steady all trembling knees,
and say to all faint hearts,
'Courage! Do not be afraid.'
. . .
Courage! I am struck by the admonition to courage, partly because it seems to me that what the weary hands need is strength, or even rest. Perhaps, though, that says more about my own tiredness than it does about this bit of Isaiah 35. The verse above is from the famous bit (to my mind, anyway): the eyes of the blind will be opened; the ears of the deaf will hear; the chains of the lame will be broken, and streams will flow in deserts of fear. So it will be when God's kingdom comes.
But why courage? I suppose that I have always read this verse in Isaiah 35 with its echo in Hebrews 12 in mind. There the strengthening is paired with making level paths for the feet of the one who is lame, so that 'what is lame may not be put out of joint, but rather may be healed.' To keep on the road when it seems impossible to go any farther requires courage as well as strength, though, doesn't it? We need faith that God will heal, will provide, will give rest and peace in the midst of turmoil and difficult work.
And my road is not actually as hard as all that: When I think of the martyrs, I am often reminded of the verse from Hebrews 12, which exhorts us to persevere, as we have 'not yet resisted to the point of shedding blood.' Today's 'others' include a St Edmund, St Eustace, and St Swithin--all of whom were Catholics martyred for their faith on this date (St John in 1610, the others in 1597). May perpetual light shine on them, even as their light marks the way forward for us.