—God alone is holy, holy, holy, and He makes us holy!

And having made us and Isaiah holy to fulfill His purposes for us, God asks, “Whom shall I send, and who will go for us?” God is both one (“I”) and three (“us”). It’s remarkable that the triune God—who in Himself has all power and glory—nevertheless asks His sinful servants to do the eternally important task of sharing His salvation and forgiveness with the world.

A cleansed Isaiah hears God’s call and receives it. Why? Because his sins have been atoned for, Isaiah hears God speaking, “Whom shall I send, and who will go for us?” He receives the call and answers, “Here am I! Send me.” Isaiah can now represent God to the Israelite people as a prophet.

It’s important to note that God took the initiative in asking Isaiah. Isaiah did not present himself as ready to work for God. Certainly not before he was absolved! Rather, God called and Isaiah answered. But having God’s call did not make Isaiah’s work easy. In the next two verses following our reading, the Lord would warn how hard the hearts of his people would be (v 9–10). That is indeed what happened. Isaiah’s message was largely ignored. Yet he persevered almost sixty years, delivering God’s message for Him.

And in you and me, God continues to call people to His work. In the present day, God continues to call pastors for His work and God calls every Christian to live a life dedicated to Him, serving God in whatever capacity He has placed you or me. We may not remember much about King Uzziah and his story, but the story of Jesus is s a story that we—and the world—care about deeply. Go and proclaim it in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Amen.